By Cars.com EditorsOctober 4, 2018
About the video
We pitted our former subcompact champion, the 2018 Subaru Crosstrek, against three newcomers to the subcompact SUV segment. Is the Subaru still king? Watch the video to find out.
The popularity of SUVs has prompted automakers to offer them even at the teeny tiny end of the market. And we last tested this class in late 2015, where the Subaru Crosstrek beat out six other contenders in a decisive victory.
Fast forward to 2018, and Subaru has redesigned the Crosstrek, while three other competitors have entered the field: the brand new Ford Echo Sport, and Hyundai Kona, plus the Nissan Rogue Sport introduced one model year ago. Now we tested that trio up against our reigning champion's second generation to see which one masters the micro SUV. Now joining me to evaluate these cars are two fellow cars.com judges. We have DC bureau Chief Fred Meier and LA Bureau Chief Brian Wong. Let's see how these cars finished. In fourth place is the new Ford Echo Sport, a small SUV with a tall roof line. Now judges lauded the Echo Sport's multimedia system, but dinged its lack of safety technology as well as its general layout and some of its drivability. The Ford echo sport is one of the smallest and most maneuverable SUVs here and it ought to be the best city car. However, it, you can't get automatic emergency braking at any price, it has a silly swing gate on the back that takes five more feet of parking space, and the visibility to the front is awful. It has a A huge pillar, an extra strut pillar, and a big mirror creating an enormous blind spot to either corner. The Ford Echo Sport has one of the most joyless driving experiences of any vehicle that I piloted. It's underpowered at most levels, and it's practically anemic from a stop. It also has a very, very abrupt six speed automatic that makes you kind of wish it was a CVT, and that's the only time I've said that about a conventional automatic transmission. Moving to the interior, things don't get much better. It has fit and finish issues up front, especially with a center console that's too small to fit anything, and it also wobbles when you put your arm on it. Now, if the car has one saving grace, it's the multimedia system. It comes with a large screen and it's powered by Ford's excellent SYNC 3 and comes with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity. Ahead of the Echo Sport, but still in a distant third place is the all-new Hyundai Kona, an adventurous-looking runabout with handling and value chops, but downsides in ride comfort, interior quality and storage space. If we're going to call out the Echo Sport for having poor cabin materials, it's only fair that we do the same to the Kona. Inside feels a little cheap. And most of these cars, they suffer from a problem with having nicer materials upfront and not as good materials in the backseat. However, the Kona, it's just bad all around. Now, we should note that if you move up to a higher trim of the Kona, it actually has pretty good materials; but on a mid-level trim, like the one we had here, it's a disappointment. Now the Kona seemed like the most one dimensional car here. None of these cars were particularly fun to drive, but the Kona probably came closest with pretty good steering, limited body roll, good overall balance if you're really bombing into corners, but you pay for that in terms of ride quality. Just a very, very firmly tuned suspension really beats you up, especially over rough roads. Now, Hyundai does marry that with plenty of value. As tested, our Kona was about $2,200 less than the other three vehicles here. And that came with all wheel drive plus Hyundai's excellent warranty to boot. In second place, the Nissan Rogue Sport, an SUV judges found short on sport and multimedia system quality, but long on space, comfort, and convenience features. The Rogue Sport performed very well in much of our testing. I would actually call it the most well-rounded SUV that we had out here. However, one of its major flaws is its multimedia system or lack thereof. It comes with the smallest as tested screen, and it really functions as a glorified radio and a place for the backup camera. It's a multimedia system and screen that feels more in place in a 2008 vehicle than in a 2018. The Rogue Sport kind of has a funny name because it's not very sporty at all. Nissan oughta call it the Rogue Comfort. If you throw it around in corners, very vague steering, lots of body roll. This doesn't make you want to drive all that sporty. But that comfort, man, it's got a lot of it. Very comfortable seats, very plush ride quality. Subaru remains king of the small SUV hill with the redesigned Crosstrek, which judges commended for a ride and handling, interior quality and practicality, safety technology, and car seat accommodation. One factor in the Crosstrek's win was that at this price, you got the best suite of safety and driver assistance technology, including adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, and a lane-keeping assist, part of Subaru's EyeSight system. Two of the other cars didn't have it at this price point, and one, the Ford Echo Sport, you can't get it at all. For this group, the Crosstrek offers a very solid mix of ride quality and handling. I would say that the Kona actually has a little bit better handling, but it really suffers on ride quality while the Crosstrek is above competent in both of those categories. I was also a fan of the interior quality in the Crosstrek. Subaru interiors used to be bad, but now they've gotten much better, and the Crosstrek is an example of that. It had the best cloth seats, and I would say that they did a good job of putting soft touch plastics and other materials at touchpoints in the vehicle where you'll commonly put your hands and your arms. The Subaru Crosstrek got the highest scores for our car seat checks in this group, with easy to access latch anchors and plenty of room to put our rear facing car seats behind the front seats without having to move them forward. It also scored very well in our visibility scores, just with lots of good forward visibility, a nice big rear window, and very thin A pillars with a nice cutout, so you could see people kind of crossing in front of you next to that side mirror. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Small SUV shoppers still have a winner from Subaru, but each contender really has its own story to tell with unique strengths and weaknesses. Now you can see all the scores and read a lot more on cars.com.