Top 5 Small CUVs
Finally, we North Americans get what the Europeans had for years; what’s to say you can’t take a B-segment hatch, raise it up a little, raise the roof, and maybe provide it with some all-wheel drive tech? New systems are so compact that they can be fit in snugger spaces, meaning cars with smaller footprints now have much greater abilities. So, they’re easy to thread through town, have the added security of AWD all while providing a taller ride height and better view out for smaller drivers.
We spent time in some of the more popular choices, to see how capable these new cute-cute ute small CUVs are.
“Cute-cute ute”. Ahhh, that’s funny. Not only does it sound funny, but describing the Nissan Juke as cute is really, really pushing it, as I’m sure you’ll agree. I wouldn’t necessarily call it ugly—it is hugely popular in Europe, after all—but it sure is distinctive. It’s also the most spacious, most powerful car on this list, so it’s got that going for it. Add a funky modifiable centre stack (a button press provides drive info, another changes the buttons to climate controls) and a fuel-efficient turbocharged powertrain (188 horsepower, 177 lb.-ft. of torque), and it’s easy to see just why this is so popular.
It drives very well, too, thanks to an able chassis and lively steering rack. Aside from the seating position, it feels like you’re sitting in the Versa Note hatch on which it’s based. We like.
One of the more conservatively-styled of the group, the Trax is nevertheless a funky take on urban motoring. It shares its innards with the Chevrolet Sonic, right down to the instrument cluster styled to look like what you might see on a motorcycle. Like the Juke, power comes from a turbo’d four-cylinder engine good for 138 hp and 148 lb.-ft. of torque. It doesn’t provide quite as engaging a ride as does the Juke, but the trade off for that is a smoother ride overall.
The rear seats do fold, but unfortunately it’s a two-step process that doesn’t quite finish in a completely flat load floor. The rear seat is large enough, however, to mount a child seat in a forward-facing manner.
While the Juke earns points for its unconventional looks, the CX-3 wins in the overall looks department. It’s got an excellent profile that looks purposeful without being cheap, and smart details like squinting headlights (that can be upgraded to LEDs) and two-tone rims make for a very sporty appearance. Inside, meanwhile, there is optional two-tone seats (with suede inserts) and standard infotainment system.
Drives like a charm, too; the ride is surprisingly supple (I actually would have liked something firmer considering the car’s looks), and the SKYACTIV powertrain is good for 146 hp, and equal amounts of torque. It’s good that it drives well, because you’ll want to spend most of your time behind the wheel as the back seat feels the snuggest of the lot. Yes, technically, there are seatbelts for 5, but you’d be lucky to get three in here. On a good day.
From the snug back seat of the Mazda, we turn to—by comparison—the cavernous rear seat of the Honda HR-V, which is the largest here. It feels it, too; I had much less trouble sliding my 6’3” frame back there than I thought I would. Like the Trax, the styling is a little tame considering the company it’s in, but cool features like rear door handles built into the C-pillars (giving the impression that there are no rear doors) do add a little bit of flare. At 127 lb.-ft., it has the lowest torque figure here, but that’s negated, somewhat, by the continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT) that makes for some smooth progress through the powerband right from 0 r.p.m. Plus, the 141 hp it makes is right in the thick of all of these, although it does have to rev quite high in order to activate i-VTEC variable valve timing, which gives you a bit of a boost at higher revs.
While the Mazda’s interior is probably the flashiest here, the Honda’s is one of the best when it comes to how well it’s all fastened together, and which material are used. Plus, you get a funky touch-screen infotainment interface, if that’s your kind of thing. If you like traditional knobs and buttons, however, you’re mostly out of luck.
The more we delve into this list, the more we see what one of the great benefits of these cars is: for some reason, manufacturers seem to be content to take more liberties with the styling. Take the Jeep Renegade, for example. The 7-slat grille, round headlights and block styling are all very Jeep, but they kind of make it to the Renegade in caricature form. In a good way.
The model pictured here is the Trailhawk version, which means higher ride height, bright colours and some very black wheels. All cool stuff that helps pull it out of the realm of the cute-for-cuteness sake. This is a bulldog-looking thing that me and my 6’3” frame would have no problem pedaling through town or off the beaten track. Plus, with 180 hp and 175 lb.-ft. of torque from a 2.4L four cylinder or 160 hp and 184 lb.-ft. from a turbo-4), it’s fun to play with.
Except it’s just a little too snug inside. The real indicator of this is how quickly my splayed limbs struck the centre stack due to a snug pedal box. That gets annoying after a while. However, if you’re of slightly smaller ilk, it wouldn’t be so bad. It’s a little weird, because the back seats are surprisingly spacious with almost 900 mm of legroom and over 1,000 mm of headroom. You could probably fit a baby seat face-forward here, too, which is nice.