The Problem With Crossovers

Today we heard that Toyota is coming out with a new Highlander at the upcoming New York Auto Show, and it gives us a chance to assess of one the most dominant segments in the car world: the crossover.

Americans and an increasing number of Europeans adore their high seating positions, our own Matt Hardigree explained the typical car enthusiast's perspective on The Most Boring Vehicles On The Road.

Here's my problem with the Highlander: it's an extremely popular vehicle I don't particularly like. Everything that's wrong about it (big, bloated, cushy, quiet, comfortable) is everything that makes it popular. It's proof that not everyone thinks like me. That I may be in the minority.

Going a step further, pauljones pointed out that they suffer from a series of jack of all trades/master of none compromises.

Interesting. I don't think the problem is that it is big, bloated, cushy, quiet, and comfortable per se; after all, similar remarks were probably made about the Galaxies, Impalas, Continentals, El Dorados, etc. of old that we all seem to know and love. I think it's just an issue of how it's all packaged and presented.

As I see it, the Highlander is just literally a rolling bundle of impractical practicality. It's presented as being more spacious than a car, more efficient than a traditional SUV, more luxurious than a minivan, and safer than all of them. And it's all true... to a certain extent. It is more spacious then a car. It is more efficient than a traditional body-on-frame SUV. It is more luxurious than a minivan, and it does have good safety ratings.

It's all of these great traits in one! It must be great, right!?

What tends not to be mentioned in the marketing speak is that along with all of the advantages of the other cars that it combines, it also combines all of their disadvantages. It's less efficient than a car or station wagon, it's less broadly capable than a traditional body-on-frame SUV, and it has less space efficiency than a minivan. And these days, pretty much all cars have acceptable safety ratings; even the worst of them on sale in the US is vastly safer than most cars from just 10 years ago.

And really, that's what bothers me - not what it is per se, but rather what it isn't. It is big, bloated, cushy, quiet, and comfortable; but not because that was the goal, like it was (and to a certain extent, still is) the goal of a traditional luxury barges, but rather because it was simply the end result of the compromise. In the end, it compromised so much that it came to be a rolling representation of the law of averages - it had all those traits not because it's intended to excel at them like the El Dorados of old were, but because that's simply what happens when you try to mix so many different (and sometimes conflicting) traits into one. It does big, bloated, cushy, quiet, and comfortable, but it doesn't do it well or with the ambiance of luxury like it should.

For my own personal tastes, I prefer a vehicle that's designed to fill a particular role and fill it well rather than a vehicle that's designed to do a little bit of everything, but nothing particularly well. Unfortunately, like you, I'm in the minority with this sort of thing.

That being said, however, I can see why it appeals to so many people. If it fits their needs, whether real or perceived, I can't blame them for buying it, and nor can they be judged for it. It just is what it is.

What do you think? Would you get a crossover, or are you committed to a more focused vehicle, like a dedicated SUV, wagon, or family sedan?

Photo Credit: Aaron Anderer