By Beverly and Steve Smirnis
The age of fewer cars and more trucks spells opportunity in the subcompact, compact and small utility vehicle segment. Besides the condo-dwelling millennials most OEMs targeted initially, the versatility, drivability, fun and safety of smaller-sized SUVs make them popular with young families and empty-nesters, too. Like buying a smaller house with more upgrades, many buyers of these vehicles rationalize that sacrificing some space is worth it to get the bells and whistles of the upper trim levels.
Nissan’s CVT transmissions might be a deal-breaker for some, but the brand is doing well with its two compact crossovers. Buyers are drawn to the Rogue’s sporty exterior, upscale cabin with 70 cubic feet of cargo space, and all-wheel-drive option. The AWD model includes a locking center differential, hill descent control and brake-lock differentials front and rear for light off-roading. While our fully loaded Rogue SL AWD came with a $36K price tag, the smaller SR Nissan Kicks fully-loaded with Premium Package can be had for only about $23K. The SR’s black-painted mirrors and a rear roof spoiler add to the Kicks’ already sporty look and the Premium Package adds an eight-speaker Bose audio system, simulated-leather upholstery and heated front seats.
Versatility makes the Nissan Rogue one of the best-selling small SUVs on the market.
The more powerful turbocharged version of the base engine on the Mazda CX-5 is good for 250 hp on 91 octane gas and 310 lb-ft of torque.
Those who enjoy a spirited drive will like the Mazda CX-5’s handling prowess. It balances sportiness with comfort and practicality and upholds Mazda’s reputation for great interiors. The top-of-the-line Signature trim level has a more powerful turbocharged version of the base engine and standard all-wheel drive. Signature also adds ambient cabin lighting, leather upholstery, wood trim accents, a surround-view camera, and parking sensors with a price tag right at $39K.
The Lexus UX 200 introduces a luxury option to the subcompact SUV segment with a starting price of $32K for a base model loaded with standard features. Our tester with Premium Package was priced at $35,875 with added tech and safety features, more creature comforts and a moonroof. Some will say the CVT 169-horsepower engine leaves the UX short in terms of acceleration while others will appreciate its better fuel economy at 33 mpg combined.
The subcompact Lexus UX 200 is designed to draw younger buyers to the luxury brand sooner while allowing other age segments to downsize without sacrificing.
The Nissan Kicks SR checks off many boxes on buyers’ lists, including LED headlights and surround-view parking.
Previous sedan owners find it easy to make the switch into the small SUV/ crossover segment where they will find many options that drive like a car but offer the benefits of better visibility and easier entry/exit, with more seating and storage flexibility. An attractive outright purchase price and low running costs seal the deal.