Why America Needs Crossovers

Let's be honest, we here at Jalopnik aren't really fans of the recent crossover fetish that has swept the States.  Crossovers are pointless, really.  They fill an invented market segment that has no specific functional value and carry inflated price tags that, in my opinion, aren't really justified for the amount of sheet metal you're getting.  

Crossovers have commandeered the small SUV market in an attempt to serve as a balanced option between a sedan and SUV.  Supposedly they're for the family who wants a little more space than a sedan, but doesn't want to buy a mid or full-size SUV.  The problem is, they blended all qualities of both market segments, but somehow left out the good ones.  It's as if you tried to combine all the fun aspects of a remote college town with the professional feel of a downtown business district, but ended up with neither.  Basically Indianapolis.  Ok.  I'll stop sugar-coating it.  Crossovers suck.  

They're worse than cars because they're larger, at least on the outside.  Larger means increased curb weight, and increased curb weight means reduced fuel economy and acceleration.  Their center of gravity is higher than the platform the sibling sedan uses.  Goodbye handling characteristics, hello rollover risk.

They're worse than SUV's because they're smaller.  Unfortunately, they're smaller where you need them to be larger.  Huge sacrifices in the cabin, particularly in rear legroom, rear shoulder room, and cargo capacity. Ever sat in the back seat of most crossovers?  It feels like you're on the set of Honey I Shrunk the Kids, except they forgot to shrink you.    Adios, coveted SUV roominess.  I won't bother elaborating on reduced ground clearance since the only off-asphalt action most SUV's see nowadays is the gravel overflow parking at the suburban outlet mall.

Step back for a bit though, set that greasy wrench down, then step back again.  Let's look at the bigger picture here because I think there's a hidden benefit we've missed here. A hidden positive outcome for all this, a hidden reason for crossovers to exist.  

WAIT! Before you cry heresy and grab your pitchforks, bats, and flaming torches of justice, bear with me for just a bit here and allow me to explain.  

Towards the end of the '90's into the early '00's, SUV sales boomed.  Americans flocked to their local dealerships en masse in pursuit of a roomier, more powerful, and (falsely perceived to be) safer vehicle, and SUV's fit the bill well.  As our thirst for bigger grew, so did the size of SUV's—even reaching absurd levels (Ford Excursion anyone?).  But who really cared?  Gas was cheap! Eventually SUV's carrying only the driver (usually a tiny 100lb woman) ruled the roads.  

However, how many of the buyers of SUV's truly needed this 2.5 ton hunk of steel in their driveway?  You could argue that some did, especially in rural communities and large families traveling year-round while towing a camper.  But did these buyers constitute most of the SUV sales?  Probably not.  So it's safe to say that a notable chunk of SUV buyers didn't have a need for one.

This is further demonstrated by the magnitude of SUV trade-ins during the recent Cash for Clunkers program. In the statistics released by USDOT, 85% of trade-ins were SUV's, trucks, and vans led by the poster child of 90's SUV's, the Ford Explorer (4WD).   Nine of the top ten vehicles sold during this program were sedans, while the 10th place was held by the Ford Escape, a crossover.  

So we find ourselves in another need vs. want situation. People who want SUV's don't really need the space.  This, my fellow Jalops, is exactly why crossovers need to exist.  

Buyers long for that SUV look and feel, but have made sacrifices in space and power to save money, and crossovers are serving an important role.   They are a key component in slowly reversing the "I need an SUV" mindset that has spread across the US for over a decade.  

Eventually in the mainstream market, SUV's will be replaced by crossovers will be replaced by compact crossovers.  However as this trend grows, buyers will still have a need for cargo capacity and carmakers will need an answer.  In order to maintain some semblance of cargo space (while keeping a sleek look), they may choose to lengthen wheelbases or the overhang behind the rear axle.  What do you get when you take a compact crossover and lengthen the rear end?  A wagon.  

Yes folks, crossovers just may be a medium by which we will see rebirth of wagons, our beloved form factor here at Jalopnik.  Take the lead photo as an example, the BMW X1, which is only about 10 inches shorter in overall length, and about two inches taller in height than the Audi Allroad wagon. Hell, the X1 is even based off of the 3-series wagon platform.

As much as we love to hate crossovers (myself included) for how useless they are, if this actually happens and wagons make a brilliant comeback, the ends just may justify the means. So let's sit back, grab some popcorn with extra butter, and let the minions bring the wagons back for us.

Discuss.