The recent proliferation of crossovers (cuvs, softroaders or whatever the hell you want to call them) has left me wondering about what their respective markets are? Until recently, I would have pitted the 2010 RX350 against its previous foes, the ML350, X5, MDX, and FX35. Recently, however it seems that major magazine has been pitting new smaller models against the RX. This leaves an interesting dilemma where it appears that new cuvs are displacing their fatter older siblings, providing customers with better handling vehicles for less money.
Take Mercedes for example. When you walk into a dealer, you have the choice of a GLK or the ML. Both only can accommodate five people; with the GLK being 10 inches shorter than the ML. In both packages, Mercedes serves the same v6 engine. The GLK is smaller but subjectively offers much better road presence and doesn't initially scream suburban housewife. Interior room does suffer, with the GLK giving up about 5 inches of legroom to the ML. Cargo volume also suffers by about 5 cubic feet. However, the big question is who is the ML supposed to compete with? The ML seems to get lost in the shuffle, its closest competitor is the FX, which is also offered in v6/v8 trim levels. Essentially, the problem is that when Mercedes created the new GL, they created a model that provided more space and allowed the new model to usurp the ML in their lineup. Now with the GLK, the ML really doesn't seem to have a place anymore.
BMW managed to save the X5 from having a similar identity crisis by endowing it with a vestigial rear seat. They also axed their full-size X7. It will be interesting to see how large BMW manages to make the new X3 and whether or not, it will now be viewed as an RX350 competitor as well.
While this has mainly been a meandering though experiment, Lexus should be able to capitalize by selling a boat-load of RX's or look to make another model. Right now, they lack a real performance CUV. This could be based off of the RWD platform that underpins the IS/GS. They could also look towards making a smaller CUV that could really compete and base something off the RAV4. Either way, Lexus looks like it is going to be able to continue its relentless pursuit of global luxury domination.