By Michael Rentfro
Let me remind you all that I live smack dab in the middle of Heartland USA. There are no mountains within a day’s journey, unless you count the triple-decker on-ramp that crosses the Mississippi River into Illinois. There are no beaches you can drive on without being thrown in Army Corps of Engineers jail, and there are no curvy roads of any sort, unless you count the state highway they had to build around Cletus’s farm because he “simply would not sign that there piece of paper them big city muckey mucks threatened him with.” Our roads are straight and flat, and most of our first cars are funded by walking beans, bailing hay, detasseling corn (a practice so strange to city dwellers, MS Word swears it’s misspelled!), or simply passed down from generation to generation. It’s a very simple life, but we often find ourselves behind in the times when it comes to embracing change. This is why it’s so strange to me to see countless Jeep Renegades and Chevy Traxs (exactly what is the plural of Trax?) cruising our laser-straight highways here in the heartland. Even here, the subcompact crossover market seems to be exploding.
So what’s the deal? Is America finished with the whole “size DEFINITELY matters” mentality and finally embracing the far more practical small car? Is it the ability to obtain accouterments once reserved for larger luxury cars in a smaller, more affordable package? I thought I would provide some “investigative journalism” right here on this very friendly blog to find out why so many people are encroaching on our small car turf by trading in their gas guzzling, over-sized, dinosaur-poop-eating, baby-seal-clubbing, way-more-than-you-could-possibly-need-to-haul-your-two-kids-to-soccer-practice behemoths for a well-appointed compact crossover.
Judging by the 15,000+ spectators and participants of the annual “Diesel Truck Extravaganza” that took over my city this weekend, rest assured—size still matters to an overwhelming majority of Heartlanders. I guess we can rule out this reason. Oil prices are ridiculously low, so I’m assuming the trend has nothing to do with gas mileage. Our local soccer organization is currently out of season, so one could assume hauling large numbers of sweaty Gatorade fueled “tweeners” to and from practice on your car pool day has little to do with it as well. Ultimately, this leaves price. Upon further investigation, I’m not really sure price should really be a factor. According to the websites attached to my local Jeep Dealership, a new 2015 Jeep Renegade Latitude FWD (remember, no mountains, curves, or beaches requiring AWD here …) would run $23,690. In my less than expert opinion, this is a bit much for a mid-level compact vehicle, regardless of how it makes even yellow look masculine. By comparison, the considerably larger and similarly equipped 2016 Compass goes for $24,625. Although much less rugged and manly, I’d pay the extra $935 to be able to put all four of my soon-to-be teenage daughter’s BFFs in the back seat on the way to the mall.
If you prefer the Chevy, the 2016 FWD 1LT Trax 1goes for a cool $25,725, while the 2015 FWD 1LT Equinox can be had for $25,760. I say pay the extra $35 and use the extra cargo room to start your own Uber service. Similar deals can be found on the Mazda CX-3 and CX-5, and even the Honda HR-V and CR-V with new prices coming within less than few hundred dollars between the models.
So the results of my internet investigation turned up with no real, hard evidence to determine why compact crossovers are becoming so popular. There are tiny with no cargo capacity, horribly expensive, they might pick up 1 or 2 MPGs over their larger sibling at most, and they honestly can’t even be considered a better value. After scratching my head for hours pondering why someone would still purchase such a small vehicle for so much money here in the land of “bigger is better,” I decided to do the unthinkable: I asked someone.