How the new rage of compact SUVs has taken over the new car market

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2021 Toyota Urban Cruiser
2021 Toyota Urban Cruiser
Wallace Du Plessis

The likes of VW, Renault, Ford and Suzuki all have compact SUV offerings of their own.

The 1984 Jeep Cherokee can be credited as the first SUV in the modern understanding of the term.

More manufacturers are releasing SUV offerings because of its popularity and space.

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I have had the good fortune to drive a whole range of the latest compact SUVs recently. I must add that the term compact SUV is a little wide as you get tiny vehicles like the Suzuki Jimny right up to the Volkswagen T-Roc in this group.

The really tiny cars like the Suzuki Ignis are not really SUVs in the first place and are a whole size smaller. They are classified as crossovers rather than SUVs. There is also a sub-category, the sub-compact class, of which I will touch on more later. There is no worldwide uniformity about these categories, however.

The compact-sized (by US standards) 1984 Jeep Cherokee is often credited as the first SUV in the modern understanding of the term.

Profitable markets

These cars have almost wiped out the saloon or three-box car segment not only in SA but worldwide, with sales growth of 44% between 2015 and now locally. International experts estimate that the compact SUV segment worldwide will almost double in size again over the next decade.

2021 Volkswagen T-Roc
2021 Volkswagen T-Roc

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Ford has already dropped its two sedans locally, keeping the Figo and Fiesta small hatches, while VW has kept only the Polo and Golf. Toyota still soldiers on with Corolla, and the luxury German brands are still trying to sell cars.

Volkswagen T-Roc
2021 Volkswagen T-Roc

Hatches are still doing well, and luxury cars as well as the performance segment, but the latter two represent a very small percentage of the market.

Peugeot 2008 GT
2021 Peugeot 2008 GT

To give you an idea, we can look at the Volkswagen range. Their sub-compact SUV offering is the T-Cross, the T-Roc is a compact-class crossover that is 80-millimetres longer than the T-Cross and 162-millimetres shorter than the Tiguan, which VW describes as a medium SUV in the local market. The length of the Tiguan was increased by 215mm to 4 701mm to create the three-row 7-seat Tiguan Allspace,  while their big SUV is the premium class Toureg, according to them. In the United States, for example, it would be considered a medium SUV.

Peugeot 2008
2021 Peugeot 2008

A new styling trend is to take an existing SUV and 'sportify' it by putting on bigger rims with lower or flatter profile tyres, lowering the ride height and sloping the rear, in effect nullifying the practical aspects of the SUV, much like the T-Roc and BMW X2 and X4. In many respects, for show only, as they can't really take on their high-performance sedan siblings around corners or on a racetrack.

Broadening the perspective

I like to distinguish between SUVs and offroaders as well. To me, an offroader has to have low range and 4x4 capability or a very good electronic all-terrain setup and, of course, around 200mm ride height. On the local market, Toyota is the most serious offroad player with its range of real 4x4 vehicles, including the Prado various Land Cruiser models, both station wagon and bakkies, Fortuner and Hilux bakkies.

2021 Toyota Urban Cruiser
2021 Toyota Urban Cruiser

Locally, the smaller compacts include the Ford EcoSport, Suzuki Bezza and Toyota Urban Cruiser, Haval H1, VW T-Cross and the biggest and possibly best of them, the Peugeot 2008. The standard compact SUVs include the VW Tiguan, Suzuki Vitara, Toyota Rav4, Mazda CX3, Renault Duster, Ford Kuga, Nissan Qashqai, Audi Q3, the brilliant Volvo XC40 and Peugeot 3008.

These are the cars which dominate our showroom floors and in many cases with reason. There is a variety, from practical to luxury, urban curb crawlers to genuine AWD - happy on a jeep track.

Toyota Urban Cruiser
2021 Toyota Urban Cruiser

The funny thing is that regular sedan cars are often a better choice for consumers, but the fashion today is for crossovers and SUVs. Sedans usually cost less to buy, typically use less fuel than their high stepping siblings and invariably handle better. Perhaps it is a space thing, but when you look at the boot space of some of these SUVs, you have to wonder.

Perhaps it is a case of styling triumphs overvalue and practicality. Still, I must admit I personally like the hip-height seats, the driving position and the view.

This article was first published in the District Mail Community Newspaper.

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