Mi­cro SUV seg­ment ‘has ex­ploded’

The Labradorian - - Editorial - BY MATT BUBBERS WHEELS

There’s a strange phe­nom­e­non in Hol­ly­wood, some deeply in­grained mech­a­nism of the stu­dio sys­tem, which means sim­i­lar films come out si­mul­ta­ne­ously: Dante’s Peak and Vol­cano in 1995, Ar­maged­don and Deep Im­pact in 1998, White House Down and Olym­pus Has Fallen in 2013.

Not that this “twin film” phe­nom­e­non is a bad thing. It gives us more of what we want, which is ap­par­ently Earth-an­ni­hi­lat­ing dis­as­ter flicks.

In the au­to­mo­tive world there’s a sim­i­lar kind of group­think. What we want now, ac­cord­ing to the in­dus­try, is af­ford­able mi­cro-SUVs. There’s a del­uge of them, flood­ing the mar­ket and threat­en­ing the supremacy of our old favourite: The com­pact car.

“This seg­ment, sub-com­pact SUV, has ex­ploded with name­plates be­cause it makes SUV own­er­ship more ac­ces­si­ble with lower base prices,” said Robert Kar­wel, se­nior man­ager of the Power In­for­ma­tion Net­work at JD Power Canada.

Ex­am­ples of the genre in­clude: Toy­ota C-HR, Honda HR-V, Ford EcoS­port, Jeep Rene­gade, Hyundai Kona, Chevro­let Trax, Nis­san Kicks, Mazda CX-3, Fiat 500X and Buick En­core.

They all start at or around the $20,000 mark. Com­pared to class-above com­pact SUVs, opt­ing for a sub-com­pact can save you sig­nif­i­cant cash.

“The eco­nomics make own­er­ship eas­ier,” Kar­well said. “If we com­pare the av­er­age sub-com­pact SUV with the av­er­age com­pact SUV (so let’s say a Chevy Trax ver­sus a Chevy Equinox) the smaller ’ute is al­most $100 cheaper per-month to fi­nance, and is about $6,000 cheaper in to­tal ve­hi­cle price.”

Not only that, but the cost of own­er­ship — typ­i­cally a weak point with SUVs — is rel­a­tively low. Tra­di­tional SUVs are gas guz­zlers be­cause they have big en­gines and beefy chas­sis and all-wheel drive. These sub-com­pact models have none of those things. They’re all front-wheel drive, with all-wheel drive usu­ally only avail­able as a (pricey) op­tion.

The Ford EcoS­port — which is in no way sporty — has a dinky 123-horse­power, three-cylin­der, tur­bocharged en­gine.

The Nis­san Kicks’ en­gine makes only 115 lb.-ft. of torque. The 0-100 km/h sprint feels more like a leisurely stroll. On the flip side, be­cause it’s such a light­weight — tip­ping the scales at just 1,197 kilo­grams — fuel econ­omy is rated at a very fru­gal 6.6 L/100 km on the high­way and 7.7 in the city.

The Fiat 500X Sport is a ver­i­ta­ble speed-de­mon in this com­pany, with 180 hp from a 2.4-litre mo­tor. But, if you want fun-to-drive han­dling chops, our pick would be the Mazda CX-3. It has a nice bal­ance of 146 hp and torque plus a lithe 1,237 kg curb weight. It also hap­pens to be among the best­look­ing ve­hi­cles in the class.

Toy­ota’s C-HR is an in­ter­est­ing out­lier in this cat­e­gory for three rea­sons: It has a high base price of $23,695, class-lead­ing safety tech as stan­dard, and looks bonkers, like a car­toon stealth-fighter. The higher price brings Toy­ota’s Safety Sense P, a stan­dard pack­age that in­cludes auto emer­gency brak­ing with pedes­trian de­tec­tion, lane de­par­ture mit­i­ga­tion with au­to­mated steer­ing as­sist, au­to­matic high-beams and dy­namic radar cruise-con­trol.

While these mi­cro-SUVs are steal­ing some sales from their larger SUV sib­lings, Kar­wel noted, most cus­tomers are mi­grat­ing from cars.

“The price point is ba­si­cally un­der­cut­ting the most pop­u­lar seg­ment in Canada — com­pact cars — which has an av­er­age ve­hi­cle price of $25,000,” he said.

The av­er­age price for one of these sub-com­pact SUVs is $27,513, in­clud­ing cash re­bates, ac­cord­ing to JD Power data. Buy­ers face a choice be­tween get­ting a com­pact car for $25,000, or spend­ing $2,500 more to get a sub-com­pact SUV.

Yes, these mi­cro SUVs are pricier than plain old cars, and are, in essence, just tall hatch­backs dressed in SUV drag. But, buy­ers are nev­er­the­less in­creas­ingly choos­ing them over cars.

“SUVs have the per­cep­tion of safety com­bined with win­ter ca­pa­bil­ity and prac­ti­cal­ity. It pro­vides for a com­pelling pur­chase mo­ti­va­tion for Cana­di­ans,” said Kar­wel.

In other words, don’t bet on the trend to­ward mi­cro-SUVs slow­ing down.

The Mazda CX-3 is the best­seller among this group through the first half of the year, ac­cord­ing to data from GoodCarBadCar. Cana­dian sales are up 40 per cent to 6,803 units as of June. (http://www.goodcarbadcar. net/2018/07/june-2018-canada­suv-sales-rank­ings-ev­ery-su­vranked/) The Hyundai Kona is right be­hind, with 6,236 sales de­spite only ar­riv­ing in March. (We’re not in­clud­ing the Nis­san Qashqai and Subaru Crosstrek in this cat­e­gory be­cause they’re both slightly larger ma­chines.)

Sub-com­pact SUVs are more pop­u­lar than their car coun­ter­parts, but less pop­u­lar than best-sell­ing com­pact cars like the Honda Civic. Al­though, com­pact car sales are trend­ing down for nearly all models, whereas sub-com­pact SUV sales are trend­ing up for most models, again ac­cord­ing to GoodCarBadCar data (http://www. goodcarbadcar.net/2018/07/ small-car-sales-in-canada­june-2018/).

Just five years ago there were only three of four mi­cro-SUVs. Now there are at least 10 with more likely on the way.

“I would be on the look­out for new models here from VW, FCA, Subaru, etc.,” said Kar­wel.

If and when new models ar­rive, ex­pect them to do so all at once, in a flurry of mar­ket­ing buzz not seen since Antz and A Bug’s Life both came out in 1998.

Chevro­let Trax

Ford EcoS­port

Hyundai Kona

Mit­subishi RVR

Honda HR-V

Mazda CX-3

Toy­ota CH-R

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