Cape Town - It started with normal mini-hatches being pimped with plastic cladding, bigger wheels and other mean looking bits and pieces to try and emulate their larger crossover/SUV cousins.
Examples of these quasi cross-hatches include the Toyota Etios Cross, VW’s Polo Cross, Renault’s Sandero Stepway and the Geely LC Cross.
Driven by customer demand, this genre has now evolved from dressed-up variants of existing hatch models to specifically designed, purpose-built models in own right.
SPIED: Lexus LT Crossover
SUV design cues
Further to buyer’s preferences - customers wanting small, but spacious vehicles with trendy, yet rugged SUV-type design cues - this trend has been accelerated by other triggers...
These include the exponential growth of the Indian motor industry; major incentives for foreign manufacturers to produce vehicles on the subcontinent; tax incentives in India for building smaller cars with sub-4 metre models attracting half the excise duty of 12% for bigger vehicles; and the down-sizing trend worldwide.
The lines between segments in the entry-level category is becoming blurred, says Dr Pawan Goenka, executive director of Mahindra, and this has led to the rise of unconventionally designed small vehicles with a “dual personality” - micro-SUV’s, if you will, or “urban crossovers”.
Now the first wave of these new Indian built mini-crossover/SUV styled vehicles is set to hit South Africa, with at least six new models from leading manufacturers confirmed for introduction to the local market in the final months of this year and early 2017.
Headed for SA
The first, to be released in June, is the new Mahindra KUV100, followed by the Suzuki Ignis and Renault Kwid, as well as the bigger Mahindra TUV300 later in 2016, while the Datsun redi-Go and Tata Nexon are set for launch early 2017.
More models that may be considered for local induction, is the Chevy Beat Activ (or Spark, as it is called locally) and the Brazilian-built Fiat Mobi, while the Nexon-sized Nissan Kicks has been confirmed for local release in 2018.
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The KUV100 (it apparently stands for Kool Utility Vehicle) will pioneer the micro-crossover segment locally when it’s launched here on June the 1st.
Due to its tall stature the Chakan-built crossover’s design lines are somewhat ambiguous, and while its aggressive grille and nose ensures good road presence, the tall greenhouse makes it appear unbalanced – further emphasised by its small wheels and tyres.
However, the neat layout of the instrument panel and simple, striking design of the centre console with integrated gear-lever is quite pleasing.
The quality of the interior trim and materials, particularly when compared to earlier Mahindra models, is impressive and the high roofline gives a sense of spaciousness in the cabin.
The KUV100 is the first Mahindra model equipped with the Indian manufacturer’s own in-house developed petrol engine, and only the second (besides the XUV500) with unibody construction.
The small mFalcon G80 1.2-litre three-cylinder turbo engine, co-developed with SsangYong, delivers a healthy 61kW at 5500rpm and 115Nm at 3600rpm.
While the petrol mill is quite lively, its performance is bested by that of the mFalcon D75 1.2-litre three-cylinder turbodiesel, pushing out 57.4kW at 3750rpm and a healthy 190Nm from as low as 1750rpm.
Locally the KUV100 will be available with three trim levels, and dual airbags, ABS and EBD will be standard from the entry-level K4+ upwards to the flagship K8 model.
In India the KUV100 is aimed at the Renault Kwid, Maruti-Suzuki Swift, Tata Tiago and Hyundai Eon while locally it will compete against the Toyota Etios, Ford Figo, Renault Sandero and Swift – until the arrival of the Ignis and Kwid…
The Suzuki Ignis sub-compact SUV is based on the i-M4 concept first shown in Geneva last year before also making an appearance at the 2015 Tokyo Motor Show.
It made its Indian debut in February at the 2016 Auto Expo in Delhi and is set for launch in India in October this year.
A spokesperson for Suzuki Auto SA confirmed that the Ignis, built by Maruti-Suzuki in Manesar, close to Delhi, will be introduced locally after its introduction in India.
In terms of styling the Ignis represents a modern interpretation of the small Jimny, and its understated design lines and boxy silhouette should appeal to buyers not wanting excessive bling.
At 3 693mm it’s about 20mm longer than the Mahindra KUV100, but not as tall. With a 2 435mm wheelbase it is quite roomy, while its ground clearance is measured at 180mm.
Some interesting segment-first features for the Ignis could include four-wheel drive with hill decent control, a lane management system, parking assist and
Suzuki's adaptive Dual Camera Braking system (DCBS).
Indications are it will be powered by the Japanese automaker's tried and trusted 1.2-litre petrol engine (63kW at 6200rpm and 115Nm at 4000rpm) as used in the Swift, mated to a five-speed manual ’box and possibly a CVT as well.
The Ignis will be available in India with the Fiat-developed 1.3-litre DDiS diesel engine (55kW/190Nm) as well, but this derivative will probably not be on the cards (at least initially) for South Africa.
Renault South Africa has until very recently indicated the small Indian-built Kwid with its puny 800cc power unit is not earmarked for local consumption.
However, news that the Kwid will soon be available with a 1-litre three-cylinder engine (good for 52kW and 91Nm of torque), plus the fact that it’s now Renault India’s best-seller, with more than 50 000 bookings garnered in a month and over 5000 sold per month, it seems they have changed their minds.
The funky-looking mini-crossover is now certainly being considered, they confirmed, for possible local introduction before the end of the year.
Based on Renault-Nissan’s CMF-A platform and built in Chennai the Kwid will slot in just under the Sandero and Clio in Renault’s local line-up.
In India it’s powered by Renault-Nissan’s brand new, compact 779cc three-cylinder SCe (Smart Control efficiency) petrol motor delivering 40kW and 72Nm of torque mated to a five-speed manual transmission.
With a base weight of only 660kg its claimed fuel consumption is only 3.3 litres/100km, but with the bigger mill (similar to that used in the latest Twingo and the newly introduced smart fortwo and forfour) it will probably be in the region of 4 litres/100km.
According to Indian reports the Kwid will also receive an automatic transmission later this year, probably only available for the 1-litre model. It remains to be seen whether this derivative will be considered for South Africa.
A diesel derivative could also be on the cards, powered by a newly developed 1-litre three-cylinder diesel mill developed by Nissan with a power output of around 40kW and torque figure of 135Nm.
This junior oil-burner, the smallest in the global Renault-Nissan portfolio, is ostensibly also earmarked for other Nissan and Datsun products.
The design for its seven-seat TUV300 was inspired by a battle tank, according to Mahindra. And it shows...
In stark contrast with the KUV100 the bigger SUV’s lines are basic and angular, and in real life the tall vehicle, while still less than 4m in length, is much bigger than expected – with 384 litres of luggage space that can be expanded to 720 litres by folding away the small inward-facing rear seats.
It will be available in India with the 59kW or 61.5kW derivatives of the 1.5-litre mHawk turbodiesel engine, but the model for South Africa will be powered by a new, more powerful 75kW version, with 230Nm.
The TUV300 will initially be available with T4, T6 or T8 trim levels and a five-speed manual transmission locally, but an auto model could follow later.
Like its KUV100 counterpart the build quality and interior appointments of the bigger and tall utility – squaring up against Ford’s Ecosport, Renault’s Duster and Suzuki’s Vitara – are surprisingly good, and its handling is acceptable.
Datsun's latest small car, first shown in concept form at the 2014 Auto Expo in Delhi and to be launched in India next month, has also been confirmed for local release.
Sharing its Common Module Family (CMF-A) platform with the Kwid, it is Datsun’s third model in the Indian market after the GO and GO+ multi-purpose vehicle.
The redi-GO, like the Kwid, will be powered by a compact 0.8-litre three-cylinder petrol engine mated to a five-speed manual ’box (apparently with a taller first and second gear than the transmission in the Kwid).
The redi-GO weighs the same as its French counterpart, but even with a longer wheelbase is slightly shorter and stands taller, with higher ground clearance (185mm).
Indications are that the redi-GO will reach local shores early in 2017, as it will then be available with the more powerful 1-litre engine, expected to be added to the range by end of this year.
The redi-GO is also expected to receive an auto transmission later, with a diesel derivative seemingly also under consideration.
The Nexon, scheduled for launch in India in November and mooted to be introduced in South Africa next year, is an interesting addition to the Tata line-up.
Based on a heavily revised X1 platform, a length of 3 995mm and ground clearance of 200mm, it rivals the Ford Ecosport, Mahindra TUV300, Suzuki Vitara, Honda BR-V and Hyundai Creta, but with no smaller Tata crossover available, also has the Kwid, redi-GO, Ignis and KUV100 in its sights.
Looks takes precedence with the Nexon as Tata aims to make a style statement to win over younger customers. It retains the manufacturer’s latest design language, but is much more rounded, detailed and streamlined than most of its rivals.
The compact SUV will use the same drivetrains as in the Bolt – a 1.2-litre three-cylinder turbocharged Revotron petrol engine (66kW at 5000rpm and 140Nm at1500-5000rpm) or the 1.3-litre Quadrajet turbo diesel (55kW at 4000rpm and 190Nm at 1750-3000rpm).
Transmission options will include a six-speed manual gearbox and AMT (automated manual transmission).
More possible contenders
Another possible addition to the growing number of micro-crossovers is the Chevy Beat Activ (called the Spark here).
Development of this more aggressive looking, high-riding model of the Spark, first shown in concept form at this year’s Auto Expo in India, is currently underway in Korea, and a local version could be considered for introduction next year.
Brazil, besides India, is another country well-positioned in terms of suitable offerings for South Africa, and more models from that side of the Atlantic can be expected.
One such product is the Nissan Kicks, first unveiled as a concept at the 2014 Sao Paulo Auto Show, and recently launched in Rio de Janeiro.
The Kicks shares its underpinnings with the Micra and at 4.3m long and with a wheelbase of 2.62m it will compete against the Vitara, Ecosport, TUV300,
Toyota’s impending C-HR and the Nexon.
It has many Nissan’s design traits, including the boomerang lights, floating roof and ‘V-motion’ grille, and the Brazilian version is powered by a 1.6-litre flex-fuel motor. Nissan SA has confirmed the Kicks are set for local release in 2018.
Another Brazilian-built minicar worthy of consideration for the local market is Fiat’s new Mobi.
The Mobi fits into the Fiat range under the Panda and crossover versions, called the Way and Way On, will compete against the likes of the Kwid, redi-GO, Ignis and KUV100.
It is powered by a flex-fuel 1.0-litre four-cylinder engine producing 54kW/93Nm on petrol, and 56kW/97Nm on ethanol, and with the Way and Way On measuring 3 596mm in length they are suitable for production in India as well.
While FCA South Africa declined to confirm anything, a spokesperson did indicate that “a few Fiat models are under consideration” for possible later introduction.