For the past several years, enthusiasts have worried that the decreasing influence of sedans and hatchbacks will lead to an automotive apocalypse, where the only vehicles available to buyers are crossovers. Their vision of the future is a dystopian nightmare, where the streets are filled with anonymous blobs solely designed to shuttle people from home to work and back, with no attention paid to driving dynamics whatsoever. In reality, this premonition has already come to pass. The good news is that the crossover boogeyman is hardly a threat to enthusiasts, as plenty of newer entries are engineered to deliver a lively driving experience. Unfortunately, very few car people got the memo. So what’s it gonna take for them (and possibly you) to stop labeling crossovers as nothing more than soulless appliances?
Ferris Bueller famously opined that life could pass you by if don’t stop to take a look around every now and then. I’d argue that automotive life moves at an even quicker pace. Just think about the changes to the US car market over the last thirty years. Wagons and rear wheel drive sedans faded as front wheel drive sedans and sport utility vehicles supplanted them in the 1990’s. The 2000’s introduced hybrids and crossovers to the mix, but for the most part largely mirrored the previous decade until high gas prices and the recession prompted car shoppers to downsize, seek more fuel efficient vehicles, or both. Our current decade began with a small car renaissance and the early adoption of alternative energy vehicles. Models like the Ford Escape and Toyota RAV4 improved their NVH substantially with their redesigns. And when gas prices fell in early 2015, the new paradigm we now find ourselves in arrived.
The rise of crossovers understandably ruffled the feathers of car people. And lamenting the death of a long running model is justified, to a point. The problem lies in enthusiasts painting an extremely broad brush when declaring faux-SUV’s as inherently boring. Hence the stages of grief I’ve outlined above. Since changes in automotive trends are now moving at lightspeed, I’m confident car aficionados are experiencing the middle three stages simultaneously.
My evidence stems from this January 2018 piece about the debut of the 2019 Ford Edge ST. Jalopnik does a lot of things right: they produce high quality long-form articles when the situation calls for it, develop great content on car buying, and create a lot of stuff for gearheads. Unfortunately, their general coverage of crossovers leaves a lot to be desired:
For those of you who might have forgotten about the Edge, I’ll forgive you. And remind you that the Ford Edge is a five-passenger four-door fat hatchback with a decent amount of ground clearance and cargo space. You know, like every other crossover.
This is the basic tone a lot of enthusiast communities employ when talking about crossovers. All vehicles in this particular segment are boring because they’re primarily designed to haul people.
As far as I can tell, enthusiasts aren’t too enamored with the Explorer ST or Edge ST for several reasons:
1: They’re crossovers.
2: They’re equipped with automatic transmissions.
3: They dilute the “ST” brand.
None of the aforementioned reasons have merit. The Golf GTI and R offer an optional dual clutch automatic transmission and the Si used to offer an automatic gearbox too. I don’t recall either performance brand being diluted because of that. And the ST brand has only existed in America for a little over five years, so I’m not sure why car people are decrying the loss of the performance moniker’s supposed heritage. Actually I do know: these new models are arriving at a time when vehicles like the Fiesta ST possibly face extinction in the United States due to the increasing popularity of crossovers, therefore these new products are worthy of their scorn, or something like that.
When analyzing the demographics of Focus ST buyers in 2013, Ford discovered their customers were primarily men in their mid 20’s with salaries slightly above the six figure mark. Five years later, what do you think they’re doing? Getting married and starting families. The Fiesta ST and Focus ST are versatile hatchbacks, but they have their limits. And maybe that new father is tired of driving a manual in all that stop-and-go traffic. Perhaps a vehicle that can haul everything a family needs for a road trip could work? One that the significant other could also drive. And they could both appreciate it’s acceleration and handling capabilities while driving the kids to Pre-K. Now you know why Ford is building ST versions of the Edge and Explorer.
And what is a sporty car anyway? Easy: an OEM modified variant of a pre-existing nameplate. Unless you’re talking about a Mustang, Camaro, Corvette, or Challenger, very few models are actually 100 percent dedicated to performance. That GTI? It’s a Golf with a different powertrain and suspension. Enthusiasts love to slam crossovers for being nothing more than basic people movers even though the vehicles they covet are…basic people movers. A run of the mill Civic that is primarily designed for twenty-somethings isn’t inherently cooler than an average crossover marketed toward new parents.
The more established auto publications never really hated crossovers, they just preferred sedans. That’s changed. Car And Driver thinks very highly of the new X3, and I’m guessing it’s not just due to the work BMW put into making the new model a dynamically capable vehicle. The magazine’s editors have fully warmed up to the crossover.
When will enthusiasts do the same? Hard to say, but there is precedent. The “if you don’t drive a rear wheel drive coupe or sedan you’re not a true car person” argument faded as automakers developed front wheel drive cars with better driving dynamics. And the same thing will happen once car people actually get to experience these vehicles for themselves.
What’s currently happening with the car community isn’t terribly unique. Hardcore Star Trek fans flipped out when J.J. Abrams rebooted the series in 2009. Diehard Star Wars fans similarly directed their vitriol towards Abrams for not taking “their” series in a new and interesting direction with The Force Awakens. And Star Wars adherents now lambast Rian Johnson for…taking the franchise in a new and interesting direction. The bottom line is this: no matter the medium, extremely passionate fans will always be resistant to change, at least initially. Give them enough time and they’ll eventually come around.