It’s easy to see the appeal of compact crossovers and SUVs—they offer excellent passenger/cargo versatility and all-weather capability in a relatively affordable, economical package. Their not-too-big dimensions make most compact crossovers/SUVs ideal for small families and urban dwellers who still like to get off the beaten path once in a while.
Generally speaking, compact crossovers and SUVs are not nearly as “compact” as they used to be. Most have ample seating room for four—five in a pinch—and two offer a 3rd-row seat for 7-passenger capacity (though that last row is kind of tight). Cargo space varies, but many can hold a surprising amount of stuff.
For many buyers, a compact crossover or SUV is all they really need; moving up to one of the 5-passenger midsize models really doesn’t gain them much room. However, compact crossovers have relatively low towing limits (usually around 1,500 pounds) whereas the norm for the midsize class is closer to 3,500 pounds. Those midsize crossovers that offer a 3rd-row seat usually also have more cargo space, but they’re decidedly larger overall.
Almost all compact crossovers have a 4-cylinder engine—probably one reason towing limits are generally low—though some are turbocharged. Only a few entries offer a V6.
The compact SUV class adds three new entrants for 2018; the Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain are both redesigned on a smaller platform that moves them from the smaller side of our midsize SUV class to our compact SUV class, and Mitsubishi introduces the sportily-styled Eclipse Cross. The Jeep Wrangler is redesigned and retains the outgoing model’s traditional off-road-oriented chassis layout, but adds new safety and technology features. Wrangler’s existing 285-hp 3.6-liter V6 carries over and is joined by an optional new 270-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder with mild-hybrid technology. Note that the current-generation Wrangler continues for 2018 as the Wrangler JK. The Subaru Crosstrek and Volkswagen Tiguan are also redesigned. The new Crosstrek is 1.2 inches longer in wheelbase than its predecessor and gains a host of new technology and safety features. The new Tiguan is 10.6 inches longer than its predecessor, on a wheelbase that’s 7.3 inches longer; the larger new platform enables VW to offer the Tiguan with a 3rd-row seat. After its debut as an all-new model last year, the Kia Niro gets a plug-in-hybrid model. The Mitsubishi Outlander also adds a plug-in-hybrid model, powered by a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder paired with two electric motors for 197 hp total. The Mazda CX-5 gains cylinder-deactivation technology to improve fuel economy. The 2018 Nissan Rogue drops its available 3rd-row seat, but gains available ProPILOT Assist: a semi-autonomous driving system that can assist steering, braking, and acceleration while driving on a single-lane highway. The Toyota RAV4 gets an Adventure model with a taller ride height, larger fender flares, and other off-road-focused features.
The rest of the class is either unchanged, or sees minor updates such as a shuffling of standard and optional equipment or new appearance options. The Jeep Patriot is discontinued.
There are five hybrids in the class—the Jeep Wrangler, Kia Niro, Mitsubishi Outlander, Nissan Rogue, and Toyota RAV4. The Kia Niro and Subaru Crosstrek are more car-like than the rest of the segment—the Niro is not available with all-wheel drive, and the Crosstrek is essentially a beefed-up version of the Subaru Impreza compact car. The new Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain both offer an available diesel engine. The Jeep Wrangler stands out as the class’s lone convertible. It comes only with 4-wheel drive and is available in 2- and 4-door versions, both offered with a convertible soft top or removable hard top.
There are only two members of this class that have bodies long enough to offer a 3rd-row seat: the Mitsubishi Outlander and Volkswagen Tiguan. These 3rd rows are quite cramped, not surprisingly, but are still useful for children and short trips.
Jeep Wrangler JK
Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross
Volkswagen Tiguan Limited