By on March 10, 2017

2018 Toyota C-HR, Image: Toyota

Like so many vehicles, Toyota’s C-HR leads a somewhat confused life. Its identity, like that of the Kia Niro, seems obvious to PR types, but wary observers continue to cite both vehicles’ lack of available all-wheel drive as a reason why neither should carry a “crossover” label.

We haven’t come to blows here at TTAC, but in the great Crossover Or Not debate, the “tall wagon” camp has a clear edge. Certainly, the C-HR, billed as a subcompact crossover, has the proper dimensions and ride height to qualify, but its lack of four-wheel traction sets it apart from its rivals. Usually, an automaker would prefer to live up the segment’s tepid go-anywhere pretensions by tossing in an optional prop-shaft and rear differential.

It could be that the C-HR’s missing AWD has more to do with its humble, one-size-fits-all Scion origins than anything else. However, there’s mixed information coming out about the model’s future.

In its review of the 2018 Toyota C-HR, Consumer Reports makes a bold claim. The model, slated to appear on lots next month bearing edgy looks and a pedestrian drivetrain, apparently won’t remain front-drive forever.

“All-wheel drive is promised to be offered during the C-HR’s model life cycle,” the publication states.

That’s news to most, as Toyota has made no official promise of all-wheel drive. We have to assume a juicy detail landed in a CR journalist’s ear from a company or supplier source.

When contacted to confirm or refute the claim, the automaker played it by the book.

“We do not talk about future products. Thus, we have not made any announcements regarding AWD becoming available in the C-HR here in the U.S. market in the future,” wrote Toyota spokesman Sam Butto in an email.

“We are always studying all of our products and that includes the possibility of additional features such as AWD on the C-HR.”

It would be odd if the automaker didn’t offer the feature at some point in the foreseeable future, as there’s already an all-wheel-drive C-HR bound for Australia. Buyers in northern states and Canada would appreciate the extra grip, and Toyota would surely reap some reward from the model’s increased competitiveness.

As for the crossover debate, that near-existential battle rages on. One TTAC writer, let’s call him Tim C. (perhaps that’s too obvious. T. Cain –Ed) refuses to call it anything other than a car. Clearly, a wagon bodystyle does not a crossover make, or does it? The C-HR’s ground clearance tops that of a Toyota Corolla by just four-tenths of an inch, and both stand equal chances of clawing out of a muddy cornfield with dignity intact.

As with the Niro, the C-HR’s troublingly vague identity ensures that this debate won’t quietly disappear anytime soon.

[Image: Toyota Motor Corporation]

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55 Comments on “The Strange Case of the Toyota C-HR’s Missing All-Wheel Drive...”

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “the segment’s tepid go-anywhere pretensions”

    There’s the problem. I have no expectation that my CUV possess AWD. For me, the “utility” of a CUV (or SUV) is in the box that sits above the wheels, not the wheels themselves.

    So no, I am not ‘troubled’ by the ‘missing’ AWD.

    Kudos to Subaru for conditioning everyone to believe they need AWD.

    • 0 avatar
      Corey Lewis

      I think you’re an exception to the rule. You prefer electric and hybrid vehicles, and have very specific desires – you are not general consumer.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      I should have added the obvious: that my opinion and ten cents will get you a dime.

      For many, AWD is a requirement to define CUV; it just isn’t for me.

      The body shape is what causes the consternation. For example, nobody is suggesting the Hyundai Ioniq should have AWD, yet the Kia Niro has the *identical* running gear and people rend their clothes over its ‘lack’ of AWD. Meanwhile Hyundai and Kia intend for these vehicles to compete with the Prius, which has never offered AWD.

    • 0 avatar

      I think most people use the “go-anywhere pretensions” to justify their purchase of something that is not a sedan, wagon, minivan, hatchback, etc. For the same reason that 1/2-ton trucks at least need an option package that gives them a ludicrous tow rating far beyond what’s advisable, all SUV-shaped things need to at least offer AWD as an option, so people who buy them for image and high hip points can also believe themselves “safer” when it rains or snows.

      • 0 avatar

        “I think most people use the “go-anywhere pretensions” to justify their purchase..”

        If you were my enemy I’d rejoice in and encourage your misperception.

        Most people just want to eat, fcuk and have more money, with maybe some individual variation as to order of importance.

        I hear them talking about those things a lot. I seldom hear them arguing in defense of purchasing some appliance or other.

  • avatar

    That’s not all that’s missing. Unless you’re a fan of solitary confinement, the back seat, while reasonably roomy, is dark and uninviting, and the blind spots are ENORMOUS. The interior comes in any color…as long as it’s black, and there’s no moonroof option.

  • avatar

    Whatever it may or may not be, one thing’s for certain: that thing is ugly.

  • avatar

    I like this thing. Does that make me weird?

  • avatar

    I maintain that “Crossover” is a styling statement more than any statement of capabilities. It’s certainly looks like a crossover instead of a Corolla station wagon.

    And does anybody, besides auto journos, really care about this sort of semantic debate? If folks want AWD, they’ll shop elsewhere; if they don’t want AWD, I don’t see them really caring that it’s not an option.

    • 0 avatar

      Styling elements aside, the article is correct: a Crossover by definition MUST have AWD/4WD as (at least) an option.


    • 0 avatar

      “Crossover” was originally intended to imply that a vehicle was between a passenger car and an SUV by design or capability. I don’t see how AWD in and of itself is implied, but its inclusion certainly follows the goal of including SUV capability in something less than fully SUV.

      Beyond a styling statement, I think Crossover has turned into a mere marketing label. Crossovers sell; if your vehicle is perceived to be a “Crossover” its sales will improve. Do as much as is required to attain Crossover status in the public consciousness and no more as sales success will surely follow. This was the failing of the Kia Rondo and why I can see the questionable nature of the Niro’s claim to CUV-ness. The C-HaiR OTOH has all the aggro styling/cladding language expected on ruggedized cute-utes with visual ground clearance (whether actual or not). Despite the fact that side-by-side with the likes of a GLA or my Elantra GT nobody will discern any significant difference, on their own two of those are “CUVs” and one is not.

  • avatar

    So if it stops mattering to the proletariat whether AWD is available or not this will be a boon to the Automakers because they will need to do even LESS engineering to turn their car platforms into crossover platforms.

    I’d hate to see AWD become something you can only get on top trim spec models.

    • 0 avatar
      Corey Lewis

      “I’d hate to see AWD become something you can only get on top trim spec models.”

      This sounds incredibly likely. Like the newest transmission with 10 speeds only being available on upper trim Odysseys.

      • 0 avatar


        You know how much I love that you can get an SLE, Sport, LT, SE, LE etc AWD edition?

        I don’t want all the toys and big azz rims. I just want to get through that snow drift, up that hill, and off to my meeting that they won’t cancel! (And I don’t want to store tires between the seasons.)

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    No AWD and a body shell that looks to badly compromise interior packaging. What is the point of this over the iM? I guess you buy this for the looks and the CUV marketing drive that has seeped into your subconsciousness despite there being few redeeming qualities otherwise.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    Like the Corolla vs. Niro picture the other day, I would enjoy seeing one of these or the Niro parked next to a Scion xD while the folks at Kia and Toyota explain the differences.

    To my knowledge, Toyota/Scion never referred to the xD as a crossover.

    • 0 avatar

      It should’ve been though, the xD had more ground clearance than an average car (which I miss when driving my 3 over deep ruts or when driving through deep snow) and had a ridiculously upright driving position.

  • avatar

    Lack of AWD hasn’t hurt Kia Soul really. At least it’s a box on wheels with some visibility out the back and sides. This is just a mess.

  • avatar

    For me no AWD is a deal breaker, as is the weak ground clearance. If I’m going to drive a wagon that isn’t very good at being a wagon it better be good at getting me home.

    As I’ve discussed before I recently picked up an Escape Hybrid for my wife as she was being wishy washy on what she wanted. One of the things she said was I don’t need AWD, I do just fine with top quality winter tires and FWD. Well after there was 10 or so inches of snow in our neighborhood she actually admitted that she was really really happy that she had AWD.

  • avatar

    The C-hr was developed primarily for the European market, where the Rav4 isn’t so popular. They needed a smaller crossover desperately to compete if they want to grow there. In America this isn’t nearly as important of a vehicle for them, Toyota would rather you buy a Rav4 anyways. We get a simplified version(no AWD), because Toyota needs to make sure this is a success overseas, so production and supply will favor the more important markets for the C-hr.

    Side note: The Chr is already Toyota’s #2 selling vehicle in Europe this year

  • avatar
    Dan R

    If this thing helps to shift product it will have done its job.
    Little need or desire for vehicles that can scoot through Monument Valley and up its sides.

  • avatar

    No need for awd. The c-hr is replacing the rich high school chick car. In other worlds back in the 80’s and 90’s the VW Cabriolet was the rich high school chick car. Small Crossovers like this c-hr and the Honda hr-v is replacing that cabriolet. So no need for awd.

  • avatar

    Remember that at one point it was possible to buy 2WD models of various Jeeps and the Ramcharger. Maybe the Blazer and Bronco too; I’m not sure.

  • avatar

    Next up the C-HR’s curious lack of rear rear glass and visibility.
    C-HR’s lack of power
    C-HR’s lack of technology even though it’s aimed at Millennials
    And last but not least the C-HR’s lack of identity. What exactly is this thing anyway?

    • 0 avatar

      Toyota’s refusal to use Android Auto and Apple CarPlay is going to kill them with Gen Y & Z.

      • 0 avatar


        Yeah that’s really stupid. Looks like another Toyota “youth” product that Grandma ends up driving because of the high hip point and it was easier to afford on her social security check than a RAV4.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    The trim designation annoys me.
    The base model is the C-HR XLE while the top spec model is the C-HR XLE Premium.

    To me, this isn’t a Toyota C-HR, it’s a Toyota C-HR XLE with one trim level above base.

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    “And does anybody, besides auto journos, really care about this sort of semantic debate? If folks want AWD, they’ll shop elsewhere; if they don’t want AWD, I don’t see them really caring that it’s not an option.”


  • avatar

    Why does a crossover need to have AWD?

    “Actual SUVs” sometimes don’t.

    (I mean, you can even buy an XC70 with FWD, if you … wanted to?)

  • avatar

    I don’t care about the lack of AWD. This isn’t a real off-roader, and as long as you put a good set of snow tires on there, you’re fine. I also like the styling, albeit not the visibility challenges it brings. Nevertheless, I would never buy this. Why? It’s about $4000 more than the Corolla iM, for essentially the same thing. No thanks.

  • avatar

    In my opinion, most people don’t need AWD. A good set of 4 studless snow tires would more than suffice. My little rattle trap Mitsubishi Mirage has plowed through 5″ of new snow, rutted ice, hills, etc. with nothing more than a set of Blizzaks.

  • avatar

    Friend of mine owns a Toyota dealership. I’m told that the C-HR will be available with AWD some time around the end of the year. At least that is the plan at this point.

  • avatar

    I like the styling (other than the blunt front end obviously designed around Euro pedestrian regulations), like that it’s available in weird colours, but no jacked up vehicle with cladding or “skid plates” should ever not have AWD as an option.

    No one’s mentioned that Chevy is marketing the Bolt as a crossover either, despite the fact it has no cladding, doesn’t have a raised driving position, and doesn’t offer AWD. It doesn’t need to since it’s not a crossover. Neither does the Soul.Neither does the Niro even if it does have cladding. But this is jacked up in a way none of those are and is styled to look as such. So therefore part of the image of buying this is compromised when someone can look online and see “no this vehicle doesn’t even have AWD an option, so that elderly couple down the street isn’t actually smarter and safer than me” (using normal crossover customer logic).

    The lack of technology will kill it among millennials, especially for the price they’ll be charging for it. Saying this as a millennial who regards technology as something to avoid in a vehicle purchase.

    Totally agree the xD was a crossover by today’s definition though.

    I just want AWD available in low riding affordable cars again other than the Impreza.

  • avatar

    I don’t need AWD. I don’t need RWD. But I need one or the other. I’m never going to own another car with FWD.

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