2018 Toyota C-HR racing Circuit of the Americas (COTA)

2018 Toyota C-HR racing Circuit of the Americas (COTA)

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I was at the first Scion event in San Francisco, CA. I remember Jim Farley, currently CEO and Chairman of Ford Europe, talking about Scion’s goal; to be a skunkworks group to research what young people wanted in future cars. Somehow Scion ended being a brand by itself, succeeding for many years, but small cars have struggled, and Scion was slowly brought back into the fold of Toyota and incorporated into the entry level car division.

Scion was quirky enough to be cool, but oddly, it was cool to older folks as well as the younger generation. Just importantly, Toyota reported that seventy percent of the Scion vehicles sold were purchased by buyers new to Toyota, with more than half of them being younger than 35 years old.

I tell you this because initially, the CH-R was going to be a Scion, debuting at the Los Angeles Auto Show in 2016. The Coupe High Rider, CH-R, was meant to attract the fun and funky in all of us, with the reliability of the Toyota brand. The difference between the Scion brand and the Toyota brand is the retraction of available options. When Scion began there were thousands of options available; it’s what made it unique.

Today Toyota is all grown-up, and the CH-R will be presented in two models, the XLE and the XLE Premium. From skunkworks to the regal car company that includes active braking, dynamic radar cruise control, and a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection. All grown up!

It’s always fun for me to sit with the Japanese at dinner because I get to practice the little bit of Japanese I remember. On Tuesday night I sat next to Koba-San, the chief engineer of the C-HR.

The Toyota CH-R uses the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder Double Overhead Cam (DOHC) 16-valve engine with Valvematic. The little coupe that rides high engine can produce 144 horsepower @ 6,100 rpm and 139 lb.-ft. Torque @ 3,900 rpm. The engine is mated to a Continuously Variable Transmission with intelligence and Shift Mode (CVTi-S).

Koba-san told me that he works in Japan now, but had moved his family to Michigan to work for Toyota for a period of time. His Son stayed in Michigan after Koba-san went back to Japan and became part of the swim team in high school and college in Michigan. I told him that my Father had moved our family to Japan when I was about his Son’s age. We spent four years in Japan, and I graduated from High School in Japan.

We started to talk about the C-HR and how Koba had tuned the car by racing it around the famous Nurburgring race track in Germany. Pretty soon the laptop came out, and Koba-san was showing me a race he had just been in; he was fourth on the pole at the start. Another car driver set him spinning, and he ended up at the end of the pack. By the finish, Koba-San had driven his way back up to a respectable tenth place.

It made sense to us that Toyota would have their launch in Texas; Toyota is moving its headquarters to Plano, Texas from Southern California. We are in Austin, Texas, home of Bobby Epstein’s Circuit of the Americas (COTA), host to the Formula One United States Grand Prix. I asked Koba-San if he had been to COTA, and he said he had gone that morning but was not able to get in. I envisioned this engineer that had tuned the C-HR by racing around Fuji Speedway and Nurburgring with his fingers intertwined in the steel link chain fence as he looked wistfully at the iconic tower of COTA. It would have made a perfect commercial.

The short version is that because of Eric Paradis and Al May, the next day Koba-San and I were getting a tour of the Circuit of the Americas. Al took us to the media room, the war room where every inch of the track could be seen and analyzed when the races were happening. They let us go up turn one and take a picture of Koba-San in front of the car. It was all we had asked for, but it didn’t stop there.

Al could see the ear-to-ear grin of Koba-San. Al knew Koba-San was a racing enthusiast; he was aware that he was the engineer of the car we were driving. Al asked the man that had stood on the outside of the fence the day before, the dream of a lifetime question, “would you like to drive your car around the Circuit of the Americas?” I opened the back door through the hidden handle, and strapped in, getting ready to build memories.

The CVT gives you three modes; Normal, Sport, and ECO, while the CVTi-S allows you to shift into manual for the gearing ratio you desire. Koba-san started out in automatic and quickly shifted to CVT manual around the circuit, easily, smoothly, going 80 mph around the Apex. I watched as Koba-San played the stick shift like a piano, shifting, listening to the revs, shifting, listening. I got out of the diamond-themed vehicle knowing that the C-HR could go an estimated 130 mph.

For a bigger dose of individuality, the C-HR can be outfitted in R-Code, a special paint job that pairs body color with a white-painted roof, side mirrors, and A-pillar for a truly custom look. Available pairings include Blue Eclipse Metallic R-Code, Ruby Flare Pearl R-Code, and Radiant Green Mica R-Code. Radiant Green Mica can only be had in R-Code configuration. After looking at each R-Code paint job, I am figuring the ruby flare Pearl will be purchased by men, the Blue Eclipse by women and the Green Mica by everyone.

SUVs marketing is doing so well that Toyota is calling this a compact crossover instead of a hatchback, even though the trunk opens like a hatchback. The CUV comes as a front-drive only. There is no sunroof option yet, but looking at the platform made me think there would be a sunroof in its future.

Competitors: Nissan Qashqai (Rogue), SEAT Ateca and Honda CR-V, Honda HR-V, Kia Niro, Mazda CX-3, Honda Fit, Hyundai Elantra hatchback

2017 Toyota CH-R models:
XLE Starting $22,500
XLE Premium $24,350
Add $960 for delivery, processing, and handling (DPH).

Fuel Economy MPG (city/highway/combined):
27 city/31 highway/29 combined

AVAILABLE EXTERIOR COLORS
– Ruby Flare Pearl
– Blizzard Pearl
– Silver Knockout Metallic
– Magnetic Gray Metallic
– Black Sand Pearl
– Blue Eclipse Metallic
– Blue Eclipse Metallic R-Code – Ruby Flare Pearl R-Code
– Radiant Green Mica R-Code

About the Author:

Lou Ann Hammond is the CEO of Carlist and Driving the Nation. She is the co-host of Real Wheels Washington Post carchat every Friday morning and is the Automotive, energy correspondent for The John Batchelor Show and a Contributor to Automotive Electronics magazine headquartered in Korea. Hammond is a member of the North American Car and Truck of the Year (NACTOY), Women's World Car of the Year (WWCOTY), and the Concept Car of the Year.