November 26, 2015

2013 Autos: Crossovers Rule


2013 Autos: Crossovers Rule

Consumers seeking a combination of space and style are fueling the demand for crossover vehicles.

While compact and midsize sedans are clearly regaining ground, the fastest-growing segment encompasses that somewhat nebulous range of vehicles dubbed crossovers. Ask a dozen different analysts and you’ll get a dozen different definitions. But one thing is clear: “The boundaries are disappearing,” proclaims Dr. David Cole, director-emeritus of the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Some, like the latest-generation Ford Escape and new Nissan Pathfinder, look a lot like a conventional sport-utility vehicle — but their car-like platforms offer more comfortable rides and better on-road handling. They’re also likely to deliver notably better fuel economy — in large part because crossovers weigh significantly less than conventional body-on-frame sport-utility vehicles. The latest-generation Pathfinder, for example, tips the scales at 500 pounds less than the old SUV version — and gets a 30 percent bump in fuel economy.

Along with the new Escape, Ford has added the 2013 C-Max, a new “people mover” that will be the maker’s first-ever line offered exclusively with battery-drive technology. That includes a conventional hybrid as well as the C-Max Energi, which uses the same hypermiling plug-in technology as the Fusion Energi.

Fiat, which made its return to the U.S. market in late 2010, has been adding a range of new variants of the increasingly popular 500 coupe. It will add several more for 2013, including the high-performance Abarth Convertible. But the Italian maker’s big news is the launch of the 500L, a roomy five-seat crossover likely to compete with the likes of the Mini Countryman. That British marque’s first-ever five-door — which was also its first model with all-wheel-drive — gets a companion for 2013 in the form of the three-door Mini Paceman.

European makers, although initially slow to the crossover game, have today embraced it wholeheartedly. Along with its two existing models, expect to see several more soon bearing the Volkswagen brand. And Mercedes-Benz has won widespread kudos for the 2013 updates of its three-row GL and the smaller GLK crossovers.

And still more new CUVs will be unveiled in the year ahead, from the likes of a replacement for the old Jeep Liberty to an all-new crossover from Porsche, the Macan. Even Bentley is getting into the game with a production version of its controversial EXP 9F concept.