BOSTON — I was watching a movie the other day and it reminded me of the car I’ve been testing this week. The movie was Chef, a fantastic labor of love from Jon Favreau, the big budget director of Iron Man and Elf and the live-action Lion King.
The gist is that Favreau plays a formerly rising star chef who is toiling in a successful LA restaurant but without the creative freedom he strives for. After quitting in an expletive filled rant to a food critic that goes viral when filmed by a customer, he decamps the fancy restaurant for the pleasures of running a food truck. Though without the security of a fancy restaurant behind him, he has the creative freedom to make simple-but-amazing Cuban sandwiches and other delicious creations.
The best part of the movie is all the amazing food porn, overseen by chef Roy Choi who was one of the founders of the gourmet food truck movement. What does this have to do with my test car this week?
It‘s the Toyota C-HR, a subcompact crossover which has two of the letters from „Chef“ in it. See what I mean about how important creative freedom is? I spent the first third of this review talking about a movie that has (almost) nothing to do with the car I‘m reviewing. Thanks North State Journal.
The CH-R slots beneath the RAV4 in the Toyota lineup, and you can think of it as a jumped-up version of the Corolla Hatchback. It‘s kind of interesting looking outside and in, with various nips and tucks and oddities like the weird flush-mounted door handle for the rear doors mounted high up around the roofline. Then there‘s these weird, unnecessary-but-kind-of-pleasing diamond cutouts in the headliner above the driver and passenger.
And don‘t forget the wacky rear-end that appears to be an homage to a multi-level modernist apartment building in Tokyo. That‘s not a bad thing, it‘s just a little bit different. It gives the car some personality, which is something that Toyota‘s of the past sorely lacked so I approve of it here.
I like the interior, with ample storage for a phone and your drinks, plus a standard shift knob and a high-mounted, easy-to-see eight-inch touchscreen surrounded by a bunch of buttons you‘ll never use. Automatic climate control will keep your significant other from bickering about the temperature in the car (maybe), and there‘s excellent visibility through the front at least.
As with (almost) all Toyotas, the feature set is straightforward. My C-HR Limited weighed in at $28,435 nearly fully loaded, including a $465 „Audio Plus“ package that presumably makes the stereo more… plus. It also has a wide variety of useful features like Toyota‘s excellent safety suite including full automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane keep assist, automatic high beams, blind spot monitoring, and adaptive cruise control.
There‘s LED headlights and auto-folding mirrors (the latter of which has generally been a luxury car feature, so it‘s nice to see it moving down market), as well as more typical fare like heated seats, push-button start, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. It integrates with Amazon Alexa too, if you‘re excited about that.
There‘s a 2-liter four cylinder engine making 27/31/29 miles per gallon, paired with a continuously variable transmission or CVT that mostly stays out of your way — lots of car reviewers complain about CVTs but I think most folks don‘t really care, so it‘s fine.
On its own, the C-HR is a perfectly fine automobile with a nice feature set — but it is growing a little long in the tooth. This particular generation is almost four years old, and is facing very stiff competition from the Hyundai Venue that I reviewed last week. Also, at $28,400, you‘re getting close to entry-level RAV4 territory, which comes with a lot more space and also the option of all-wheel drive if you‘re likely to drive in slippery conditions.
If you‘re looking for a solid subcompact crossover with a weird name, you can pick the Toyota CH-R. Or the Hyundai Venue. Or the Nissan Kicks. I‘m pretty sure all those choices will make you happy. But only one of them has two of the letters from Chef in the name.