Honda made a splash with a concept version of an all-new small SUV slated to launch in Japan by the end of 2013 and in the U.S. market in 2014. The Urban SUV Concept had us all impressed by this Honda Fit-based crossover. Would it sell?
Sure it will, and for a bunch of reasons. First, compact crossovers like the Honda CR-V, Hyundai Santa Fe, Toyota RAV4 and Kia Sportage aren't really compact any longer. They've grown bigger and bigger since this wave of vehicles began rolling into showrooms in the late 1990s. So there's room for a new crop of small car-like wagons to fill in the space below what once were useful, small rigs.
Second, government regulations regarding fleet-wide fuel economy will continue to grow more stringent between now and 2025, when truly draconian rules come into play. To meet them, car companies will need to offer a wider range of appealing small cars. As well, this is what consumer says they want – even in the United States. Over and over, buyers are putting fuel economy at the top of their list of so-called "key attributes."
Honda is calling its coming entry the Urban SUV Concept, but who are we kidding? Look at the design, with its bold lines, low-ish stance and those hidden rear door handles. SUV? No. This is a small, tall wagon with flexible packaging and the kind of connectivity younger buyers in particular demand. How small? Say, 229 mm (or nine inches) shorter than a Honda CR-V.
Honda says the production car will sell for less than the CR-V and will have the latest direct-injection Earth Dreams powertrain technology. Being based on the Fit means the fuel tank is centre-mounted, allowing for Honda's Magic Seat to fold flat or pop into a number of other configurations. This is a smart concept.
Yet Honda is hardly leading the charge. Here's a look at some other small wagons disguised as SUVs, all aimed at meeting the same types of buyer needs:
2013 Chevrolet Trax
Price range: $18,495-$29,330
The Trax is a cousin of the 2013 Buick Encore. Both are built at General Motors' South Korean affiliate, where they were also designed. Like the Encore, the engine is a 1.4-litre, turbocharged four-cylinder rated at 138 horsepower. The styling of this Chevy is more subdued, more mainstream than what you see in the Encore – in keeping with the Chevy brand.
2014 Fiat 500L
Pricing: Available closer to the mid-summer launch.
The 500L high roof hatch and the 500x small crossover are basically taller versions of the Fiat 500 with two more doors and 42 per cent more cabin space than the basic two-door 500. Fiat is touting the cars' "Loft" interior with glass from the A- to D-pillars. Passengers get "nearly 360 degree panoramic views" as a result. The engine will be a 1.4-litre MultiAir Turbo, while the need to stay connected will be addressed by Uconnect 5.0 and 6.5 touchscreen radios. Fiat first showed the 500L in Canada at the Montreal auto show. After the 500L, the 500x is slated to hit showrooms perhaps in 2014.
Base price: $29,900
The B-Class is a slightly larger take on this idea of a crossover wagon with style and upscale features. This one come in front-drive only, so it lays no claims to SUV status. If anything, the B is a minivan with hinged doors at the side. In any case, it is luxuriously equipped even in the base model and the 208-horsepower, turbocharged, four-banger is lusty enough. Naturally, it's available with all sorts of high-end features.
2013 Mini Countryman
Price range: $25,500-$38,500
The Countryman works hard to look the part of a small SUV and it is available with all-wheel-drive. This is a tall and small car and a fun-to-drive one, too. The base version in front-drive has a tame 1.6-litre four-banger (121 hp), but the John Cooper Works Edition is racy with its 208-hp turbo four. The Mini design cues are all there, but in a bigger, more useful package. This one is a little pricey, but worth shopping against the newer entries such as the Encore.
2012 Scion xB
Base price: $18,860
If the Countryman is at the high end, the xB is at the budget end of small wagons. You can't get all-wheel-drive, but feel free to load up your xB with all sorts of accessories, such as fancy wheels and a premium Pioneer sound system. An urban wagon aimed at a young buyer, the xB is one of the most functional vehicles out there. Not sexy, but useful.