There is emerging a new market for a sort of tiny SUV/crossover. There are entrants in both the normal and luxury realm coming out, so clearly manufacturers believe this will be a market segment with some appeal. I would have to agree with them on this because this is sort of untapped territory that there seems to be a much increasing demand for. People who want the high ride of an SUV/crossover with fuel economy and efficiency more like that of a smaller car. This will spawn a new market segment of seemingly sporting and trendy small SUVs from most manufacturers I imagine. I foresee many sorts of models including 5 doors, 3 door coups, and yes even convertibles in this segment. It is the perfect market for the “I drive my SUV to the mall” crowd because these sort of customers, which make up most of the current SUV market, because they can have all of the things they like in their big cars in a much smaller and more efficient package. Many people just don’t like the feeling that their ass is just inches off the pavement, and with this new segment there will be small cars where that is far from the case.
So far the one common denominator across the segment is the sort of “out there” yet stylish image. The cars in this segment are not boring to look at, although some looks may be divisive, and all are being marketed with a sporty image not unlike that of the Mini Cooper or the VW Gti. This sporting image will hopefully mean these small SUVs will be lively and fun to drive while still offering many of the advantages of other small cars and SUVs.
My only personal experience with this segment so far is with a Nissan Juke, which I loved. It had all of that sporty driving that its image would suggest while offering great economy and practicality with some SUV bits thrown in as well. The car was quite nimble for a car with a high ride height, so much so that I called it “the GTi of SUVs”. It was utterly fantastic, and if the offerings by other manufacturers are similar or better than the Juke, this could be an awesome new sort of car.
So far the Juke’s competition is really limited to just the Mini Countryman S, as all other “competition” really doesn’t even compare. Both the Countryman and the Juke have small turbocharged engines producing a bit under 200bhp, offer front or all wheel drive, have sporty driving characteristics, a stylish image that doesn’t blend in with the crowd, and both can be had in the $20-30k range with the mini costing a good bit more than a similar juke toward the higher levels of specification. The Mini can be brought to around $40k with every option checked, but that is what you pay to have a loaded European car.
On the luxury end of things the Range Rover Evoque is leading the charge into the US market. It has a stark design taken from its concept car and it can be had as either a coupe 3 door or a 5 door. It has a full luxury trimmed interior, and things such as rear DVD entertainment are even an option on the Evoque. Patrons of the brand will surely not be disappointed. It is powered by a 240hp inline four that, like the Juke and Countryman, is also turbocharged. Basically the Evoque promises the same sort of experience as the Juke but in a more luxurious, high-end fashion. In a recent test by EVO magazine it is said that the Evoque has been tuned so that it can cross rocks and deserts while still being able to be used at a track day with ease. If this is true, then the Evoque will be one incredible machine with some first class engineering to be sure, we will have to see when it hits the market.
Outside of the US, and hopefully soon to be in the US, there is also the BMW X1. My thoughts when I heard about this car were that there was no room for another SUV that was smaller than the X3, and in the way BMW has gone about it I still believe that. The X1 is too similar to the X3 in both looks and image. It lacks the trendy, fresh image of the other cars we have discussed here. Because of this BMW has supposedly held off on X1 sales in the US in order to avoid it competing with the new X3 right away. I am a firm believer that internal competition is always a bad thing, so I say that if BMW is holding off for a year or two due to such concerns, they should probably just not bring it here at all because, as things sit, the two cars are just too similar.
So overall I must say I am looking forward to this emerging segment of small, sporting, and stylish SUV/Crossovers. I think they will be a great addition to the automotive market that will help move things in the right direction efficiency wise as well as throw a bit more fun in the mix. More such offerings are sure to appear from other companies in the near future for sure, and if this wind up being a bunch of high riding hot hatches, then I believe we could see some serious success for this new segment.