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No Compromises: The 7 Best Subcompact Crossovers

Chris Kaiser

The red-hot subcompact crossover segment is about more than small SUVs or tall sedans. Check out the unique charms of our picks for the seven best.  

In recent automotive history, the Venn diagram of affordability, functionality, and drivability began to shift away from sedans and toward SUVs. The pendulum swung far in the direction of gas-guzzling, big-box, rugged replacements for the nation’s minivans. But Americans’ tastes have never been static and now have begun to swing back in the direction of smaller, nimbler, and cheaper vehicles. Back to sedans? Not quite. Instead, enter the subcompact crossover.

People were loath to give up the roominess and utility of the SUVs they’d fallen in love with. Why have cake if you can’t eat it? they asked. And auto manufacturers answered with a new vehicle segment, the very smallest SUVs they could build. Rather than being a collection of compromises, subcompact crossovers are for all those people who refuse to take no for an answer. Need more visibility than a car, better maneuverability than an SUV, and enough cargo space to move that flat screen TV? Yes, Timmy, you and have it all!

Below are our top picks for the little segment that could. I, for one, welcome our new subcompact overlords.

#7 Jeep Renegade

2019 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk

2019 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk – jeep.com  |  Shop Jeep Renegade Trailhawks on Carsforsale.com

We start off our list with the most rugged of the bunch, the Jeep Renegade. While it’s the littlest brother within Jeep’s family of larger, meaner SUVs, the Renegade offers off-road capabilities that few crossovers have. It offers two 4WD systems, the first, the Jeep Active Drive system, automatically switches between 2WD and 4WD to maximize fuel efficiency. The Trailhawk trim offers the Active Drive Low system with a 20:1 crawl ratio. The Selec-Terrain (see how they did that) Traction Management System offers multiple modes and adjustable settings. And that’s on top of the 8.7-inch clearance and 19-inch wading depth.

#6 Subaru Crosstrek

2020 Subaru Crosstrek

2020 Subaru Crosstrek – subaru.com  |  Shop Subaru Crosstreks on Carsforsale.com

The Subaru Crosstrek is another exception to the rule that subcompacts can’t travel off the beaten path. Subaru’s standard AWD is paired with their X-mode traction control (also standard on all Crosstreks). The Crosstrek features 8.7-inches of ground clearance and, as with other Subies, is perfect for off-road upgrading.

#5 Mazda CX-3

2019 Mazda CX-3

2019 Mazda CX-3 – mazdausa.com |  Shop Mazda CX-3 on Carsforsale.com

We’re fans of Mazda’s current crop of small SUVs, including the CX-3. In a segment not known for exciting driving, the CX-3 delivers a dynamic experience that forces you to recalibrate your expectations for crossovers. In fact, you’ll have to look to a luxury brand to find something that drives as well as the CX-3, say the BWM X1 or Porsche Macan. The CX-3 offers optional AWD, a stylish and well-wrought cabin, and plenty of modern safety technology. If you’re looking for a crossover but don’t want to sacrifice a pleasurable driving experience, the Mazda CX-3 is your best bet.

#4 Buick Encore

2020 Buick Encore

2020 Buick Encore – buick.com |  Shop Buick Encores on Carsforsale.com

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Quiet and cozy are usually reserved for describing a little cabin in the woods, but they are also apt when applied to the cabin of Buick’s subcompact, the Encore. The Encore isn’t the spryest or the roomiest or the fastest (though the 2019 offers a larger engine option). The serene character of the Encore isn’t its only charm. The vertical profile makes getting in and out a breeze and lends great visibility for driver and passengers alike. Add in Buick’s high reliability and you’ve got subcompact worth keeping.

#3 Honda HR-V

2019 Honda HR-V

2019 Honda HR-V – netcarshow.com |  Shop Honda HR-V on Carsforsale.com

Speaking of reliability, the Honda HR-V is another road warrior with equal parts charm and dependability. It also features spacious seating for a subcompact and excellent cargo capacity for the segment, with 23 cu. ft. with the rear seats up and up to 58 cu. ft. with them down. Good fuel economy (28 city/34 highway) and available AWD are additional points in its favor. If you’re looking for durability and practicality in a subcompact, search no further.

#2 Hyundai Kona

2019 Hyundai Kona EV

2019 Hyundai Kona EV – netcarshow.com |  Shop Hyundai Kona EVs on Carsforsale.com

In a list of Swiss-Army style vehicles, the Hyundai Kona might be the most versatile of all. It possesses spirited handling and an optional turbocharged engine, on top of a bevy of great standard features and good fuel economy (30mpg combined). The Kona is so good it had us forgetting what we ever saw in sedans in the first place. There’s also a fully electric version of the Kona with an EPA estimated range of 258 miles. There’s your Tesla Model 3s and Porsche Taycans, but the electric Kona might be one of the very best electric vehicles out there.

#1 Kia Soul

2020 Kia Soul GT-Line Turbo

2020 Kia Soul GT-Line Turbo – netcarshow.com |  Shop Kia Soul GT-Lines on Carsforsale.com

We fell in love with the latest version of the Kia Soul when we reviewed it back in October of last year. It packs a ton of fun into its diminutive, boxy frame. It also ticks all the boxes for a subcompact, roomy interior, good cargo capacity, excellent infotainment and safety tech, plus it’s a joy to drive. We might go so far as to speculate that the current obsession with subcompact crossovers isn’t born of a compromise between SUVs and sedans so much as it’s the halo effect of all the Kia Souls rolling around the streets, converting unsuspecting car buyers one-by-one.

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Chris Kaiser
Chris Kaiser

Chris’ greatest passions include topiary, spelunking, and pushing aging compact cars well past 200,000 miles on cross-country road trips. His taste in cars runs from the classic and esoteric to the deeply practical with an abiding affection for VW Things, old Studebakers, and all things hybrid-crossover.

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