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 and continuous 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 Kia Soul GT-Line Turbo model (201 hp) and the performance-oriented plug-in-hybrid and John Cooper Works versions of the Mini Countryman (224 hp and 301 hp, respectively). The “footprint” of most vehicles in this class is no bigger than that of the average subcompact car, but they all have a raised ride height and a tall body structure that provides an upright seating position and easy entry and exit. Save for the front-drive only Hyundai Venue, Kia Soul, Nissan Kicks, and Toyota C-HR, all of them offer all-wheel drive as well. These traits make subcompact SUVs 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, with top-end models hovering around the $30K mark. The most expensive is the Mini Countryman; the all-wheel-drive Cooper S model starts at around $34,000, and the John Cooper Works model starts at around $42,000.
WHAT’S NEW FOR 2020
The class gains two all-new contenders this year: the Buick Encore GX and the Hyundai Venue. The Venue slots in below the recently launched Kona as the new entry-level SUV in Hyundai’s lineup, and it will be one of the smallest, most affordable vehicles in the class. The Venue’s sole engine is a 1.6-liter 4-cylinder that is rated at 121 horsepower and can be paired with a 6-speed manual or CVT transmission. All Venues are front-wheel drive; all-wheel drive isn’t available.
In size and price, the Buick Encore GX slots in above the Encore and below the compact Envision in Buick’s lineup. The Encore GX’s cargo volume behind the rear seats measures 25.3 cubic feet, which tops the Honda HR-V (which is one of the most cargo-capable vehicles in the class). The Encore GX will offer front- or all-wheel drive and a choice of two turbocharged 3-cylinder engines: a 1.2-liter with 137 horsepower (FWD only) or a 1.3 with 155 horsepower.
The Buick Encore loses its previously available 153-horsepower engine, leaving a 138-hp engine as the sole choice. The Mini Countryman John Cooper Works model gets a new engine that puts out 301 horsepower (a boost of 73 hp from last year’s model), and the plugin-hybrid S E Countryman ALL4 gets a higher-capacity EV battery. The Mitsubishi Outlander Sport gets a refreshed exterior design. Looking further ahead, Chevrolet plans to launch a new Trailblazer in early 2020 as a 2021 model, and Kia is bringing its foreign-market Seltos crossover to the U.S. market as a 2021 model.
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 (and the Encore GX promises to be classier still). The Mini Countryman also boasts a notably upscale feel inside and out, and offers the only hybrid model in the class. The Jeep Renegade boasts best-in-class off-road capability when properly equipped. The Kia Soul GT-Line Turbo, Mazda CX-3, and Mini Countryman S and John Cooper Works are noteworthy for their peppy acceleration and agile handling.