Whether you call them sport utility or crossover utility vehicles, people around the world are seeing the appeal of extra cargo space, a higher seating position, and available all-wheel drive without having to buy a large vehicle. Small crossovers are the “fastest growing segment in America,” said Jim Morrison, director of Jeep Brand at last month’s media drive of the 2015 Jeep Renegade. He said predictions were that small crossover sales will rise from 200,000 to 300,000 this year, though he can see it reaching 400,000. The Jeep Renegade does not go on sale until March 1st, but you can see it and a host of the newest other small crossovers at the Chicago Auto Show.
The 2015 Jeep Renegade is certainly poised at the sweet spot of this expanding market. The all-SUV brand knows a thing or two about utilities as evidenced by its record 41% increase in sales last year. This all-new addition to the Jeep range was designed and engineered in America, though it is built in Italy. Manufacturing will expand to Brazil and China to supply over 100 countries. A 1.4-liter turbo with a six-speed manual or a 2.4-liter with a nine-speed automatic are available with a choice of front- or four-wheel drive. A “Trail Rated” Renegade Trailhawk model with upgraded off-road capability is offered. A super solid body structure comprised of high-strength steel made a firm foundation for suspension tuning, resulting in excellent driving dynamics. It also saves weight, helping the Renegade get over 30 miles per gallon the highway. Base price starts at $17,995 for the Renegade Sport up to $26,795 for the leather-lined Renegade Limited.
“It looks cool,” said Cary Bosak, president of Bosak Jeep in Merrillville. “I was especially impressed with how much room it has in the back seat and the height of the ceiling. It’s going to fill a nice hole in our product lineup. We had nothing that size, especially in a sport utility.”
Honda’s new small crossover the HR-V arrives in showrooms this spring as a 2016 model, but you can see it now the Chicago Auto Show. Using a version of the platform of the new Honda Fit, the HR-V will be built alongside the Fit at Honda’s new factory in Mexico. Slotting in below the Honda Pilot and CR-V sizewise, the HR-V makes clever use of interior space with cargo room rivaling that of some midsize SUVs. Offered in front- or all-wheel drive, the HR-V is powered by a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine with 138 horsepower. A continuously variable transmission helps the HR-V achieve 27 mpg city and 32 mpg highway with all-wheel drive, according to the EPA. Front-wheel drive models do even better with the CVT, and a six-speed manual transmission is available with 2WD.
This summer Mazda strikes back with the 2016 Mazda CX-3 crossover unveiled on the Auto Show circuit at Los Angeles, but you can see it in Chicago. The sharp new design is getting rave reviews for its looks, and also for its interior packaging. It will be the fifth model employing Mazda’s Skyactiv technology, which is an approach to engineering the body, suspension and powertrain together to increase fuel efficiency, performance, handling, and safety. The engine is the Skyactiv-G 2.0-liter with a six-speed automatic transmission. An all-new all-wheel drive system debuts on the CX-3.
If you like the idea of a compact crossover but your taste leans toward luxury, check out the 2015 Lexus NX. The Lexus NX features the latest production version of the bolder Lexus design language, with all the luxury and tech features you expect from the brand. Two powertrains are available. The NX 200t has a new 2.0-liter turbocharged engine – Lexus’ first ever - with a new six-speed automatic transmission. The NX 300h is a hybrid with a 2.5-liter and all new transmission. Both are offered with different all-wheel drive systems.
On the NX 300h, the front wheels are powered by a combination of gasoline and electric motors depending on demand, while the rear axle has an electric motor. “It’s a great car,” said Pete Takacs, general manager of Lexus of Merrillville. “They come in and we hang onto them for about a day. Registrations of SUVs in Northwest Indiana already went up from 2013 to 2014. We expect the NX to become our second or third best seller.”