After dominating European sales of compact SUVs with the RAV4 for years, Toyota was caught off-guard when the region's customers started to migrate toward crossovers. With the new C-HR, the Japanese automaker is a latecomer to the fast-growing sector, but to stand out in the crowded segment Toyota has done something out of character -- it has given the C-HR a polarizing design.
"If you like it, you love it. If you don't like it, you never will," said Hiroyuki Koba, general manager of the C-HR. "We are looking for customers who disliked Toyota before. We want to turn their heads."
The model's name is an abbreviation of the words Coupe High Rider. Toyota used that combination to emphasize that the car's driving dynamics match those of a compact hatchback despite its higher center of gravity.
Koba said the C-HR's responsive handling puts it in the same league as the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf rather than a compact crossover. To try to match the driving dynamics of those two models, Toyota undertook early development of the C-HR on Europe’s winding roads and high-speed highways. Prototypes have been tested at Germany's Nurburgring race circuit since 2013.
Another potentially polarizing aspect of the C-HR is that it will only be sold with gasoline engines in a segment where diesels rule. Toyota expects three-quarters of European customers to purchase the 1.8-liter gasoline-electric hybrid that emits just 82 grams per kilometer of CO2. That output is equivalent to fuel economy of 3.6 liters per 100km, a figure that beats many diesel powertrains. The C-HR will be sold in more than 100 countries worldwide but Toyota expects Europe to be the crossover's No. 1 market, accounting for 100,000 of the car's 170,000 annual sales.