2016 Subcompact SUV Comparison: A Segment is Born

By KBB.com Editors on April 9, 2016 9:05 AM

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With five new entries in the past two model years alone, subcompact SUVs blossomed into an actual segment almost overnight. Smaller, more affordable alternatives to wildly popular compact SUVs like the Toyota RAV4 and Ford Escape, the secret formula is the same: elevated seating position, superior cargo versatility, increased ground clearance and available all-wheel drive.

For Kelley Blue Book's first official subcompact SUV comparison test we stuck with a familiar destination. Every year we head to the greater Phoenix area for some Cactus League spring training baseball, a 700-mile roundtrip that's typically our longest comparison test of the year.

Along for the ride this time were three brand-new, first-time models for 2016: the Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-3 and Fiat 500X. And the Jeep Renegade is only a sophomore. 

The Chevy Trax also debuted last year, but it wasn’t available during our test dates. So we invited its fancier cousin, the Buick Encore. Dating all the way back to the 2013 model year, the Encore was the relative veteran of the group, and a bit of an outsider. The only participant wearing a premium badge, the Encore’s starting sticker price is also about $4,000 higher than most of the others.

Our primary judging categories include highway, city and sporty driving, plus interior appeal, infotainment, rear seat room and cargo versatility. We also take a look at fuel economy and resale value, and highlight weak safety ratings when applicable.

While we indeed keep score during our comparison tests, we don't pick overall winners and losers. Especially in a group as diverse as this, the best choice for one buyer can be the worst choice for another. Our mission is not to name the best car for the most people, but to help each car shopper discover the best choice for him or her.

We've listed them here in order of overall scoring, but we encourage you to start with whichever model you find most appealing. The results of our comparison might reinforce those instincts, or they might point you in a different direction entirely. Either way you'll be closer to the right choice, and that's exactly where we're always hoping to guide you.

 

2016 Honda HR-V

Starting MSRP: $20,015

Already one of our Best Family Cars of 2016, our opinion of the roomy, refined and flexible HR-V is even higher now. Read more

2016 Buick Encore

Starting MSRP: $24,990

Even in its last model year before a refresh, the quiet, comfortable Encore remains a worthy one-of-a-kind. Read more

2016 Mazda CX-3

Starting MSRP: $20,840

One of our 10 Coolest Cars Under $25,000, the CX-3 is arguably the best-looking and defnitely the most fun-to-drive entry in the segment. Read more

2016 Jeep Renegade

Starting MSRP: $18,990

The obvious choice for the off-roading set, the Renegade also offers the most passenger volume in the category. Read more 

2016 Fiat 500X

Starting MSRP: $20,900

Form trumps function in this thoroughly stylish little Euro-retro runabout. Read more

 

By the Numbers

Here's a look at how these five SUVs stack up on key specs. Note that the Jeep Renegade and Fiat 500X, cousins in the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles family, share the same powerful but less efficient powertrain. You can also see that the Honda boasts almost 25 percent more cargo volume than even the second roomiest entry.

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Next Page

More Subcompact SUVs

We'd love to include every category entry in our annual segment comparison tests, but it's typically an impractical endeavor for several reasons. Here are the two models that round out the fast-growing subcompact SUV segment.

 

2016 Chevrolet Trax

Starting Price: $21,195

Introduced for the 2015 model year, the Trax will be seriously refresehed for 2017. Read more

2016 Nissan Juke

Starting MSRP: $21,150

The longest-running model in the group, the Juke is smaller but sportier than most. Read more

 

 

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