As the compact crossover/SUV class has matured, its entrants have “grown up” a bit in size and price. Over the past few years, a number of “smaller than compact” crossover SUVs have hit the market, and they now comprise a full-fledged class of their own. Judging by its quick growth, the subcompact crossover SUV category is one of the hottest segments in the North American market.

All subcompact SUVs have economical 4-cylinder engines with less than 190 horsepower, save for the performance-oriented the plug-in hybrid and John Cooper Works versions of the Mini Countryman (211 hp and 228 hp, respectively). The “footprint” of most vehicles in this class is no bigger than that of the average subcompact car, but they all have available AWD (save for the front-drive-only Nissan Kicks and Toyota C-HR), a raised ride height, and a tall body structure that provides an upright seating position and easy entry and exit. These traits make them ideal for shoppers who want the versatility of an SUV, but value close-quarters maneuverability, affordability, and fuel economy over expansive passenger and cargo room.

Speaking of affordability, the average subcompact crossover SUV is typically priced around $2000-$3000 less than a comparably equipped compact SUV. Most subcompact SUVs start around $21K. The cheapest is the Jeep Renegade, which starts around $19K. The most expensive is the Mini Countryman; the all-wheel-drive Cooper S model starts at around $32,000, and the plug-in-hybrid model starts at around $38,000.

WHAT’S NEW FOR 2018

The subcompact SUV class grows significantly again this year with the addition of the Ford EcoSport, Hyundai Kona, Nissan Kicks, and Toyota C-HR. The Nissan Rogue Sport can be considered new as well; it was launched as a late-2017 model. The freshman entrants mostly hew to the class norms, though the Ford EcoSport is notable for utilizing a driver-side-hinged rear tailgate instead of a top-hinged liftgate, and the Nissan Kicks and Toyota C-HR are not available (at least not yet) with all-wheel drive.

Outside of the crop of new contenders, there are no major changes to the subcompact SUV segment for 2018. Several models add Apple CarPlay/Android Auto functionality. The Buick Encore gets an ionizing cabin air filter, and its Chevrolet cousin, the Trax, gets a Redline Edition appearance package with 18-inch wheels and special trim. The Jeep Renegade gets a revised interior with new fabrics and two new storage areas, and a dual-pane sunroof is available on Latitude, Trailhawk, and Limited models. The Mitsubishi Outlander Sport gets revised interior and exterior styling, plus a Touring Package that includes forward collision mitigation, lane departure warning, automatic high-beam headlights, and a panoramic sunroof. The Nissan Juke was discontinued and replaced by the new Kicks.

MODELS THAT OFFER SOMETHING UNUSUAL

The subcompact SUV class is a fairly cohesive group overall, but a few entrants stand out. The Buick Encore is the quietest and most luxurious member of the group; the Mini Countryman also boasts a notably upscale feel inside and out. The Countryman also offers the only hybrid model in the class. The Jeep Renegade boasts best-in-class off-road capability when properly equipped. The Mazda CX-3 and Mini Countryman S and John Cooper Works are noteworthy for their peppy acceleration and agile handling.