Larry Printz: Toyota CH-R is a slow car that looks fast

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

April 2, 2018


The 2018 Toyota C-HR has a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder under the hood that is rated at only 144 horsepower, so acceleration is leisurely

There is a peculiarity to car design that seems to affect the industry in each decade. The irrational exuberance of cars of the 1950s, followed by the sober rationalism of the 1960s, baroque neoclassicism of the 1970s, the dull efficiency of the 1980s, which melted away in the following decade. It seems that crossovers and SUVs have dominated designersí dreams ever since.

But now it seems that those who grew up playing video games are now designing cars. The result are vehicles that look as they escaped via an errant game controller, festooned with odd angles, crazy creases, outrageously sized wheels and a number of grilles. One of the newest styling ideas, the floating roof, employs a blackened rear pillar that fakes the eye into believing the roof has no rear support. Itís not yet a cliche, and still seems unusual, despite its use by several manufacturers, including Toyota on their new CH-R crossover.

But thatís just the start of this carís over-caffeinated design, one that challenges buyers with a cacophony of creases, planes and ungainly angles that seems youthfully energetic. This bad boy looks like a wild child; too bad the engine and transmission didnít get the same memo.

The 2.0-liter four-cylinder under the hood is rated at only 144 horsepower, so acceleration is leisurely, a feeling exacerbated by the continuously variable automatic transmission. Throttle response is impressive, even if flooring the throttle creates more noise than forward momentum. So CH-R buyers will have to settle for a slow car that looks fast. Oddly enough for a crossover, the CH-R is offered only with front-wheel drive; all-wheel drive is not available on either of the carís trim levels, which include XLE and XLE Premium.

Nevertheless, its petite size and quick steering lend the car perky, frisky feel, not unlike that of a newborn puppy. Its ride is tolerable, with well-managed body roll.

Even if Toyota skimped on horsepower, it didnít when it comes to safety features, which includes automated emergency braking and lane-departure warning, adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist. Blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert is optional on the top-of-the-line XLE Premium.

As with the exterior, the interior is clearly aimed at the young and young at heart. And although the mock leather dash does warm up the economy car ambience, donít expect lavish creature comforts. The tilt-telescopic steering wheel adjusts manually, as do the front seats. There is dual climate control, however, and heated front seats are optional.

Of course, given this carís styling, youíd expect a killer tech package, yet itís fairly unremarkable as well. A 7.0-inch touchscreen allows for Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, augmented by a single USB port, and an auxiliary input jack is standard. Thereís no navigation, Wi-Fi hotspot, Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. Still, it proves to be easy to use and responds quickly to the touch.

While front seat occupants will find the accommodations acceptable, rear seat passengers will find leg and knee room limited, and the cars styling creates a claustrophobic cabin for those in back, thanks its sloping roofline, and lack of rear windows, which also inhibits rear visibility. Cabin storage space is adequate for those up front, meagre in the rear, and the carís shape limits its usefulness for carrying cargo.

But such quibbles will not matter to a CH-R buyer, who no doubt will value its extreme looks, even if the vehicle fails to deliver the sporting driving experience youíd expect once behind the wheel.

Consider it a lifestyle bauble.