Who would have thought Toyota had the guts for this.
Very few production cars today resemble their concept counterparts as much as the Toyota C-HR. Even the name of this subcompact crossover didn’t change when it reached production. Up until quite recently, Toyota was not exactly known to be a design risk take.But today some argue its stylists didn’t know when to lift the pen. So what if Toyota’s current design language is a bit polarizing? Something dramatic needed to happen to help the Japanese brand shed its conservative image once and for all.
Its Lexus luxury brand has done the same, mostly successfully, with its spindle grille. Going for a dramatic look fits in very well with the subcompact crossover segment in general. Just look at the Nissan Juke. It’s no coincidence that funky-looking crossover kicked off this week’s series. At first glance it’s surprising to learn the C-HR is a production car at all given its wild lines. And yet initial data indicates it’s already a money-making success since hitting dealerships almost a year ago. But let’s back up a few years to 2014 when the C-HR Concept was revealed at that year’s Paris Motor Show.
Built on Toyota’s TNGA global platform, the C-HR Concept also served as a styling exercise, mainly to show that a four-door subcompact crossover could look like it had only two doors. Hey, if it worked for Nissan, why not for Toyota? Only this time, Toyota had to push the design envelope even further than the competition. Toyota claims the concept had an expressive, diamond styling theme, full of sculpted surfaces inspired by precision-cut gemstones. Good proportions were vital, hence designers’ goal of removing mass from the overall volume while adding those powerful-looking front and rear wheel arches. The upper grille was given a floating “wing” graphic that flows around the vehicle’s front corners.
The so-called streamlined headlamp clusters offer advanced lighting technology along with diamond-pattern detailing. There’s also an aero-inspired front spoiler. Out back, the glasshouse tapers down towards the body and there’s a prominent rear diffuser. The concept looks the most dramatic from the side, with those large 21-inch wheels providing even more style. Toyota called this its Keen Look design identity, and made it clear to the media and public it had every intention of putting the C-HR into production. An updated, more production-ready version of the C-HR Concept was revealed a year later at the 2015 Frankfurt Motor Show.
The production version was revealed at the 2016 Geneva Motor Show while the North American version, which differs little from other market versions, came the following November at Los Angeles. Its designers, once again, reiterated they focused on a single theme, “Distinctive Diamond,” translated into a vehicle that’s muscular, sexy and edgy. By looks alone the C-HR is clearly not intended for off-roading, but rather for the urban lifestyle. But what does ‘C-HR’ even stand for? Coupe High-Rider. In place of the concept’s massive 21-inch wheels, the production C-HR offers 18-inchers wearing all-season rubber. The deep and curvy character lines and 3D shapes, however, remained intact.
Those dominant wheel arches contribute to a powerful and wide stance hinting this is something fun to drive. To help hide the fact it’s really not a coupe, the rear door handles were relocated to the C-pillars, again something borrowed straight from the Nissan Juke. But that’s okay because it works just fine here as well. Buyers can also individualize it with a variety of unique exterior colors with a white-painted roof, side mirrors, and A-pillar. To help match its futuristic looks, Toyota figured it’d only make sense to power the C-HR with modern powertrain technology. Under its hood lies a 2.0-liter inline-four with 144 hp and 139 lb-ft of torque, with power sent to the front wheels through a new CVT.
Interestingly, the hybrid version is not sold in the US, at least for the time being. In many ways, Toyota North America sort of lucked out with the C-HR. Originally, it was set to be branded a Scion, but since the brand was discontinued, a Toyota badge was used instead. It’s probably for the best because Scion had been living on borrowed time. Thanks to the C-HR, Toyota now has something to offer younger, urban buyers that’s not in the least bit bland. Is the C-HR a bit too much for some tastes? Yes, but a likely majority of them are older buyers. For Toyota, the long-term goal is to appeal to buyers when they’re young, and the C-HR is the ideal vehicle to have today.