Paul Horrell 23 April 2012

Prepare for the mini-SUV invasion…

Paul Horrell reports on a swathe of new cars following the surprise success of the Nissan Juke

Peugeot urban crossover

The success of the Juke surprised even Nissan itself. So, as always in the car industry, other manufacturers are falling over themselves to copy the idea. Expect a rash of a stylish, miniaturised SUV crossovers in a Waitrose car-park near you soon.

First out of the traps was Vauxhall, which turned up at the Geneva show with the Mokka. It goes on sale this autumn.

That's not all. Today at the Beijing motor show, Peugeot has unveiled a concept version of the mini-crossover it'll put on sale in the first half of next year (above).

See more pics of the Peugeot Urban Crossover concept

At the same show, Ford has the production-version of its Ecosport. But the Ecosport was engineered mainly for India and China, and it's going to need modifying - which will take time - before it comes to Europe.

We've also got news of an upcoming rival from Renault. And why is Renault stepping on Nissan's toes, when the two companies are supposed to be allies? Well, the French decided to do a little crossover because of the sad fate of the Modus. You'd forgotten the Renault Modus mini-MPV hadn't you? It stuck in dealerships as if bolted to the ground. And one very senior manager from Renault's Paris HQ admitted to TG how fugly it was: "I was in England and needed to rent a car. It was a Modus or a Nissan. I took the Nissan. I just couldn't bear to be seen in a Modus."

So instead of repeating the Modus error, Renault will spin-off a baby crossover from this summer's Clio Mk4. This Clio is the first mainstream Renault designed by the most excellently talented Laurens Van den Acker. I've seen the Clio and it's good; a Dezir nose, sweetly coke-bottled side profile, with clever use of glossy accents. On the inside it's calm and elegant, with rounded quality-looking shapes.

The new crossover is codenamed J87. They were going to call it ‘Clio-something' but instead decided it's different enough to be given its own name altogether. They just haven't thought of it yet, so we'll stick with the project codename for now.

The Renault J87 is unlikely to be a munter. LVdA tells me the shape has the same vibe as the Mk4 Clio, but all the panels are different. It has a different, more rugged nose, more modelling on the sides, SUV-style plastic arches and an optional colour-contrast roof. He also says it's got the best reception in clinics of any Renault since the first-generation Scenic - a car that turned the industry on its axis.

Interestingly, the J87 won't be available with all-wheel-drive, unlike the Mokka and Juke. Mind you, both the Nissan and Vauxhall (badged a Buick) sell in the US, where it snows a lot in some states and people like 4WD. In Europe practically no-one buys the 4WD versions, so Renault probably won't lose.

More important, the Renault will be a useful car - as big inside as a Qashqai (ie bigger than a Juke), and with a strong range of diesel and small turbo petrol engines. Electronics will be strong, with a sort of tablet computer in the dash, and downloadable apps for it. R-Link, Renault calls it, and it debuts on the Clio.

The J87 will be launched in the middle of 2013.

Meanwhile Peugeot is also lining up a 2WD crossover, which I'd guess they'll call the 2008. The company is showing a preview of it as the Urban Crossover at the Beijing Show. They're being coy about details and powertrain, but the shape looks plausible for production. It's about 15cm longer than a 208.

A few months ago a top engineer on the 208 programme told me his team is now working on the crossover. It will use the chassis and many of the same powertrains, including a as-yet-unveiled three-cylinder turbo petrol.

As with the rival Renault J87, there will be no 4WD version of the Peugeot. The company has the Hybrid4 system, which gives electric rear-axle drive to the 3008, but it doesn't fit this small platform.

Of course, not all mini-SUVs are automatically desirable enough to succeed. That's why I've ignored the Toyota Urban Cruiser. Everyone else does.

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