Low-slung SUVs: When a coupe is no longer a coupe
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Coupe-style SUVs seemed like a bit of nonsense when they first surfaced nearly a decade ago. In a global market where SUVs are king, the body style has, however, remained surprisingly enduring.
Here are two certainties about the new vehicle market in 2017: SUVs are in and coupes are not.
In fact, coupes are so not in, Mercedes-Benz and BMW bigwigs have stated at different times recently the classic two-door coupe (and some convertibles for that matter) could be for the chop, lest they start paying their own way in terms of the R&D efforts required to produce them.
So, what does a manufacturer do when -- especially where the premium German carmakers are concerned -- coupes have long been held up as brand totems to be revered, but simply aren't selling. And SUVs are?
It seems simple now that they have gone and done it: create a coupe out of an SUV.
When BMW unveiled the slanted-roof X6 in 2008, the move seemed like a supersized case of drawing the longest bow.
BMW X4 Coupe. Photo / Supplied
People want a sportier SUV? Forget engine development; we'll change the silhouette instead. The X6, the carmaker insisted, was an entirely new type of passenger car; a Sports Activity Vehicle that gave the young, ultra-trendy car-buying audience it was courting a vehicle that better reflected their sporty, active lifestyle.
The X6 resulted in a critical crinkling of noses, although BMW's bold move has been justified to a certain extent.
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Rival Mercedes-Benz launched coupe versions of both its mid-size and compact GLC models. But only after BMW added to its swept-back roster with the smaller X4 crossover coupe in 2014. Next year the BMW X2 will build on the idea even further, albeit smaller.
Mercedes-Benz GLC Coupe. Photo / Supplied
It's a trend that has taken flight with European manufacturers. No sooner had Skoda released its first full-size SUV -- the Kodiaq -- than the rumour mill went into overdrive with news of a potential coupe version to follow. The Kodiaq coupe (or will that be "koupe"?) has all but been confirmed, although it looks a certainty only for the Chinese market at this point.
Volkswagen and Audi have stated they're interested in adding to their respective model portfolios with coupe-style SUVs, but whether this involves building on existing Touareg and Q7 blueprints, or establishing all-new separate lines, remains to be seen.
Away from Europe, not many manufacturers have shown much enthusiasm for the coupe-style SUV.
Skoda Kodiaq Coupe. Photo / Supplied
The only sloped-back model Hyundai has invested in lately is its Ioniq PHEV and BEV range. Japanese manufacturers appear happy to adopt the less-is-more approach in SUV model-building, where successively smaller, high-riding options are added to the range. Regardless of footprint, they all, however, feature a conventional side-profile.
It's the same story for American manufacturers, too, where Tesla has shown that not all is rosy in the world of coupe-style SUVs.
The tech darling is struggling to sell its gull-wing doored Model X in the US, where Bloomberg reports that sales have slid downwards for the last two financial quarters.
I'm not suggesting this has anything to do with its raked-back roofline, of course; those Falcon doors take an absolute age to open for a start ...
The cooling off of the Model X could instead be because customers -- regardless of how interested in electric propulsion they may be -- want full-size SUVs. Or perhaps it's because SUVs are, by their nature, designed to get families into far-off places. The idea of an electric SUV may still be a bridge too far for families wanting to use one to go skiing or camping.
Tesla Model X. Photo / Supplied
Whatever Tesla eventually has planned to replace the Model X however, may work better as a conventionally-shaped SUV. In saying that, true long-range batteries will be the not-so-secret reason for a recreational EV selling in bigger numbers, along with (in New Zealand at least) better fast-charge infrastructure.
So, what will the used car market make of coupe-style crossovers in years to come? Will they be a dependable part of the second-hand market?
Indeed, will manufacturers' still feature the distinctive body style as an ongoing part of their new vehicle model lines?
Or, in years to come, will the coupe crossover become as relevant a body style as the shooting brake.
Oh, hang on ...