Several introductions at this year's New York International Auto Show certified that the class of compact crossovers is getting larger — with models that are getting smaller. Powered as much by increasingly stringent fuel-economy regulations as by customer demand, automakers are rolling out models that further blur the lines between crossovers and cars.
Models such as the top-selling Ford Escape, Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, which J.D. Power and Associates classifies as compact crossover utility vehicles, combine the height, hatchback versatility and optional four-wheel drive of SUVs with the greater fuel and space efficiency of cars; this explains why their popularity has grown. According to J.D. Power, the compact "CUV" category made up 2.3 percent of the market in 2000. In 2005, it had grown to 6 percent, and despite declines in overall market volume in 2009, compact crossovers have reached a 10.5 percent market share.
Ironically, one of the auto show's highest-profile crossovers came from Mini, purveyor of one of the smallest cars on the market. The 2011 Mini Cooper Countryman crossover, which will hit U.S. dealerships in February 2011, is 15.7 inches longer than Mini's base car, called the Cooper, and 6.3 inches longer than its extended model, the Cooper Clubman. It's a few inches taller than its siblings and has the raised look of a crossover, as well as optional all-wheel drive. Though it's large for a Mini, the Cooper Countryman is relatively small as crossovers go, with roughly 12 cubic feet of cargo volume behind the backseat and a total of 41 cubic feet once the backseat is folded flat. This puts it in league with cars such as the Mazda3 four-door hatchback, as well as two other downsized crossovers introduced in New York, the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport and Nissan Juke Sport Cross.