If you're shopping for a new sedan, would you pay a bit more for a small SUV that gives you more space and versatility?
Increasingly, Americans are answering "yes" to that question. Starting in 2014, compact SUVs like the Honda CR-V and Ford Escape displaced midsize sedans as the top-selling automotive category (other than pickup trucks). This year through May, these small SUVs have sold a total of 1.22 million vs. 926,000 for midsize sedans.
What powered this switch? The sudden decline of gas prices in 2014 from around $4 a gallon led people to be less concerned about fuel economy and thus open to consider SUVs, said analyst Tim Fleming of Kelley Blue Book.
But unlike large SUVS, with these compact utilities you don't pay that much of a gas mileage penalty. The combined city/highway mileage rating for this category is 25 -- trailing midsize sedans by less than 4 MPG.
Small SUVS appeal to a range of buyers, from 20-something professionals who want to haul their skis and other gear to retirees who want plenty of space for groceries and grandkids. "The combination of practicality, comfort and affordability that these vehicles offer is hard to match," said Fleming.
The average selling price recently of compact SUVs is about $27,600, according to Kelley Blue Book. That compares with $25,100 for midsize sedans. That price differential matters to many buyers, however, and Fleming predicted that automakers will continue to sell about 2 million midsize sedans annually.
For the price-conscious buyer, compact cars like a Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla will be attractive at an average selling price of $20,150. And unlike years past, these small sedans now feature the latest in automotive technology and safety features.
But if you're a buyer considering a compact SUV, take a closer look at the top five sellers this year and compare them to midsize sedans of the same brand.