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 sees one all-new entry and four redesigned models for 2017. Kia introduces the Niro, a genre-bending “hybrid utility vehicle” 4-door hatchback that has a gas/electric 1.6-liter 4-cylinder hybrid powertrain. The Niro is notably smaller than the typical compact crossover and does not offer all-wheel drive, but it promises a combined EPA rating of 50 mpg. The Honda CR-V, Jeep Compass, Kia Sportage, and Mazda CX-5 are all redesigned. The CR-V gets a more spacious interior, an available turbocharged 1.5-liter engine, and several new technology features. The Compass migrates to an upsized version platform used by its subcompact Jeep Renegade sibling; in size, it slots between the Renegade and Cherokee in Jeep’s lineup. (Confusingly, there are actually two 2017 Jeep Compasses; Jeep has elected to carry on the previous-generation Compass as 2017 model as well.) The Sportage utilizes the same basic platform as its redesigned-for-’16 Hyundai Tucson cousin; it gains fresh styling and a host of new safety and technology features. The CX-5 gets a slightly wider platform, new styling and technology features, and the promised addition of a new 2.2-liter diesel 4-cylinder at midyear.
The Ford Escape receives a substantial update that includes updated styling, a new turbocharged 1.5-liter 4-cylinder with 179 hp, newly available technology and safety features, and some minor interior revisions. The Subaru Forester gets revised exterior styling, improved soundproofing, and a quicker steering ratio. Its EyeSight system is upgraded and now includes Lane Keep Assist and a blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert—Limited and Touring models also get Reverse Automatic Braking. Newly available Forester features include automatic high-beam headlights and a heated steering wheel. The Subaru Crosstrek adds a specially trimmed Premium Special Edition model.
The Mitsubishi Outlander gets Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality, along with available forward collision mitigation with pedestrian detection, blind-spot warning with rear cross-traffic alert, and a multi-view rearview camera. The Hyundai Tucson is also newly available with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The Toyota RAV4 gets Toyota’s Safety Sense P suite of safety features as standard equipment, along with a new Platinum trim level.
The rest of the class is either unchanged or sees minor updates such as LED headlights or a shuffling of trim levels and standard/optional equipment. Chevrolet has unveiled an all-new Equinox for 2018 that is set to go on sale in early 2017; since it’s notably smaller than the vehicle it replaces, the new Equinox migrates to our compact SUV class.
There are four hybrids in the class—the Kia Niro, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Crosstrek, and Toyota RAV4. The Kia Niro and Subaru Crosstrek are more car-like than the rest of the segment—the Crosstrek is essentially a beefed-up version of the Subaru Impreza compact car. 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 Nissan Rogue. Both 3rd rows are quite cramped, not surprisingly, but are still useful for children and short trips.