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How Do You Classify the Toyota C-HR and Kia Niro?

Toyota has recently released a small car called the C-HR, which I happen to like a lot. I like it because it fits into my usual mantra of "no boring cars." The C-HR is certainly not boring, instead featuring crazy, bold, look-at-me styling that will be a perfect choice for anyone who thinks the Corolla across the showroom is a bit too dull. It also has raised ground clearance, like a crossover.

Right around the time Toyota was releasing the C-HR to the world, Kia was releasing a new model of their own: the Niro. Have you heard of this thing? It’s only offered with a hybrid engine, and it’s got sort of mini-SUV styling; maybe it’s intended to take on this new crop of ultra-small SUVs, like the Mazda CX-3 and FIAT 500X and Jeep Renegade. And, of course, the C-HR.

Except one thing sets apart the C-HR and the Niro from everything else: Neither of those cars offer all-wheel drive.

Yes, that’s right: The C-HR and the Niro are front-wheel-drive-only, in spite of the fact that both automakers seem to consider them "crossovers." On Kia’s website, the Niro sits right there on the "CROSSOVERS/SUVS/MINIVANS" tab, along with the Sportage and the Sorento. On Toyota’s website, the C-HR is also placed under "Crossovers & SUVs," sharing hallowed ground with the Toyota Land Cruiser, possibly the ultimate SUV. But there’s only one problem: These things aren’t actually SUVs, right?

Well, how do we measure it? Personally, I think a vehicle absolutely must offer all-wheel drive to be considered a crossover or an SUV. I think that should be a hard line, and I’m drawing it right now. Ground clearance, too, favors the idea that these models aren’t crossovers but rather hatchbacks: The C-HR has just 5.9 inches of ground clearance, which is less than a Ford Fusion. The Kia Niro has 6.3 inches, which is somewhere between "Fusion" and "CR-V" — but still closer to Fusion.

But here’s the thing: Crossovers are hot right now, and these cars are being pitched as crossovers — so does that fact alone make them crossovers? Isn’t "segment" more about marketing than anything else, anyway? Moreover, the base-level Mercedes GLA, without all-wheel drive, has less ground clearance than the C-HR or the Niro, while the GLA with all-wheel drive has more. Does that make the 2-wheel-drive GLA a hatchback and the all-wheel-drive version a crossover?

Or maybe there’s a better question: Have automakers simply blurred the lines of these segments so much that we have no idea what to call them? Or should we create a new segment that covers these hatchback-wagon-mix things? Hatchover? Crossback? I will leave this for you to consider while I ponder the quirks and features of the Toyota C-HR. Find a crossover for sale

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Doug Demuro
Doug DeMuro writes articles and makes videos, mainly about cars. Doug was born in Denver, Colorado, and received an economics degree from Emory University in Atlanta. After graduation, Doug spent three years working for Porsche Cars North America. Eventually, he quit his job to become a writer, largely because it meant that he no longer had to wear pants. Doug’s work has been featured in a... Read More

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17 COMMENTS

  1. Those both straddle the “super dumb-looking” segment and the “trying to look like something we’re not” segment. That’s a bold srategy, Cotton.

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