Cra­dle to the crave

Herald Sun - Motoring - - SHOWROOM - PAUL GOVER CHIEF RE­PORTER paul.gover@cars­guide.com.au

DON’T be sur­prised if some­one you know gets into a com­pact SUV in 2015.

More and more small-car buy­ers are find­ing their $20,000-some­thing bud­get can up­grade them from what they need into the SUV they re­ally want.

A small SUV ex­plo­sion is hit­ting show­rooms and, as Mazda teases its CX-3 this week ahead of the Los An­ge­les show, it looks as if ev­ery brand that’s se­ri­ous about win­ning new own­ers is fo­cus­ing on that seg­ment. It’s much eas­ier to get a first-car buyer hooked on your brand than to win a con­vert later, which is why so much ad­ver­tis­ing is now aimed at on twenty-some­things and the SUVs they crave.

“Peo­ple like them, they’re prac­ti­cal, they’re flex­i­ble, and you can sit up high. And there is an ad­ven­ture el­e­ment, even if you never use it,” says Mazda Aus­tralia mar­ket­ing chief Alas­tair Doak.

“With th­ese ve­hi­cles, be­cause they’re priced from the low $20,000s and up, more peo­ple are re­al­is­ing they can ac­tu­ally af­ford an SUV.”

The boom has pitched the Ford EcoSport and Holden Trax against the Subaru XV, prob­a­bly the best looker but limited by lack­lus­tre per­for­mance and an un­der­sized boot.

The two big­gest sell­ers in the class, the Hyundai ix35 and Volk­swa­gen Tiguan, will be punted out of the com­pe­ti­tion in 2015. They are both beyond the size lim­its for a “small” SUV tag, some­thing now recog­nised by the Fed­eral Cham­ber of Au­to­mo­tive In­dus­tries.

So the peck­ing or­der will change, even more with the ar­rival of the CX-3 and Re­nault Cap­tur, de­nied to Aus­tralia for nearly a year as a re­sult of boom­ing world­wide de­mand.

“It’s a big growth seg­ment and we’re keen to jump into that. This gives us an en­try right at the sweet spot,” says Doak of the CX-3.

He be­lieves the new Mazda can change the rules in the class, just as the Mazda3 and lat­est Mazda2 are do­ing, with a com­bi­na­tion of an ef­fi­cient 1.5litre SkyActiv en­gine and fron­twheel drive, good looks and classy fin­ish­ing. As to price, he merely says the CX-3 will be very com­pet­i­tive when it ar­rives next year.

“We are go­ing to treat this with the re­spect it de­serves,” he says, “and make sure we have a full line-up of mod­els.”

He ex­pects the ar­rival of so many baby SUVs to cre­ate much wider rip­ples in Aus­tralian mo­tor­ing, by win­ning sales from the small­car class rather than the cars with which they share plat­forms. So that could mean fewer peo­ple will buy a Volk­swa­gen Golf, Toy­ota Corolla or Mazda3.

If that’s true, it could tip the bal­ance of power com­pletely in favour of work-and-play utes in the fight for No. 1 in show­rooms. The Toy­ota HiLux has topped the sales charts sev­eral times and, with a new model land­ing in 2015, it could be­come a longer-term leader in Aus­tralia.

See X3: Mazda’s tease for its next, smaller SUV

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