Toyota’s 2020 C-HR:
Assigning gender to car designs is – I’ve come to think – a fool’s errand. I’ve always taken issue with the notion of Mazda’s MX-5 Miata as a ‘girl’s car’, believing that responsive handling, a minimal footprint and just-right balance should be enjoyed by both men and women. Nor should a full-size Ram pickup be the exclusive province of men; as long as women are drawn to horses, those horses should be towed by pickups and driven – by extension – those women. The only pre-selection I’ll give you is the Mary Kay Cosmetics Cadillac; a pink Cadillac is hers – and hers only.
That, of course, is a roundabout way of introducing Toyota’s C-HR, a crossover Toyota’s marketing team describes as a ‘fun ride (feminine) with attitude (masculine) to spare’. Of course, if you consider a compact footprint underpinning a multitude of disruptive design themes as having ‘attitude’, the Toyota team nails it. And despite having personal reservations regarding the C-HR’s place in the Toyota lineup (or any lineup) since its 2018 introduction, it’s a compact hatch that might grow on you. That’s if, in the spring of 2020, you want anything to grow on you.
In the walkaround you’ll know that the C-HR doesn’t come in the plain vanilla envelope; in fact, nothing in the C-HR communication would have been put in a plain vanilla envelope. Within its aggressive profile is a provocative mix of angular and organic; just when you think the design team has gone Lamborghini, there’s a softened edge or subtle curve. And at a time when the sporty crossover racks up real sales volume for BMW and Benz, the C-HR takes that sporty theme and actually – to this set of eyes – makes it more unified.
For the 2020 refresh, Toyota gave the hatchback/coupe a restyled front fascia, LED headlamps and new wheel designs. And as you’d hope given these difficult times, there’s more value(!), with all three grades adding new amenities.
Inside, our test Limited provided a reasonable approximation of an upscale interior. You won’t confuse this with Audi or (even) Lexus, but neither will you be embarrassed by its plastics or Limited-specific leather trim. But given the relatively small greenhouse and restricted visibility, you will find the interior a tad claustrophobic. That feel is offset by the rearview camera and various nanny aids, but that won’t minimize the cabin’s cockpit-like persona.
Despite my personal take on the C-HR’s overt angularity, the biggest disconnect is between the crossover’s outside expressiveness and what Toyota put under the hood. I see the C-HR as having the potential to be a compelling hot hatch; think a younger Mel Gibson as Braveheart. Instead, Toyota gives us 2.0 liters of Woody Allen. The C-HR’s 144 horsepower and 139 lb-ft of torque simply don’t measure up to the sheetmetal and, pointedly, nor do these Toyota numbers compare favorably to what’s available under the hood of Hyundai’s Kona or Elantra GT. With an all-wheel drive system borrowed from Subaru, and (at a minimum) 169 horsepower taken from the ‘hotter’ Corolla hatch – along with its available manual trans – the C-HR would have a capability fully in keeping with its looks and, not incidentally, performance more in keeping with a $27K window sticker.
With all of that, the C-HR is handy in a runabout-town sort of way. And if you don’t need the social escalation that comes from a Limited trim, you can get in for not much over $20K. Go ahead, express yourselves…GIRLS.