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    Crossovers Continue Their Push

    By Philip Ruth–

    If you’re shopping for a new vehicle, then you might have noticed some of the factors that made September 2018 a notably slow sales month. Interest rates are rising, and transaction prices are up, hitting just under $33,500. If you’ve been away from the showrooms for a while, your return might have cued up some good ol’ sticker shock.

    Contributing to this shift is ongoing buyer migration from sedans to crossovers and SUVs. Prices are higher and margins for negotiating are thinner, which is to be expected when you want something that’s in demand.

    Smack in the center of this evolving market are the compact crossovers we’ll examine this month—the Mazda CX-5 and Toyota RAV4. Both are common sights in the Bay Area, and the Toyota is especially popular; the RAV4 was the best-selling non-pickup sold in 2017. When Ford says it’s finished with slinging sedans, the RAV4’s unstoppable success is firm in its corporate mind.

    But the powerhouse RAV4 is not immune to the blowing winds. Its September volume was off 12 percent from that month in 2017. The Mazda does less than a third of the RAV4’s overall volume, and it was off 16 percent. That’s still a strong showing compared to their sedan stablemates, though: the Camry was down 22%, and the Mazda6 tumbled 30%. Buyers are finding the exit door for sedans in record numbers.

    There are compelling reasons for this, two among them being the higher seating position and massively more practical interior space, which can be converted from people-carrying to antique-hauling in a snap. Urban drivers also appreciate a crossover’s parkability, because these tall wagons are shorter without a trunk on the back.

    But we can lament the loss of driving fun. Crossovers have extra weight to carry, and the added height makes suspension tuning more a challenge than in sedans that hunker closer to the road. The contrast is made more vivid by the fact that both the Mazda6 and the Camry are remarkably fun to drive, even though the latter has suffered for years under a beige veil of drabness. The Camry is now finally awake, just as its market is withering.

    By contrast, the CX-5 seems to be preoccupied, and the RAV4 is enjoying an afternoon nap. Neither pushes a driver’s buttons for engagement. The Mazda’s “Skyactiv” lightweight approach to its construction makes it feel more pitchable than the RAV4, but its responses feel like the result of a web of decision made on your behalf, rather than a direct link between man and machine. Greater time with it might foster more of a connection.

    The tested 2018 RAV4 is replaced for ’19 with a model redesigned on Toyota’s global platform, dubbed “TNGA.” The 2018 Camry was the first to show the brilliance of this new foundation, and we hope its handling sharpness replaces the somnolence of the current RAV4. Because while there is an appreciation for a crossover’s virtues, enthusiast drivers like me don’t want to be left behind.

    Philip Ruth is a Castro-based automotive photojournalist and consultant ( www.gaycarguy.com ). Check out his automotive staging service at www.carstaging.com .