OPINION: Crossing Over
They’re practical, comfortable to drive, loaded with the latest technology and reasonably priced.
Recently, I was scrolling through my list of test drives and one thing became abundantly clear: I’ve driven a LOT of SUVs.
Since May, I’ve driven a total of seven representing five different brands. Add those to the pile of others I drove in the winter and spring, and 2020 really has been the year of the SUV for yours truly.
When I say SUV (Sport Utility Vehicle), I’m talking primarily about CUVs (Crossover Utility Vehicle) derived from passenger car platforms. These are the utilities that have been filling our driveways and parking spaces at an alarming rate over the past decade.
As I wrote a couple weeks back, North Americans are turning away from cars in droves – light trucks, crossovers and SUVs accounted for about 74 per cent of new car sales in Canada in 2019 – and many manufacturers are responding by replacing sedans with SUVs and crossovers. The number of models available in utility segments these days is expansive to say the least.
Given that I’ve driven several crossovers recently, I thought I’d share observations across three purchase considerations. There are other factors, such as safety and fuel efficiency, but I think I’ve hit on three that matter to most consumers.
My comments are drawn from seat time in the following (in alphabetical order):
It’s hard to overstate the convenience of opening a lift gate and filling the back with stuff. Yes, my car has a trunk, but it’s not nearly as spacious as the cargo area of even the smallest crossover. Getting in and out of crossovers is also, generally, easier than doing so in a car (especially a coupé like mine) thanks to a more upright stance and boxier structure. A higher ride height and bigger windows also provide better visibility in most instances.
Apart from the GX 460, which has a body-on-frame structure, all utilities I drove are derived from car-based platforms and use unibody construction. Unibody means the vehicle is built from a single structure that encompasses the chassis and skeletal body. Most cars are unibodies, and the benefits include reduced vibration and chassis flex, weight reduction, better crashworthiness and improved driving dynamics. Bottom line, unibody makes for a more pleasant drive, and all test vehicles produced a quiet and comfortable ride. Even the GX wasn’t bad, but it feels more truck-like than the others.
The two Lexus models and Soul EV cost north of $40,000 ($75,000 for the GX), but the others are competitive with mainstream passenger cars. The C-HR, Encore GX and Seltos all come nicely equipped for less than $30,000 and the XT4 starts at just over $35,000 and there are others (Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Mazda CX-5, etc.) in the same $25,000 – $35,000 range. It’s much easier for consumers to move from cars to crossovers when their pricing structures are similar, an aspect the manufacturers have skilfully managed.
Bottom line, the crossover is now the vehicle of choice for the majority of new car buyers. As a car guy with a soft spot for traditional passenger cars, it’s a somewhat sad reality. I grew up with cars, they are what I first learned to drive, and I’ve never owned anything else. They are an inextricable part of my motoring experience and always will be, even as they continue to disappear from dealer showrooms.
But having driven many SUVs and crossovers over the past decade, I have come to appreciate their merits. They’re practical, comfortable to drive, loaded with the latest technology and reasonably priced. They are the new passenger cars for this generation and likely for many more to come.