Over the past few years, the premium compact crossover/SUV class has grown to become one of the most crowded categories in the new vehicle marketplace—and many of the newest entries in the segment have been on the “extra-compact” side. This category is comprised of the smallest vehicles in the crossover/SUV lineups of their respective makers. And note that while we categorize them as subcompacts, most of the vehicles in this class are appreciably larger than most mainstream-brand subcompact crossovers. Furthermore, don’t think that “premium” and “subcompact” are incompatible terms—these vehicles come standard with genuinely upscale trim, and can be optioned up with a dizzying (and pricey) array of comfort, convenience, and technology features just like their larger linemates.

Except for the new pure-electric Volvo XC40 Recharge model, every vehicle in this category is powered by a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder. Horsepower output ranges between 180-240 on most of them, and all of them are turbocharged save for the Lexus UX. The Audi Q3, Jaguar E-Pace, and Land Rover Range Rover Evoque come standard with all-wheel drive; the rest come standard with front-wheel drive and are available with AWD.

The majority of the class starts at less than $35,000; the Lexus UX is the most affordable, with a starting price of around $33,000. As is typical with luxury vehicles, adding optional equipment can really drive up the bottom-line price—sometimes startlingly so.

HIGHLIGHTS FOR 2021

The Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class is redesigned, gaining fresh styling, improved interior space, and the availability of Mercedes’s latest high-tech features. The GLA 250 is available with front- or all-wheel drive and is powered by a 221-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder. The high-performance Mercedes-AMG GLA 35 and GLA 45 have tuned-up turbo 2.0-liter fours that are rated 302 and 382 horsepower, respectively. Both AMG models come standard with all-wheel drive and an 8-speed dual-clutch transmission. The Volvo XC40 lineup now offers a pure-electric XC40 Recharge model with 408 horsepower and a claimed 249-mile driving range.

Other members of this class see modest revisions. The Audi Q3 is no longer sold in top-of-the-line Prestige trim, but most of its features are still available in option packages. BMW X1 and X2 get standard satellite radio. The Lexus UX 250h hybrid model gets an adjustable double-decker board for its rear cargo area. Jaguar is working on an updated version of the E-Pace, but as of this writing it’s unclear whether it will be a 2021 or 2022 model.

MODELS THAT OFFER SOMETHING UNUSUAL

Most premium subcompact crossovers are designed as chic urban runabouts that are more focused on street driving than serious rough-terrain capability. The exception is the Land Rover Range Rover Evoque; it offers off-road prowess well beyond the others, thanks in part to standard gear such as hill descent control and Land Rover’s Terrain Response 2 system.

In terms of acceleration, the BMW X2, Jaguar E-Pace, Mercedes-AMG GLA 35 and GLA 45, and Range Rover Evoque stand out from the pack—available on the X2 and standard on the AMG GLA 35 are high-output turbo fours with about 300 horsepower, and the E-Pace and Evoque’s step-up engine has 296 hp. But it’s the AMG GLA 45 with its 382 horsepower and the all-electric Volvo XC40 Recharge with 402 horsepower that are the brawniest of these cute utes. On the flipside, the Lexus UX offers the only “full” hybrid model in the class.