Defending the Indefensible Crossover

Why the most popular cars in America actually make a lot of sense.

Defending Crossover
Mallory Short/Lexus

My parents have owned 7 crossovers in the last 10 years, and I hated every one of them. They were, quite simply, too much of everything and not enough of anything. Now, two decades after the Lexus RX changed the way normal people see cars, I’m jumping on board.

It’s just after my sixteenth birthday in 1997, and Mom wants to buy herself a new car. She’s had two consecutive Mercury Villager minivans—one a “Nautica Edition”—and neither were purchased with my consent. The last car I helped Mom pick out was a silver-on-red Volvo 740GLE Wagon, which went back to the dealer under lemon law.

After that, she stopped asking me for advice; I did not stop giving it.

She wants an SUV, something better in the snow than her minivans. I naturally recommend a Hummer H1. She says to stop being silly, so we go to the local Chevrolet store and I walk her around the new Chevy Tahoe. “It drives like a dump truck,” she comments on the test drive, and makes similar remarks the rest of the day about the Explorers, Grand Cherokees, and Blazers she’d also driven. Looking back now, I gotta say, the woman had a point.

“I bought a new car, a Lexus RX300. It’s an SUV that drives like a car!” Mom proudly announced two weeks later. I made a face like I had just seen someone shoot my dog.

“What? What’s wrong with it?”

I went into a lengthy explanation about why SUV’s needed body-on-frame construction, the benefits of a longitudinal engine layout, why all-wheel-drive is stupid if you don’t have a low-range transfer case, and how the RX300 is just an ES300 on big tires, which itself was just a Camry with nice leather and a body kit. By the transitive property, I explained, it is a Camry.

She looked back at me with a face that now makes total sense. It said, “Why do I care about any of that? I need to take your sister to dance recitals, go to the shops, and sit pleasantly in a quiet leather bubble. Once in a while, I’d like to not crash because it’s snowing. And I don’t want to have to squat to get in the thing. That’s it.”

“But, but, this isn’t a real SUV!” I persisted.

“And the Lexus dealer is open until midnight, 7 days a week. They have the best service for your father’s LS400, I only want to go there.”

Our argument went on, forming the foundation of the YouTube comments section. Eventually, I gave up, and she fawned over her “Jewish Racing Gold” crossover.

And that was the beginning of the reign of Lexus crossovers in the Farah family household; five of them, spanning twenty years, two of which we still own, and are now supplemented by a pair of Audi’s: a Q5 and a Q7.

And you know what? They may not have been to my taste, but those crossovers fit my parents’ needs perfectly. Buying a crossover is accepting reality—you probably will not ever go off-roading in your off-roader. You may appreciate the tailgate and open cargo compartment more than a well-trunk design of a sedan. With the rising beltlines of today’s sedans, a crossover allows for a bigger greenhouse and better visibility. And in the case of the Lexus RX300, not a single one, out of five my parent owned, ever went to the dealer for anything besides scheduled maintenance, in over a decade. We only still have the two because they are worth more as functional cars than they are on trade-ins, and they never give us any headaches.

I hated them. The steering wasn’t precise, the brakes were never very good, the driver's seats feel like they were designed for short women. It all feels like a compromise. I’m stubborn, and sometimes stupid, and so I wanted my cars low, stiff, and fast, or able to do sweet jumps. Because both of those things are practical for everyday life. It was more important for a car to truly excel at one specific thing, and then to buy different cars for each specific task. For variety. Well-roundedness was for suckers.

But now I’m jaded and broken. I've figured out how to spend my work days with the low, stiff sports cars, which I never considered as an actual possibility. Just as much as I’d never considered selling my fast and furious Focus RS to buy a crossover. Right as the market reaches a tipping point where crossovers are the best selling genre of vehicle in America, I’m jumping on the bandwagon. I ordered up a British Racing Green over Tan Jaguar F-Pace diesel, and I’m pleased as punch about it.

I’m not the only one. My friend Stunt Driver Sera went from an M3 to a Macan, as did my friend Nick. Most of my LA “car friends,” in fact, don’t drive cars at all, except on weekends or at the track; they all drive sporty European crossovers. And they all like them.

At a Jaguar press launch event in Colorado back in June, I spent two days with the Jaguar XE and F-Pace, a sedan and crossover based on the same architecture and powertrains. They have fundamentally the same suspension layout as well, one just offers a bit more travel and ground clearance, and the F-Pace has the bigger cargo area. Driven back-to-back, at anything less than 7/10ths pace, the dynamic experience is identical. At higher speeds, the XE Sedan has slightly higher limits, but the F-Pace impresses as the better vehicle for how close it can come to the performance of the sedan, given the increase in both size and heft. I came away from drives in the BMW X3 and Range Rover sport with, roughly, the same conclusions.

And let’s be honest, though we may not spend our weekends out in the forest off-roading, driving through a major American city these days is, in some ways, actually worse. Crumbling infrastructure, changing weather patterns, and varying budgets mean that the roads in places like New York, LA, Boston, or Philadelphia are rougher than some sections of the Baja 1,000. I don’t need to go off-road to appreciate a bit of ground clearance and some sidewall. I just need to have to get across LA at rush hour.

So, in order to work my way towards peak automotive practicality while maintaining a semblance of sporty driving dynamics and response, to team Jaguar we go, with a new long-termer about to enter the lease garage come this November. It will have all the good toys, it will have the most frugal engine, which still makes 340/lb/ft of torque, and it will have a lovely hatchback that I’ll use as a workspace while filming.

The 16-year-old version of me wouldn’t like this. But that kid once put phantom lights on a Subaru, so what does he know anyway?