By Cars.com EditorsNovember 24, 2015
About the video
For our Subcompact SUV Challenge, we brought 7 vehicles to the mountains of Colorado for a week of intensive testing. Each SUV had to endure a fuel-economy drive and head-to-head comparisons of ride quality, handling, comfort and acceleration.
(ignition starting) Over the years we've done a lot of challenges but it's rare when we get an almost entirely new segment. More than half the cars behind me have been on sale for less than a year. This is our subcompact SUV challenge.
We brought these seven to the mountains of Colorado to test them at altitude. Here's how they finished. At number seven is the 2016 Chevrolet Trax. The Trax seems unrefined compared to the rest of the group, not quite ready for prime time. Still, the storage is the best in the group. What do we like about it? Well the vroom vroom. It had a turbo charged engine that was one of the guts-iest in the groups. It also had lots of room. It wasted no space in the Trax's cabin and despite it's tiny dimensions it's loaded with handy nooks and crannies for stashing small items. We like the nice big, flat load floor. What didn't we like? The poor interior quality. "I would say it feels quite cheap," one of our family testers said. "It feels like a rental" and lists the top trim. The interior has unconvincing imitation leather, cheap looking fake metal trim and so much hard plastic the cabin practically echoes. Coming in at number six was the 2015 Nissan Juke. What do we like about it? Well it moves like a dagger. It's got sports car moves and the steering feel is outstanding. Once that turbo spools up hang on. The acceleration is fierce. We also enjoyed the visibility. The surround view camera system is one of the most useful safety features we've ever used, taking the anxiety out of parking maneuvers. And then there is it's unique styling. It looks like nothing else on the road and we celebrate it's weirdness. It's animated frog-faced styling turns head. It's still fun and still quirky. What didn't we like? Well, there's that unique styling again. As one judge said, "it's so so ugly. Not even pug dog ugly. It's just hideous." "Do we need to say it?" another judge asked. "It hurts the eyes." Then of course there's the size of the Juke. There should be a sign on the Juke's cargo area that says "warning just for show." There's so little interior space that it's hard to really consider it an SUV. In addition, it's noisy. Whether it's the engine, wind noise, or tire noise, there is a full on oral assault on your ears happening at all times. The interior quality is a mixed bag of nice and weird. The Juke's designers were probably aiming for sporty with the cabin but it's far from it. Number five is the 2015 Jeep Renegade all new. What do we like? Well it's an SUV baby. The Renegade has fantastic styling. It's the only vehicle here that looks and feels like a proper SUV. We like the distinctly Jeep styling and design Easter eggs. It's more rugged than luxurious. It's very Jeep. We like that we're riding high. We also like that it had power seating in this price range which most of the competitors didn't. It comes with four-wheel drive and the higher step in means that it has legit off road potential. It also comes with mud, sand, and snow settings which are very helpful on the Colorado roads that we tested it on. What didn't we like? Well the Renegade felt much slower than the mechanically similar Fiat. An acceleration was a struggle. Next, we found the Renegade hard to stop. The brake pedals should work when you press it. Not in the case of the Jeep where the pedal has an unsettling dead zone when first depressed. And finally while we liked some of the Jeep stuff, there was a lot of Jeep stuff. All the gimmicky Jeep brand reminders throughout the interior are definitely trying too hard to convince you that this is a real jeep. In fourth place, the 2016 Mazda CX-3. We like the way it looked inside and out. It had the most stylish interior and it was an interior that clearly outclassed the others. Course there's always Mazda's zoom zoom. The CX-3 was amazing to drive and one judge said it was far and away the most fun to drive here. Surprisingly the visibility was terrific. "For how small it is on the outside," our family tester said "I'm surprised by how good the visibility is." And finally we really liked the technology inside. We liked the option of using the touch screen, the central controller, or the steering wheel controls for most inputs. The multimedia system is just right with a decent sized screen, easy menu structure, and clear placement high on the dash. What didn't we like about the CX-3? Well there wasn't a lot of room room to go with the zoom zoom. Then there's the battle for the center. The central controller and volume knob were virtually impossible to get to unless you have the arm rest out of the way. And that same armrest made getting to the cup holder difficult as well. Then we had issues with child seats. Families who need to install a rear-facing car seat should take the CX-3 off their list one judge said. The lack of leg room made installation very difficult. And in the end there was the question of the value proposition. I don't like constantly being reminded every time I drive it that I could have paid much less for a Mazda 3 hatchback one judge said. And gotten more space inside, a better ride, and had enough money left over to buy multiple sets of snow tires for the winter. In third place is the 2016 Honda HR-V. What do we like? We like the space. It has a cavernous cargo area which was by the far the most practical when it comes to doing actual crossover-like tasks such as being able to haul things. The HR-V has a low cargo loading height with a wide cargo opening and it has an easy to fold flat backseat that opens up a lot more room in a snap. We like how it drove. It felt very responsive in sport mode, handles well, feels light, and was easily tossable. And finally there were a lot of family help. It had easy to access latch anchors and ample leg room made it easier to put in car seat installations. What didn't we like? Well, we didn't like the lack of knobs. Bring back the knobs Honda one judge warned. The multimedia system is a pain to use and one of our family testers said I already think it's weird that there's nothing to grab for the volume. I didn't think it would be awkward just looking at the car but in use, it's awkward. Then there was the HR-V's noisy, gutless engine. The overtaxed four-cylinder CVT combination complained loudly and constantly. The noise is excessive and it fails to deliver much power when it's making all of that racket. Coming in second was the 2016 Fiat 500X. The 500X is a total surprise. It's fun to drive, fun to look at and aside from a few quirks like weird automatic window switches. It's just plain fun to be in. We're hoping that Fiat's historically poor reliability doesn't sink this fresh, funky newcomer. What do we like? We like the appearance inside and out. Style style style one judge raved. It brings a smile to our face when we see it and we're pleasantly surprised. It's fun to drive. Handling, breaking, acceleration, ride all are top notch. Pop the 500 into sport mode for a much needed kick in the pants and still it feels planted on the road. We also enjoyed the multimedia system. It's high on the dash for great visibility and it features a responsive touch screen with a simple menu structure and clear knobs for tuning and volume. Still, there were things that we didn't like. That awful nine-speed automatic transmission strikes again. It's shifts often feel unpredictable and awkward. It's got a noisy, fumbling powertrain and has a cheap switch gear that feels like it's going to fall off. We also knocked the 500X for it's lack of storage and poor seat quality. Then there's the poor ride quality. It's a rough ride for unrewarding handling and it makes you feel like you're driving over a washboard on even the smallest of bumps. And it was the only competitor in our tests that only came with two-wheel drive instead of all-wheel drive although the all-wheel drive is available. And the winner is the 2015 Subaru XV Crosstrek. It was the favorite of our family as well as the judges. What do they like? Well they like the value proposition. The XV Crosstrek is the value leader of the group including both impressive safety features and ample creature comforts for a low price. We liked all the high tech safety features for the money and one of our family testers liked that you could get heated seats with cloth upholstery. The judges liked how easy it was to see out of the XV Crosstrek thanks to the low belt line. That was helped also by the tall windows and ride height. And the ride quality was one of the quietest rides in the competition and it soaked up bumps with ease. What didn't we like about the XV Crosstrek? Well it's painfully slow, especially on hills. The transmission has a lag in it and it's definitely not one of the faster cars. In addition it has a noisy CVT. Quiet it does not. The CVT drone is a problem and the high levels of road and wind noise are intrusive. Some judges had problems with the EyeSight Crash Avoidance system finding it intrusive while they were driving. Others thought the multimedia system, while better than it used to be, still trails many in the class with it's sometimes finicky touch sensitive panels. Finally, some of the judges just found the XV Crosstrek dull. They bemoaned the uninteresting interior and said that while it may have a ground clearance and all-wheel drive system that's ready to go anywhere it's exterior styling is ready for the shopping mall. Snore. For all the specs, scores, and comments check out cars.com. (trunk latching)