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 designers’ 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. It’s not yet a cliche, and still seems unusual, despite its use by several manufacturers, including Toyota on their new CH-R crossover.
But that’s just the start of this car’s 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 didn’t 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 car’s 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 didn’t 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, don’t 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.