Five Alternatives to The Crossover SUV
Options which are practical, affordable, more capable and far more exciting than your average crossover.
As soon as your friends find out that you’re an automotive journalist, they’ll immediately start asking questions about cars.
Unfortunately, the questions are seldom very interesting. They never want to know which of the three modern muscle cars offer the most performance per dollar or which sports cars are still available with a manual transmission.
The question you’ll get asked most often by your aging friends who are buying homes, getting married and having children is, “Which Crossover SUV should I buy?”
The answer, for the record, is probably the Toyota RAV4… or the Honda CRV. But if you went ahead and bought a Ford Escape or a Mazda MX-5 or a Chevrolet Blazer, you’re probably not going to be disappointed or feel like you made the wrong decision.
That’s because all crossover SUVs are basically the same. They all look the same. They’re all similarly equipped, offer similar performance and efficiency and they’re all equally excruciatingly boring to drive. They also typically get worse fuel mileage than the cars on which they are often based and rarely offer much in the way of actual off-road / rough weather performance.
Despite all this, crossover SUVs absolutely dominate new car sales. By 2018, they had consumed up to 40 per cent of the market — and there are no signs of this trend slowing down.
Ask someone who has purchased a crossover and they’ll tell it was because it “seemed like the smart thing to do.” And on the surface, that seems a sound argument. In a crossover, you get a vehicle that’s reasonably efficient, affordable and (to the uninitiated) seemingly capable of anything Canada’s extreme seasons will toss at it.
However, there are plenty of alternatives to joining the pack and contributing to the ever-increasing ubiquity of North American traffic jams — options which are practical, affordable, more capable and far more interesting and exciting than your average crossover.
The Hot Hatch
Hot hatches are spec’d up versions of normal, compact hatchback cars. The recipe is usually to add a turbocharger, sporty seats, sticky tires and a manual transmission to what would otherwise be your grandma’s run-about. The result is pure fun.
Before sporty SUVs came along to steal their thunder, the venerable “hot hatch” was the go-to segment for those seeking a car that was sporty, inexpensive and practical. In fact the arrival of the hot hatch in the 80s was a blow to the sports car segment. No longer did you have to suffer the impracticalities of a two-seat roadster in order to enjoy the job of driving.
The segment may be heavily diminished from its former glory, but it remains a sanctuary for manual transmissions—so if you enjoy changing your own gears, look no further than the VW Golf GTI, Hyundai Veloster N or the simply superb Honda Civic Type R. You’ll find plenty of storage space and even more fun with this segment.
The Mid-Size Pick-Up
I get it. You think a half-ton pick-up like the Ram 1500 or Ford F150 is simply too much vehicle to have in your life.
A mid-size pick-up, however, like the Ford Ranger or Chevrolet Colorado may end up being just right. Besides the obvious extra storage space, a 4X4 pick-up will offer superior bad weather and off-road capabilities thanks to proper tires, clever powertrains and the correct chassis. All of these things mean you can put torque to the ground. Which means you won’t get stuck when the going gets rough.
Remember, mid-size pick-ups are on proper truck frames. Crossover SUVs are basically just cars on stilts and that’s a problem if you ever get caught in a snowstorm.
Also, let’s be real. You’ll look way cooler in a pick-up truck than you will a crossover SUV. It’s the difference between wearing Red Wing boots versus Crocs.
The Off-Road SUV
If the idea of a pick-up truck is simply too gravy-on-a-biscuit for you, then a proper off-road SUV might be your thing. Everything you can say about a pick-up as a better alternative to a crossover, you can say about a proper off-roader.
The familiar Jeep Wrangler, Toyota FJ Cruiser and the upcoming Ford Bronco are all options within this segment.
Yes, they still exist. And for the most part, crossover SUVs are generally based on sedan platforms. Which means what you get in a crossover versus a sedan is less stability and worse fuel efficiency for not much more storage space, if any.
Consider the Toyota Camry or Honda Accord before going for their crossover equivalents—same goes with the new Acura TLX and Lexus IS for the upscale versions. You’ll have much more fun, save some gas money and look better doing it.
If you want some real, proper rear-wheel-drive excitement in your life, consider the rough-and-tumble Dodge Charger or the refined BMW 2-Series Gran Coupe.
I’m going to let all of you “non-car enthusiast” types in on a little secret. Ready?
Wagons are cool. Seriously. Pull up to a ‘Cars and Coffee’ event in a wagon, any wagon, and you’ll get more attention than your average Corvette or Porsche. No longer is the wagon the Grizwald-mobile, suitable only for over-the-hill middle managers and high school chemistry teachers. Buying a wagon nowadays makes you look like a confident, cardigan-wearing European sophisticate… but one who still isn’t afraid to get a little dirt under their nails. It’s the automotive equivalent of an upscale coffee shop in a rough neighbourhood.
Wagons are of course infamous for their easy-to-access rear hatches, many of which offer as much storage space as a crossover SUV and in some cases, superior rear legroom for your 2.5 kids. And because wagons are on normal suspension, as opposed to their lifted, crossover cousins, in many cases they offer superior performance, stability and ride-comfort to crossover SUVs.
The Volvo V60, Audi A4 Allroad or Mercedes C-Class Wagon will turn the heads of even the most particular car enthusiasts. And you can’t say that about any crossover