This year, the C in CUV stands for really cool

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This year, the C in CUV stands for really cool

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Last year, a total of 1,547,588 vehicles were sold in Korea (including both domestic and imports) and 25.5 percent, or 394,225 units, were sport utility vehicles, according to data from the Korea Automobile Manufacturers Association. The sales of domestic SUVs were up 14.2 percent from a year ago, while foreign SUV sales jumped 21.1 percent from 2012.

Industry insiders say sales of SUVs have been increasing because many Koreans have fallen in love with outdoor leisure activities such as camping. As a result, the time has come for small crossover utility vehicles (CUVs), which don’t require a very big budget but boast flash designs to catch the eyes of young, urban customers.

A CUV looks like an SUV but has a smaller, and lower, body like a sedan. Although the exact definition of a CUV differs depending on how you ask, the trend in the Korean market is definitely for mini CUVs.

With the entrance of new models, previous SUVs like Hyundai Motor’s Tucson, Kia Motors’ Sportage and Ssangyong Motor’s Korando C are not considered as small as they used to be.

Among mini CUVs, three models have been especially popular in the local market. GM Korea’s Chevrolet Trax was a pioneer when it came out a year ago. The trend continued with the Nissan Juke and the Renault Samsung Motors’ QM3.

The Trax sold more than 8,000 units in Korea last year, which was a decidedly healthy debut. RSM saw 1,000 QM3s, which are imported from Spain, sell out in just seven minutes after it opened bookings in November. The QM3, known as Captur in Europe, has currently more than 8,000 pre-orders, and RSM is asking its French parent company, Renault, to give more QM3s to Korea so customers don’t have to wait for long to receive the vehicle.

The Juke, which was introduced in October, sold 365 units as of the end of January. Nissan Korea says that’s because only a small number of Jukes have been imported and claims some 200 customers are still waiting to receive the vehicles they ordered.

Each model has its own appeal.

Although some customers still accuse the Trax of being overly expensive, it remains the cheapest mini CUV out there. The price of the Trax starts at under 20 million won ($18,800).

But cheap prices don’t translate into cheap quality. Last year the Trax was chosen as the safest car of the year by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport. It received the top rating with an overall score of 93.5 points, receiving the highest scores in the crash test and the pedestrian protection tests.

GM Korea, the nation’s third-largest automaker, said that this is because the Trax comes with six driver, passenger and side curtain air bags as standard. The Trax is also equipped with ESC (electronic stability control) including ABS (anti-lock braking system), TCS (traction control system), HBA (hydraulic brake assist) and HAS (hill start assist) as standard.

The highlight of the QM3 is its fuel efficiency - 18.5 kilometers per liter (43.5 miles per gallon) - with a 1.5-liter dCi diesel engine from Renault and dual-clutch transmission (DCT) from Germany’s Getrag. The engine has been used on 27 models of Renault, Nissan and Mercedes-Benz, selling more than 10 million units worldwide, while Getrag’s DCT was used in some premium brands like BMW and Ferrari.

Although the QM3 is actually imported from Spain, the price is even cheaper than in Europe. According to RSM, the QM3 (Captur) sells for about 21,100 euros ($28,500) in Europe, but in Korea, the price of the basic trim QM3 SE is 22.5 million won ($21,300). Its network of 470 service shop is also a plus, offering cheaper repair than the usual imports.

The Juke is considered to have the most powerful performance and a unique design. Its 1.6-liter turbo engine rolls out 190 horsepower with 24.5 kilogram per meter torque to provide instant speed.

But the highlight of the Juke is its unique front design. A driver can see the front headlight of the vehicle from his seat. Its interior is also designed under a concept called Robiotic, which is a combination of Robotic and Bio, according to the Japanese automaker. The Juke became one of Nissan’s global best-sellers with more than 650,000 units sold since its debut in 2010.

Industry observers expect the mini CUV market will be highly competitive this year as more models are introduced. Considering that Kia’s new Soul and BMW Group’s Mini Countryman can also be considered mini CUVs, some say the war already started last year. The Countryman, the largest Mini model, saw a 31 percent sales increase last year.

French automaker Peugeot is expected to introduce the 2008 in the first half of this year. Although it isn’t clear whether Hanbul Motors, the official importer of Peugeots and Citroens, will bring gasoline or diesel versions of the 2008 to Korea, industry insiders expected the diesel model first because of the rising popularity of diesel fueled cars and their better fuel efficiency. The price of the 2008 is expected to be in the 30 million won range.

For premium brand fans, the Porsche Macan is ideal. Porsche Korea is expected to import the Macan in May with S, S Diesel and Turbo models. Macan is already described as a “small SUV-like sportcar.”

BY JOO KYUNG-DON [kjoo@joongang.co.kr ]

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