Honda debuts subcompact Urban SUV Concept in Detroit

Trevor Hofmann - CAP staff
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The unorthodox Element was a forerunner in the quirky offbeat compact crossover segment now populated by the likes of Kia's Soul, Mini's Countryman, Scion's xB, plus Nissan's Cube and Juke, but after a half decade of slower than expected sales Honda gave up on its boxy offering. Now, two years later, the Japanese automaker looks ready to take a very different approach to the subcompact crossover category with the introduction of its Urban SUV Concept.

"No one has had greater success with small cars than Honda, and this Urban SUV Concept will create new value in the growing small-SUV segment," said John Mendel, executive vice president of sales at American Honda to the gathered media at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. "With the continued expansion of our North American manufacturing operations, we expect fuel-efficient and fun-to-drive 'small' cars to play a key role in meeting the needs of our customers in the U.S."

Where the old Element came across like a patchwork quilt of drab grey and otherwise colourful rectangular panels, the new Urban SUV Concept shows a sporty stance not totally unlike its larger CR-V sibling, which was favourably redesigned last year. Its sporty modern CUV lines measure some 228 millimetres less than Honda's larger compact ute, 4,300 mm from nose to tail to be exact, which makes it a mere 15 mm shorter than the old Element. Putting it in perspective within today's subcompact crossover market, if built as is the Urban SUV Concept with be a more accommodating family hauler than Scion's xB by 50 mm, Fiat's new 500L by 150 mm, Suzuki's SX4 Crossover by 165 mm, Nissan's Juke by 175 mm, Mini's Countryman by 192 mm, Kia's Soul by 195 mm, and Nissan's much more abbreviated Cube by 320 mm. In fact, the new Urban SUV Concept almost measures up to the Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage's length with only 140 fewer millimetres, and comes even closer to the Volkswagen Tiguan by just 127 mm. These last three are compact models that go up against the CR-V, so the Urban SUV Concept's very existence tells us that Honda feels its CR-V is too big for some compact buyers' needs and tastes, despite having never increased more than an inch in size since it was introduced in 1995.

The recent introduction of two new smaller sized compact models might show that Honda is on the right track with the Urban SUV Concept. Ford's C-Max measures just 71 mm longer and Chevy's upcoming Trax is a mere 52 mm shorter, and unlike most of the crossovers already mentioned these two are the results of more recent market research that indicate up-to-date consumer trends. Smaller is definitely in, but not at the expense of practicality, performance and style.

As mentioned, the Urban SUV Concept doesn't come up short on style. The shape could be described as sleek and even sporty, much thanks to rear doors that almost go unnoticed due to black handles hidden within the blackened C pillars. Where some rivals approach the subcompact crossover segment by just being weird, the Urban SUV Concept pulls on more traditional design elements like gently bulging front fenders and deeply sculpted upswept beltlines, all tied together by a dramatically arcing roofline that makes it look almost coupe-like. The frontal view shows a grille and fascia seemingly inspired by the new Accord Hybrid, bookended by large jeweled headlamp clusters with de rigueur LED daytime running lights, whereas a glance at the rear shows a set of taillights that look like they're pulled off the new 2013 Civic albeit flipped upside down. All-round the look is immediately appealing and would no doubt be a big hit if the rest of the package measures up to the needs and desires of subcompact crossover consumers.

Expect the new Urban SUV Concept to be ultimately versatile when it comes to market, as the production version will be based on the same Global Compact Series platform architecture that underpins the popular Honda Fit. That model has long been winning over subcompact buyers due to its innovatively flexible rear seating system amongst other attributes. According to Honda, the new crossover will get a version of the Fit's MagicSeat too, thanks to the use of that architecture's "center-tank layout." This gas tank configuration also provides the space necessary to include the Fit's "fold-flat mode for maximum cargo capacity."

The cost of production should be kept within check too, as it will be built alongside the Fit in Celaya, Mexico. With the road-going version of the new Urban SUV Concept, Honda hopes to double worldwide use of its Global Compact Series platform to more than 1.5 million units by the end of 2016.

Nothing has been said about powertrains, but Honda does mention the upcoming subcompact crossover will utilize its Earth Dreams Technology to increase fuel-efficiency, which means it will likely be available with the automaker's new continuously variable transmission option. Its Accord Hybrid influenced grille and fascia lead to speculation about a hybrid variant, especially considering Honda offers a gasoline-electric hybrid version of the Fit in other markets.

Honda also promises "next-generation telematics and a modern interior," so we should expect all the latest connectivity tech along with top-tier infotainment, and due to lessons recently learned with its Civic, that interior should feature materials quality levels on par with the Koreans.

And just when will you be able to get your hands on one? Production is expected to begin in the spring of 2014, so it should arrive in Honda dealerships across Canada shortly thereafter.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Crossover, Honda, 2013, Urban SUV Concept, Subcompact,

Geographic location: Detroit

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