Will The FWD 2020 Toyota C-HR Conquer Tombstone Hill? I Find Out If You REALLY Need AWD!

Does a crossover really need AWD to be useful for basic off-roading? A Tombstone Hill test will find out.

“Do I really need AWD?” Here in Colorado, we get this question nearly every day. To show you the answer, we took the 2020 Toyota C-HR to our signature off-road challenge, Tombstone. It’s a sandy, rocky steep hill climb at nearly 8,000 feet in elevation that we use as the benchmark test to determine a vehicle’s baseline off-road cred.

2020 Toyota C-HR: Specs

The Toyota C-HR Limited answers the question: FWD or AWD? [image: TFL]

Toyota’s economy-sized and economically priced crossover comes standard with a 2.0L 4-cylinder engine good for 144 horsepower and all of 139 lb-ft. torque. That power is sent to the front wheels via a CVT transmission. On paper this setup produces a commendable 27 city/31 hwy/29 combined MPG EPA rating. Our fully optioned Limited model was well made, featured very comfortable seats and a smartly designed and built dash. But off-road, the anemic engine and CVT fall short, especially at altitude. Not helping matters: A 14 degree approach angle that is better suited to plowing snow and scraping rocks than clearing obstacles. Same goes for the C-HR’s 5.9″ ground clearance.

All of which will lead you to ask, “Why are you even doing this off-road video?” As we said up top, it’s because we see vehicles like this all the time out on the trails and at backcountry campsites. And people, who like the form factor of these crossovers and their low cost, want to know if they can save even more by skipping the AWD option. Think RAV4, Honda CR-V, Subarus, Nissan Rogues, etc.

The C-HR at the bottom of Tombstone [image: TFL]

Front-wheel drive: Fail or Prevail?

On Tombstone, the Toyota’s combo of weak traction from the all-season tires, CVT, and over-matched engine, barely pulled the car up several feet of the hill. Even floored the CVT just didn’t know what to do and the car went nowhere. Tommy tried traction-control on, traction control off. He even tried going up backwards to see if the extra weight on the front end would help the car find enough grip. To no avail.

With high-clearance vehicles, momentum can help overcome obstacles. But on the C-HR the bulbous overhanging frontend and its dismal approach angle put the kibosh on that idea. One big rock, root, or pothole hit with enough speed could do serious damage.

We even tried to go backwards to see if that helped. [image: TFL]

Did we answer the question: FWD or AWD? For this class of crossover, yes, AWD at a minimum, is the way to go. And whenever you get asked that question, you can now share the video at the top of this post to show them why AWD is the going to be the best option when it comes to traveling off-road in a crossover.