Crossovers are proliferating like mosquitoes on a Louisiana marsh, with a multitude due or due for a refresh. Note: This list is not all-inclusive. We had to pick the ones that we think are cool or will be important in a ballooning market that's also grown more sensitive to both price and fuel economy. And we tossed in a few that may or may not be sold here but show where crossovers may be headed.
2013 BMW X1
When: late 2012
It's the least expensive 2013 BMW, period (but barely). The X1 is already out in other markets, and it's been a hit. No wonder: It's basically a shrunk-down X3 at a roughly $5,000 discount. Think 128i sedan with a hatch and more ground clearance and you've got the picture.
And guess what: It's really a BMW, complete with rear-wheel drive in the base model. Practically anything else for sale here that you could reasonably call a "crossover" defaults to front-wheel drive, which is far less sporty.
The RWD model gets BMW's workhorse 2.0-liter turbocharged four, here good for 241 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. You can get the 2-liter mated to AWD too. The optional motor (AWD only) is BMW's creamy-smooth inline six 3.0-liter, good for 300 hp and 300 lb-ft. With either engine, the transmission is an eight-speed auto.
Price: starts at $31,500
2013 Hyundai Santa Fe
When: The Sport is out shortly; the LWB debuts at the end of 2012.
A lot of carmakers lately are trying to cram third rows into the backs of crossovers that were originally designed for five passengers. Even if kids can fit back there, it's no fun, nor is extracting them from nosebleed-seat purgatory.
Hyundai, bucking that trend, will offer two Santa Fe models, the five-seat Santa Fe Sport and the LWB Santa Fe with seating for seven. And the latter doesn't just throw a third bench into the cargo hold. Hyundai actually stretched the wheelbase by 4 inches, adding more room to both the second and third rows. The new crossover is made of more high-strength steel, which cut some weight from the five-passenger and should result in better handling.
The five-passenger Santa Fe can be had with a 190-hp direct-injected 2.4-liter four, or the turbocharged 2.0-liter four with 264 hp. That's slightly less potent than the V-6 it replaces, but Hyundai is betting on a big improvement in fuel economy. The seven-seater big boy will be driven only by the 290-hp V-6 from the Hyundai Azera Sport. Yes, you can pair either model with AWD, but it costs more.
Price: starting at $25,275
2015 Ford Ecosport Crossover
When: globally in late 2012/early 2013. In the U.S.—who knows?
While it's doubtful the U.S. will see this tiny Ford in the next 18 months, it is waiting in the wings if gas prices start to edge back up again. But like Chevy's Trax, which will be sold worldwide but not domestically next year, this Fiesta-based crossover (which Ford sells with a few engine options including its new 1.0-liter, three-cylinder EcoBoost) could definitely make it here eventually. Some insiders say it's a "when," not an "if."
2014 Toyota RAV4
When: early 2013
One of the stalwarts of the crossover segment is overdue for a replacement. Toyota's last update of the RAV4 came as a light reskin in 2009. Expect the 2014 model to be a thorough refresh, especially to the sheet metal. The interior must improve; it looks cheap next to Hyundai's Tucson and Santa Fe, the Honda CR-V, and the 2013 Ford Escape. Toyota probably will keep the optional third row of seats, because, unlike Honda and Ford, the next logical step-up in size from Toyota (the Highlander) doesn't offer a heck of a lot more utility. That is one reason the RAV4 has done so well.
Toyota's likely to retain an EV edition, since they've got a good partnership going with Tesla on this front already. We'd expect both the 2.5-liter four and 3.5-liter V-6 to continue as volume models and for the four to gain more power. Both will almost certainly be mated to six-speed automatics to improve fuel economy. AWD will be optional, regardless of motor choice.
2013 Buick Encore
When: early 2013
Buick continues to revamp its image to positive effect. Yes, really—if you haven't driven a Buick lately, the solid handling and great interiors might come as a shock. This latest attempt to redefine the brand (and go younger) is built on the same chassis as the Chevy Sonic, and we hope it brings the same kind of excellent handling. The Encore will be about a foot longer than a Sonic, with more headroom and cargo room since it's a hatchback. The powertrain is also borrowed from the little Chevy; it's a 1.4-liter turbo making 140 hp and 148 lb-ft, with FWD or AWD and a six-speed auto.
The cockpit is rumored to be slick, with sporty blue-lit gauges, optional leather, and lots of chrome accents. The exterior isn't as sharply attractive as BMW's X1, but it looks muscular, with short overhangs and a butch maw. All of which has us predicting grandpa won't want one, and therefore you won't spy an Encore in Boca with a vinylized roof.
Price: roughly $25,000
2014 Nissan Rogue
Nissan's Rogue was a bit ahead of its time when it debuted in 2007. Purists didn't love the CVT and four-cylinder engine, but fairly strong highway mileage and a this-is-not-a-wagon (or a minivan) attitude attracted the budget-conscious with young kids. Now, though, Nissan has plenty of challengers, chief among them the Hyundai Tucson, which sells for nearly three grand less than the Rogue and gets superior fuel economy.
The next Rogue, to be built in both South Korea and Tennessee, will have to drop some weight (like the latest Pathfinder) and add features like direct-injection. It'd help, too, if it got a bit sexier, like the Hi-Cross Concept Nissan shown at the Geneva Motor Show this past spring.
The next Rogue will likely not grow much on the outside, but you can bet Nissan will work hard on space efficiency. (A lot of compact crossovers suffer the curse of being taller than cars, but not getting any practical use from that extra space.)
The Hi-Cross featured a gas–electric hybrid with a 2.0-liter, direct-injection gasoline four-cylinder, CVT, and electric motor. This is a maybe option, we'd bet, but it'll cost a bundle. The base car will likely be that 2.0-liter with an AWD option, FWD standard.
Price: Nissan can't afford to go much higher than the present $22,000 base.
2014 Audi Q3
When: mid-to-late 2013
If you're still mourning the loss of the A3 Avant, here's your replacement ride.
Audi showed off the Q3 as a concept (called the Vail) on this year's auto-show circuit, which is sort of amusing since the Q3 is already available in other markets. It rides on the same platform as the VW Tiguan (though the Q3 is about 2 inches shorter), but we expect it to be more upscale, to demand a higher sticker, and to be as gorgeous inside as the new Allroad.
That does make us wonder why you'd want to buy the Q3 when there already is the Allroad and the Q5. But we suspect the answer may come down to a slightly cheaper cost of entry. Note that BMW's X1 is starting at $31,500.
In show guise the Q3 had the smoking 314-hp, 2.5-liter from the Audi TT RS. While that's not out of the question for the production version, it's more likely we'll see the 2.0-liter TFSI turbo with 211 hp as its base engine. In other markets you can get a 2.0-liter turbodiesel. If Audi ever brought that to the U.S., it would give it a big fuel-economy edge, especially versus Asian rivals that haven't shown a willingness to bring diesels here.
Price: TBA, but no more than $31,500 to start with
2014 Maserati Kubang
When: late 2013
Call it a Jeep Grand Cherokee–based crossover for the 1 (or so) percent.
The Grand Cherokee on which this crossover will be based is excellent—though we admit it's a scary thought, reuniting Maserati and Chrysler. We've seen this movie before, with the TC by Maserati circa 1990 that was really a reskinned Dodge Daytona with, in some models, a Mitsubishi engine. The TC was an embarrassment from inception to merciful demise after three years of attempting to fool Americans into paying too much for a marketing exercise.
We have better hopes this time. First, Italy is running the show at Chrysler, and even though the Kubang will roll off the Chrysler assembly facility in Detroit, the guts of this crossover will be a good mix—think Ferrari exotic and Jeep brawn. We expect decent off-road chops, even if the Maserati's target audience is Porsche Cayenne buyers who don't really care about that capability.
Price: at least $70,000
2014 Porsche Macan
When: late 2013
Porsche is now part of the VW group, and the Macan will be based on the Audi Q5. It likely will be the sportiest tall wagonoid on the market in its segment, perhaps rivaled by the Range Rover Evoque, though we'd expect the Porsche's driving dynamics to be top of the class.
Porsche says it will woo different buyers than those looking for the Q5 with racier sheet metal and a Panamera-derived interior design. (If you've seen that car, you know its cockpit is even more spaceship-cool than the interior of a Q5.)
Powertrain rumors have been all over the map. The strong money is on the same 2.0-liter turbocharged four from the Q5, but putting out 237 hp in the Porsche, up from the 211 in the Audi. An optional 277-hp V-6 seems likely (said to be a downsized version of the 3.6-liter V-6 in the Cayenne). But the crystal ball is hazy regarding the turbo-badged model. We've heard unconfirmed rumors of a 400-hp twin-turbo V-6, for instance. While manual shifting will be an option elsewhere, Americans might get only a seven-speed PDK dual-clutch auto. AWD will be an option and perhaps even standard.
Price: $42,000 to $45,000
2014 Mercedes-Benz GLC
When: late 2013 or early 2014
Mercedes' rival to the BMW X1 is based on Benz's small A/B-class platform. That means that like the base A-class, it will be pretty affordable. And that's important, since Mercedes has had trouble attracting younger buyers. But the GLC won't come only as a stripped-down model designed to lure away VW Tiguan pretenders. We'd wager Mercedes could be seriously bold and, as they're planning with the A-class, come to North America with a few AMG versions.
Expect at least one turbocharged four-cylinder gas engine and almost certainly the 2.1-liter turbocharged diesel from the 2013 GLK. Also bet on a seven-speed automatic, and we'd pray for the option of a dual-clutch arrangement.
Price: $30,000 to $35,000