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 3- or 4-cylinder engines with less than 190 horsepower, save for the Kia Soul 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.

HIGHLIGHTS FOR 2021

The class gains two all-new contenders this year: the Chevrolet Trailblazer and Kia Seltos. The Trailblazer slots above the Trax in Chevy’s SUV lineup, and offers a choice of two turbocharged 3-cylinder engines: a 137-hp 1.2-liter or a 155-hp 1.3-liter. Front-wheel drive and a CVT transmission are standard; all-wheel drive paired with a 9-speed automatic transmission is available on most trim levels. The Seltos fits between the smaller Soul and larger Sportage in Kia’s SUV lineup. The standard engine is a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder with 146 horsepower and a 175-horsepower turbocharged 1.6-liter four is available. All-wheel drive is standard except for the S model, where it’s optional.

The Hyundai Venue loses its available 6-speed manual transmission, and the Mini Countryman gets minor styling updates and an available digital instrument panel. The Hyundai Kona, Jeep Renegade, and Toyota C-HR get new appearance packages. At the time of this writing, Nissan hadn’t released official info on the 2021 Kicks and Rogue Sport; the Kicks is expected to receive a light styling refresh, and the Rogue Sport will likely be carried over with no significant changes after its styling refresh last year. Looking further ahead, Volkswagen is preparing to introduce a new subcompact crossover called Taos as a 2022 model.

MODELS THAT OFFER SOMETHING UNUSUAL

The subcompact SUV class is a fairly cohesive group overall, but a few entrants stand out. The Mini Countryman 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 Turbo, Mazda CX-3, and Mini Countryman S and John Cooper Works are noteworthy for their peppy acceleration and agile handling.