2018 Toyota C-HR Hybrid Distinctive: Le gas-sipping cute ute.
Price: 35,790 euro as tested, 29,000 for the hybrid and 23,400 for a base model. (That's $42,105, $34,117, and $27,529, respectively, as of June 6.)
Marketer's pitch: "Le crossover compact Hybride qui redéfinit le mouvement." The hybrid compact crossover that redefines motion.
Conventional wisdom: Top Gear reports: "For: Bold design inside and out, pleasant and surprisingly adept chassis. Against: Naff trim, shocking rear vision, droney hybrid." (Translating from Top Gear to Mr. Driver's Seat, naff means "tacky.")
Reality: A fun companion for a winding, mountainous, narrow, scary, postoperative journey.
What's different: The C-HR is available in the United States. Yet nothing like this C-HR is available in the United States.
The Lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat and I tested it during our travels through France — from Paris to Nice and back — so we put a whole lot of kilometers under our belts.
It's not just that the C-HR with Prius drivetrain can't be had in the U.S., although that's part of it.
Inside: The model tested sported Lexus-level seating and touches throughout — nothing like the tinny U.S. machine I rattled around in last year.
Was I easily impressed? After schlepping through airports to economy-class seats, everything starts to look good, right? Yet even hours later, the C-HR's seats were superbly supportive and luxurious.
The Lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat got some unusual insight. She developed what we first thought was a stomach bug during our journey. But, no, this is us, so she actually had appendicitis — seriously, we thought this brand of adventure only happened in the movies — and so after two nights in Nice's Hospital Pasteur, she noted the C-HR still provided all the comfort someone with three new incisions and a wobbly belly could ask for.
Up to speed: Acceleration from the 1.8-liter engine and electric motor was not bad for 122 horses, 11 seconds to 100 kph (62 mph). But it felt spry around town. Flooring it onto the highway does subject occupants to a lot of loud whining, though.
Keeping your speed: The French government delights in sending tickets to drivers via electronic speed control devices. (On one highway I noticed the overhead sign calling out a specific license number as "Trop vitte!" Too fast. C'est la vie. At least it wasn't my license number.)
So the C-HR's easy-to-operate cruise control system became my obsession. It features Toyota's wonderful operating stalk, which increased and decreased speeds by 5 kmh increments easily and intuitively.
A feature called Coyote also claims to show you where the cameras are operating, and this activated many, many times, usually where signs remind you about the speed detection, or where unfair speed restrictions begin (dropping from 130 kmh to 110 on a downhill, for instance, for no reason).
Up and down: Typically I exhort my love of country roads, and my late-night work schedule allows me some freedom to enjoy winding curves and such.
But southern France is a different world, with Alpilles running all the way to the sea, and thousand-year-old roads traversing them with little room in some places for one car, let alone two passing side by side.
The C-HR was the perfect size with the perfect handling for these conditions, traversing the 15 hairpin turns (I kid you not) up to our B&B with aplomb and competence, and taking us even farther into the mountains of Peille (actual elevation 4,160 feet, approximate road width 4 feet, apparent guardrail height 11 inches).
Shifty: The brake mode in the e-CVT transmission also got a healthy workout coming back down those 15 hairpin turns. There's no shift capability otherwise, but I can't complain. I never had to use the brakes unless I needed to slow suddenly or stop.
Getting around: Though I also spend most of my stateside reviews writing about the sound system, this time I left it turned off while I obsessed with not getting lost.
The GPS program was easy to use. The Lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat uses hers in her Kia Soul far more than I ever use any, and she loves its functionality. After a bit of demonstration, she was able to latch on to some of the Soul's best features in the C-HR — particularly adding a waypoint in the middle of a destination — and showed me how easy they were.
The huge display was clear, and the buttons never failed.
Friends and stuff: Rear-seat passengers will find plenty of leg-, head-, and foot room, and the seat is welcoming and comfortable. With just 36.4 cubic feet behind the first row, this is a tiny car. Somehow there's 19 behind the second, but I find that hard to fathom.
Outside: One downside to the C-HR could be the looks. Its overly cladded body panels recall 1990s-2000s General Motors offerings, especially with some of the paint configurations that accent those panels. Our all-white model actually looked fairly sedate and luxurious.
Night shift: The only real downside were headlights that sat a little low and interior lights that were too bright for use while driving.
Fuel economy: Through all this I used about 5.5 liters/100 km, which means I averaged 43 mpg — quite impressive. We were happy to try something non-diesel this time around, as it has more likelihood of finding its way across the pond, and this beat the mileage in last year's diesel wagons tested by about 20 percent.
Where it's built: Turkey.
How it's built: Consumer Reports predicts the U.S. model attains a 4 out of 5 for reliability.
In the end: I actually asked Toyota if I could have one fitted for the States. But don't expect the real thing here. Sorry.