When talking about the 2018 Toyota C-HRToyota's first entry into the hot subcompact SUV segment, most conversations focus on the styling. So, go ahead and soak it in, but draw your own conclusions. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder after all, so we'll leave it at that except to say that if you require a compact crossover that turns heads, this Toyota SUV has you covered one way or another.

Truth is there's a lot more to the 2018 C-HR than just its skin. It's roomy, comfortable, quiet, and offers a surprising amount of safety tech for its price and class. It also has a surprising shortcoming, one that could turn away its coveted target audience.

The C-HR shares its underpinnings with the new Toyota Prius and upcoming 2018 Toyota Camry, giving it a size advantage over the Kia Soul, Honda HR-V and Mazda CX-3. There's decent cargo room, roomy front seats, and good rear seat room for two passengers, although an absurdly thick rear pillar blocks rear passengers' outward vision so much they'll have to lean forward to look outside; claustrophobics should ride shotgun.

Cabin comfort

The thick pillar treatment aside, the interior is notably tamer than the exterior, with diamond-patterned surfaces on the door panels, dash, and headliner. Comfortable seats are situated in front of a cleanly styled dash, with the kind of ergonomic exactness expected of Toyota products. Class-competitive materials are everywhere, but Toyota's stretching it when it comes to "soft touch" surfaces; we suppose 1/16th of an inch of padding on the door panels is technically soft-touch but, c'mon.

A base 2018 C-HR XLE starts at $23,460 when you include the $960 destination charge. That's higher than many of its competitors' base prices, but it's equipped like a mid-level model with standard dual-zone automatic climate control and 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system. More importantly, Toyota's TSS-P safety suite is also standard, giving every C-HR full-speed active cruise control, lane departure warning, pre-collision warning with pedestrian detection and active braking, and even automatic high beams. Many competitors don't even offer this stuff, much less make it standard. There's also an auto-dimming rearview mirror, electronic parking brake with a brake-hold feature, one-touch up/down on all four windows, and more. It's enough to make the extra $1,850 you'd pay for fog lights, keyless entry and start, sportier front seats, and blind spot warning on the XLE Premium superfluous, with the possible exception of blind spot warning. The only standalone option , besides accessories, is an R-Code package that paints the roof white on certain models.

Also: More new and redesigned cars of 2018

On the road, the suspension stands out for all the right reasons. Toyota notes its engineers honed the ride on rough European roads, while they finessed the handling at the Nürburgring race track in Germany. It paid off on the smoothly paved and tightly twisting roads around the Texas hill country north of Austin. The C-HR stayed comfortable at all speeds, yet managed to surprise us with its ability to take a corner, even showing the slightest bit of sporty rotation in some of the tighter stuff. It's still a heavy-feeling SUV, but it was certainly for-the-class fun, and even the steering made up for its numbness with decent weighting and natural-feeling effort.

More power, please

We sure wish it had more guts though. At 3,300 pounds the C-HR weighs just 150 pounds less than the much bigger RAV4, and the 144-horsepower 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine struggles. The power-sapping continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) doesn't help much, manual shift mode or not. Full-throttle acceleration will remind you of the slow-motion beach run from Chariots of Fire. And that's without all-wheel drive, which isn't available on the U.S. spec C-HR. More power or less weight would help, but for now the C-HR is a great vehicle as long as you'll never be in a hurry. At least fuel economy should be good, with a projected EPA estimate of 31 mpg on the highway and 27 mpg around town.

Yet neither the engine nor the styling are the "surprising shortcoming" we mentioned earlier. Instead, it's the infotainment, specifically the lack of Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, or even Toyota's Entune in-house technology suite. You can't even get factory navigation, and the standard backup camera projects onto the rear-view mirror instead of the 7-inch touchscreen.

But it's Toyota's refusal to offer Apple CarPlay or Android Auto in its vehicles that's the biggest potential liability in how this Coupe-High Riding (that's what C-HR stands for) appeals to its millennial target audience. Granted, it can play your iPod songs thanks to an AUX or USB input, but it's not nearly as slick or easy as Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, and few people want to hassle with replacing the unit with an aftermarket one, especially when the Kia Soul—also a funky-looking front-drive crossover—offers it from the factory. Considering millennials would rather give up their cars than their phones, the lack of CarPlay and Android Auto may be a deal-killer. Undoubtedly the C-HR's qualities will help it find homes. Whether this is the car to crack the millennial nut for Toyota remains to be seen.

 

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