A lot is made of the burgeoning market of small SUVs. It is the fastest growing market segment for new cars, and automakers are scrambling to fill the niche. A small SUV like a Mazda CX-5 simply wasn’t small enough, and so we get vehicles like the even smaller CX-3. The traditionalists may squawk about the death of the SUV, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
The small SUV is just the latest in a long line of vehicles branded “the ultimate family car.” Before that, it was the full-size, body-on-frame SUV. And before that it was the minivan. Before that, it was the station wagon. There has always been a must-have family car for the new generation of families that refuse to drive the type of car that they were raised in. There must be a feeling of dread when you start a family and realize you might have to opt for *gasp* a minivan.
And that’s where small SUVs come in. They are capable of accommodating a small family and all their gear. And as the diaper bags turn into hockey bags, and vacation gear, this growing crop of small SUVs, like the Buick Encore (below), or Subaru Crosstrek XV have the room to handle it.
And many couples are opting to stay in cities when they start a family–just look at all the strollers in Williamsburg! The dirty little secret is that economy cars of the past were actually horribly suited for city driving. Sure, you could park a Mazda GLC where no one else could, but the car-based suspension was made for free-ways, not potholes. Anyone that lives in Detroit or the Northeast can tell you taking a pothole at normal driving speeds can easily leave you on the side of the road. A small SUV might not have the chops to take on the Rubicon trail, but with beefed up suspension and tires, it makes for a more sensible small city car. The taller ride height makes for improved visibility as well.
For those who like taking to the trail, this is good and bad news. When SUVs were all the rage in the 1990s and early 2000s, automakers catered to the masses in terms of packaging. So if you really wanted a rugged SUV to get up to your cabin in the woods, and only really needed something with 4×4, you may have to sort through dealer lots full of SUVs with leather seating, triple-zone climate control, and navigation. Navigation? You have a cabin in the woods-you navigate using the stars!
So when buyers’ tastes turned toward crossovers, the remaining 4x4s are allowed to become more specialized vehicles. In 1999, we got the Nissan Xterra, and in 2006, we got the Toyota FJ. These were two new SUVs with a focus on the trail and active lifestyles. They joined the iconic Jeep Wrangler, which still continues to set sales records.
So despite the oncoming tide of small, car-based SUVs, those who want a true trail machine need not worry. A new Wrangler may move to an aluminum body, but it will still be every bit a beast on the trail, and that should make any off-roader smile.