By on May 3, 2018

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]

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34 Comments on “QOTD: How Small Can You Go?...”


  • avatar
    IBx1

    The original 1st gen. CR-V is the right size.

    • 0 avatar
      Willyam

      I agree with you (disclaimer: I still own one)

      The reason hit me recently as I parked next to a Kia Soul. The resemblance was kind of uncanny. Size, tail light position, etc. As I park it next to other small crossover-y cars, I’m consistently surprised by the similarity. Of course, the interior of the CR-V is larger, lacking a bunch of safety and quiet-making materials that new cars have.

      I think the Honda HR-V and the Encore/Trax get it right because they feel bigger inside. Stuff like the Juke and the new Toyota-thing kind of miss because they feel cramped. Small can work if it’s roomy (see: Honda Fit)

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      I agree with you and I own one too.

  • avatar
    gtem

    I loved our rental Diahatsu Terios in Costa Rica, and have waxed poetically about it on TTAC before (and have submitted a review of it as a matter of fact, lost to the TTAC black hole). “true” fulltime 4wd with a solid rear axle and a stick shift. Striking a perfect middle ground between the real mini offroaders like the Samurai with its BOF and solid front axle and low range, and FWD-transverse engined crossovers. But as awesome as that was in a low speed locale with ample offroad opportunities and twisty paved roads with speed limits topping out at 90kph, it probably wouldn’t be a great daily driver for me here in the Midwest. I really liked the space efficiency of the Terios too. I could sit behind myself in reasonable comfort at 5’11,” the trunk had good space, I think it honestly could have fit another couple and their luggage, although we’d have been at full capacity at that point and the little 1.5L would really be working hard at that point.

    I really don’t care for any of the weak-kneed transverse car-based modern subcompact CUVs, they simply serve no purpose as I see it, unless you buy a heavily discounted one for the AWD like an Outlander Sport or something. Many of them seem awfully close in price to much roomier and more practical (but still easy to drive) compact CUVs, and all seem to be saddled with weak and unpleasant powertrains and are just cheaper and inferior cars in regards to NVH and comfort.

  • avatar
    phxmotor

    Small is fine for some people. Even serves as a contrarian
    reverse status statement… a laughingly in-your-face statement
    to the top-of-the -line SUV crowd. A statement of total confidence.
    Small and bare bones basic will always have an allure… if…
    If… it can accomplish three or four things:
    • Can it drive itself over the Rubicon Trail without getting stuck?
    • Can it drive itself thru 15″ of fresh snow without getting stuck?
    • Can it drive itself thru a dry desert wash-wadi without getting stuck?
    •. “. “. “. “. “. ” wet. “. “. “. “. “. “. ”
    • Can your significant other drive to Sardis and hand the keys to a valet without embarrassment?

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      There seems to be a weird attraction towards the convertible 2 door style SUVs in my neighborhood, which I would describe as “eclectic yuppie” (old craftsman bungalows). 2 door JK Wranglers rule the roost (not many 4 doors), with a number of YJ/TJs in various state of repair and modification, then there’s a really clean FJ Cruiser, and then an old 2 door tracker of the generation pictured in shouty blue with a white top and 90s graphics. Additionally there is a house with both a 2 door soft top Rav4 in red, and a 2nd gen (rounded) 2 door convertible Tracker. We also have some horribly chewed up pavement in our immediate vicinity which maybe makes it all the more fun to bounce around in one of those fun little rigs.

      Call it confirmation bias, but I do think there would be some buyers for a new version of a fun little rough-and tumble SUV, especially with a soft top option. At least in my neighborhood.

  • avatar
    chaparral

    EG Civic with a higher roof, and no more ground clearance – just raise the driver’s seat 2″ to fit bigger passengers behind.

  • avatar
    dwford

    The subcompact “crossover” endgame is already here. Besides the faux-CUV Nissan Kicks and new Ford Focus Active, Chevrolet offers the Spark Activ, which is jus a Spark with some black plastic cladding around the wheels – nothing more.

    We are about to jump the shark on these fake utility vehicles. (Hopefully)

  • avatar
    AtoB

    “• Can your significant other drive to Sardis and hand the keys to a valet without embarrassment?”

    Put a thousanth of the money saved into a tip and the valet will act as though you are the queen herself astride an unobtanium powered unicorn.

  • avatar
    brettc

    I wonder if Toyota could sell an iQ based CUV if it existed? I’m thinking the answer could be yes.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    Now… if only they’d come up with a pickup truck the same relative size as the Geo Tracker was in its day, I’d bet a LOT of these ‘compact’ CUVs would see a drop in sales.

    I’ve already got a subcompact CUV and for everyday purposes it’s a great vehicle. What I want is a pickup truck based on that same platform, replacing the cargo area with an open bed. Funny thing is, a concept of exactly that rig showed up at Moab in ’16. I just want enough room inside the cab to carry the more easily-pilferable items I might need to haul.

    • 0 avatar
      packardhell1

      This made me think of those Japanese mini-trucks. There may be some from other nations, but I’m reminded of the Honda Attack (what an awesome name) and several Daihatsu models.

      A quick Google search has netted what I see as the perfect vehicle for this discussion:

      https://mayberryminitrucks.com/inventory/available-mini-trucks/1993-daihatsu-van-fire-truck-4×4-street-legal-d5793

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        I wouldn’t say ‘perfect’ due to the too-small bed, but you’ve got the idea. Now, go look at the Jeep Comanche that was seen at the 2016 Moab event.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      Isn’t that what the Ridgeline is? (more or less).

      Yes, cheaper would be good.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        You’re kidding, right? I said “same relative size as the Geo Tracker”. How does a Ridgeline equate to “same relative size to the Geo Tracker”? It’s nearly has large as a 90’s full-sized truck. The Ram 700 would be a much better fit. Even that Renegade Comanche is notably smaller than the Honda Ridgeline.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    As mentioned previously, I have been informed (told?) that our next vehicle will be a small CUV. If the previous generation Kia Rondo was still available it would be the first choice for each member of our family.

    The mid-size CUV that is currently our 1st vehicle, is ‘too large’ for some of our family members to comfortably drive in downtown Toronto.

    So a smaller vehicle, with high ride height, a hatch, room for 4, heated seats, decent glass/greenhouse/visibility and 2 pedals, is what I have been told is required.

    First choice is a Kia Soul. Checked out the Trax, HR-V and not impressed, particularly in regards to price for content. May look at a Kona. Have higher expectations for the Kicks, particularly based on its estimated MRSP. If it fell into my budget, the Kia Niro would be my first choice.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    A Smart CUV? Just raise it and add body cladding and roof rails. Or they could do a version of the Renault Twingo which it is based on.

  • avatar
    FerrariLaFerrariFace

    If I could buy a brand new Suzuki Samurai, I would do it in a femtosecond.

  • avatar
    Fred

    You know you are asking a Lotus Elan owner here. All these cars are huge in comparison.

  • avatar
    Oberkanone

    SMART is evidence of how small is too small.

  • avatar
    Oberkanone

    SMART is evidence of how small is too small.

  • avatar
    tonyola

    I drove a first-generation Honda CRX for ten years without the slightest hesitation or trepidation. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      I don’t know – I remember driving mine and my head was really low compared to the semi-trucks. I’m sure with the bro-dozers and distracted drivers playing with their phones the situation isn’t any better.

      I really loved that little car.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    If the “SMART” car had been more “butch” it would have sold – such is the gullible nature of the average consumer.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus

    As an urban runabout, honestly it doesn’t matter if its less practical than anything pretending to be a “utility” ought to be, its more of a fashion statement. The Millennial driving it would rather be seen in it vs a small station wagon or hatchback car. In our eyes, they’re pretty much the same except the little crossover is less about substance than it is style. People bought the Juke and ignored the more practical Cube, and people are evidently buying the CH-R. Both sacrifice even more substance for style.

    In the case of off-road small utilities, even if they’re unibody and not a BOF design, they can be great to be small as well, since they can go down trails a bigger SUV can’t. Problem is, when you get them that good at being off-road /and/ with a very short length body/wheelbase, they can become a handful on road, to the point if being tipsy. Perhaps unibody design is a good solution. I don’t know how the Jeep Renegade does, but I like it best thus far because it had some off-road ability.

    So, yes tiny utilities can work, but its best to keep expectations realistic.

  • avatar
    gmrn

    Suzuki X90 was the previous smallest in my memory. I would be curious to see a version smaller than that. Not to buy, just as an oddity.

    While heretical, imagine Mazda releasing a Miata-crossover.

  • avatar
    NoID

    I’m hoping the rumors of a Fiat 500-based 2+2 crossover are true, because I’d certainly consider purchasing or leasing one. I’d probably opt for a 500 Abarth instead, but I’d like the option.

  • avatar
    BobNelson

    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…

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    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.

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