QOTD: How Small Can You Go?

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

The ongoing tumult in the small car segment is a shock to the system, though it really shouldn’t be. We’ve seen sales figures drop year after year as buyers gravitate towards larger, more commodious haulers. Haulers with a liftgate and optional all-wheel drive, of course.

To this writer, it just seemed as though there’d always be cheap, small cars. Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself, as the cupboard’s far from bare — and certain automakers will surely keep theirs in production as others vacate the building. Even if the small car becomes endangered, though, it doesn’t mean there won’t be diminutive vehicles on offer in a showroom near you. It’ll just be a crossover.

But how much can a crossover shrink while still remaining viable?

I ask this because it looks like we’ll soon find out. GM Korea, recently (and tentatively) saved from bankruptcy, claims the Chevrolet Spark city car will eventually give way to a small crossover. As the Chevrolet Trax and Buick Encore already clean up in the subcompact space, are we expecting a sub-subcompact? Something in the A-segment?

That’s what Hyundai has in the works. With its own small car sales plummeting, the automaker plans to go big and small in the crossover realm. There’s a new crossover planned for the space below the brand’s recently introduced Kona subcompact, though details remain scarce. Maybe it’s not a good fit for North America, who knows?

We’ve seeing the subcompact field grow even larger with recent additions like the Kona and Ford EcoSport, and Nissan’s Kicks isn’t far off. As small cars slip away, however, pressure mounts on automakers to offer vehicles with a lower price point than their subcompact CUVs. A base EcoSport S already nudges the $20k mark before the destination fee.

Most of us remember a time when you could hop into a Geo Tracker or Suzuki Samurai (or Sidekick) if your lifestyle called for pint-sized off-roading. Bare bones but rugged, those little vehicles enjoyed getting dirty, but space, comfort, and highway prowess wasn’t top of mind. While platforms and technology have come a long way, any new A-segment crossover will have to offer usable interior volume to go with its (often mildly) enhanced ground clearance. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Do you see the American public going for a CUV slotted below the Trax? What about the Kona? Take a gander at the rest of the subcompact field and imagine a smaller sibling for each. Does it work? How small can a crossover become before it essentially becomes useless for the things people buy crossovers for?

[Image: Suzuki]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • BobNelson BobNelson on May 03, 2018

    As always, the question is, "What do you need / want?" The Encore is perfect for folks who are more concerned about ingress/egress than 0 to 60. No climbing up, no scrunching down, no ducking your head, just swing your butt around and you're in. My wife and I have driven cross-country several times, in quiet leather-wrapped comfort with far more baggage than we need. We play a lot of golf. Two bags fit nicely with the larger part of the rear seat folded. We recently took a two-week trip with FOUR adults aboard. (... and a humongous topbox on the roof...) OTOH, the car carries neither prestige nor machismo, and gives no thrills of any kind. It'll handle unpaved roads just fine, but you'd better not take it off-road. And don't try to load five adults. So if any of those are on your "must have" list, the Encore won't do, and I can't imagine anything even smaller being satisfactory. For my needs / wants, I can imagine a SLIGHTLY smaller car, but it would be tough. The Encore is basically a lump, in order to be tall enough for that easy ingress / egress, while retaining a small footprint. The car's tortuous styling does a pretty good job of disguising the shape, but to make a car even shorter... Oh, and my wife would divorce me...

  • Jeff S Jeff S on May 04, 2018

    The Encore would be about the smallest I would go in size. My wife has a 2013 CRV which is a nice size and very easy to get in and out of. I like the heated seats in the winter and the built in GPS.

    • Joeaverage Joeaverage on May 07, 2018

      We still love our 1st gen CRV. Am considering pulling the interior to add soundproofing though. Its always been loud.