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The Subcompact SUV Is the Trend of the 2010s

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author photo by Doug DeMuro September 2017

In the automotive industry, the "next big trend" is a constant topic of discussion. The minivan was born from basically nothing in the 1980s to become a hot seller; likewise, the family SUV really took off in the 1990s -- and the luxury SUV came in the late 1990s and 2000s to sweep up the market once again. Automakers are continually trying to invent the next big trend ("How about an SUV convertible!", for instance) to get out ahead of rivals, but the next one is already here: subcompact crossovers.

I'm not sure if you've noticed, but the subcompact SUV segment has dramatically grown over the last few years. When I say "dramatically grown," what I mean is that two years ago there was no such thing as a subcompact SUV, and today there are like a dozen of the things. They're everywhere.

Consider it: Audi Q3, BMW X1, Buick Encore, Chevrolet Trax, FIAT 500X, Honda HR-V, Jeep Renegade, Mazda CX-3, Mercedes-Benz GLA, MINI Countryman, Nissan Juke, Nissan Rogue Sport, Toyota C-HR and probably several others I'm forgetting. They're all here. With the exception of the BMW X1 and the MINI Countryman, they've all arrived in the last year or two. And they're all massively popular.

So what are the reasons for the subcompact crossovers' success? There are a few. One is the fact that "compact" crossovers have now gotten larger, to the point where the CR-V is basically a midsize SUV you could legitimately use for family duty. That wasn't the case when the CR-V first came out, but it's now true of most compact SUVs -- including the RAV4, the Nissan Rogue and others.

Another reason is that people simply want to sit up higher. Young drivers often learned how to drive in SUVs, and they want that same experience for their first cars -- and they don't want to be confined to a "low" Honda Civic any longer. They prefer the seating position and the feel of driving an SUV. The fact that the higher driving position means more ground clearance for their "active" lifestyles -- or the active lifestyles they wish they had -- helps matters a bit more.

Finally, they're cheaper. In the past, you had to fork over $26,000 for a decent compact SUV. But with the advent of the subcompact SUV, some of these things are under twenty grand -- for a brand-new SUV! I'm not sure how long buyers will still be impressed with this -- but right now, most shoppers think an SUV is "more" than a car, and they're surprised they can get a new one so cheaply.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, brings me to my final point: The next trend is already here. You will remember the 2010s for the rise of the subcompact crossover; the decade that got everyone into an SUV, and not just families and rich people. You may also remember it as the decade that began the slow assault on the standard sedan, coupe and hatchback.

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The Subcompact SUV Is the Trend of the 2010s - Autotrader