Ur-Turn: High-Low and Crossovers to Go

by Ur-Turn
ur turn high low and crossovers to go

(Welcome Daniel Ho — a.k.a. “Waftable Torque” — who’s here to school you proles on the true appeal of the crossover/cute-ute/abominable mom-van. — JB)

There has seldom been a topic that riles automotive journalists and commentators up as much as crossovers. They inhabit categories that are successfully profitable and growing. Non-existent 20 years ago, they have become increasingly aspirational to a large segment of today’s drivers. There have been many theories as to why they’re successful. Some blame CAFE, others the baby boomers, and others still blame American exceptionalism. They may all be right.

The Truth About Cars has always pointed out things others don’t see. Sometimes it’s the authors who provide the evidence, but sometimes it’s the commentators who supply the observation. I’d like to show you something that, once you see it, you can never un-see.

The crossover is merely the tip of the iceberg.

Merging design with functionality usually results in a product form factor that persists for long periods of time and eventually becomes “how things are supposed to be.” Consumers want their fast cars to look fast, their rugged adventure cars to look rugged, and their status cars to look substantial and powerful. Crossover vehicles can be made very fast, roomy, or comfortable, but they usually have to compromise on curb weight, center of gravity, footprint size, or SUV off-road prowess to do so. So the crossover provides fodder for the “jack of all trades, master of none” disparagement often seen on automotive enthusiast websites.

Equally absurd is the tendency to buy expensive things that are objectively worse than their more common mass produced siblings. That’s the carbon fiber, one-speed track bike that abhors a hill; the full grain leather suitcase that would be scuffed and disposed of long before it’s ballistic nylon equivalent; the head-tossing luxury SUV that never leaves pavement; the Burberry trench coat that couldn’t survive a Gore-Tex-worthy drenching; and the mechanical wristwatch that keeps worse time than the cereal box quartz watch.

Incongruity by itself will earn scorn. Want to be hated? Try asking for government bailout money after you’ve gotten off your private jet. Alternately, try wearing that immature Ed Hardy shirt and Versace hoodie as you step out of your mature Bentley Continental GT. Go drive that BMW X5M to the shopping mall to pick up some organic milk and fair-trade coffee beans. Or bring your street-tire-clad Land Rover Evoque to cross the mountainous Continental Divide. Consistency is a social expectation, and it ought to be good for business to cater to those who stay within the archetypes.

So now we have a vehicle category that is compromised, pricier and incongruent at the same time. It should have been a sales disaster. The fact that the crossover category continues in its unabated growth ought to tell us something about the consumer psyche in today’s zeitgeist.

As it turns out, the discussion of the rise of the crossover is actually a smaller trend in the big picture of aesthetics and design. It’s so embedded in our subconscious that there isn’t even a common vocabulary for it yet. So let’s use one bandied about occasionally by fashion editors: High-Low.

High-Low is the synergy of intentionally coupling two or more non-complementary characteristics to form a third that is more desirable than the originals. Go high and go low at the same time. It’s congruent because it’s something that’s intentional and flaunted, instead of an oversight or concession. The polarity can come in many forms: price, quality, pedigree, formality, coloration, design, efficiency, or date of manufacture. High-Low exists because it solves the cognitive dissonance of those unable to find satisfaction from existing rigid choices. They want to have their cake and eat it too.

High-Low is the blazer and jeans look (dressy + casual). The Hermés handbag paired with your Uniqlo and H&M outfit (expensive + cheap). The business suit without a tie (semi-formal + informal). The Apple iPhone 6S Plus tucked inside your oilskin field coat (high tech + low tech). The multimillionaire movie star driving a Toyota Prius (“so rich I shouldn’t care” + “I care anyway”). The Tesla Model S (fast + efficient). A 1967 Buick Riviera with polished 20-inch rims (old + new). The Toyota RAV4 (kids + “I didn’t give up”). The Porsche Cayenne Turbo S (sports car performance + off-roading chops). And the Cadillac Escalade (work truck + prestige). I’m part of it; my own English Tudor Revival home has a streamlined Scandinavian Modern interior.

The crossover is, by intent and design, a chimera. In fact, there was once a time when the category was so new that automotive journalists were labeling them “hybrids.” Its impurity sends mixed messages, and throws traditional categorization by the wayside. Yet it sells, solving a problem that wagons

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2 of 266 comments
  • John John on Feb 18, 2016

    If you ask me, the pyramids are the venereal warts on the beautiful Louvre.

  • Jeff S Jeff S on Feb 18, 2016

    What is so functional about a sedan with a sloping roof with little headroom in the back and a not so big trunk? We did not buy a CRV to be cool but to be functional and easy to get in and out. Maybe a CUV is a jacked up station wagon but then if you want a wagon there are few choices. There is more reason to the trend toward CUVs than the cool factor.

  • Cprescott The good news is replacement sheet metal and parts are easily found. Would make a nice restoration project even if it is not the most desirable model. I love black cars with red interiors!
  • Cprescott Jim Farley and the Fire Starters. Perhaps he should throw his wig into the fire!
  • MaintenanceCosts Seems like a decent candidate for someone who wants to restore a Mustang. The year/configuration/body style combination is pretty desirable; only a 4-speed would make it better, although there are complete kits to make the conversion. The great thing about early Mustangs is that every single part is readily available from somewhere.
  • Dukeisduke It's in better shape than the '69 coupe that Mike Finnegan bought, that's in the latest episode of Roadkill.
  • Spookiness Friends have a new PHEV of this and like it a lot. It's an interesting dark green color.