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 recent 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 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, 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 $32,000, and the plug-in-hybrid model starts at around $38,000.

WHAT’S NEW FOR 2019

After adding four new entrants for the 2018 model year (the Ford EcoSport, Hyundai Kona, Nissan Kicks, and Toyota C-HR), the subcompact SUV class doesn’t see quite as much action for 2019. The Jeep Renegade gets a mild refresh that is highlighted by a new 1.3-liter turbocharged direct-injection 4-cylinder paired with a 9-speed automatic transmission. This engine makes 177 hp and 200 lb.-ft. of torque and comes standard with stop-start technology. The Renegade’s previous 1.4-liter four and 6-speed manual transmission are discontinued, and the 2.4-liter four is now standard on Sport and Latitude models. The new 1.3 is standard on Limited and Trailhawk models and optional on Sport and Latitude. Other Renegade updates include new front fasciae, active grille shutters, available 19-inch wheels, new instrument-cluster graphics, an LED Lighting Group package, available adaptive cruise control, and available parallel/perpendicular park-assist system. The Fiat 500X also receives the new 1.3-liter engine (Fiat and Jeep are owned by the same company), along with restyled front and rear fasciae and other minor styling updates.

The Mazda CX-3 gets an additional two horsepower over last year (for a total of 148), plus interior/exterior trim updates, an electronic parking brake, redesigned center console with improved storage, redesigned seats, and available full-leather upholstery, among other revisions. A blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert is newly available on the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, as is lane-change assist. The Toyota C-HR gets a new entry-level model named LE, and a line-topping Limited model that offers leather upholstery (which was previously unavailable in the C-HR). The Ford EcoSport gets a Black Appearance Package for SES models that includes a black-painted roof and a black hood decal. The updates to the 2019 Honda HR-V, Hyundai Kona, and Nissan Rogue Sport are detailed in their respective Best Buy reports. The rest of the class is either unchanged, or sees minor updates such as a shuffling of trim levels and standard/optional equipment.

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.

Vehicles in the Subcompact Crossover/SUV class:

Buick Encore
Chevrolet Trax
Fiat 500X
Ford EcoSport
Honda HR-V
Hyundai Kona
Jeep Renegade
Mazda CX-3
Mini Countryman
Mitsubishi
Outlander Sport
Nissan Kicks
Nissan Rogue Sport
Toyota C-HR