by Frank A. Aukofer

Though almost anyone would classify the 2020 Toyota C-HR as a crossover sport utility vehicle, the company prefers to refer to it as a designer blend of a sport coupe, hatchback and compact crossover.

That’s understandable. There’s little question that it is a stylish upgrade of a small wagon that does not exactly fit a crossover definition because it lacks an all-wheel drive option.

2020_Toyota_CHR_02It’s a trend. The C-HR, which was introduced as a 2018 model, competes now against at least three other front-wheel drive nameplates that are marketed as small crossover SUVs: The Kia Niro, Nissan Kicks and Hyundai Venue.

Others that offer all-wheel drive as well as front-drive include the Chevrolet Trax, Hyundai Kona, Kia Seltos, Mazda CX-3 and CX-30, and the Honda HR-V. They are all part of a movement away from traditional subcompact and compact sedans toward more practical crossover-type vehicles that resemble hatchbacks or tall station wagons.

2020_Toyota_CHR_01The invention of the crossover was a futuristic marketing ploy by manufacturers. American buyers disdained hatchbacks and station wagons so the manufacturers simply gave their hatches a higher profile, added optional all-wheel drive, called them crossover SUVs and now they’re threatening to overwhelm the market—and not only in economy models. There’s no category that is immune — from the C-HR category to Bentley and Rolls-Royce.

The C-HR — it stands for Coupe/High Rider—was introduced as a 2018 model, mainly to compete with Honda’s HR-V, which unlike the C-HR does offer an all-wheel drive option. Though it has four doors, the C-HR mimics a coupe-like profile by mounting the outside rear door handles high up in the door frame.

2019_Toyota_CHR_08_5D136A3A848C374977E705590CB469C99A9FCCA1But the design has a downside. The funky styling, similar to Toyota’s Prius Prime hybrid, results in a sloping coupe-like roof that dictates small side windows for the back seat. Combine that with large headrests on the front seats and the rear-seat passengers may imagine they’re spelunking in the cutout of a cave.

Back seat denizens can barely see out of their dark quarters, and getting in and out takes some torso twisting. Commendably, however, they do have decent head and knee room except for the poor center-rear passenger, who must contend with a high, hard cushion, a floor hump and intrusion of the front console.

2018_Toyota_CHR_RCode_33_A41762A49FDD63D1B895CFE0084833CDED3C0C9AFor 2020, the snazzy millennial looks get complemented by a re-styled front fascia, LED lights and special wheels for different trim levels. There are three: LE, XLE and the tested top-line Limited, which also sported “Supersonic Red” paint two-toned with a black roof. The combination tacked $945 onto the base price of $27,740, which gave the test car some of the aura of high-end European luxury cars, which typically extort extra dollars for special paint jobs.

Other than looks, however, the C-HR rolls on much as it did when it was a newborn. The 144-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine still makes 139 lb-ft of torque with an identical city/highway/combined fuel economy rating of  27/31/29 mpg.

2018_Toyota_CHR_RCode_08_BFFE72057860224A1DCEDDFD07A89763BC1E1826With a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), the C-HR won’t win too many stoplight drag races. However, it is eagerly responsive and feels a lot quicker off the line and in passing than the numbers would indicate. For control-freak drivers, there’s a quick-shifting mode that mimics a seven-speed manual. There are no steering-wheel mounted paddle shifters; you must use the console shift lever, which actually is more engaging.

Engaged drivers likely will select the Sport driving mode, which enhances throttle responsiveness and holds the CVT’s simulated upshifts to higher revs to enhance acceleration. Blasting off from a ramp onto a fast-moving freeway to meld with the traffic is a breeze but pay attention to merging.

2019_Toyota_CHR_RCode_32_EBA46173FCDFFB8258B0792DB829027B582ED459In keeping with Toyota’s current attention to safety, all trim levels get full basic safety equipment, including pre-collision braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure alert with steering assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and adaptive radar cruise control.        Moreover, even the lower trim levels come equipped with SXM satellite radio along with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Other enhancements on the tested Limited included voice recognition, Bluetooth streaming and phone connectivity, and WiFi hotspot.

Though the C-HR’s cargo area is compromised somewhat by a high load floor to accommodate the full-size temporary spare wheel and tire, its 19 cubic feet of space exceeds that of many midsize sedans. It’s part of the reason that these agile little vehicles, with their low prices and high fuel economy, are taking over.

2018_Toyota_C_HR_19_79571FFC21B5C321825CAB95FDDAA9B8068E9AD4Specifications

  • Model: 2020 Toyota C-HR Limited four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder; 144 hp, 139 lb-ft torque.
  • Transmission: Continuously variable automatic with manual-shift mode and front-wheel drive.
  • Overall length: 14 feet 5 inches.
  • Height: 5 feet 2 inches.
  • EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 86/19 cubic feet.
  • Weight: 3,300 pounds.
  • EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 27/31/29 mpg.
  • Base price, including destination charge: $27,470.
  • Price as tested: $28,860.

Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.

2020_Toyota_CHR_04Photos (c) Toyota