Do Crossover SUVs Spell The End for the Small MPV?

You know what they say: the car you buy says something about where you are at in your life. If you've bought an second-hand Honda Civic Type R, you're young and have a chip on your shoulder. Once that's over with, it's time to get a normal job, and so you buy a normal car, like a BMW 3 Series or VW Golf. A lucky few even get to go as far as a owning a sportscar, be that a Miata or a Maserati. But then, the babies arrive, and it's time to buy MPVs and estates.
If you're a woman, buying a Renault Scenic, for example, shows the world you don't care any more about what you wear, that you stockpile baby nappies and you're on first-name basis with your doctor. Meanwhile, as a guy, buying an MPV shows you no longer trim your ear hair, buy shoes with no laces and solve your problems with of beer and denial.

Just looking at an MPV makes me thing "oh boy, once I buy this car, I'm going to grow old and die". I bet you guys are the same, which is why automakers created a way to avoid the negative symbolism and still get all the benefits. It's called the crossover SUV. This supposedly rugged vehicle is actually designed to do the same school run, the same trip to get more nappies or to pilates/zumba/kangoo jumps/tae bo classes. If you're a guy, the SUV is where you want to be seen while driving the babies to sleep at night.

Sales of small SUVs have reportedly grown to about 8 million vehicles globally, while sales of MPVs have fallen to new lows every year. That's basically because crossovers are forcing their ancestors into extinction, a bit like homo sapiens did to the neanderthal man.

To explain what's going on here, I'll use the Renault Captur as an example. While we were occupied with the problems faced by the European auto industry, a whole new niche was born, the B-SUV or the city crossover, built on the platform of a small car. The Captur is derived from the Clio. It even has the exact same interior, but is more spacious. Renault used to have a car just like that and it was called the Modus MPV, and they don't make it any more.

If you don't believe these city crossovers are doing the job of MPV, just look at the facts:
  • The Renault Captur and Peugeot 2008 are only available with FWD
  • The ground clearance of the Opel Mokka is very bad at the front
  • There are no mechanical locking diffs in the segment
  • Flat folding benches and not having a trunk lip are typical MPV features
  • Small diesel engines are usually preferred, purely for economy reasons

Back in January 2012, we predicted this would happen in an editorial titled "Europe: Go Small, Go Crossover or Go Bust", which suggested automakers would need to adapt to survive, with smaller vehicles and appealing crossover vehicle.

In many ways, the phenomenon is similar to what big SUVs did to minivans and wagons. Companies like Audi, Mercedes and Volvo have all seen a complete switch in what their customers want, to the point where Audi is planning to fill every niche between Q1 and Q8 within the next years. This from a company know for making the RS2 and the 80 estate.

Change is inevitable and I think crossovers say something a little deeper about us, that we want to stand a little taller, raise above our problems and enjoy living more. We put up with automotive compromise because life is never perfect and it takes us to unexpected places. If you like, MPV and estates only give us "move", and now we also want "better".
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About the author: Mihnea Radu
Mihnea Radu profile photo

Mihnea's favorite cars have already been built, the so-called modern classics from the '80s and '90s. He also loves local car culture from all over the world, so don't be surprised to see him getting excited about weird Japanese imports, low-rider VWs out of Germany, replicas from Russia or LS swaps down in Florida.
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