Buyers have become smitten with compact crossover wagons and the love affair is steamiest of all with the Honda CR-V.
The CR-V has outsold every other SUV in North America since 2007; since 1997 more than 260,000 Canadians have bought into this romance with what is essentially a tall station wagon. The bigger picture? Honda has sold more than five million CR-Vs around the world, and today buyers can get one in 160 countries.
Canadians will buy about 25,000 CR-Vs this year and that’s an astonishing achievement given the fierce competition. You’ll find more than a dozen completely capable compact SUVs for sale in Canada, with one starting for less than $18,000 (Jeep Patriot). Just about everyone has sells a compact SUV with all-wheel-drive and front-wheel-drive and eight are Top Safety Picks of the U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
“For us, the CR-V is very, very important,” says Honda Canada executive vice-president Jerry Chenkin. “The CR-V is our second-largest selling model after the Civic.”
Oh, the romance of it all. Since 2008, sales of compact SUVs are up 46 per cent and nearly one in three lights trucks sold in Canada is a compact SUV. That’s huge. Truth is, this sort of rig is steadily replacing the intermediate sedan and the minivan as the family and fleet vehicle of choice.
Sedan and minivan buyers, says auto analyst Dennis DesRosiers, “the ones seeking space and everyday capability – are now finding a good mix of their preferred qualities in crossovers of various stripes.” Only compact cars are more popular with Canadians.
It seems all of Honda’s rivals are envious of the CR-V’s success. In fairness, Toyota, with the RAV4, arrived on the scene about the same time as CR-V and has been about as successful, while others such as the Ford Escape have their own loyal and well-formed following of admirers.
CR-V owners have had that warm and fuzzy feeling for a number of reasons – fuel economy, the useful size, available AWD – but the qualities that are most attractive have been quality and safety. The CR-V is first among its kind in the latest J.D. Power and Associates long-term Vehicle Dependability Study and it’s a Top Safety Pick, too. (The RAV4 and Subaru Forester were runners-up in the VDS and the Forester is also a Top Pick, though not the RAV.)
Naturally, there is plenty of action in this corner of the market, too. The CR-V for 2012 is all-new and will go on sale in late January, as will Mazda’s all-new 2013 CX-5. Ford has a completely reinvented Escape coming in the springtime, as well.
Others? Well, the Kia Sportage and Hyundai Tucson are relatively new entries and between them offer quite a range of four-cylinder engines, including Kia’s monster turbocharged four in the sportiest version (260 horsepower).
General Motors’ GMC Terrain and Chevrolet Equinox have been huge successes and they’re made in Canada. That sort of thing gets noticed. Even BMW’s Mini brand has gotten into the act. The Mini Cooper Countryman has base pricing ($26,450-$32,400) in line with all the mainstream rides in play here.
In every case, the appeal is obvious enough. Compact crossovers are affordable, roomy enough to be highly useful for all sorts of owners – including families – the wide range of four-bangers assures decent fuel economy and AWD has strong appeal for those nervous about winter driving.
In terms of size, the 2012 Honda CR-V is closest to the RAV4 and the upcoming 2013 Mazda CX-5. The Hyundai Tucson, Countryman and Sportage are a little smaller, and the Equinox and Terrain are a little bigger. Only the RAV and the Escape (at present) are sold with an available V-6.
Honda officials say the V-6 engine is losing its appeal in this segment and Ford for one has said it will phase out the V-6 with the next Escape. Indeed, in 2006, V-6 engines accounted for 55 per cent of compact SUV sales; now it’s 33 per cent.
The best of them all? Is it the CR-V? The final verdict will come next year when the CX-5 and the new Escape hit showrooms. There’s no question though that the remade CR-V is an improvement, though.