In another age, they might have been called “hatchbacks.” But Americans are infatuated with SUVs right now, so these new subcompact crossover vehicles are called "SUVs." These car-based unibody vehicles have four side doors and a hatchback – er, liftgate. Some have inherited a bit of ruggedness from the SUV side of their parentage, with available all-wheel drive.
The subcompact size makes a lot of sense with the SUV/hatchback body shape, maximizing utility and flexibility, while reducing the vehicle footprint and weight and squeezing out more miles from each gallon of gas. A few offer hybrid gasoline-electric options or even battery-electric powertrains.
Here, in alphabetical order by brand, are the 10 Best Subcompact SUVs for the Money.
2019 Buick Encore
The 2019 Buick Encore is the smallest vehicle in the Buick lineup -- car or SUV. It also has the smallest engine Buick has ever offered, a turbocharged 1.4-liter inline four-cylinder that’s offered in two versions: standard (138 hp/148 lb-ft of torque) and VVT (variable valve timing) and DI (direct gasoline injection), which puts out 153 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive are standard, and all-wheel drive is available. Encore brings Buick’s neatly tailored luxury interior to the subcompact realm, which is a good thing. The ride is pleasantly controlled, with decent handling and acceptable performance from the available VVT/DI engine. Smart packaging allows for 35.7 inches of rear legroom and 18.8 cubic feet of luggage space behind the second row. Pricing starts at $24,195. Encore is Buick’s best-selling vehicle in North America.
2019 Honda HR-V
Based on the same platform that underlies the popular subcompact Fit hatchback, the 2019 Honda HR-V crossover slots in to the Honda SUV lineup below the CR-V, Passport and Pilot. First sold as a 2016 model, HR-V (which stands for “Hi-Rider Revolutionary Vehicle” or “Hip-and-Smart Runabout Vehicle”) is a front-wheel-drive/all-wheel-drive vehicle that comes with a 1.8-liter naturally aspirated (non-turbo) inline four-cylinder gas engine that puts out 141 hp and 127 lb-ft of torque. It uses a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), and is rated to travel 28 mpg city/34 mpg highway/30 mpg combined (FWD), 27 mpg city/31 mpg highway/39 mpg combined (AWD). HR-V benefits from Honda’s reputation for build quality and durability. It can handle up to 23.2 cubic feet of luggage behind its second row, and up to 57.6 cubic feet with the second row folded flat. Prices start at $20,520.
2019 Hyundai Kona
Kona is the most recent addition to Hyundai’s SUV lineup, joining the Tucson, Santa Fe and Santa Fe XL in 2018. The 2019 Hyundai Kona is available with a 147-hp 2.0-liter naturally aspirated (non-turbo) inline four-cylinder gasoline engine (starting at $19,990), a 175-hp 1.6-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder gasoline engine (starting at $25,550), or a 201-hp electric motor (starting at $36,450). Front-wheel drive is standard, with all-wheel drive available on gasoline models. The gasoline models are rated to achieve up to 27 mpg city/33 mpg highway/30 mpg combined , while the electric Kona has a range of 258 miles on a full charge. Kona is an attractively designed, smartly packaged crossover, with Hyundai’s usual broad range of standard and optional features. Kona handles very well, especially in the well-balanced EV model.
2019 Jeep Renegade
Perhaps the best example of corporate synergy that came out of the formation of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), the 2019 Jeep Renegade is the first Jeep product that is built exclusively outside of the US, and is based on a Fiat platform. Despite these non-domestic credentials, Renegade is a very capable off-roader, especially when ordered in the available Trailhawk trim level. Renegade is available in five trim levels: Sport, Latitude, Altitude, Limited and Trailhawk. Front-wheel drive is standard on Sport, Latitude, Altitude and Limited; all-wheel drive is available on those trims, and standard on Trailhawk. A 2.4-liter naturally aspirated inline four-cylinder Tigershark engine comes on Sport, Latitude and Attitude, while a new 1.3-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder (177 hp/210 lb-ft of torque) comes in the Limited and Trailhawk. Pricing starts at $22,025.
2019 Kia Niro
The 2019 Kia Niro is available in three variants: A hybrid gasoline-electric (HEV) version starting at $23,490; a plug-in hybrid gasoline-electric (PHEV) starting at $28,500; and an all-electric (EV) version (pricing to be announced). Niro’s HEV and PHEV versions are unique in that they come with a dual-clutch six-speed automatic transmission, rather than the expected continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) that comes with most hybrids. The EV will uses a gear reduction unit, not a traditional transmission. The EV is rated to travel up to 239 miles on a single charge, while the PHEV has an all-electric range of up to 26 miles and an MPGe rating of 105 combined. The HEV is no slouch, either, with EPA fuel economy ratings of up to 52 mpg city/49 mpg highway/50 mpg combined and a driving range of up to 595 miles on a tankful of gas.
2019 Mazda CX-3
Mazda has a deserved reputation for building fun-to-drive vehicles, and the 2019 Mazda CX-3 subcompact crossover fits the bill. Like most Mazda vehicles, it achieves this quality with great handling, direct steering response, and balanced weight, not with overwhelming horsepower. A naturally aspirated (non-turbo) 2.0-liter Skyactiv-G inline four-cylinder engine tuned to produce 148 hp and 146 lb-ft of torque sends power to the front wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive is available. CX-3 uses G-Vectoring Control, a version of torque vectoring technology, to improve cornering performance by subtly cutting power on corner entry to shift weight to the front wheels. It’s a seamless solution that makes the crossover more pleasant and calm to drive. Prices for CX-3 start at $20,390 for FWD; add $1,400 for AWD on any of the three trim levels.
2019 Nissan Kicks
When it replaced the Juke in the Nissan lineup, the Kicks lost some of the quirky design features of the outgoing model in favor of a more conventional, more appealing exterior. The 2019 Nissan Kicks is a spiffy, attractive little crossover with a fun personality. It uses a naturally aspirated (non-turbo) 1.6-liter inline four-cylinder gasoline engine tuned to produce 122 hp and 114 lb-ft of torque with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) sending power to the front wheels. Kicks is a perfect little runabout for around town, with a 2,639-lb curb weight helping to contribute to a 31-mpg city/36-mpg highway/33-mpg combined fuel economy rating. Kicks prices start at just $18,540, making it one of the most affordable subcompact crossover SUVs of 2019.
2019 Subaru Crosstrek
Subaru is on a major roll, with a lineup of crossovers that extends from the Crosstrek to the Forester, Outback and Ascent. Like all Subaru models (except the BR-Z), Crosstrek comes with Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive as standard equipment. Unique among compact crossovers, Crosstrek uses a horizontally opposed Boxer engine (the others use inline layouts), which gives the Crosstrek a smoothness and naturally balanced engine feel, as well as a lowered center of gravity that enhances handling and allows for a lower hood line for better outward visibility. Crosstrek is available in gasoline-only models starting at $21,895, and in gasoline-electric hybrid (HEV) models starting at $34,995. Both conventional and hybrid models are extremely capable on- and off-road, and come with available or standard EyeSight Driver Assist Technology.
2019 Toyota C-HR
While the majority of the subcompact SUVs on the market share a very similar profile, the 2019 Toyota C-HR breaks the mold with coupe-like styling that sets it apart. C-HR’s rear door handles are tucked in just ahead of the C-pillar, rather than along the beltline, further supporting the coupe illusion, and its roofline slopes toward the rear. Somehow, the crossover still manages to maintain 38.3 inches of headroom in its second row, and can hold up to 19.0 cubic feet of luggage behind its second row. C-HR uses a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder gasoline engine (144 hp/139 lb-ft of torque) with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) and front-wheel drive – no all-wheel drive option. Prices start at $20,995.
2019 Volvo XC40
XC40 debuted as a 2018 model, the first Volvo to be built on the new Compact Modular Architecture (CMA) platform. Volvo has been flirting with premium status for the past few years, and the 2019 Volvo XC40 could easily be positioned in that category with a very elegant execution inside and out, and luxury levels of features and options. Two powertrains are available for XC40: a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder gasoline engine tuned to produce 187 hp and 221 lb-ft of torque with standard front-wheel drive, and one tuned to produce 248 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque with standard all-wheel drive. XC40 is available as part of Volvo’s subscription service, Care by Volvo, starting at $700 per month, or can be purchased starting at $34,695.