Toyota's Next Crossover Is The Scion C-HR Concept

November 18, 2015

Toyota's brand-within-a-brand is growing once more, and it's doing so by adding more small cars.

A new small crossover SUV, based on the C-HR concept on display at this year's Los Angeles auto show, is headed for production as the fourth member of the Scion lineup.

When it launched in the 2004 model year, Scion leaned heavily on existing Japanese-market Toyota vehicles. The boxy Scion xB compact wagon was a surprise hit, and sustained the brand's strong growth, while its smaller xA (later renamed the xD) brought less to the party.

In the years that followed, Scion grafted on new family-tree branches, to mixed results. The tC sport coupe was a hit, and a quasi-replacement for Toyota's long-loved Celica. Other efforts like the iQ city car and the FR-S rear-drive sports car have been relative misses--slow sellers, despite positive reviews.

The restocking of Scion's shelves started earlier this year, with two new vehicles. The Scion iA is derived from the Mazda 2, which isn't sold in America in this generation. The Scion iM is a five-door hatchback that's a relative of the Corolla compact.

Now, for the crossovers

The next vehicle to join the Scion lineup is almost certain to be a production version of the C-HR concept, a compact utility vehicle with gregarious looks that draws instant parallels to the Nissan Juke.

First displayed at the 2014 Paris and 2015 Frankfurt auto shows as a hybrid-propelled Toyota, the C-HR was revised and shown again at the recent Tokyo motor show. 

Since then, the hybrid chatter has subsided, but the march to production has ensued. The latest indications are that the C-HR points the way to a subcompact-sized crossover that should join the Scion lineup for the 2018 model year.

The C-HR name, Toyota says, indicates its "compact" size and its "high ride" height--a now classic recipe for crossover SUVs.

Under the skin, the new subcompact crossover will ride on the Toyota New Generation Architecture (TNGA) modular platform, which made its debut in the 2016 Prius. With the TNGA platform, Toyota will merge many existing global vehicle architectures into one that cuts weight, increases body rigidity, and improves efficiency versus the platforms it replaces.

Powertrains should include gas engines, front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive, and automatic transmissions, but a hybrid version of the C-HR is now considered unlikely due to the cost and complexity.

While it's likely to retain some of the concept's features, like the roofline and blacked-out roof pillars, it's unlikely cues such as the 21-inch wheels and tires will carry over into production.

Still, Scion executives tell Green Car Reports, the production version will carry over much of the concept's wild styling.

Room to grow

While it won't be expressly badged a Toyota, the C-HR will give Toyota's other crossovers room to grow.

Over at the Toyota side of the showroom, its existing RAV4 and Highlander crossover SUVs have been perennial strong sellers, but it lacks a mid-size, five-passenger utility vehicle. The mid-size Venza disappeared after the 2015 model year. In its place, the RAV4 crossover--which adds a hybrid model for the 2016 model year--could grow to add a third-row model, to fill the void left by the Venza.

With the C-HR, Toyota also completes a pivot in the Scion brand's image. As Green Car Reports suggests, the original imagery of the brand as a youthful urban safe haven has been replaced. Scion's mission now is to pitch to younger drivers more endemic to Toyota--those who want more compact vehicles, but still want the durability of Toyota-made vehicles, only wrapped in more tidy, modern designs.

Certainly, that's an easier sell alongside the Avalons, Camrys, and Corollas sitting in the same showrooms.

There's no official confirmation, but a production C-HR could make its world debut as soon as next year's Geneva auto show.

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