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The Subcompact SUV is Here to Stay

Here we take a look at 5 other compact CUVs—and a few key comparative numbers for each—that are cementing themselves in this segment.
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It’s always interesting to see in which space automakers battle.

Anything “green” still trends and grabs headlines. Pick-up trucks are big business. There was even a mini American muscle revival a decade ago.

These days, however, automakers are duking it out in a growing, but sometimes hard to define, segment: The subcompact SUV.

Is that the correct title or are we calling them compact CUVs? Or maybe hatchbacks…that are raised.

It feels as if automakers have a SUV nesting doll, and every decade they pull out a smaller one and figure out how to market it to us. And it works.

Initially, I wasn’t convinced of this segment. What’s the point? Get a CUV if you want something smaller than an SUV. Beyond that, get a compact wagon. Done.

But, over the last few years I’ve come to appreciate their usefulness. Most recently, a roadtrip to Gatineau in a Mazda CX-3 brought to life its place in this world. From empty-nesters who want a little extra room to millennials who need something affordable, with some decent styling and enough space for an eventual baby seat. It’s a bridge for those on either end of the spectrum.

Here we take a look at 5 other compact CUVs—and a few key comparative numbers for each—that are cementing themselves in this segment.

Nissan Qashqai

Nissan Qashqai compact CUVs

This guy is a joy to drive. It’s nimble, likely thanks to its Intelligent AWD that jumps in when you take a corner with a little extra pep, but backs off when you’re rolling along the highway. Telescopic steering wheel is a nice standard feature, especially in this size category. The styling is in-your-face sporty, which is brilliant. And there are lots of higher-end safety tech options that you can grab on the top SL trim—but stay in the middle SV trim for everything you need and a much more reasonable price point.

Starting price: $19,998

Cargo room (rear seats up): 648 L (without moonroof); 566 L (with moonroof)

Rear legroom: 848 mm

Honda HR-V

Honda HR-V compact CUVs

One of the relative grandfathers in this segment, the Honda HR-V provides everything you would expect from Honda: tasteful interior design, but nothing too outrageous; a driving experience that delivers, but doesn’t provide too many thrills; and an overall feeling of coddled safety. And there’s not one damn thing wrong with any of those points. The HR-V is capable of spanning life stages because it has just enough to appeal to everyone at the same time. That’s a difficult, difficult feat.

Starting price: $21,350

Cargo room (rear seats up): 688 L (FWD); 657 (AWD)

Rear legroom: 998 mm

Chevrolet Trax

Chevrolet Trax compact CUVs

The Trax might be overlooked with the onslaught of new compacts that have come out in the last couple years. But, it shouldn’t be. It has the least amount of cargo space compared to the others here, but that just means if you’re looking for something really compact than the Trax could be the one. Chevrolet has quietly caught up in the tech game, with all the expected connective points and a great, responsive screen that rivals any of the “top guys” that might come to mind. Don’t sleep on it.

Starting price: $20,095

Cargo room (rear seats up): 529 L

Rear legroom: 907 mm

Hyundai Elantra GT

Hyundai Elantra GT compact CUVs

This is where that “how do we define this segment again?” question pops up. Does the Hyundai Elantra GT fit here? Instead of creating some sort of legal-esque test to see if it does, I’ll simply proclaim “IT DOES” (followed by “I don’t care if you disagree”). It’s a wagon and absolutely fabulous. In fact, I would argue it’s Hyundai’s strongest vehicle on its ever-impressive fleet, and it’s likely consumers will cross-shop it with any others on this list.

The styling of the new GT is spot-on. Strong, tight front-end, with subtle lines flowing from the front fender down to the hatch. Whereas the Qashqai is straight up sporty, the Elantra GT takes a sophisticated spin on flashy—a little more restrained and refined. If that’s more your thing then you have to get behind the wheel.

Starting price: $20,449

Cargo room (rear seats up): 705 L

Rear legroom: 883 mm  

Subaru Crosstrek

Subaru Crosstrek compact CUVs

Of course, the starting price is bit higher than the others—that’s usually the case with anything Subaru, since AWD is standard. Shake of the (possible) shock, they’re not crazy!

OK, to the vehicle. I strongly disliked the Crosstrek when it first came out. It felt clunky to drive and, in general, I didn’t see its use. Well, as my mind turned with this overall segment, it did the same with the Crosstrek. The practicality of the extra space came in handy on drives up to Muskoka, sure, but the drive experience itself came to life. I pushed it harder around corners and turns, felt it jump to speed on the highway, and squeezed my way into spaces I would have thought were impossible. The Crosstrek proved me wrong.

Starting Price: $23,695

Cargo Room: 588 L

Rear Legroom: 926 mm

 

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