In 2017, a lot of new vehicles are squares that don’t fit in the old round holes—many sell well, and many don't
– May 2017 YTD Sales: -47% to 9 – The final copies of the discontinued Honda CR-Z trickled out of Honda Canada showrooms in the early part of 2017. Is it a hot hatchback? No, because there wasn’t enough horsepower to make the hybrid CR-Z spicy. At the same time, the CR-Z wasn’t so wonderfully fuel efficient that it was an especially green car, either. Caught in between two divergent poles, the Honda CR-Z ended up meaning very little to Canadian car buyers.
– May 2017 YTD Sales: 51 – There are sports cars and supercars and exoticars. But what do you call the SUV with the highest base price of any utility vehicle on sale today? The Bentley Bentayga is surprisingly off-road capable, supremely luxurious, and extraordinarily quick. Its most direct competitor is a top-spec Land Rover Range Rover, a vehicle that has a base price less than half as high as the near $300K Bentley.
Porsche Panamera GranTurismo
What happens when a second-generation Porsche Panamera, a hatchback or liftback if you like, enjoys an elongated roof and a proper tailgate? Is it a station wagon? A sportwagon? An estate car? A four-door shooting brake? There are no official sales numbers for the GranTurismo yet, of course, but regardless of how many Porsche Canada sells, you’ll most certainly notice the Panamera GTs that do sell.
– May 2017 YTD Sales: +49% to 67 – Is it a supercar if there are only six cylinders? Is it a supercar if it’s a Nissan? Is it a supercar if its ancestors were Datsuns? And if the Nissan GT-R isn’t a supercar, what is it? One thing we know, it’s increasingly popular even in old age. The GT-R arrived in 2008, yet 2016 was its best year ever, and sales in 2017 are on track to rise even higher. The GT-R is also increasingly expensive: the 2017 base price is 53-percent higher than the original.
– May 2017 YTD Sales: -74% to 149 – As Mercedes-Benz prepares to move its smart fortwo into an all-electric phase in North America, sales of the outgoing gas model are plunging. Smart sold nearly 4,000 fortwos in Canada as recently as 2008, but is on pace for fewer than 500 sales in 2016. The fortwo, a two-seater with limited cargo capacity, doesn’t compete against comparable priced subcompacts and compacts. Its closest rival, the four-seat Scion iQ, is dead. What is the fortwo: a premium city car, or a futuristic means of transportation that was born at the wrong time?
Audi A5 Sportback
Set to go on sale this summer, the Audi A5 Sportback is, in Audi speak, quite obviously a Sportback. But what is a Sportback? The A5, you’ll recall, is typically a two-door coupe or convertible. The A5 Sportback is essentially a hatchback version of the Audi A4, and yet the A5 Sportback wears Audi’s A5 coupe nomenclature and is styled to look like a sedan, not a hatchback.
– May 2017 YTD Sales: -62% to 322 – In many ways, the Kia Rondo appears to be little more than a mini-minivan. On the other hand, there are no sliding doors, vital attributes for a minivan in Canada. Whatever the Rondo is, it worked at first but appears to work no longer. Kia Canada averaged 8,400 annual Rondo sales in its first four years. Kia sold fewer than 2,000 in 2016 and is on track to sell fewer than 1,000 in 2017.
– May 2017 YTD Sales: +23% to 411 – The MINI Countryman is undeniably big, but only by MINI standards. It’s also taller than other MINIs, albeit only slightly. MINI has multiple four-door models now: the Cooper 4-Door, Clubman wagon, and this Countryman. So where does the Countryman fit in? Is it a subcompact crossover, or is it just a conventional small hatchback with SUV styling cues?
– May 2017 YTD Sales: +52% to 481 – Across the pond, the Ford C-Max is considered a small MPV. But in Europe, this isn’t the only C-Max – there’s also an elongated seven-seater. Moreover, North America’s C-Max is hybrid-only. So is the C-Max a green minivan, or is it too small – way too small – to earn minivan designation? And if it’s not an MPV and isn’t merely Focus-sized, what is it?
– May 2017 YTD Sales: -14% to 484 – There is a minute corner of the Canadian automotive market where a luxury SUV without a luxury badge can earn a handful of sales. In that corner, you’ll find the Volkswagen Touareg. Volkswagen now offers a proper family SUV at a proper Volkswagen price: the Atlas, 30 percent less costly than the $53,755+ Touareg. A luxury SUV? Or just a luxurious SUV?
BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe
BMW calls it a “gran coupe.” “Coupe” has historically been used as a definition for two-door cars. But the BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe has four doors. Moreover, there’s no trunk. Instead, the 4 Series Gran Coupe is a liftback. BMW says coupe, and it clearly isn’t. But what is the BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe? BMW doesn’t divide 4 Series sales by bodystyle. There’s also a proper coupe and convertible. Total sales are down by a third to 1,393 units year-to-date.
– May 2017 YTD Sales: 487 – Kia calls it a crossover-hybrid. A hybrid it is, no doubt. But with the height of a car and not even the option of all-wheel drive, is the Kia Niro really a crossover? It’ll be successful, if early indications are to be relied upon. Only just on sale and with limited availability, 487 Niros have already been sold in Canada.
– May 2017 YTD Sales: 553 – Built in the United Kingdom, wearing a Japanese badge, and utilizing the entire German underpinnings of the Mercedes-Benz GLA, the Infiniti QX30 is marketed as an urban crossover. Yet in front-wheel drive QX30 and QX30 Sport iterations – both of which are known as Q30s _sans X in many markets – the QX30 is just a low hatchback with black wheelarch cladding. Is it a car, a hot hatch, a subcompact crossover?
– May 2017 YTD Sales: 690 – Toyota says C-HR stands for “coupe-high rider.” The Toyota C-HR’s dimensions are roughly in line with the old Toyota Matrix, it is a four-door hatchback and not a coupe, and it doesn’t offer the all-wheel-drive option of SUVs and crossovers. But Toyota also calls the C-HR a compact crossover. It’s jarring, yet 690 C-HRs were sold in its first month on the market.
– May 2017 YTD Sales: 697 – GM Canada says the Chevrolet Bolt is “a crossover designed for everyday come and go.” But the Bolt is a small all-electric car with limited ground clearance and no all-wheel drive option in the cards. Isn’t it just a regular hatchback, or is the Bolt something else altogether?
Volvo was in on the game early and remains present in the category. Audi followed the route. Volkswagen is a late adopter. The Golf Alltrack, V60 Cross Country, V90 Cross Country, and Audi A4 Allroad are undeniably wagons, only slightly elevated, with rugged styling cues. Are they SUVs? No. Crossovers? They certainly cross from one category to another? Or are they just wagons? There is a difference. Each of those cars, abroad if not in North America, is also available in conventional wagon guise. These then, are not mere wagons. But what are they?
– May 2017 YTD Sales: +87% to 773 – The Fiat 500X isn’t an all-wheel-drive 500. It’s not an off-road-ready Jeep, though it shares underpinnings with the Jeep Renegade. The 500X is a high-style Italian, perhaps with just enough styling cues to earn it the crossover designation. Or, is the Fiat 500X an anomaly, a utility vehicle that places all of its emphasis on cute-ute styling rather than brute-ute styling?
May 2017 YTD Sales: -40% to 1,103 – The Nissan Juke deserves some credit for igniting the subcompact crossover craze. And yet the Juke lacked any semblance of utility and emphasized performance instead. While many competitors lack even a hot version, all Jukes deserved some recognition for being unique hot hatch alternatives. Was the Juke, likely to be replaced by the Nissan Kicks, the subcompact crossover hot hatch before there was even such a thing?
– May 2017 YTD Sales: -4% to 1,367 – Maybe the Ford Flex is a boxy crossover in a rounded crossover world. Maybe it’s just a station wagon. Regardless, the Flex was never a hit. Only 6,047 were sold in its best year, also its first full year, and sales declines in 2010, 2011, 2013, and 2015. Perhaps if the Flex wasn’t so obviously a wagon it would sell more often. But Ford already has that vehicle: it’s the Explorer.
– May 2017 YTD Sales: +26,100% to 2,096 – The Honda Ridgeline is undeniably a pickup truck. There’s a cab and a truck bed. But isn’t there something else to the equation? Every other pickup truck on the market has a separate frame and body. The Ridgeline does not. This is a unibody structure, albeit with parts that differentiate the foundation from a platform shared with the Honda Pilot and Odyssey. Canadians don’t always know what to think. Ford Canada sells 37,000 F-Series trucks every six months. Honda sells 37,000 Ridgelines every dozen years.
– May 2017 YTD Sales: -1% to 3,867 – This is Mazda’s subcompact. But the Mazda CX-3 is clearly not a Mazda 2, which was discontinued in concert with the CX-3’s debut. Low to the ground and low at the roof, the Mazda CX-3 nevertheless earns a crossover designation seemingly because of available all-wheel drive and black cladding. But is it really just a regular subcompact hatchback?
– May 2017 YTD Sales: -7% to 4,263 – Like many potential rivals, the Kia Soul is a somewhat tall, boxy, hatchback. Unlike many of those vehicles, the Soul — which looks more like a mini-SUV than many of its indirect rivals – does not offer an all-wheel-drive option. So is the Soul a crossover or just an alternative to the regular compact car? And if it’s the latter, what’s that called?
– May 2017 YTD Sales: +15% to 4,633 – Generation after generation, the Subaru Outback is less and less obviously related to the Subaru Legacy, more and more obviously SUV-like, and more and more a properly large vehicle. Now standing 1,680 mm tall, the Outback is clearly not just a wagon. It’s genuinely tall. Does the Outback, more than any other vehicle, accurately represent what it means to be a crossover? Or do its Legacy roots confine the Outback to the wagon class for life?
Mercedes-Benz and BMW both build vehicles they refer to as coupes, using their conventional utility vehicles as foundations. At the smaller end, the BMW X3 becomes the X4; the Mercedes-Benz GLC becomes the GLC Coupe. There are also larger BMW X6s and Mercedes-Benz GLEs. But they’re all just four-door utility vehicles with limited head room and cargo volume. They’re different from regular SUVs/crossovers, but they’re not coupes. So what are they? At BMW, the X4 and X6 account for just 11 percent of utility vehicle sales. The X1, X3, and X5 make up the rest.
Times have changed. The sedan, pickup truck, minivan, and SUV continue, but there are a large number of new vehicles available in 2017 that don’t easily fit inside neatly defined segments.
Some of these vehicles perform particularly well in the marketplace, garnering greater attention precisely because they’re different. Many others don’t attract nearly as many Canadian buyers; they’re punished for being different.
We’ve highlighted two dozen vehicles, including a pair of representatives acting on behalf of a small group, that most capably represent the move away from standard automotive machinery.