2017 Honda HR-VEnlarge Photo
Small crossover utility vehicles have surged in popularity, and every carmaker is rolling out new entries. The Honda HR-V is already popular, and a year after it was launched, the Toyota C-HR is that maker's riposte. It's the little brother of the immensely popular RAV4 compact crossover, just as the HR-V is a smaller sibling to the equally popular CR-V.
They're both light-duty vehicles suited to city and suburban use by young families or couples. But only the Honda offers optional all-wheel drive, for better traction and security on muddy athletic fields and unplowed roads. Although AWD is available on the C-HR in Europe and Japan, Toyota says it sees little demand for it in the U.S., so it's not offered.
The exaggerated styling of these small SUVs works to disguise the "tall hatchback on wheels" shape of most utility vehicles. The C-HR (it stands for "Coupe, High Riding") has the most expressive lines of any small crossover, but we think it works better than the Prius or Mirai that use similar design themes. The rakish Honda uses the brand's usual styling language—a thick chrome top bar for the grille, swept-back front light units, and strongly etched side accent lines—to give the HR-V some pizazz. Its rear end, however, appears to be just a shrunken copy of the latest Acura MDX.
2018 Toyota C-HR, San Antonio, Texas, Feb 2017Enlarge Photo
2018 Toyota C-HREnlarge Photo
2018 Toyota C-HREnlarge Photo
Under the hood, the Toyota offers just one powertrain: a 144-horsepower 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine paired to a continuously variable transmission driving the front wheels. Despite the "utility vehicle" label, all-wheel drive isn't available. Honda uses a 141-hp 1.8-liter inline-4, paired with either a continuously variable transmission or a 6-speed manual. All-wheel drive is an option on the Honda, unlike the C-HR, although only with the CVT. Neither car is quick, though the Honda felt stronger in high-demand circumstances like highway merges. Both little SUVs are based on car underpinnings and handle well enough, although we'd give the edge to the Toyota. The C-HR has a lower seating position lower than the Honda, which lessens the feel of body roll in turns.
Both are capacious for small SUVs, but the Honda is by far the roomiest vehicle in the segment. The rear seat of the HR-V accommodates two adults with generous head and leg room, as well as two up front. The HR-V also provides Honda's unique "Magic Seat," which folds and flips the second-row seat like a lawn chair to offer multiple storage and seating configurations. The Toyota is roomier than it looks inside, both front and rear, and its rear seat folds flat, though the load floor is surprisingly high, at mid-thigh. Both vehicles are pleasingly quiet and refined inside on good road surfaces; drivers and passengers will find most travel peaceful in either one.
The Toyota C-HR hasn't yet been rated either by the NHTSA or the IIHS, though the Honda HR-V received mixed ratings for the HR-V on the latest menu of crash tests.
The Toyota comes standard with 10 airbags and a suite of active-safety features, but visibility out the back isn’t very good, due to its rising window line, steeply raked rear window, and very thick roof pillars. The HR-V offers a rearview camera and tire pressure monitors as standard, and Honda's nifty sideview LaneWatch camera is an option. But blind-spot monitors and adaptive cruise control likely won't arrive on the HR-V for a couple of model years.
At a base price around $20,000, all Honda HR-V models include power windows, locks, and mirrors; a rearview camera; a tiling and telescoping steering wheel with audio controls; and Bluetooth with audio streaming. Higher trim levels add a large touchscreen interface; the LaneWatch camera; keyless ignition; paddle shifters; satellite radio; navigation; leather; a sunroof; and heated front seats.
The C-HR comes well-equipped in either of its two trim levels, and offers only a single option, but plenty of dealer customization accessories. It starts at roughly $23,500, potentially steep for this highly polarizing design that looks smaller than it is.
Both the Toyota C-HR and the Honda HR-V are comfortable and accomplished small utility vehicles. With missing safety scores and fuel-economy ratings that haven't been finalized, our rating for the C-HR is somewhat incomplete. But thus far, Honda wins on interior room, slightly better performance, and value for money. Given both companies' reputations for high-quality cars, however, we expect buyers of either car to end up relatively satisfied.