One of the most successful new car niches in the last 18 months has been the small crossover…I’m not really talking about cars like the Nissan Qashqai or Audi Q3, but the class of car below that. Usually based on superminis as opposed to family hatchbacks this new sector has more than doubled in sales, although part of this reason is likely because of the increased number of competitors alongside the downsizing of buyers. There are many talented cars on sale and with more upcoming, I’m going to attempt a guide for those looking to buy one of these little tonka toys:
Nissan Juke: To many the car which started off the current trend for these mini-SUV’s, the Juke has been a controversial car because of its dramatic styling. Pumped up detailing and unusual front lights make this very much a Marmite car. Inside is a little more conventional, with a motorbike inspired front console and a cool climate control display which doubles as a driving mode selector (the controls change with the touch of a button). Available with a range of diesel and petrol engines, and now with a Nismo hot-hatch esque model too, the Juke has most bases covered and drives pretty well too. It isn’t cheap by any means, but with prices between £13k and £20k most buyers will be able to find something for them if they like the styling.
Chevrolet Trax: One of the latest entries into the segment, the Trax shares much of itself with its Vauxhall Mokka twin. Quite conventionally styled with chunky detailing, the Trax benefits from a perceived relationship with the pickups and SUV’s available from the brand in the US (even though the Trax itself is not on sale there). The cabin is nicely styled and some models come with the excellent MyLink entertainment/comms system, although plastics could be abit softer. Only available with a 1.7 diesel or 1.4 turbo petrol the Trax is average to drive but acceptable, but unfortunately prices are a little high; yes the car is bigger than the Juke but £15.5k seems abit excessive for a car from a brand whose image is a little budget.
Renault Captur: Another new entry, the Captur might be the one to beat in this market. For a start the styling is striking, but much less controversial than the Juke’s…whose engines it shares thanks to Nissan-Renault’s alliance. The cabin is modern and airy and comes with a good color entertainment module in mid-spec and up, whilst boot space is reasonable and better than the Clio it’s based on. Zip-off washable seat covers and colour options for details such as the roof mean that the Captur retains a sense of fun, again evidenced on the road. Economical, practical and attractive the Captur’s only potential negative is the lack of an AWD option, but most people won’t really care and an entry price of £12.5k is great value…it could be Renault’s sales saviour.
Peugeot 2008: Yet another new car, the Peugeot is another very convincing car and a contender for the Juke’s crown. More conservatively styled than many competitors, the 2008 is a classy if slightly fussily-styled vehicle. LED lights front and rear and subtle use of chrome build on the positives of the 208 that it’s based on, and inside the cabin is very similar to its little brother…not a bad thing as it shares the exterior’s classy looks and overall is well equipped and easy to use. On the road all engines give reasonable turn of speed and handling is quite good as with the 208, and with prices expected to start around £13k it is reasonable value too. Some reviews have not been that kind to the 2008, but personally I think it is a smart looking little car.
Vauxhall Mokka: Classy styling, large cabin and plush interior, the Mokka is a sign of things to come from the Vauxhall brand as it pushes upmarket. Launched last year and selling well the car has plenty of strengths and not many negatives; on the road it is easy to drive and is overall refined; the 1.7 CDTi engine is by far the biggest seller and can be hard with AWD too. However the Mokka is not a cheap car…with a starting price of £16k it is more expensive than many rivals (although larger and better equipped), but considering that the car is a cut above its Chevrolet sister car (the Mokka is sold as a Buick in the US) the £500 step up doesn’t seem too bad, especially considering Vauxhall’s usual discounts and haggling room. The Mokka is a solid effort from a brand not known for SUV’s and hopefully continues to do well.
Dacia Duster: Alot of people will have heard about the Duster…not because it is an amazing car per se, but more for the fact that it carries a base price of just £9k. For this you get a chunky looking vehicle…with steel wheels in the cheapest model but with alloys it looks relatively capable and modern. Even the top models cost just £15k and come with AWD, but a mid-spec diesel 2WD can be had for just £11.5k which is undeniably good value even if the cabin is cheap and with an aftermarket radio. For those on a budget who have to buy new, the Duster is a solid choice.
Kia Soul: Not strictly a crossover, but with pumped up styling and raised driving position, the funky Soul is a tidy little competitor and likely to attract customers who want a distinctive car. The Soul is well built, well equipped and although handling is nothing to shout about there is still the usually large range of engines to be had. Pricing is dead set in the middle of competitors here too, and although a new Soul was recently launched, for buyers needing a car now the original is a safe option and comes with Kia’s amazing 7 year warranty.
Toyota Urban Cruiser: Toyota makes some very good cars…and some which are not so good.; unfortunately for them the Urban Cruiser definitely falls into the latter category. Externally the car is abit none-descript, but by no means unattractive. Inside is a similar story with a high quality cabin but lacking any modern flair and importantly practicality. Although it beat the Juke to the market, Toyota have only ever offered the Urban Cruiser with 2 engines; a good diesel (with standard AWD) or a stodgy petrol…but both are expensive and the range starts at nearly £17k.
MINI Countryman: Undoubtedly the most desirable car here, the Countryman may have been controversial to begin with (being the first 5 door MINI and far from mini in size) but it has been a massive sales success. Sharing the MINI traits of a well built cabin, low running costs, go-kart handling and cheeky looks, there wasn’t much chance that a larger MINI would fail, and adding light off-roading duties and chunky looks merely adds to its attractiveness. It is expensive though, as prices start at £16.5k and can scrape £30k in the hot models! But for quality and image it is pretty untouchable.
Skoda Yeti: The Yeti actually belongs to the class above and shares its platform with the Golf, but its keen pricing and popularity mean that buyers will likely cross-shop. Attractive yet simple looks is a key selling point for the Skoda, as is a high quality cabin that shares much with other VW Group products. On the road there is much to praise too, with a solid feel and keen handling apparently, and the wide range of engines means that most buyers can what they want; from a pedestrian 1.2 petrol to spritely 2 litre diesel and petrol options. A good car and worth considering against the likes of the Mokka.
Ford EcoSport: Ford have been uncharacteristically late to the game with the EcoSport, which has still not been released in the UK (and won’t be till next year). A previous generation was available in S. America and other markets, but this new model shares much with the current Fiesta including frugal engines and easy to use interior. Whilst I cannot comment on how the car will drive, reviews from countries where the car has been launched (such as India) typically praise the car’s handling, this is a Ford after all. But I am not sure the EcoSport will be worth waiting for…styling wise it looks out of place with the Blue Oval’s new designs and is abit top heavy, plus it has a side opening tailgate-a feature banished from the vast majority of SUV’s in the marketplace. Pricing is expected to be from £14k, but personally I would rather get one of the competitors.
Suzuki SX4: Poor Suzuki, despite some pretty ground-breaking models they never get much recognition from reviewers or buyers. The Vitara was one of the first small SUV’s when it launched in the late 80’s, but the RAV4 hogs all the glory, and the SX4 was launched in 2006-a good 4 years before the Juke. With a simple yet well laid out interior, good equipment levels and practical boot, the SX4 offers most of what customers are after at a lower price than rivals…it even comes with AWD in many models. Engine choices are a little sparse though, a Fiat diesel is the only oil-burner and petrol power is abit slow (Fiat actually had their own version for a couple of years), but the main problem is with the SX4’s plain-jane looks; not ugly or controversial, but likely to be forgotten or misplaced in a car park. Yet for £12.5k it offers a reliable option, and with the next generation likely to get bigger and more expensive, buyers better get in quickly.
Anything worth waiting for? Given the popularity of this new market, alot of manufacturers have competitors in development . Volkswagen have previewed theirs in the form of the Taigun, a tough looking little thing which will likely be a strong seller; Skoda and possibly SEAT will have their own versions of the car, presumably at slightly lower price points. An Audi version of the car called the Q1 is likely too and would provide the Countryman with a strong competior. Similarly Fiat is gearing up to launch the 500X, sharing the 500’s cute looks but in a chunkier 5dr form (and much better looking from the 500L/XL judged by spyshots). Honda are also going to launch a car in the market, which could offer great reliability and high quality!
The exciting developments in this niche mean that there aren’t really competitors that buyers would regret choosing…personally I think that the new French duo take some beating for looks and running costs, whilst those looking for something abit more substantial would do well to take long look at the Mokka.