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 warrant a distinct 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 Nissan Juke Nismo RS (211 or 215 hp) and the new-for-2017 plug-in hybrid version of the Mini Countryman (211 hp). The “footprint” of most vehicles in this class is no bigger than the average subcompact car, but they all have available all-wheel drive, 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 $19-$20K. The cheapest is the Jeep Renegade, which starts around $18K. The most expensive is the Mini Countryman; the all-wheel-drive Cooper S model starts at around $31,000, and the plug-in-hybrid model will almost certainly start above that.
There is one all-new entrant set to join the subcompact SUV class. Toyota’s radically styled C-HR is slated to launch in early 2017 as a 2018 model; it will be powered by a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder with a CVT transmission. The C-HR was originally intended to be a Scion, but was rebranded as a Toyota when the Scion division was discontinued for 2017.
The Mini Countryman is redesigned on a larger platform, gaining passenger and cargo room, new comfort and convenience features, and a plug-in-hybrid model. The Countryman’s two-door stablemate, the Paceman, is discontinued. The Buick Encore and Chevrolet Trax both receive freshenings that include updated styling inside and out, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality, and keyless access and starting. The Trax also gets available blind-spot alert, rear cross-traffic alert, forward collision alert, and lane-departure warning (all of which were already offered on the Encore), and its top trim level is now called Premier instead of LTZ. The Fiat 500X loses its Easy and Trekking Plus models, and its option packages are reconfigured. The Mitsubishi Outlander Sport gets standard automatic climate control and upgraded cloth upholstery. The Honda HR-V and Nissan Juke see no significant changes.
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 Jeep Renegade boasts best-in-class off-road capability when properly equipped. The Mini Countryman offers the only hybrid model in the class. The Mazda CX-3 and Nissan Juke are noteworthy for their peppy acceleration and agile handling.