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Here's a Reason Why SUVs Are Overtaking Sports Cars in Popularity

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author photo by Doug DeMuro January 2018

Here's an unfortunate fact that car enthusiasts are starting to realize: Sports cars are slowly becoming less popular, and SUVs are quickly becoming the darlings of the automotive world. People who 10 years ago wanted to be seen in the new, cool, hip sports car now want to be seen in the SUV -- and I've thought of one interesting reason for this that you probably haven't considered.

That reason is performance.

I recently acquired a 1991 new car buyer's guide, and I'm struck by just how many sporty vehicles were available for sale back in 1991. In fact, at one point the guide even calls the Hyundai Scoupe a new entrant in "the hotly contested sport coupe market." Back then, you had the Acura Integra, the Audi Coupe, the Eagle Talon, the Ford Probe, the Lexus SC, the Mitsubishi Eclipse, the Toyota Celica, the Volkswagen Corrado and many, many sportier cars -- and that's saying nothing of the famed 1990s Japanese sports cars we all know well (the Acura NSX, Mitsubishi 3000GT, Nissan 300ZX, Toyota Supra and Subaru SVX).

But there's a reason there are so many sporty cars: You had to buy a sporty vehicle, back in 1991, if you wanted any sort of performance. This guide (unknowingly, of course) is documenting the beginning of the proliferation of SUVs -- and back then, SUVs were a performance nightmare. The Ford Explorer's sole engine had 155 horsepower. The Toyota 4Runner was offered with a 4-cylinder that had only 116 hp. The Chevy Blazer was a monster, with 160 horses. The Geo Tracker had all of 80 hp.

These days, things have changed a lot. Yes, SUVs are becoming "cool" because they have extra capability, and extra ground clearance, and brawny, expressive styling. But consider this other reason why people are buying SUVs: They get all that styling and capability, and they no longer have to sacrifice anything in terms of performance. Today's Explorer has up to 365 hp. The Chevy Traverse, effectively the great-grandson of the 1991 Blazer, has up to 310. Some SUVs have over 500 hp. And even a basic, entry-level version of the Honda CR-V does zero to 60 in 7.5 seconds.

In short, you no longer have to buy a performance car to get … performance. And so, not only are people embracing SUVs because they provide the style and capability they like, but they're also flocking to SUVs because buying an SUV no longer means you're giving up anything in terms of driving excitement and performance. Today's medium-size SUVs are probably faster around a race track than most of the 20-year-old "sporty" cars I mentioned above -- and they're certainly faster in a straight line.

And so the SUV is killing the car. People want to sit up high, they like the practicality, they like the usability, and believe it or not, the performance is playing a role. Why buy a sports car when you can buy a "cool new SUV" and get the same thrill that used to be locked away behind two doors and swoopy styling?

Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.

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Here's a Reason Why SUVs Are Overtaking Sports Cars in Popularity - Autotrader