Crossovers are pointless and largely terrible cars. So why do people keep buying them in such huge numbers?
There, I said it. I honestly do not understand America’s love affair with the crossover. Basically, what car companies do to create them is to take your average garden-variety hatchback or wagon, put new bodywork on it, and raise both the ride height and the price. Because these cars are higher off the ground then their hatchback cousins, they are worse to drive and get much worse gas mileage. They are also rather unappealing to look at; styling-wise, they are the car industry’s equivalent of a blobfish. Or would that be Ted Cruz? Same thing, I suppose.
Yet Americans buy them in huge numbers. According to Toyota, trucks and SUVs (including crossovers) make up about two-thirds of the market. Granted, trucks have always sold in huge numbers for reasons that are beyond me, and sales of car-based SUVs have been on the rise for about a decade. But around 2015, the market for crossovers seemed to explode. All at once, a new wave of “subcompact” crossovers were released almost all at once. There had been a few of those before (Mini Countryman/Paceman, Nissan Juke, Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, Jeep Compass/Patriot, BMW X1, Buick Encore, Subaru XV Crosstrek), and they were the worst crossovers of all, with the crossover downsides of compromised fuel economy and a dreary driving experience, combined with a complete lack of utility (the whole reason people would buy crossovers), not even the pretense of foul weather ability, and shockingly high price tags.
And yet, 2015 saw the release of the Chevy Trax, Honda HR-V, Fiat 500X, Jeep Renegade, and Mazda CX-3 joining the aforementioned, and the Audi Q3, on the market. And that is not even counting the Kia Soul and Fiat 500L, which some (though not me) classify as crossovers. Ever since then there have been more crossover explosions, too numerous to list here, and all of the segment’s major players have been redesigned to some extent. Volkswagen and Subaru have launched all-new lines of minivans wearing an SUV disguise (the Atlas and the Ascent, respectively), and in the rapidly growing subcompact SUV class, the Nissan Rogue Sport, Jeep Compass, Toyota CH-R, Ford EcoSport, Nissan Kicks, Hyundai Kona, Jaguar E-Pace, BMW X1, BMW X2, Volvo XC40, Buick Encore, Subaru XV Crosstrek, Mini Countryman, and Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross have all been introduced or redesigned. Which leads to one major question.
WHY, DEAR LORD???? WHY??? WHY DO YOU TORTURE US SO???
Sorry about that, I just… never mind.
Anyway, why do people buy these cars? It is not as if they are any good. They are really poor value, and really lousy to drive, but they sell like a song with Cardi B on it.
Well, I may have some ideas:
1: Lack of options.
I hate to admit that my family actually has a crossover, a 2017 Subaru Forester which does at least have a manual and some off-road ability. But it was not my choice. In fact, we might have gotten something else if not for the fact that there are basically zero non-crossover options. The only one we seriously considered was the VW Golf Sportwagen. I have no idea why we didn’t get the better looking, better driving, and just as spacious Golf, but once we did decide not to, we had eliminated our one real crossover alternative (My parents thought a hatchback would not be spacious enough, and judging from the total absence of extra space we had in the Subaru on our recent camping trip, they may have had a point). All of the other alternatives had problems too. Prius V or Ford C-Max? Too expensive, and the C-Max is no longer sold here. Mazda 5? We actually already had one, but they stopped making that too. Fiat 500L? I’d rather have warts than a 500L. Also, horrific reliability. I think none of us could remember the Kia Soul. It has that effect on people.
2: Bad-weather capability
This is probably the one good reason that anyone would buy a crossover. I do have to admit that most decent-sized crossovers are better in conditions like snow and sleet than hatchbacks or wagons. But this is due to 4WD/AWD rather than ground clearance. I guarantee that a Subaru WRX or Ford Focus RS, both high-performance 4x4 compact cars, would easily be able to match a Toyota RAV4 or Honda CR-V in the snow. And they would easily be able to beat the mostly front-drive subcompact crossovers like the Toyota CH-R, which are usually useless in snow, sleet, or sand (the CH-R is no higher off the ground than a Corolla). And let’s face it, if snow or sand is a huge issue for you, you probably own a Jeep. Or Land Rover. Or at least a Subaru.
3: Ride height.
This, on the other hand, is just stupid. Because of the increase of distracted, drunk, and/or Land Rover drivers in the past few years, people feel safer being higher up. But if that is the case, then wouldn’t you fly everywhere? In reality, small crossovers are no safer than small cars (check the IIHS website if you don’t believe me), and subcompact car and crossovers are less safe than either. Also, I suspect that driving a crossover leads to depression. It would for me if I had to drive one.
This is somehow even dumber than #3. You don’t buy a car based on fashion, because a: it changes more frequently than Donald Trump’s stance on gun control, and b: cars are expensive. Very expensive. I guarantee that crossovers will be considered even less cool than wagons and minivans eventually, due to the so-called “soccer mom” image. If these people started driving Aston Martins, they would be uncool within a month. Basically, car buyers cannot travel at the speed of fashion, so how about they just buy cars based on how good they are? Just an idea.
Unfortunately, car makers are unlikely to listen to a small but vocal minority who want wagons. They have permanently crossed over (pun intended) to the dark side. Still, could be worse. Imagine if so-called “sports activity vehicles” like the BMW X6 gained a following? Oh.
This rant has been brought to you by Rory Cahill
Rory Cahill is a highly sarcastic teenage car enthusiast and amateur automotive journalist, who is especially interested in 80s/90s cars, classic off-roaders, and anything weird. He owns a 1984 Mercedes-Benz 300D Turbodiesel. He is also very interested in rock music and politics, and wrote this whole bio in the third person because he is a filthy, filthy snob