Quick and Easy Crossover Snapshot

My mother and her husband drive a 2011 Hyundai Elantra which they’ve enjoyed for years, mostly because it’s comfy, good on fuel, and has heated leather seats and a sunroof.

But now, mom and her husband want a subcompact crossover. They’re two of thousands of Canadians in a similar boat – and part of a growing trend that automakers are taking note of. That trend is seeing a rapid acceleration in the rate at which Canadian shoppers are switching from small cars to small crossovers.

Big business, those small crossovers. And it’s looking like that business is going to get bigger.

I asked mom and her husband why they’re planning to make the switch. Their answer? After renting a small crossover a few months back, they fell in love.

They liked the added room. They loved how this crossover was easier to get in and out of, without climbing up and out, or plopping too far down, into their seats, as it goes with mom’s Elantra. Mom has a bad foot, and her husband’s newly replaced hip doesn’t like getting in and out of small cars as much as it used to. Both love the idea of being able to just slide sideways to board and exit their vehicle. They also like the open cargo area, with room for their plants (they’re gardening enthusiasts) and their small dog, Bandit (they’re dog owners, too).

They also figure that AWD is important in our northern climate, and they have deep interest in the latest newly available safety features now proliferating the market.

Mom wanted to know: “Which subcompact crossover is the best one?”

I told her there’s no such thing, since there’s no model that stands head and shoulders above (or below) its competition – the best machine for her and her husband is the one that best aligns with their very specific set of needs, tastes, and preferences.

Below, I’ll share some testing notes with you. These are based on recent test drives of smaller crossover models I’ve reviewed lately, and centre around the idea that some are better (or worse) in certain areas than others, but that no model is the stand-out right (or wrong) choice.

This is not a comprehensive listing of attributes of all in-market products right now. I’d advise any subcompact crossover shopper to hit their local dealers, and get driving: test drive everything, test drive the ones you like more than once, and make a decision once you’ve put in some test hours at the wheel of various products.

Nissan Qashqai

Add to your shopping list if...

  • You like solid and youthful styling that’s upscale, without being overly flashy.
  • You value a consistently comfortable ride on virtually all surfaces, and particularly, good rough-road ride comfort.
  • You appreciate powerful brakes that bite hard and work with precision.
  • You’d enjoy a virtually invisible AWD system that works well in all conditions, and features a special “Snow” mode for extra-slippery driving, which is pretty swell.
  • You want all the latest safety features, including radar cruise, lane-departure alert, and more.
  • You frequently drive at night, since Qashqai offers very powerful LED headlights as part of the available Platinum Package.
  • You value good maneuverability, enhanced by way of a 360-degree “Around View” camera system.

Skip it if...

  • You want the segment’s most exciting, colourful, or nicely trimmed cabin.
  • You or your passengers are of above-average proportions, since Qashqai is adequately roomy for those of about average size, but tightens up quickly for larger occupants.
  • Awkwardly placed control switches, some of which seem like they were added as an afterthought, might not be your bag of chips.

The Gist

For shoppers of average size who hold good ride quality, safety technology, and some slick high-tech touches at or near the top of their wishlist, the Qashqai is an excellent all-around package – but if you’re looking to be thrilled by interior design, or need room for bigger occupants, you may want to look elsewhere.

Subaru Crosstrek

Add to your shopping list if...

  • You’re after a leading AWD system that performs beautifully in challenging conditions.
  • You like powerful braking system performance.
  • You want a manual transmission, as this is one of your only crossover options with one available.
  • Segment-leading ride quality on rough roads and trails is important to you.
  • Good outward visibility is of importance, since Crosstrek has tall windows and an upright and alert driving position that provides a great outward view.
  • You like a utility vehicle that looks sporty, adventurous, and athletic.
  • You’re safety minded, as Crosstrek has numerous advanced safety systems, and excellent crash-test scores.

Skip it if...

  • A quiet highway ride is important to you, as Crosstrek can become louder than average at higher speeds.
  • You’re a performance nut, since some drivers will wish for more get up and go.
  • You like alogical control layout, as some of Crosstrek’s controls are awkwardly placed, including the seat heaters.
  • You’re after the segment’s best infotainment system, because Crosstrek’s is powerful but far from the best on the scene where graphical output and responsiveness are concerned.

The Gist

For shoppers after top levels of safety, great ride quality on rough roads, an easy-to-drive package, and all the confidence of a leading AWD system, the Crosstrek is a great all-around package that’s excellent at what it does – even if some competitors are quieter and higher-performing.

Toyota C-HR

Add to your shopping list if...

  • You’re after the most striking styling in the segment. The C-HR’s looks are fantastically distinctive, and it’s hard to find a bad angle.
  • A uniquely styled, modern, upscale, and nicely detailed cabin sounds like something you’d enjoy.
  • You’re after good feature content bang for the buck, and a high degree of customization.
  • You appreciate a sports-car-like steering and handling character.
  • You’re after good real-life fuel economy, since the C-HR is impressively thrifty when driven gently.
  • You want to experience the segment’s best ride and handling balance, including the best rough-road ride quality on the scene today.

Skip it if...

  • You need lots of interior space, as C-HR’s cabin is adequate for four average sized adults, but only just.
  • Limited outward visibility may be an issue for you, since C-HR’s unique looks result in reduced outward visibility, with big blind spots and thin rear windows.
  • You might be bothered by a small back-up camera screen that’s awkwardly mounted on the rear-view mirror.
  • You have rear seat occupants who want to see outside, as rear seat occupant heads are positioned next to an interior trim panel, not a window.
  • You want AWD, since the C-HR doesn’t offer it.

The Gist

The C-HR easily stacks up as the segment’s best-riding, best-handling, and most unique-looking machine, though at the cost of some space, visibility, and AWD. If you really wanted a sports coupe but need something a little bigger, this fits the bill.

Jeep Renegade

Add to your shopping list if...

  • You want to drive one of the most instantly recognizable machines on the scene, brimming with fun and playful styling elements, inside and out.
  • Actual off-road capability is important to you, since Regenade is available with a plethora of special hardware designed to help drivers tackle the road less travelled.
  • You want good feature content bang-for-the-buck on most trim grades.
  • You’re a tech enthusiast after the best infotainment system touchscreen interface in today’s market.
  • You or your passengers are tall, as headroom is generous thanks to Renegade’s boxy shape.
  • Selection is important to you, as Renegade is available with numerous engines, powertrains, trim grades and options packages.

Skip it if...

  • You value high-performing headlights, as Renegade’s headlights are adequate and little more.
  • You’re on a hard budget, as this one gets fairly pricey when loaded up in top trim levels.
  • You’re after the segment’s smoothest ride on rough roads or trails.

The Gist

Renegade hits most marks well, and appeals strongly on style, technology, headroom, selection, and capability – though certain models are pricey, and some drivers will wish for a more comfortable ride on rougher surfaces.

Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross

Add to your shopping list if...

  • You’re after a good space-for-the-buck ratio, as Eclipse Cross is bigger and roomier than many similarly priced competitors, however defined.
  • You want a cabin that’s easy to use, easy to interface with, and a touch upscale and high-tech.
  • You’re 100 percent set on AWD, since it’s standard on all grades of this model.
  • Segment-leading powertrain smoothness and refinement are important to you, since Eclipse Cross’s well-behaved and nicely tuned powertrain is arguably its most valuable asset.
  • Long-distance highway driving is a frequent part of your motoring life, as Eclipse Cross is a relaxing highway cruiser with a comfortable highway ride and smooth power delivery.
  • You want many high-end outward-looking safety features that work well, and are nicely calibrated.

Skip it if...

  • You want something more conventional where styling is concerned.
  • You’re after the segment’s best steering or sportiest handling, as neither is a strong point of the Eclipse Cross. Some drivers will wish for better steering feel and a not-so-soft suspension.
  • You’re a tech enthusiast, since the central command touchscreen system is looking dated on the graphics front.
  • You live in a locale with very rough roads, which can knock ride quality and comfort levels back a few pegs.

The Gist

The Eclipse Cross is an excellent choice where unique looks, relatively generous space, a relaxing highway drive, and an excellent drivetrain are priorities – especially for the non-enthusiast driver who frequently travels over smoother roads.

Mazda CX-3

Add to your shopping list if...

  • You’re after a slick, invisible, and fast-acting AWD system.
  • You’re after a small crossover with high levels of maneuverability, added space, the most car-like driving dynamics of the group, and AWD.
  • You appreciate a nicely detailed, upscale, and award-winning cabin with among the segment’s best overall designs.
  • Fuel efficiency is a top priority, since CX-3 has the full suite of Mazda’s SkyActiv technologies as standard kit.
  • You value high-performing headlights, as CX-3 offers some of the most powerful ones in the segment.

Skip it if...

  • You’re after plenty of space for the buck, as some find the CX-3 to be more like a small car with a backpack than a small crossover.
  • You need heaps of on-board cargo volume or rear seat space, neither of which is a strong CX-3 characteristic.
  • Absolute ride quality is high on your wishlist, as some drivers will find CX-3’s ride to be on the stiff and sporty side.
  • You plan to do any serious off-roading, as CX-3’s ground clearance is limited.

The Gist

The CX-3 hits hardest for design, efficiency, sporty dynamics, and a knock-out cabin – though shoppers after more serious off-road capability, greater size and space, or luxurious ride comfort may want to consider other options.

A rapid glance at a growing market. 6/15/2018 10:00:00 AM