UNITED STATES—No one would consider me a fanatic of the ever growing Crossover segment. But with nary a sign that it will soon reach maturity and eventually die off, there comes a point where even I have to admit that resistance is futile. It simply isn’t realistic to expect automakers to cater to consumers who can afford a car for every mood or every day of the week. There’s a reason they are called “one percenters.” In order to survive, automotive manufacturers have to appeal to the “ninety nine percenters.”
This entails building cars that can do many things, satisfy many needs, at least adequately. Cars today need to be able to bring home a big screen TV from a big box store, park in reasonably sized parking spaces, handle a daily commute with little drama, and do all this on a budget. Carmakers also need not forget that consumers are not solely fueled by rationality.
With so many carmakers chasing an elusive “bullseye” between practicality and passion it’s a wonder every crossover rolling off an assembly line isn’t a carbon copy of the one built by the rival from overseas. Indeed, the effort to compromise hasn’t resulted in cars completely devoid of character.
Sure, you’ll likely not find anything with the endearing quirks of a Porsche 911 or the blood-boiling, emotion-churning traits of a Ferrari or Lamborghini exotic two-seater. But, if you squint, you can often detect a hint of a manufacturer’s DNA in their respective products. Here is a list of crossovers that I could stomach owning:
Best Offroader: Jeep Compass Trailhawk
Jeep has finally ditched its redundant compact crossovers and replaced them with a new version of the Compass. And, this Compass features a Trailhawk trim line. If you miss the days when off-road capability was a requirement in a vehicle propelled by all four wheels, Jeep feels your pain. Jeep has developed a set of off-road criteria by which it grades its crossovers. The ones that pass with straight “A”s get to wear the coveted “Trail Rated” badge and with it comes peace of mind for any carbuyer looking for something that can take them there and back, even if “there” is uncharted by any map. Plus, it has a look that is unmistakably Jeep.
Sportiest: Mazda CX-3
While we’re waiting for the return of the iconic rotary-powered RX-7 sports car, Mazda intends to keep us in suspense by providing crossovers with a sports car attitude. While it’s debatable whether Mazda’s CX-3 truly delivers a more “sporty” driving experience than other crossovers, it’s difficult to argue the view from the driver’s seat is anything but sporty. A large analogue tach is the centerpiece of the instrument cluster and a heads up display is also available (something usually reserved for cars costing $20 grand more).
Most fuel efficient: Kia Niro
Have you often been curious about how a 50 mpg car would affect your budget, but not curious enough to put up with the funky styling that screams “I’m a hypermiler. I’m going to make you late for work if you get stuck behind me.”? If so, you are in luck. There really isn’t anything about Kia’s Niro that gives it away as a hybrid. No greenleaf badges. No flying saucer wheels. No awkward, yet aerodynamic roofline. It really looks like a conventional crossover. It even features a sporty dual clutch six-speed transmission rather than an annoying CVT.