Smaller SUVs to add more choices for buyers

Jeep

American buyers have flocked to vehicles that haul like a truck but ride like a car. And the SUVs that meet that profile have grown smaller and smaller. Now, shoppers will have two new choices early next year among very small SUVS -- the Jeep Renegade and the Chevrolet Trax.

"The growth in sales of small crossovers and SUVs has been nothing short of phenomenal," says Michelle Krebs, senior analyst for AutoTrader.com. She points out that small SUV growth now has outpaced two segments that have been the fastest growers in recent years -- small and midsize sedans.

Kelley Blue Book analyst Jack Nerad expects growth to speed up further among very small SUVs -- smaller than compact models like the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V and Ford Escape. "We expect the Chevy and Jeep entries will boost the sales in the category significantly," he says. "Both are well positioned to score."

The new small SUVs, expected to start with base models under $20,000, could appeal to both young buyers in their 20s and 30s and some price-conscious empty nesters. "Price, size, ride height and fuel economy are all positives," says Nerad. "The tall profile enables these vehicles to tote more than a subcompact car and to offer better rear seating."

The Jeep Renegade is aimed at competing not only with the forthcoming Chevrolet Trax but also established models like the Kia Soul and the Nissan Juke, said Jim Morrison, head of Jeep product marketing at a press event Tuesday in New York City. He added that he also hoped to attract some previous owners of the Honda Fit -- usually categorized as a car but with unusually large cargo capacity for its size. The Kia Soul sold about 75,000 in the first half of this year and the Nissan Juke 25,000.

Here's a closer look at the two new entries:

Jeep Renegade

To be built in Italy, the Renegade has some signature design features of Jeeps: A squared-off shape and round headlights. The Renegade will come with engine choices of a 1.4-liter turbocharged four cylinder (160 horsepower) and a larger 2.4-liter four (184 horsepower). The smaller engine should be rated for at least 30 MPG in highway driving, Morrison said.

Prices have not yet been set. But the Renegade likely will start below $20,000 for the base two-wheel drive model with the smaller engine and range up to the mid-20s for the four-wheel drive Trailhawk model, with the larger engine and a higher elevation off the ground to facilitate off-roading. The image and style of offroading is important to the brand, Morrison said. "All owners take their Jeeps offroad, but most of them just do it in their minds," he added.

The Renegade is 16 inches shorter and two inches narrower than the Cherokee, the next-largest Jeep. Inside, it will have up-to-date technology, including an infotainment system that links up with smart phones. Safety features include a rearview camera, blind spot alert, lane departure warning and forward collision warning.

Chevrolet Trax

The Trax already is sold outside the U.S. , including Canada, and it sold 90,000 last year. Although it is about 20 inches shorter than the Chevrolet Equinox, the next-biggest Chevy SUV, it still has a maximum cargo capacity of 48 cubic feet or only 15 fewer cubic feet than the Equinox. It is built on a platform similar to the subcompact sedan Chevrolet Sonic. The Trax will come with a turbocharged 1.4 liter four-cylinder engine that General Motors engineers expect to be rated at 26 MPG in city driving and 34 on the highway.

The Trax will include a rearview camera with the image shown on a seven-inch touch screen. The screen also can display GPS navigation from your smart phone, eliminating the necessity for an expensive built-in GPS.

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    Jerry Edgerton, author of Car Shopping Made Easy, has been covering the car beat since Detroit companies dominated the U.S. market. The former car columnist for Money magazine and Washington correspondent for Business Week, Edgerton specializes in finding the best deals on wheels and offering advice on making your car last.

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