Honda is calling 2022 the “Year of the Crossover,” partially due to 2021 being the year of their 11th-generation Civic, but more specifically because of two very important upcoming SUV releases. Top of the list will be a complete redesign of Honda’s best-selling CR-V, expected later this year as a 2023 model, but the smaller 2023 HR-V that’s teased here in two artist’s renderings, is at least as critical for its entry-level gateway position.
The subcompact crossover SUV class has gained a lot of traction in recent years, growing from just eight models in 2010, to a shocking 27 now, and while the current HR-V is no longer the segment’s top-seller, it’s done very well for a design that’s been around for almost a decade with only one mid-cycle refresh.
To be clear, the HR-V arrived to the Canadian market in June of 2015, but it was already two years old and in its second-generation. Amazingly, despite arriving halfway through the year, it managed second in sales for the category, only beaten by Kia’s Soul, while it narrowly missed the top spot by just 301 units in 2016. Calendar year 2017 saw the HR-V rise right up to the top with 14,149 deliveries, but that triumph was quickly quelled when Nissan’s ultra-affordable Qashqai hit the streets in 2018, followed by the current sales-leading Hyundai Kona that sold a whopping 25,817 units in 2019, plus 31,733 in 2020 (despite the health crisis). What’s more, even though a microchip shortage caused calamity through last year’s auto production, the Kona nearly equaled 2020 results with a total of 31,101 units down Canadian roads in 2021.
Comparatively, the aging HR-V placed sixth in Canada’s subcompact crossover segment last year, with 11,616 deliveries, allowing it to narrowly edge out the smaller Hyundai Venue that found 11,548 buyers, plus the Mazda CX-30 that managed a strong 11,407 unit-sales. Additionally, it fell marginally behind Nissan’s Qashqai that overtook its Japanese rival with 11,972 examples sold. The second-place Subaru Crosstrek attracted more subcompact SUV buyers than the HR-V as well, with 23,342 unit-sales, while the third-ranking Nissan Kicks did likewise with 18,750 deliveries. Finally, the Kia Seltos managed fourth thanks to 14,436 new owners in 2021. While it might appear as if HR-V sales are much below average, keep in mind that it still outsold 19 mainstream volume-branded subcompact SUV competitors, which is no small feat.
A much better HR-V story gets told south of our border, mind you, where Honda was able to sell a staggering 137,090 units last year, which is almost 10,000 more than the U.S. subcompact SUV segment’s next-best-selling Crosstrek. Exactly how they upped year-over-year sales by more than 63 percent in 2021 is anyone’s guess outside of the brand’s inner circle, and it wasn’t only because the model took a slight dive in 2020. In fact, sales were up more than 38 percent from 2019, but it may have come down to available microchips in a market that made many vehicles hard to get.
Being that the second-generation HR-V was based on the back of the now discontinued (in North America) entry-level Fit hatchback, it was always much more accommodating than its diminutive dimensions let on. Just like the Fit, the HR-V boasts an extremely low cargo floor, plus an ultra-flexible 60/40-split rear “Magic Seat” that comes with backrests that fold down in the traditional way for carrying larger cargo loads, plus lower cushions that flip upwards, pickup truck style, for stowing taller items on the second-row passenger compartment’s floor. The innovative packaging allows it to compete with larger subcompact models like the Qashqai, Crosstrek, Seltos, CX-30 and new Toyota Corolla Cross, despite being externally sized more closely to the Kona, Kicks and Toyota C-HR. This makes it significantly larger than a Venue, incidentally, the smallest crossover currently available in our market.
If you happen to follow global automotive news you might already realize Honda debuted the updated Japanese Domestic Market version of the HR-V in 2021. It’s named Vezel in Japan, while the same SUV replaced the first-generation HR-V in Europe. That new model features an identical 2,610 mm (102.8 in) wheelbase as the outgoing model and our current HR-V, plus approximately the same overall length of 4,330 mm (170.5 in), the previous generation spanning 4,295 to 4,335 mm (169.1 to 170.7 in) from nose to tail depending on markets and trims. It’s just 20 mm (0.8 in) wider too, at 1,790 mm (70.5 in), and slightly lower overall at 1,580 to 1,590 mm (62.2 to 62.6 in) when compared to 1,605 to 1,610 mm (63.2 to 63.4 in) for the previous model, the latter difference likely dependant on tire choices.
This said, our second-generation HR-V (the third-generation globally) will be North American-specific and therefore won’t necessarily share the Japanese/European model’s platform. Instead, there’s a greater chance we’ll see it riding on a version of Civic/Insight and CR-V underpinnings, not to mention the new Acura Integra (a.k.a. ILX), which means it should receive a stronger powertrain, plus possibly the option of a sportier and/or fuel-friendly hybrid model too, as well as the continuation of Honda’s Real Time all-wheel drive.
Currently, our 2022 HR-V is available with front- and all-wheel drivetrains, while employing Honda’s 1.8-litre inline four-cylinder engine and continuously variable transmission (CVT) across the line. The engine is good for 141 horsepower and 127 lb-ft of torque no matter the trim, and as verified by the HR-V’s continued popularity it’s been potent enough for most peoples’ needs.
Probably more important than performance in this class is efficiency, and to that end today’s HR-V gets a claimed five-cycle rating of 8.4 L/100km in the city, 7.0 on the highway and 7.8 combined with FWD, plus 8.8 city, 7.5 highway and 8.2 combined with AWD, and lastly 9.1, 7.7 and 8.5 respectively with the sportier AV7 version of the same transmission, which makes it fairly stingy for the segment.
It’s difficult to say if Honda will be able to maintain the second-generation’s miserly ways with a larger 2.0-litre powertrain if incorporated into the design, especially considering the subcompact SUV will also grow in size and weight, but that 200-cc larger engine is rated at 7.7 L/100km city, 6.0 highway and 6.9 combined in the 2022 Civic Sedan, which also uses a CVT and FWD, so there’s no reason to think it will be much thirstier in a slightly taller crossover. That engine also puts out a much more suitable 158 horsepower and 138 lb-ft of torque, which should more than make up for the renewed 2023 HR-V’s size and weight gain.
Other possibilities include a hybrid variant, at least in markets where Honda can make a viable business case for selling one. Unfortunately, infinitesimal Insight sales in Canada, due to higher pricing than electrified competitors, plus no CR-V Hybrid availability at all, make it appear that moving large numbers of hybrids hasn’t been Honda Canada’s priority in recent years, a shame considering how well it once did with the Civic Hybrid.
Still, it only makes sense the Japanese brand will eventually want to put forth a serious hybrid or electric challenger North of the 49th (Accord Hybrid aside). After all, despite our relatively small population, Canada remains the 13th largest automotive market globally. If Honda does choose to sell a hybrid variant into North America, they’d have the option of the 129-horsepower electrified drivetrain currently offered to European HR-V customers, or the 151-hp setup provided in our Insight sedan, the latter probably more suitable to buyers in our market.
All said, it’s impossible to know if a larger HR-V will return more sales than the current model. Of course, redesigns normally produce an immediate spike in activity, but being that we have so many brands selling multiple models into this class, and the sales results of their smaller and larger models vary dramatically, we need to believe that Honda has based its decision to produce a larger HR-V on extensive market research, because changing up their highly successful subcompact SUV formula poses a significant risk. What’s more, if Honda isn’t able to integrate its versatile Magic Seat system into the new design, usable cargo space may not increase. Loyal HR-V owners will be collectively hoping they do.
When it comes to styling, what we can gather from the artist’s rendering is a vastly more appealing crossover SUV, even discounting the added width, tire/wheel sizes and other visual tricks artists play when rendering prototype vehicles. The upcoming HR-V appears to be a sportier, tougher looking crossover, with an attractive new grille design that seems to frown instead of smile. This more menacing theme has worked well for Toyota trucks and SUVs, while the C-shaped glossy-black corner vents are so similar to the outgoing Acura RDX’ (pre-facelift) that one has to assume we’ll also be getting a spin-off for Honda’s luxury brand. An ADX with the Civic’s optional 180-horsepower turbocharged engine, anyone? How about an optional 200-hp Type S? Its powertrain could easily be pulled from the Civic Si. That would give the Lexus UX a run for its money.
The rendering’s rear styling shows enlarged taillight clusters bearing some semblance to the current model’s design, not to mention a respectful nod to past Civic models, particularly the eighth-generation sedan. It’s also easy to see additional Acura influences on the backside of the new HR-V, so it will be interesting to find out how the finished product looks.
As for the interior, small crossover SUVs are often where automakers let their proverbial hair down in order to have some fun. Just the same, Honda did no such thing with the domestic-market Vezel, which gets a fairly staid, conservative dash design, featuring only the slightest bit of creativity around the centre stack (see the gallery for photos).
In the end, these two renderings only serve to tell us that an “all-new HR-V will launch in North America this year,” further promising to be both “sporty and versatile,” or so says the two-line press release. Thankfully, we shouldn’t have to wait very long to find out.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann
Photo credits: Honda
Let’s get this right out in the open: Toyota needs to build a production version of the Compact Cruiser EV Concept as soon as possible. This thing would sell like avocado toast, even if it’s not capable…
Let’s get this right out in the open: Toyota needs to build a production version of the Compact Cruiser EV Concept as soon as possible. This thing would sell like avocado toast, even if it’s not capable of wandering off-pavement, but of course, plenty of automakers, such as Rivian with its new R1S SUV and R1T pickup truck, plus GMC with its reborn Hummer EV line (that will soon offer both body styles as well), are proving that electrics are very capable off-road, so there’d be no reason to worry about being relegated to tarmac when behind the wheel of this tiny Toyota.
Dimensions in mind, or at least those visibility apparent being that Toyota has given us very little to go on so far, the Compact Cruiser EV Concept might have more in common with Suzuki’s original Samurai or that brand’s more recent subcompact Jimny SUV than the near mid-size FJ Cruiser or the original FJ40 it’s spiritually emulating. We do know that it doesn’t share the FJ Cruiser’s body-on-frame chassis or anything else from that go-anywhere utility, other than some styling cues, a version of the original FJ40’s (and FJ Cruiser’s) Sky Blue exterior paint, and the “TOYOTA” lettering on the similarly narrow grille.
Where the 2006–present (discontinued in North America after 2014) FJ Cruiser may have preceded a number of would-be peers, particularly Ford’s reinvented Bronco (and Bronco Sport) and Land Rover’s completely reimagined Defender, the Compact Cruiser EV Concept appears destined to electrify its retro off-roading class if produced. Unfortunately, however, we can lump Compact Cruiser EV Concept electric motor and battery specs into our zero-knowledge base.
As far as we can tell, this SUV is more of a design study, but being that today’s Toyota rarely misses out on an opportunity to cash in on a good idea (unlike General Motors that sadly chose to apply its legendary Blazer nameplate to a two-row, mid-size grocery getter instead of a retrospective K5-style Blazer that could’ve easily been built off the back of its full-size Tahoe, the tiny Land Cruiser-like BEV will most certainly get the green light.
It’s part of Toyota’s new “Battery EV” strategy, introduced online on December 14, 2021 (see the video below), in which “Toyota wants to prepare as many options as possible for” their “customers around the world,” stated the automaker’s president, Akio Toyoda during the presentation.
The namesake brand introduced 17 concepts as part of the program, of which most body styles and capabilities currently available with traditional internal combustion power were represented, from crossover-like family haulers to sports cars, SUVs, a pickup truck, and vans, the wide spectrum of potential offerings showing that Toyota isn’t about to give up any market share, or brand heritage, in its quest to go electric.
Likewise, the presentation showed off seven Lexus EVs in various shapes and sizes (see the gallery for more), and hinted at six more hidden behind in the shadows. Altogether, the Japanese automaker plans to “offer 30 BEV models across the Toyota and Lexus brands, globally” by 2030, “with more on the way” after that. Due to so many models in the planning stages, and a promise to provide “BEVs in all segments, including sedans, SUVs, K-Cars, commercial vehicles and other segments,” there’s certainly a place for this Compact Cruiser EV Concept.
The little SUV is all angles and edges, with obvious styling cues pulled from classic FJs and the more recently updated FJ Cruiser, plus a number of design details from other Toyota models, including the current RAV4 TRD Off-Road (available in a similar Cavalry Blue for 2022 and even closer Blue Flame colour in 2021), the 4Runner TRD Pro (available in a cool Voodoo Blue back in 2019), the Tacoma TRD Pro (unfortunately no longer available in Cavalry Blue), and the new 2022 Tundra pickup truck (with a colour palette that offers nothing even remotely similar, but the old one did).
While the hood scoop appears inspired by similar ones on the FJ Cruiser or recent Tacoma/Tundra TRD Pro models, the rectangular LED headlamps are closer to the new 2022 Tundra, whereas the chunky C-shaped driving lights are more distinctive still, at least to Toyota. The tiny concept also takes everything that previously made the FJ Cruiser look rugged up a notch, with a beefier front skid plate embellished by blazing red tow hooks, plus four of the most aggressive matte-black fender flares ever imagined for this size of 4×4. Toyota’s FT-4X Concept was a recent example of similar styling, and was no doubt inspiration for this new BEV as well.
Fortunately, the Compact Cruiser EV Concept’s designers were more practical with its body style than those behind the FJ Cruiser, with full-size, traditionally front-hinged rear doors for easier to the back seat, while the cargo area appears to be nice and upright, which is ideal for loading in as much gear as possible.
As it is, Toyota hasn’t revealed a single rear exterior image or any photos of the interior either, so therefore details about the powertrain, and the platform underpinning this new SUV, are unknown as well.
Media Briefing on Battery EV Strategies (Presentation / with subtitles) (25:51):
Story credit: Trevor Hofmann
Photo credits: Toyota / Lexus
Two weeks of living with two trims of Kia’s latest Seltos, and it’s now easy for me to understand why this little crossover has become such a popular option in the subcompact SUV segment. The Seltos…
Two weeks of living with two trims of Kia’s latest Seltos, and it’s now easy for me to understand why this little crossover has become such a popular option in the subcompact SUV segment.
The Seltos came out of nowhere in 2020, only to rise up to fourth overall in a category with no less than 22 offerings last year (it’s grown to 25 since). This just might be unprecedented success, and is especially impressive when considering that Kia already offers the eighth-placed Soul and 18th most popular Niro. The Soul, incidentally, is available in regular internal combustion or electric variants, whereas the Niro comes with conventional, plug-in hybrid, or EV powertrains. The Seltos is only gasoline-powered so far, which says a lot about our current purchasing habits when contrasted against the direction our various governments and many special interest groups are pointing us in, although hybrid and/or EV powertrains will likely follow thanks to shared architecture with the Hyundai Kona Electric.
Hyundai-Kia’s B-SUV platform (that’s formed off the back of the Rio’s K2 platform) is a major Seltos positive, as the Kona, in regular or EV form, a good SUV to share underpinnings with considering its number-one position in segment sales, with a lead of nearly one-third over the next-most-popular Subaru Crosstrek.
The Canadian numbers were 31,733 to 22,161 units in 2020, while the third-place Nissan Kicks managed 14,149 deliveries, and fourth-place Seltos came close to achieving podium placement with 13,016 sold examples of its own. It skipped right by some category diehards too, such as Honda’s (somewhat long-in-tooth) HR-V that was only able to pull in 12,068 sales, Nissan’s Qashqai at 11,074 units, Hyundai’s Venue with 10,740 deliveries, and the Soul with 9,869. The rest are all in the four figures, some like Jeep’s Renegade and Fiat’s 500X (basically the same SUV under very different skins) only capable of finding 362 and 35 respective buyers apiece.
To be clear, the subcompact crossover SUV segment is really split up into two parts, with the Seltos slightly larger than some of those just mentioned, particularly Nissan’s Kicks and Hyundai’s Venue. While most expect something smaller to arrive in Kia’s lineup soon, along the lines of the truly subcompact Venue, the $21,295 Soul claims that spot for now, despite being almost identical to the Seltos in cabin size and cargo capacity. Your reasons for choosing either will come down to personal styling preferences, plus the $23,395 Seltos’ more modern dash layout, how the two drive (electrically-enhanced included), and possibly the need to save a couple of thousand for a non-EV Soul, whereas the significantly smaller Venue is better suited to four occupants and much less gear, albeit for considerably less initial money (with a base of $18,199) and better ongoing fuel economy (I covered the 2021 Venue here).
It might also be helpful to understand some of the industry trends, and particularly how Hyundai and Kia fit in with respect to this. The macro trend sees car buyers migrating to crossover SUVs, and to that end Hyundai now uses its Venue as the most affordable gateway into its brand, having discontinued its subcompact Accent 5 Door hatchback after the 2020 model year (and Accent sedan before that). Kia, on the other hand, still sells its Rio 5 Door, having only dropped the four-door sedan version of this car after 2020, and by so doing makes sure that its conquest pathway is much more affordable. Where Hyundai is now asking $3,250 more for a Venue than it was for an Accent, Kia is able to pull in buyers with budgets of $17,295 (which admittedly is much pricier than the previous $15,495 2020 Rio 5-Door or even more affordable $14,845 2019 Rio sedan—notably the 2020 Rio sedan wasn’t available in cheaper LX trim at all, causing that year’s base LX+ sedan to start at $18,045), and a 5- to 10-percent difference is a lot when on a tight budget.
Comparatively to either the Rio or Venue, the Seltos might seem like a luxury SUV. First off, it appears more upscale from the outside than either, with a sportier character than the cute, albeit somewhat awkward looking Hyundai; the Venue’s big grille on a small SUV styling won’t be for everyone. The Seltos’ lines are comparatively clean, uncluttered, and, to my eyes at least, attractive, starting with a wide, relatively narrow front grille opening, and expanding outward via stepped headlamp clusters, which include a set of unique-looking LEDs in top-level trims. A tight, tidy rear design incorporates a good helping of metal brightwork and optional LED tail lamps, while attractive 16-, 17- and 18-inch alloy wheels can be found across the entire line.
Specifically, the 16-inch alloys are only included with the base Seltos SX FWD model, meaning the move up to SX AWD pushes wheel-size out another inch. All other trims include standard AWD, while the wheels remain 17 inches in diameter right up to the SX Turbo, that gets gorgeous machine-finished 18s with cool red-accented centre caps, although the mid-range EX Premium (one step above the EX) includes a sharp set of machine-finished 17-inch rims.
The two models I tested over a back-to-back two-week stint included EX and SX trims, the former featuring the more fuel-economy-oriented Atkinson-cycle enhanced 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine making 146 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque, while mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT). The latter, on the other hand, came standard with the brand’s 1.6-litre direct-injection Turbo, resulting in a more spirited 175 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque, plus a much quicker shifting seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. These two very unique trims gave me a good feel for what Kia has on offer across the entire Seltos range.
The lesser EX model is seen here in Neptune Blue, with its 17-inch grey-painted twinned five-spoke alloys, whereas the top-line SX Turbo wears Lunar Orange, along with the sportier 18-inch rims I mentioned a moment ago. Both are premium paints that incur a reasonable $250 upcharge, this being the same for all eight colour options except base Onyx black.
Rather than pore over feature details, all of which you can look up for yourself on the automaker’s retail website, I’ll cover some of those items I particularly appreciated and/or found lacking in my test models, plus share my experiential notes, continuing from previous exterior styling comments over to thoughts about the interior, especially its more conventional hooded instrument panel layout and tablet-style infotainment display than the more premium Mercedes-like dual-screen setup found in the recently updated mid-size Sorento and upcoming (slightly larger than its predecessor) compact 2023 Sportage (which looks similar to what I’ve already tested in the 2022 Hyundai Tucson).
The more futuristic dash design appears to be the way Kia is going, having even updated its various looks and functionality since the fabulous Telluride that I covered a few months ago. Instead, the Seltos’ dash layout appears more like the Niro’s and other older models. It’s highly utile, with a nicely shrouded hood shading dual analogue dials bookending a 3.5-inch, colour multi-information display in the EX, and larger, more versatile 7.0-inch Supervision LCD/TFT display in the SX. The former provides visual indication that the automatic high beams are active, something I really appreciated, plus dynamic cruise control info, while latter does both and much more.
Still, after experiencing Kia’s newer design layout in other models, I the current iteration comes across a tad dated, despite being complemented by a very helpful head-up display (HUD) system that projects key info onto the windshield ahead of the driver, something not seen too often in this class. For reference, I find the same when comparing a similarly-sized Mercedes GLB to anything in its class, not that the German and Korean models should be compared in any other way, especially when it comes to pricing.
The Seltos does provide a very refined interior for the subcompact SUV class, however, with my EX-tester even including the same perforated Sofino faux-leather seat upholstery as my top-tier SX Turbo, which I initially thought was the real deal. The EX didn’t include the SX’ powered driver’s seat, mind you, or its two-way powered lumbar support, but was comfortable nonetheless, as were the two crossovers’ shared leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, although the EX model’s gloss-black dash facing wasn’t quite as upscale as the SX trim’s padded and stitched leatherette bolster, which even extends under the larger centre display as well as to the left side of the primary gauge binnacle and steering column—good to see you get something for the extra coin.
There are more upgrades, of course, despite EX and SX models sharing the just-noted gloss-black trim on the steering wheel spokes, lower centre console surfacing, and door inlays, as well as identical single-zone automatic climate control interfaces, solar glass front windows, and chromed grille insert, satin chrome beltline trim, and aforementioned LED taillights (that transition from incandescent bulbs in EX trim), not to mention unseen but important (to some) features like Blind-spot Collision Avoidance Assist (in place of the base model’s Blind-spot Collision Warning), Lane Keep Assist, Lane Follow Assist, and Rear Cross-Traffic Collision Avoidance Assist (in place of the LX’ simpler Rear Cross-traffic Alert), as well as a raft of features pulled up from base LX trim.
Somehow, I completely lost track of detailing the Seltos’ interior refinement, not even mentioning both models’ stylish satin silver trim that helped make me feel as if I was in a much more upscale SUV than its aforementioned pricing should allow, or for that matter its nicely stitched leatherette gearshift boot, softly padded leatherette side and centre armrests (front to back for the former and covering a handy storage bin for the latter), while the folding rear centre armrest, filled with the usual twin cupholders, is exclusive to EX and SX trims. Lacking, sadly, were soft-touch door uppers in either trim or row, the two models’ identical inner door skins leaving me somewhat disappointed due to Kia having spoiled me to expect more from entry-level models than other brands, which admittedly don’t necessarily upgrade their equivalent rides to such high levels of luxury either.
Some features that differentiate both the SX and EX Premium from the regular EX trim include the previously noted LED headlights and LED fog lamps, the upgraded instrument cluster, auto-dimming rearview mirror, multi-directional power-adjustable front seats and two-way powered lumbar support for the driver’s seat, plus three-way air-cooled front seats to go along with all lesser models’ three-way heatable front cushions, and the EX (and above) heated steering wheel rim, not to mention warming outboard rear positions for the EX Premium and SX models, as well as a larger and much improved 10.25-inch infotainment touchscreen (instead of the 8.0-inch base display) with integrated navigation and UVO Intelligence-connected car services, along with Satellite radio, a wireless phone charger, adaptive cruise control with Highway Drive Assist (a Level 2 advanced semi-autonomous “self-driving” assistance system designed for limited-access highways), an electromechanical parking brake, Advanced forward collision-avoidance assist (improving on the EX trim’s Forward collision-avoidance assist), ambient mood lighting, a rear cargo privacy cover, and more.
I should say more about the upgraded infotainment touchscreen, plus the smaller one found in the EX and below, specifically that both are very good and include Apple CarPlay, plus Android Auto smartphone integration. My somewhat outdated Samsung S9 hooked up to the latter easily and working flawlessly throughout both test weeks, whereas the SX’ exclusive navigation system was also easy to use and completely accurate. The general look of the displays should be attractive to most, while both backup cameras were bright, clear and included moving guidelines.
A powered glass sunroof hovered above front occupants in both models, with controls found on an attractive overhead console, this even including LED reading laps complemented by another set of LED overhead lights in back.
Aforementioned wheel upgrades and HUD aside, the SX gains exclusive chromed door handles, rain sensing wipers, bright metal interior door handles, and possibly best of all, an eight-speaker Bose premium sound system that includes four door-mounted speakers, a centre speaker, two door-mounted tweeters, and a separate subwoofer, all of which are powered by an external amp. The sound was very good for the class, and thanks to the satellite radio upgrade mentioned earlier, was capable of being tested via many music genres.
As noted earlier, both trims’ driver seats were comfortable, with an edge to the SX due to its adjustable lumbar, while the Seltos’ driving position is excellent, even for my long-legged, short-torso frame. The tilt and telescopic steering column had enough rearward reach to provide comfort with more than enough control, and I certainly had ample space in all directions for movement.
Likewise, in the back, where both trims’ seats were comfortable, and plenty of legroom, head space and side-to-side roominess could be found. Cargo capacity is good for the class too, with 752 dedicated litres (26.5 cubic feet), as well as 1,778 litres (62.8 cu ft) when both sides of its 60/40-split rear seatbacks are folded (mostly) flat.
Back up in the driver’s seat, I won’t go so far as to say the Seltos EX was particularly quicker than its base competition off the line, but it felt sportier through the curves than most rivals. Even this lower powered model included a slick rotating drive mode selector next to the gear lever for choosing regular Normal mode, an auto-select Smart mode, and Sport mode capabilities, all of which provided unique characteristics that were easily definable. Of course, all of this was heightened when at the wheel of the more potent SX, especially transmission response, which reacted faster to inputs than almost anything else in the class.
This is where your personal priorities will be exposed, aforementioned upgrades aside, because the two SUVs offer very different driving experiences. I found myself more relaxed in the EX, or at least I was less likely to dig my right foot into the throttle, because the result was less rewarding. Certainly, it got up and went with little hesitation and progressed through the gears fast enough for some spirited driving, even spinning right up to its 6,500-rpm rev limiter before making surprisingly convincing “pseudo” shifts, but by nature a CVT focuses more on fuel-efficiency than rapid, satisfying acceleration. Nevertheless, Kia could differentiate these trims even further by including paddle-shifters with the SX… just saying.
The dual-clutch gearbox and more powerful turbocharged engine didn’t overly impact efficiency either, or at least the SX was stingy enough for me at 9.4 L/100km city, 7.9 highway and 8.7 combined, compared to 8.8 city, 7.6 highway and 8.2 combined with the EX (or LX AWD), or 8.2, 7.1 and 7.7 respectively for the LX FWD. All in all, the SX’ level of performance should make the move upmarket worthwhile those who can afford a little extra investment.
As with everything else in this class, the various drive modes don’t impact the Seltos’ suspension setup, which, while fine for everyday driving, might hold you back a bit when pushing fast and hard through winding terrain, where the EX felt a bit more unsettled than the SX. This was probably, at least partially due to the difference in rolling rubber, the lesser model’s 215/55R17 Kumho Solus all-seasons not quite as grippy as the larger-diameter 235/45R18 Kumho Majesty tires (have to wonder where they came up with that name).
What matters more in this class, however, is ride quality, which was very good for both trims. In fact, I’d be quite happy with either as my daily driver. I found the previously noted self-driving mode was a bit more relaxing during highway excursions too, and I was pleasantly surprised to find anything so technologically advanced in this category at all, although it should be noted others in this segment are stepping up with similar systems.
Still, it remains easy to understand why Kia’s Seltos is selling so well. It’s a great looking little crossover SUV, is well made, impressively finished, well-featured in every trim, attractively priced, plenty efficient, and even fairly fun to drive with its mid-range powertrain, plus downright fun when upgraded to the SX. Add to this its two-year, 40,000-km longer-than-average (mostly) bumper-to-bumper warranty, spanning five years or 100,000 km, and it’s an easier decision.
Truly, the most difficult choice in this class might come down to this Seltos or its Hyundai Kona cousin (with a similar warranty), proving the South Korean automaker understands the benefits of creating its own competition. When push comes to shove, both SUVs are more than worthy of your attention. I’d recommend looking over some of the others in this class too, but for the time being these are leading the back for good reason.
Review and photos by Trevor Hofmann
Small luxury sedans and hatchbacks aren’t selling as well as they once did, but some brands are succeeding where others are either floundering or have completely given up. Take Lexus for example, or…
Small luxury sedans and hatchbacks aren’t selling as well as they once did, but some brands are succeeding where others are either floundering or have completely given up.
Take Lexus for example, or for that matter Volvo. The former was selling its Prius-based CT 200h hybrid compact hatchback into North American markets as recently as 2017 (check out our road test), but after seven years of production, plus a couple of down years with nothing in an entry-level segment at all, it was effectively replaced with the UX subcompact crossover SUV. As for Volvo, we need to go all the back to 2013 for the final 300-plus (new) C30s that found Canadian buyers, and then had to wait five additional years for its XC40 subcompact SUV replacement. Likewise, a new C40 electric crossover is expected from the Chinese-owned Swedish brand later this year or early 2022.
See the trend? It wasn’t like the compact B-segment (subcompact luxury) was ever a big deal here in Canada, at least not like it’s been in Europe where Audi’s A1 has been pulling in premium buyers for almost a dozen years, plus its similarly sized A2 before that, and larger A3 even longer, as have BMW’s 1 and 2 Series, not to mention Mercedes’ A-Class, but amongst the few small luxury-branded cars we’ve enjoyed, some are leaving for good, never likely to return.
Still, premium brands need gateway products to entice new customers into the fold, and while small sedans and hatchbacks still attract such buyers to well-established German automakers, luxury buyers are more likely to opt for a subcompact crossover SUV instead. So therefore, while the entry luxury car category won’t likely grow much larger in the coming years, it still has a faithful following that’s passionate about their stylish, low-slung little rides, so let’s see which models are pulling in the most Canadian customers.
Mini Cooper dominates the small luxury car sector
When the words “luxury” and “car” get combined, most probably don’t immediately conjure up images of the cute little Mini hatchback. After all, it was initially Britain’s answer to Germany’s peoples’ car (and the “Suez Crisis” fuel shortage) way back in 1959, a micro hatchback that was as inexpensive to buy as it was efficient to operate. BMW purchased the Mini nameplate as part of its Rover group takeover from British Aerospace and Honda (20-percent) in 1994, and since 2001 has sold a variety of body styles and models, including a compact luxury SUV, dubbed Countryman.
And just in case you don’t understand the logic behind including a brand with pricing that begins where a fully-loaded Kia Rio ends, at $23,490 for a base Cooper 3-Door, consider that most Mini owners don’t purchase stripped-down examples. To that end, a JCW Convertible will set you back more than $60k after all of its extras are tallied up. So, if 60-grand for a subcompact hatchback doesn’t qualify Mini’s Cooper for luxury car status, not to mention sharing underpinnings with some of BMW’s smaller models, it’s difficult to surmise what will.
Mini’s car lineup is powered by three-cylinder and four-cylinder turbocharged engines displacing 1.5 and 2.0 litres respectively. As noted, the 1.5 makes 134 horsepower and 162 lb-ft of torque, and when installed in the base Cooper 3-Door, hits 100 km/h from standstill in 8.1 seconds with either the six-speed manual or seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, and manages 8.8 L/100km city, 6.4 highway and 7.7 combined with the former if driven more modestly, or 8.4, 6.5 and 7.5 with the latter. Obviously, performance and fuel economy won’t be quite as good in either the 5 Door, Clubman, or Convertible due to weight gains, a reality that affects the other engines in the lineup too.
On that note, the 2.0-litre turbo-four puts out 189 horsepower and 207 lb-ft of torque in the second-tier Cooper S, and once again comes with both six- and seven-speed transmissions, while the quickest and thriftiest Cooper S 3-Door manages a standing start to 100 km/h in just 7.2 seconds with either gearbox, plus fuel economy ratings of 10.2 L/100km in the city, 7.1 on the highway and 8.8 combined with the manual, or a respective 8.9, 6.6 and 7.9 with the auto.
The best fuel economy of all, however, comes from Mini’s Cooper SE, which uses a 181 horsepower electric motor (with 199 lb-ft of torque) and 32.6-kWh lithium-ion battery to drive the front wheels, resulting in “fuel economy” of about 16.9 to 14.9 kWh/ 100 km (according to NEDC). Its 177-km range, makes it only suitable for urban use, however, which means you’ll need to leave it at home for longer road trips… a shame.
The Mini Cooper 3 Door and Convertible only have four seatbelts, which is probably all you’d ever want to try and fit in anyway (especially in the latter), while 5 Door and Clubman models feature seating for five, the latter housing five adults (kind of) being that it’s not only 454 mm (17.9 in) lengthier than the 3 Door and 293 mm (11.5 in) longer than the 5 Door, with a wheelbase that spans an extra 175 mm (6.9 in) and 103 mm (4.0 in) respectively, but also 74 mm (2.9 in) wider, which of course matters even more when stuffing three abreast. At 1,801 mm (70.9 in), the Clubman is also wider than anything in this class save Audi’s A3, while its wheelbase is identical to Acura’s ILX and BMW’s 2 Series Gran Coupe, plus longer than the A3’s and BMW’s diminutive i3, the latter of which is still longer than both 3 and 5 Door Minis.
As you might have imagined, dedicated cargo capacity is most generous in the Clubman too, growing from just 160 litres (6.0 cubic feet) in the Convertible, 211 litres (7.0 cu ft) in the 3 Door, and 278 litres (10 cu ft) in the 5 Door, to 495 litres (17.5 cu ft) in the Clubman, which, in fact, is the same as the Countryman SUV.
As far as sales go, Mini delivered 2,739 examples of its four-model car lineup to Canadians in 2020 (not including the Countryman crossover), and also saw another 2,111 low-slung units leave its dealerships over the first nine months of this year, which makes it look like the brand will surpass last year’s rather poor showing when 2021 comes to an end, but it probably won’t realize as many car sales as in decades past. Prior to 2020, Mini’s worst calendar year on record for car deliveries was 2004 when it only sold 2,800 Cooper hatchbacks, but most other years the brand’s cars ranged between 3,500 and 5,500 Canadian sales.
So far, there’s no serious challenger to Mini’s collective Cooper car line when it comes to sales success in this class, but as mentioned earlier in this report, the real growth in the entry-level luxury sector is happening in the subcompact luxury crossover SUV category, in which Mini’s Countryman sits ninth out of 12 competitors (see the “Top 5 Subcompact Luxury Crossover SUVs: Audi’s Q3 still in the lead… for now” story). Mini will likely need to achieve much greater success in that burgeoning category in order to keep funding the niche models in its car lineup, so as not to continue eroding what is currently a diverse offering.
Notably, Mini both expanded and contracted this car line dramatically from 2012 through 2017, with the introductions and then cancellations of the 2012–2015 Cooper Coupe and Cooper Roadster models. The 2013–2016 Cooper Paceman (a three-door crossover coupe based on the Countryman) was its attempt to widen its small SUV offering, a la BMW X2, but slow take-rates for all of these creative offerings have now turned them into modern-day collectables. To be clear, like all Minis these were brilliantly fun niche models that we were admittedly excited about initially, and while all three might now be seen as mistakes that negatively impacted the brand’s bottom line, having eaten up significant R&D money that could’ve gone elsewhere, it’s hard to criticize the brand for thinking outside of the box, or rather two-box design layout, and trying something completely different.
Still, it’s hard to keep a brand that’s as enjoyable to drive as Mini down (even its perennially low Consumer Reports reliability rating can’t do that), and while parent company BMW’s 2 Series is on a roll that could possibly see it pass by the Cooper for overall sales leadership in Canada (read about that below), diehard Mini enthusiasts (and there are many) continue to love what makes these little sprites segment best-sellers.
Mercedes’ A-Class leads sales of traditionally desirable subcompact luxury cars
Mercedes-Benz is arguably the most premium of luxury brands overall, this side of Rolls-Royce, Bentley, the Stuttgart-based automaker’s own Maybach marque, and a bunch of supercar makes like Aston Martin, Lamborghini, McLaren, and of course Ferrari, so therefore, acquiring a sleek sport sedan or hot hatch bearing the famed three-pointed star will be seen by many as quite the accomplishment. This said, the most affordable way to do so comes by way of the A-Class, made available to Canadian new car buyers as of the 2019 model year.
The A-Class, available in both A 220 4Matic four-door sedan (see our review of the A 220 4Matic here) and A 250 4Matic five-door hatchback (see our review of the A 250 4Matic Hatch here) trims and body styles, plus sportier AMG A 35 versions of each, quickly earned the top-spot in the compact B-segment amongst traditionally desirable brands, thanks to managing 2,355 deliveries amidst a difficult 2020, which saw sales of most models in this category slide south, although 2021 already looks stronger for the entry-level Mercedes model thanks to 1,517 units sold throughout the first three quarters of the year, even though this positive growth now leaves it in the negative when compared to BMW’s increasingly popular 2 Series, which was made available with four doors as of model year 2020 (more on that in a minute).
To be totally fair, CLA-Class numbers should really be included in Mercedes’ overall segment sales, because it’s really the same car as the A-Class under its sleeker, more coupe-like skin, while most three-pointed star competitors, such as the just-covered Mini Cooper and BMW’s 2 Series, lump all of their subcompact body styles under one model name. This said, combining all the 2020 A-Class deliveries with the 1,085 CLAs sold in the same year results in a total of 3,440 B-segment sales for Mercedes, along the number-one position overall. Then again, if we’re looking at total automaker sales, BMW AG’s namesake brand and Mini combined for 3,881 deliveries in 2020 (including 168 i3 EVs), which puts the Bavarian marque on top. Likewise, the German and British brands’ combined Q3 sales of 4,033 units give it an even stronger lead so far in 2021, so Mercedes has some catching up to do.
This shouldn’t be a problem, thanks to a diverse A-Class engine lineup. The base A 220 sedan comes with a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder good for 188 horsepower and 221 lb-ft of torque, while the same engine in the A 250 hatch makes 221 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. Move up to the A 35 in either model, and the little 2.0-litre powerplant puts out an impressive 302 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, making them two of the most exciting cars in their class to drive. What’s more, all A-Class models are some of the easiest to keep in their respective lanes, no matter the weather condition, due to standard 4Matic all-wheel drive.
Paddle-shifters enhance control of a standard 7G-DCT seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, which also includes a standard ECO Start/Stop system to save on fuel, resulting in a 9.6 L/100km city, 6.9 highway and 8.4 combined rating for the A 220 sedan; a 9.4 city, 6.8 highway and 8.2 combined rating for the A 250 hatch; or a respective 10.7, 8.2 and 9.5 for both AMG A 35 models.
The A-Class’ near-longest 2,729 mm (107.4 in) wheelbase means both front and rear seating is comfortable for this small car category, while its fractionally narrower than average 1,796 mm (70.5 in) width (not including mirrors) shouldn’t make much of a difference from side-to-side.
At 243 litres (8.6 cu-ft), the sedan’s trunk is the smallest in the class, however, other than the two aforementioned Mini 3 Door models, but the hatchback’s cargo compartment is larger than average at 370 litres (13.0 cu ft), plus both provide more space when the rear seat is folded forward, made even more convenient with a 40/20/40-divided split.
Due to very few negatives, most A-Class customers are very satisfied with their purchases, as evidenced by the model’s top ranking in the “Compact Luxury Car” category in AutoPacific’s 2021 Vehicle Satisfaction Awards, while J.D. Power named it runner-up in the “Small Premium Car” segment of its latest 2021 U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study (the sportier CLA-Class earned the top position). Last but hardly least, Vincentric placed it on top of the “Luxury Compact” class of its Best Fleet Value in Canada Awards, something it also achieved in the U.S.
Interestingly, none of the cars in this top five list even rated in the “Entry-Luxury-Car” category’s top three for Canadian Black Book’s latest 2020 Best Retained Value Awards, but this is (at least partially) because CBB includes pricier C-segment models, such as Mercedes’ own C-Class that claimed the highest accolades, as entry-level models. Likewise, Lexus’ mid-size ES, which was one of the runners-up, is considered entry-level by CBB too.
Ironically, being that residual values are all about pre-owned cars, with CBB’s awards going to three-year old vehicles, the ES was tied with Lexus’ now discontinued CT 200h. Obviously, Lexus models hold their value very well amongst small luxury cars, but then again, Mercedes does too, so it’s possible we’ll see the A-Class replace the CT for top-three residual value leadership when it’s been on the market long enough to qualify.
Expect major upsurge in Audi A3 sales when redesigned model arrives for 2022
Audi deserves credit for being the first German luxury carmaker to offer a four-door sedan in this compact B-Segment, with the advent of the redesigned 2015 A3 that was also available in higher performance S3 tune, plus as an A3 Cabriolet (Acura’s EL was the first entry-luxury sedan when it arrived in 1997, while the A3 was a five-door hatch from model years 2006 to 2014). An even more potent RS 3 sedan made this class of subcompacts shine in 2018, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Moving into the 2022 model year after technically not providing a 2021 car, the Cabriolet has been discontinued and all-new redesigned A3, S3 and RS 3 sedans are on the way. These should help boost the Ingolstadt-based brand’s future prospects in this waning segment, thanks to sharper styling, a modernized interior, and upgraded performance.
Now in its fourth generation, the new A3 rides on the same MQB platform used for the eighth-generation 2022 Volkswagen Golf (which kind of qualifies for entry-level luxury status on its own, at least in GTI and R trims), making it slightly longer, a bit wider and fractionally taller than the outgoing model, but the sedan’s 2,636 mm (103.8 in) wheelbase doesn’t change, so the extra 40 mm (1.6 in) of length has mostly gone to cargo capacity that’s up 64 litres (2.2 cu ft) to 348 litres (12.3 cu ft), from just 284 litres (10.0 cu ft) in previous years.
Just like its predecessor, the Canadian-spec A4 and S4 will receive one S Tronic seven-speed dual-clutch automated gearbox shared between them, plus two different versions of the same 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine, although staying true with the times means that a 48-volt mild hybrid system has been added to the mix. While fuel economy will no doubt improve, aided further by coasting capability the shuts the internal combustion portion of the drivetrain off when not needed to maintain speed (i.e. going downhill), the hybrid system will also boost base performance from 184 horsepower to 201, although torque actually inches downward from 222 lb-ft to 221. This should result in a quicker zero to 100 km/h sprint time than the current car, which is rated at 6.2 seconds, but so far Audi hasn’t announced such numbers for the new model.
The 2022 S3, on the other hand, can dash from standstill to 100 km/h in 4.8 seconds, shaving a tenth from the old car’s sprint time thanks to a move up from 288 horsepower to 306, whereas its electronically-limited top track speed of 250 km/h is identical to the outgoing model.
Lastly, a new RS 3 is on the way, with a reported 401 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque from a turbocharged 2.5-litre five-cylinder engine. It catapults from a standing start to 100 km/h in just 3.8 seconds before topping out at 290 km/h (180 mph), while the new car’s handling will be improved with a torque-vectoring rear axle dubbed Torque Splitter, which was designed to reduce understeer while maintaining the Quattro AWD system’s legendary high-speed grip.
Identically to the outgoing A3, 2022 Canadian-spec trim levels include Komfort, Progressiv and Technik, but the new car now comes standard with Quattro AWD, which has caused base pricing to increase substantially from $34,500 in 2020, to $38,900 (plus freight and fees) this coming year. The S3, which already included Quattro as standard, will now start $47,900. This is actually a decrease of $500 due to base Komfort trim now becoming available (Progressiv was the S3’s previous base trim). Of note, Audi is currently offering up to $1,000 in additional incentives when purchasing a new 2022 A3.
Improvements inside the 2022 A3 include a 10.3-inch version of Audi’s superb Virtual Cockpit digital gauge cluster as standard equipment, plus a new 10.1-inch fixed infotainment display at centre, or a 12.3-inch upgrade, instead of the old pop-up unit that, while kind of awesome in its own way, is about as useful as pop-up headlights now that most jurisdictions require us to run with our front lamps on during the day. Therefore, as much as we might miss the main monitor powering up out of the dash during startup, or better yet, disappearing altogether on a night drive, the new larger display is more in keeping with today’s technology-first world, while it also integrates much more advanced high-definition capability along with updated graphics.
AS far as awards go, the outgoing A3 earned runner-up in the “Small Premium Car” category of J.D. Power’s 2021 U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS), which was won by BMW’s 2 Series.
Gran Coupe has given BMW’s 2 Series line the shot in the arm it’s always needed
BMW’s 2 Series made the greatest B-segment gains in sales over the past year, mostly due to the aforementioned Gran Coupe. While year-over-year 2 Series deliveries only grew by 13 percent in 2020, up from 1,202 to 1,358 units, sales have already increased by more than 33 percent over the first nine months of 2021, now totaling 1,811 units for a current ranking of third in class. Of course, we need to factor Audi’s lack of 2021 A3, S3 and RS 3 models into any future prognostications, which, as noted earlier, caused their deliveries to almost completely disappear, thus we’ll need to see how well the new A3, and the completely redesigned 2 Series Coupe, fare in the coming year.
Yes, while the four-door variant of this model only gets minor package and standalone options changes for 2022, the two-door coupe has undergone a ground-up redesign, and most should like what they see. For starters, BMW chose a more conventional twin-kidney frontal grille compared to its larger 4 Series counterpart, which can best be described (in the kindest way possible) as controversial.
The “G42”, as it’s known internally, will once again feature rear- and all-wheel drive layouts in the U.S. and other markets, albeit so far only the latter has been announced for Canada. Additionally, no 255-horsepower 230i variant is expected in the land of the almost free either, but instead we’ll only get the 382-horsepower inline-six engine mated to a standard paddle shifter-controlled eight-speed automatic transmission—yes, no six-speed manual is available in either market, at least until we see a new M2 (which, fingers crossed, will hopefully have a DIY gearbox). That’s 47 additional horsepower than the outgoing M240i, incidentally, so despite its torque figure dropping down to 369 lb-ft, it still manages a quicker zero to 100 km/h sprint time of 4.1 seconds, while its top track speed remains limited to 250 km/h (155 mph).
An available adaptive M suspension will make the most of a 51-mm (2-in) longer wheelbase, its track also growing by 54 mm (2.1 in) up front and 31 mm (1.2 in) at the back, with near 50:50 weight distribution for almost ideal balance, so handling should be just as crisp. Overall, the 19-kg (42-lb) heavier, 1,755-kg (3,869-lb) 2 Series coupe grows 88 mm (3.4 in) longer and 66 mm (2.6 in) wider than its predecessor, although its 2.5-mm (1.0-in) height reduction makes for slipperier styling.
The longer wheelbase should aid cabin comfort, particularly in the rear, while those up front will benefit from deeper bolsters when upgrading the seats. Some standard niceties include three-zone automatic climate control, showing BMW really does have plans to market this 2 Series to folks with more than one friend, while an upgraded iDrive infotainment system boasts up to 10.3 inches of screen space, with new functions including an upgraded voice control system that can distinguish between driver and passenger commands, plus Connected Parking that notifies the driver of a given destination’s parking issues.
Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration is also standard, with the latter providing full Google Maps integration, but iPhone users shouldn’t feel left out, because they can use NFC connectivity for up to five devices. Additionally, a mobile app makes the new 2’s LTE wi-fi function available from further away, providing the ability to check the car’s location or status, lock or unlock its doors as needed, and even access its external cameras for security’s sake.
The 2 Coupe’s new standard audio system provides 10 speakers and 205 watts of power, but audiophiles will want to upgrade to the Harman Kardon Surround Sound system thanks to its 14-speaker, 464-watt output. Additionally, a colour head-up display system has been added to the options list, projecting current speed, speed limit, and even passing restrictions onto the windshield ahead of the driver.
The new 2022 M240i xDrive is expected to show up at Canadian dealers in November, with pricing starting at $56,950, but as noted earlier there hasn’t been any announcement about the rear-wheel drive 230i. In fact, only the all-wheel version is currently offered on BMW Canada’s retail website, and CarCostCanada’s 2022 BMW 2 Series Canada Prices page isn’t showing a RWD version for 2022 either. This may mean the much-loved and considerably more affordable rear-wheel drive 2 Series coupe won’t be coming north of the 49th.
Likewise, only the M235i xDrive version of the four-door Gran Coupe can currently be seen at CarCostCanada, while the 2022 version of this car isn’t showing up at BMW’s website at all. Instead, the automaker’s new car configurator just allows the 2021 model to be built, with two engine options, the other being the lesser 228i Gran Coupe, which at $38,990 remains the most affordable car in BMW’s Canadian lineup for the time being. If BMW has chosen not to bring its least expensive sedan to Canada, and instead price the most affordable 2 Series at $51,400, expect to see 2 Series sales drop off dramatically moving into the new year.
At least the 2021 2 Series represents good initial value, while all 2 Series trims do well when it comes time to trade in. As noted earlier, it earned the top spot in the “Premium Compact Car” category of J.D. Power’s 2021 Canada ALG Residual Value Awards, and making it an even better bet, the 2 Series took best-in-class honours in the same third-part analytical firm’s 2021 U.S. Initial Quality Study (IQS), within its “Small Premium Car” segment. Additionally, it earned a best-in-class score in the same category of the coveted 2021 U.S. Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS) too. That’s a lot of metal in the trophy cabinet, and reason enough to consider a new 2 Series if your budget allows, or a 2021 model while new ones remain available.
Mercedes takes fifth in sales with its sporty CLA four-door coupe
The previously mentioned Mercedes CLA-Class earned a solid fifth place in the compact B-segment, with 1,085 deliveries last year and 1,031 more over three quarters of 2021. Longer, wider and lower than the A-Class sedan, the CLA makes up for its size increase by being powered by the 221-horsepower version of the 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine, which is also used in the A 250 Hatch. It boasts an identical 258 lb-ft of torque too, but its 75 kg (165lbs) of extra mass means that it’s slightly slower off the line than the hatchback, but its wider track should make up time in the corners.
The gap in off-the-line acceleration narrows to an unnoticeable 0.1 seconds in AMG CLA 35 trim, however, this model using the same 302 horsepower 2.0-litre turbo four as found in both AMG-tuned A-Class models, but the even more formidable AMG CLA 45 leaves all of its lesser siblings far behind with a sprint from zero to 100 km/h of only 4.1 seconds, thanks to 382 horsepower and 354 lb-ft of torque from a heavily massaged version of the same 2.0-litre engine. The CLA 45 gets another cog in its dual-clutch gearbox too, totaling eight, aiding its higher top speed of 270 km/h (168 mph), while 4Matic all-wheel drive is once again standard.
For 2022, the CLA 250 4Matic starts at $43,600, while the AMG CLA 35 4Matic can be had from $52,100, and AMG CLA 45 4Matic from $62,900. Mercedes is currently offering up to $1,000 in additional incentives on 2022 CLA models, while CarCostCanada members are saving an average of $3,000.
How the rest of the subcompact luxury car field stacks up
Acura’s ILX remains a very competent offering in this class, despite its age (see a recent review of the ILX here). It received the brand’s new “Diamond Pentagon” grille as part of a refresh for 2019, and received a boost in sales that year because of it. Deliveries dropped by 58.6 percent in calendar year 2020, with just 774 new buyers compared to 1,871 the year before, but 2021 has seen some strength with 729 down the road as of September 30th, and now with a new 2023 Integra expected to debut soon, Acura’s future in this class is brightening, as is the future of the entire segment that’s soon bolstering its ranks with another new entry. Moving into 2022 it will be last in the class, however, being that BMW’s i3 EV is being discontinued.
On the positive, the ILX achieved runner-up status in the “Small Premium Car” category of J.D. Power’s 2021 U.S. Initial Quality Study (IQS), which means the new 2022 ILX, which moves into the new model year without any notable changes, should be just as well built. It continues forward with one, single, high-revving, naturally aspirated 201-horsepower 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine, a quick-shifting eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission with standard paddle-shifters, front-wheel drive, standard Jewel-Eye LED headlamps, a twin-display infotainment system inside, and a full assortment of AcuraWatch safety and convenience features including Forward Collision Warning, Collision Mitigation Braking, Lane Departure Warning, Lane Keeping Assist, and Road Departure Mitigation, much like the rest of the cars in this class.
ILX prices start at $31,400 in base trim for 2022, and move up to $33,900 for the Premium model, plus $35,400 for the Premium A-Spec, and finally $36,800 for the top-line Tech A-Spec. All ILX trims represent very good value in this segment, especially considering the model’s size and performance, while 2021 models are an even better deal, not only because they’re priced slightly lower, but also due to Acura currently offering up to $1,000 in additional incentives, while CarCostCanada members are averaging big savings of $6,375.
Finally, a special mention should be given to BMW’s all-electric, or optionally range-extender-enhanced (REx) i3, which despite being an elder statesman in this class, and on its way to pasture, provides one of the most inviting interiors in any class, plus supercar-like carbon-fibre composite construction, all for a 2021 base price of $44,950, or $53,600 with the REx. BMW is also offering up to $1,000 in additional incentives, while CarCostCanada members are saving an average of $2,000 from that list price, plus government rebates are available due to its battery plug-in powertrain. As noted previously in this article, the little Bimmer only sold 168 units last year, while just 111 examples have found home in 2021 so far.
There probably won’t be many if any new compact B-segment cars added to this category in the near future, unless Tesla or one of its EV rivals decides to offer an even smaller four-door sedan than the Model 3, or if Mazda’s 3 sedan and hatch move even further upmarket than their near-luxury top-tier GT has already gone, with higher pricing to match, but we may see alternative body styles of current models remerge, such as an A3 Sportback to counter Mercedes’ A-Class Hatch (see our review of the A 250 4Matic here), being that such layouts very popular in Quebec where European tastes remain dominant. Audi may also want to consider its A1 Sportback, especially if fuel costs keep rising and target entry customers’ expendable incomes are impacted by market instability, while BMW might be wise to consider its five-door 1 Series for the same reasons.
Be sure to check out the gallery (above) for photos of each and every subcompact luxury car mentioned in this Top 5 overview, plus use all the linked model names throughout the article to find out more about each car. Also, be sure to find out how CarCostCanada can save you thousands off your next new vehicle purchase, and remember to download their free app from the Google Play Store or Apple Store.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann
Photo credits: Manufacturer supplied photos
Subcompact crossover SUVs are the new gateway to the luxury market sector, so therefore if a premium brand doesn’t have one in its lineup, it’s missing out on an important conduit for conquesting…
Subcompact crossover SUVs are the new gateway to the luxury market sector, so therefore if a premium brand doesn’t have one in its lineup, it’s missing out on an important conduit for conquesting new luxury buyers.
Let’s face it, small luxury sedans and hatchbacks aren’t selling as well as they used to. Certainly, Mercedes-Benz has enjoyed recent success with its affordable new A-Class sedan and hatchback thanks to 2,355 buyers in Canada throughout 2020, plus a reasonable take-rate for its updated CLA four-door coupe at 1,085 units over the same 12 months, while BMW’s new four-door 2 Series Gran Coupe (redesigned for 2022) helped that three-model line stay relevant with 1,358 deliveries last year (the 2 Series Cabriolet will be discontinued for 2022), although Audi’s A3 (plus the S3 and RS3), that was doing decently with 1,720 sales in 2020, saw its numbers fall off a cliff over the first six months of this year with just 131 down Canadian roads, but this was more than likely due to an all-new 2022 model arriving in four-ringed dealers as “pen” goes to “paper” (the A3 Cabriolet was just cancelled, but an all-new 400+hp RS 3 Sedan is expected soon).
That’s a good sign for small sedan lovers, but the return of this now niche model is only possible because Audi does so well in the crossover SUV sector. The same goes for its German counterparts, plus Japan’s lone small sedan contester, Acura, that only sold 774 ILX sedans in Canada last year. They’d better get a move on with their long rumoured CDX subcompact luxury SUV, because as noted a moment ago, they’re missing out on an important gateway for Honda HR-V fans (and there are plenty of them) that want something a bit more upscale (will it happen when the soon-to-be nine-year-old HR-V gets a redesign for 2023?).
To put things into perspective, last year’s best-selling subcompact luxury car was Mini’s Cooper with 2,739 units down Canadian roads (thanks to 3-Door, 5-Door, extended Clubman, and Convertible variants), while the subcompact luxury crossover SUV segment’s chart-topping Buick Encore found 6,650 new buyers last year, plus that model’s stretched and modernized Encore GX sibling pulled in another 5,045 for a total of 11,695 units. Granted, some will find it another stretch to consider Buick a premium brand at all, this especially true in the smallest of SUV categories where the Encore is priced tens of thousands lower than most “rivals” at under $25k (plus up to $1,000 in additional incentives and average CarCostCanada member savings of $10,000), but it does go to show how important this burgeoning segment is to luxury carmakers (and entry-level luxury brands).
Audi Q3 tops the subcompact luxury SUV list amongst desirable premium brands
No doubt, some of the dwindling Audi A3 buyers mentioned a minute ago have gravitated to the taller, more utile Q3 in recent years, noted by sales that have steadily grown from 1,566 units in 2014, when it first arrived, to 5,949 deliveries throughout 2020, making the Q3 the true best-selling model in the subcompact “luxury” crossover SUV class (sorry Buick). Even better, Audi sold 4,224 Q3s over the first half of 2021, once again showing every competitor how critically important this new category is to securing future growth.
Moving into the 2022 model year, Canadian-spec Q3s are available in three trims including Komfort, Progressiv and Technik, all standard with a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine, eight-speed automatic, and the brand’s renowned Quattro all-wheel drive system. The base “40” engine makes 184 horsepower and 221 lb-ft of torque, resulting in a 9.1-second sprint from standstill to 100km/h, while a more potent version of the same powerplant, dubbed “45”, is good for 228 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, resulting in a much more satisfying 7.4 seconds from zero to 100 km/h.
Fuel economy is a Q3 strongpoint, with a claimed rating of 10.4 L/100km in the city, 7.7 on the highway and 9.2 combined for the more economical 40 engine tuning, or 11.7, 8.4 and 10.2 respectively when moving up to the 45. A fully independent MacPherson strut front and four-link rear suspension setup makes sure handling is nimble too.
The base 2022 Q3 40 TFSI Quattro starts at $38,400 (plus freight and fees), while the top-line Technik 45 TFSI Quattro is available from $47,200, plus nearly $5,000 in options are available. What’s more, Audi is currently offering up to $1,000 in additional incentives for 2022 Q3 buyers, although average CarCostCanada membership savings are currently $2,200, so therefore, make sure you find out how dealer invoice pricing can save you thousands too.
Those buying a new Q3 have the confidence that it’ll hold its value better than some competitors, thanks to its runner-up status in the latest Canadian Black Book 2020 Best Retained Value Awards in the “Sub-Compact Luxury Crossover” category, where the Győr, Hungary-made crossover matched BMW’s X1, and was beaten by Mercedes’ GLA.
The Q3 also tied for runner-up in the “Small Premium SUV” segment of the latest 2021 J.D. Power Initial Quality Study (IQS), matching the Volvo XC40, but both Europeans were edged out by Lexus’ new UX. Additionally, the same third-party analytical firm’s 2021 Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS) has it solely owning the runner-up position in the same category, once again behind the GLA.
Lexus UX second in sales after just two years on the market
Lexus smartly said goodbye to its Prius-based CT 200h hybrid compact hatchback in 2017, and hello to the new UX soon after in 2019, thus helping to pave the way for other automakers to do likewise once realizing the Japanese luxury brand’s ability to earn second place on the sales charts in less than two years of availability.
A total of 2,520 UX models rolled out of Lexus dealerships in 2020, beating a best-ever total of 1,640 CT 200h deliveries in 2012, which is a gain of more than 50 percent, while at the close of Q2 2021 the UX had found 1,525 new buyers, showing that it’s on target for an even stronger third year.
For 2022, the UX is only available with one drivetrain in Canada, having dropped its entry-level front-wheel drive UX 200 designation north of the 49th parallel (and we’re guessing Alaska, Hawaii, etcetera, too). This means last year’s base window sticker of $38,450 gets a $2,250 bump up to $40,700 for 2022, but that’s a small price to pay for all-wheel drive, via an electric motor driving the rear wheels, plus a more potent hybrid drivetrain that’s better on fuel. Before segueing into the UX 250h model’s performance and fuel-efficiency advantages, it should be said that Lexus is currently offering factory leasing and financing rates from 2.9 percent, while CarCostCanada members were saving an average of $1,964 at the time of writing.
Where the outgoing UX 200 only put 169 horsepower down to the front wheels, the UX 250h once again makes 181 net horsepower, which gets close to base Q3 performance on paper, and actually matches it on asphalt as well, evidenced by its 9.1-second 0-100 km/h acceleration in a straight line (the discontinued UX 200 managed 9.2 seconds).
The UX 250h also delivers much better fuel economy that’s estimated at 5.7 L/100 city, 6.2 highway and 6.0 combined, a feat that’s no doubt assisted by a standard continuously variable transmission (CVT), albeit expensing some performance. More engaging F Sport trim adds paddle shifters, however, making the most of the equipment on hand, which includes standard Sport mode that, together with the UX’ well balanced front strut and multi-link rear suspension setup, improves fast-paced handling.
As noted earlier, the UX claimed top spot in J.D. Power’s 2021 Initial Quality Study, while it also tied for runner-up with the GLA in the same company’s 2021 U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, only beaten by the XC40, while the entire Lexus brand topped J.D. Power’s 2021 Vehicle Dependability Study overall, and is also the most reliable luxury brand according to Consumer Reports.
Additional reasons to consider the new UX include J.D. Power’s 2021 Canada ALG Residual Value Awards that ranked it number one in its Premium Subcompact Utility Vehicle” category, while the UX also achieved a best-in-class score in the “Luxury Compact SUV/Crossover” segment of Vincentric’s Best Value in Canada Awards (be sure to check out our 2021 Lexus UX Road Test).
BMW X1 slipping in popularity yet still a top-three contender
Talk to anyone considering a step up from a mainstream volume brand into the luxury sector and the names BMW and Mercedes-Benz will inevitably be included in the conversation, and for good reason. With almost and more than a century respectively behind them, the two German brands have earned most consumers’ respect, and the prestige that followed plays an important part in premium brand decision making.
While priced near the bottom of BMW’s lineup, at $42,425 (the aforementioned 2 Series Gran Coupe is $1,000 less), the base 2022 X1 xDrive28i is hardly the least expensive SUV in the subcompact class (although up to $1,000 in additional incentives and average CarCostCanada member savings of $2,000 might help). Still, 2,384 new buyers didn’t mind paying close to that much in calendar year 2020.
What’s more, after six months of 2021, the X1 had managed to sneak past Lexus’ UX with 1,616 deliveries to its credit, but these numbers are a far cry from sales in 2017, 2018 and 2019, that saw the X1’s popularity steadily slipping downward from its once grand heights of 6,120, 5,308, and 4,420 units respectively.
This negative trajectory might have something to do with the sportier X2 stealing 1,856 buyers after arriving in 2018, although the sleeker SUV’s sales have been sliding too, with 1,383 delivered in 2019 and just 790 in 2020. As of Q2 2021’s close, a 495-unit midterm tally looks like it might be improving on last year’s total, so we’ll need to see how things shake out after the rest of the year gets added up.
The X1’s performance wouldn’t be the issue holding buyers back from signing on the dotted line, however, as its sole 2.0-litre turbo-four puts out 228 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, resulting in a blistering (compared to most competitors) 6.2-second sprint from zero to 100 km/h, thanks in part to a quick-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission, and standard all-wheel drive, while the latter aids the front MacPherson strut and rear multi-link suspension make BMW’s usual magic through the corners (although take note, the first-generation X1 was a sharper handler, with this one increasing the comfort quotient).
The X1 also performs well when it comes to utility, offering the most dedicated cargo volume available in the entire class at 767 litres (27.1 cu ft). Additionally, folding its conveniently-divided 40/20/40-split rear seatbacks forward results in a grand total of 1,775 litres (58.7 cu ft) of gear-toting space, also the most in the segment.
The next best is Mercedes’ new GLB-Class, incidentally, with 700 and 1,680 litres (24.0 and 62.0 cu ft) respectively, while the worst when it comes to dedicated cargo room is the same automaker’s GLA-Class with a token 435 litres (15.0 cu ft) to its name, which it mostly makes up for when dropping its rear seats down, resulting 1,430 litres (50.5 cu ft) of load-hauling capacity. In case you were wondering, Infiniti’s decommissioned QX30, which was developed alongside the GLA-Class, offered more space behind the rear seats at 543 litres (19.2 cu ft), but it suffered from the least amount ever offered in this class when laid flat, at 963 litres (34.0 cu ft). This may have been one of the key reasons for its slow sales, as the great-looking QX30 was a wonderful little SUV other than that.
Volvo XC40 earns a well-deserved fourth place on the sales charts
Speaking of cargo shortcomings, Volvo’s XC40 can’t attribute its top-five success to luggage carrying prowess, being that it only manages a scant 586 litres (20.7 cu ft) of volume behind the rear seats, and 1,336 litres (47.2 cu ft) when folded, making it the third smallest in the segment (not including the Encore) with respect to the former, and second smallest (including the Encore) for the latter, but it does most everything else so well that its consumer take-rate truly deserves to be above average.
Like the majority in this subcompact luxury SUV class, the XC40 is the most affordable way to own a new Volvo, not to mention that it’s one of just five contenders in this 10-model segment priced below $40k. Specifically, the base XC40 Momentum T4 AWD starts at $39,950 for 2022 (plus Volvo is offering up to $1,000 in additional incentives, while CarCostCanada members are saving an average of $2,250), and packs a lot of style, quality, performance and versatility for its small package.
At 4,425 mm (174.2 in), it’s actually the shortest from nose to tail amongst the top five, yet its 2,702-mm (106.4-in) wheelbase is longer than all of the above (although not the Mercedes-Benz GLB-Class below), which gives it an athletic visual stance while making as much of the available interior space as possible.
Another bonus is the XC40’s multiplicity of powertrains, starting with the T4 designated engine only available in base Mlomentum trim. With 187 horsepower and 221 lb-ft of torque from a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, it’s nowhere near the least potent in the category, and at just over 8 seconds from a standing start to 100 km/h, it’s hardly the slowest base model either. Much of its energetic takeoff can be attributed to its precise-shifting eight-speed automatic transmission and just-noted standard AWD, while the fuel economy tradeoff is reasonable at 10.2 L/100km in the city, 7.5 on the highway and 9.0 combined.
Moving up to the T5, a stronger version of the same engine doesn’t impact efficiency much either, with a claimed rating of 10.7 city, 7.7 highway and 9.4 combined, especially considering output increases to 248 horsepower, torque to 258 lb-ft, and its zero to 100 km/h time comes down to just 7.2 seconds.
So far so good, but speed demons will want to move up yet another notch on the ladder to the XC40 Recharge Pure Electric, an EV version of the little SUV that’ll blast from standstill to 100 km/h in a mere 4.9 seconds, making it one of the fastest subcompact luxury SUVs currently available. The Recharge incorporates a 75-kWh battery and two electric motors for a resultant 402-horsepower, plus the grip of AWD. What’s more, it can travel up to 335 km (208 miles) on a single charge.
The XC40 Recharge is already gaining respect in the industry too, with highest marks in the “Luxury Electric/Plug-In Hybrid SUV/Crossover” category of Vincentric’s Best Value in Canada Awards for consumers. The regular XC40 has also done well, with a top-tier result in the “Compact Luxury Crossover SUV” class of AutoPacific’s most recent 2020 Ideal Vehicle Awards, plus as noted earlier, it tied with the Q3 in the “Small Premium SUV” category of J.D. Power’s 2021 Initial Quality Study, while also receiving best-possible honours in the same firm’s 2021 U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study. That’s quite the trophy case!
As for sales numbers, both conventional and electric versions accounted for 2,254 Canadian deliveries in 2020, its best year yet (out of two full years), while it already achieved sales of 1,829 units by this year’s halfway mark, putting it on target for second in the class if momentum (sorry for the pun) continues. Again, the XC40 deserves its success.
Mercedes GLB newcomer edges ahead of GLA for top-5 honours
Mercedes believes so much in the entry-level luxury SUV sector that it introduced a second entry for 2020, and despite being the new GLB’s first full year on the scene it still managed to edge out the smaller GLA with 1,775 units to 1,759. Any question about which model will dominate moving forward is being answered this year, with the first six months of 2021 resulting in 1,474 deliveries for the GLB and 1,291 for the GLA.
To be totally fair to Mercedes, like BMW and its X1/X2 combo, the GLA/GLB duo actually compete with each other as much as they battle against rival brands, so therefore when combining the sales of both SUVs into one, the three-pointed star brand ended up second in the class with 3,534 units rolling out of its Canadian dealerships last year, while even better, it found 2,765 new subcompact crossover SUV buyers over the first two quarters of 2021.
While the two models offer very different takes on styling, size and utility, the fact you can get into the larger GLB for only slightly more than the diminutive GLA might have more to do with its success than its more traditional, upright, SUV-like design. Size in mind, the new GLB-Class is 224 mm (8,8 in) longer than the GLA-Class, at 4,634 mm (182.4 in) from front to back, while its wheelbase spans 100 mm (3.9 in) more. That makes it just 22 mm (0.9 in) shorter than the compact luxury GLC-Class, although true to its subcompact classification, the GLB’s 1,834-mm (72.2-in) width is 56 mm (2.2 in) narrower than the GLC, while identical to the GLA’s width. Its height, however, is 20 mm (0.8 in) taller than the larger GLC, and 47 mm (1.8 in) higher than the GLA, making it the clear winner for headroom.
The GLB’s second-best-in-class cargo capacity was already noted (in the X1 overview), but differences between the GLB and GLA weren’t covered, those being 265 litres (9.3 cu ft) of extra space behind the larger SUV’s rear seats, and 250 litres (8.8 cu ft) more when both second-row backrests are laid flat.
Pricing for the GLA starts at $42,400 (plus up to $1,000 in additional incentives and average CarCostCanada member savings of $1,750), whereas the most affordable GLB begins at $46,500 (plus up to $1,000 in additional incentives and average CarCostCanada member savings of $2,450), while AMG 35 variants of both models are priced at $52,900 and $57,500 respectively.
AMG? That’s right. Mercedes hasn’t forgotten to include performance variants, even in this more affordable market segment. Both M-B models offer a fuel economy-focused variant and at least one that makes daily commutes and weekend getaways a lot more fun, with the GLA and GLB 250 4Matic duo utilizing a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder that’s good for 221 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, plus the AMG GLA and GLB 35 4Matic models make a sizeable 302 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque.
Straight-line acceleration equals 6.7 seconds to 100 km/h for the base GLA and 6.9 for the GLB, while the AMG versions scoot away to the same speed from a stoplight at 4.9 and 5.2 seconds apiece. Shifts are lightning quick too, thanks to an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission, while economy is decent considering their go-fast capability, with the GLB rated at 10.3 L/100km in the city, 7.8 on the highway and 9.2 combined in its most efficient form, or a respective 11.1, 8.9 and 10.1 with its formidable AMG badging. Similarly, the GLA is good for a claimed 9.8 city, 7.2 highway and 8.7 combined rating in base form, or 10.4, 8.1 and 9.4 with its mid-range AMG-lite upgrade.
AMG-lite? Yes, there’s more. Mercedes’ GLA can also be had in brilliantly fun AMG GLA 45 4Matic trim, which means for $60,500 its 2.0-litre turbo four puts out a whopping 382 horsepower and 354 lb-ft of torque, resulting in the segment’s fastest acceleration at just 4.4 seconds to 100 km/h.
How the rest of the subcompact luxury crossover SUV field stacks up
Enough has already been said about the sixth-place GLA-Class throughout this top-5 review, particularly when it comes to its many awards, which left the Mini Countryman (available from $32,990, less up to $3,000 in additional incentives) in the luxury crossover SUV segment’s seventh sales spot last year with 1,637 deliveries, although 2021 might lower its ranking significantly, as the BMW-owned British brand had only sold 310 examples as of Q2 2021’s end (a chip shortage issue?).
The Countryman’s lacklustre 2021 sales performance is just a bit more than half as much of the ninth-place Land Rover Range Rover Evoque’s January-through-June year-to-date tally of 609 deliveries ($49,950 for the P250 AWD, plus factory leasing and financing rates from zero percent and average CarCostCanada member savings of $1,000), after selling 1,410 units last year, while BMW’s X2 ($44,950, plus up to $1,000 in additional incentives and average CarCostCanada member savings of $3,000) once again found 790 customers in 2020 and 495 over the first six months of this year.
Last, but nowhere near least when it comes to premium-level accoutrements, features and performance, is Jaguar’s somewhat pricier E-Pace ($51,500, plus factory leasing and financing rates from zero percent and average CarCostCanada member savings of $1,250) that earned just 265 sales last year and a nominal 80 as of June 30, 2021. The E-Pace, which initially hit our market in 2017, was stylishly refreshed from the outside in for 2021, and truly deserves more love than it gets.
That covers everything in the subcompact luxury crossover SUV segment, so far at least, but stay tuned for Alfa Romeo’s new Tonale, which should provide a lot of performance in a small package, and who knows, maybe Acura’s CDX, or whatever they’ll eventually call it, will arrive alongside the upcoming HR-V. We should also expect an entry-level Genesis crossover in this class, because the South Korean premium upstart is working feverishly to fill holes in its new lineup, evidenced by their new 2022 GV70 compact luxury SUV, and the just-announced all-electric GV60. Being that we all now know how important this smallest of SUV categories is, could a Cadillac XT3 be in the works? Lincoln needs to attract new entry-level buyers too, so due to their naval naming scheme theme we think a new Patrol is in order (although Nissan may own the global name for its Armada in our market too, so maybe the tiny ship’s “Cyclone” class designation would be more fitting. We don’t think a new Infiniti QX30 is in the works, however, being how terribly Nissan’s luxury brand is struggling to survive right now.
Likelier, expect larger, more profitable luxury brands such as Audi and Lexus to double down on their efforts by supplementing their existing models with roomier alternatives, just like Mercedes has done with the GLB, or sportier variants like BMW’s X2.
Be sure to check out the gallery (above) for photos of each and every subcompact luxury SUV mentioned in this Top 5 overview (even the Buicks), plus use the linked model names throughout the article to find out more about each SUV.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann
Photo credits: Manufacturer supplied photos
In the automotive industry, especially the premium sector, there’s no set formula a brand can simply follow in order to find success. Lexus and Infiniti both arrived on the North American luxury scene…
In the automotive industry, especially the premium sector, there’s no set formula a brand can simply follow in order to find success. Lexus and Infiniti both arrived on the North American luxury scene around the same time in 1989, about three years after Acura, but Lexus has achieved far greater overall sales success than the other two Japanese marques.
Last year, Lexus sold 23,793 new vehicles into the Canadian market and 275,042 units in the U.S., while Acura sold 16,712 and 136,982 cars and crossovers respectively, but Infiniti found just 5,786 and 79,503 buyers. Where Lexus placed fourth in both markets, and Acura a respectable fifth and seventh, Infiniti only managed 12th out of 17 luxury brands (including Buick and Mini, but not Maserati, Bentley, etcetera).
The same scenario has played out in separate segments, where Lexus’ RX has dominated in the two-row mid-size SUV arena and Acura’s MDX amongst three-row mid-size utilities, whereas the latter brand’s RDX has mostly topped the Canadian sales charts in the compact luxury SUV class, although in the US it’s dropped down the podium thanks to Lexus’ NX that sat in second place as of the close of 2020.
Infiniti should be given a shout out for helping to initiate the subcompact luxury SUV category along with Mercedes-Benz, the two brand’s codeveloping the GLA and QX30, but alas the latter left the market after 2019, just when Lexus swooped in to sweep up the spoils with its tiny UX. That ultra-angled utility now sits third in the Canadian subcompact luxury SUV segment and sixth in the U.S., behind Buick’s Encore and Audi’ Q3 in the northern jurisdiction, plus the just-noted GLA, Volvo’s XC40, and Mercedes’ slightly larger GLB in the mostly southern nation.
Acura has yet to offer anything in this class, which is odd considering Mini and Jaguar, two of the slower selling brands in the premium sector, do. Even Alfa Romeo will enter the fray with their Tonale next year, so we may eventually see a CDX, as the rumour-mill has been calling it, at some point in the future. As it is, the Encore, Q3 and UX are followed by the BMW X1, XC40, GLB, Mini Countryman, GLA, Range Rover Evoque, the coupe-like BMW X2, and the Jaguar E-Pace. As for others that might come down the pipeline, Cadillac is enjoying a reasonable take-rate for its larger compact XT4, so an XT3 could potentially be based on Buick’s slightly larger new Encore GX, and we’ve got to expect that Hyundai’s upstart Genesis brand will want in on some of this action too.
This is becoming the entry-level gateway for many luxury brands, after all. Lexus gave up on its smallest CT 200h hatchback back in 2017, only leaving the Germans (including Mini) and Acura’s beleaguered ILX to fight over the remaining scraps, so it’s either join the subcompact luxury SUV party or hope you’ll manage to snag up-and-coming premium customers that bypass the subcompact sector altogether. That’s a choice most are finding too risky to take, hence the quick buildup of new offerings in this relatively new category, despite significantly lower sales than larger compact SUVs.
At first glance, it’s difficult to tell the UX shares underpinnings with Toyota’s CH-R, but of course a lot of cars and SUVs utilize the Japanese automaker’s TNGA-C platform architecture, including the Corolla and Prius. Where the CH-R is swoopy and curvaceous, the UX is all angles and sharp creases, plus its big spindle grille could never be mistaken for anything but a Lexus. A menacing set of LED headlamps, complete with Lexus’ checkmark signatures, hover above vertical corner vents for some sportiness, while at the rear, even more angular taillights appear as if they’re being stretched apart by a narrowing strip of LEDs at centre.
This seems as good a point as any to point out that I tested two different UX trims, both featuring Lexus’ electrified 250h AWD running gear, the Nebula Grey Pearl (more of a taupe) example featuring the regular body style and the Ultra White version dressed up with Lexus’ more performance-oriented F Sport design details. Rather than thinking that one is lesser than the other, I found the regular one classier and the F Sport, well, sportier, so your choice will come down to personal taste.
If you just want the sportier styling, Lexus makes a basic $2,000 F Sport Series 1 package available that adds a larger, more aggressive F SPORT front grille, LED fog lights and cornering lamps, as well as 18-inch F SPORT alloy wheels to the outside, and on the inside a digital primary gauge cluster, a three-spoke F SPORT steering wheel with paddle shifters, an F SPORT shift knob, active sound control that mimics shifts to make it feel like the continuously variable transmission is changing gears, special Nuluxe (breathable leatherette) F Sport seat upholstery (mine done out in two-tone Circuit Red), plus eight-way power-adjustable driver and front passenger sport seats.
If you want the same look with more goodies, the $8,800 F Sport Series 2 package includes all of the above before adding triple-beam LED adaptive headlamps, driver’s seat and side mirror memory with reverse auto-tilt, a full TFT instrument cluster, a head-up display that projects key info onto the windshield ahead of the driver, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, navigation with Destination Assist embedded within a larger 10.3-inch infotainment display that also includes Enform Remote, Enform Safety Connect, and Enform Service Connect, as well as a wireless device charging pad, an eight-speaker audio upgrade, a remote garage door opener, and a gesture-controlled (kick motion) powered rear liftgate.
The white UX 250h in the photos came with the latter package, while the taupe-coloured one included a $5,300 Luxury package that added many of the same features, such as the seat and mirror memory, head-up display, wireless charging, auto-dimming centre mirror, garage door opener, upgraded display with navigation and Enform functions, improved stereo, and gesture/powered rear hatch, plus on top of these it also came with a special Washi instrument panel design, a wallet-sized smart key, and Lexus’ Intuitive Parking Assist with Auto Braking, a.k.a. self-parking. My tester’s fabulous looking “Glazed Caramel” seat, dash bolster and door armrest upholstery is only available with the Luxury package too, an upgrade that really makes the interior look rich compared to the regular all-black colourway.
Speaking of all-black, the only other package Lexus is offering UX customers for 2021 is an $1,100 upgrade dubbed Black Line Special Edition, which rides the current wave of blackened trim replacing otherwise chrome accents (or in this case, mostly black, as there’s still some metal brightwork blinging up the side mirrors, side window surrounds, and branding/badging), with glossy black being added to the grille surround, wheels, and roof rails, plus the mirror caps that remain black even if choosing a non-black (or Caviar, as Lexus calls it) exterior colour, while inside it gets blue stitching around the inside of the black leather-wrapped steering wheel, and yet more blue accents elsewhere, while Lexus includes LED headlights with auto high beams for this package as well.
Attested by the sales numbers noted earlier, I’m not alone in liking the way this little SUV looks, either on the outside or from inside the cabin. The protruding instrument hood is bookended by the same types of control pods first used in Lexus’ now legendary LFA supercar, the one of the left for turning off the traction/stability control, and the right-side knob for switching between Normal, Sport, and Eco driving modes (the EV mode is a separate button found on the lower centre console). The instruments under the hood are digital, as noted above, so only similar to the LFA, from a design perspective, while the widescreen display atop the dash is a real feast for the eyes, thanks to the organic way Lexus laid it out, to the beautifully detailed colour graphics on the high-definition monitor itself.
It’s not a touchscreen, as it would be a bit too far to reach for most drivers, but Lexus has upgraded the old lower centre console-mounted joystick-style Remote Touch Interface with the newer RTI 2.0 touchpad that I prefer more, if only because it looks more up-to-date and takes up less space. It works well enough too, but then again, I’d rather have the option of a touchscreen, because, like most people, that’s what I’m used to.
The backup camera is excellent, thanks to the big, high-definition display and active guidelines, while the array of quick-access buttons and dials around the front portion of the centre armrest, just behind the trackpad, is an innovative way to search through and select infotainment features, of which there are plenty. Navigation is included in upper trims, of course, although I prefer using Android Auto via my smartphone, which is included with the UX, as is Apple CarPlay. A colourful array of climate controls show up on the centre display too, and while you can modulate them there, I appreciate the narrow strip of quick-access buttons just below on the centre stack, while a second row of switches incorporates buttons for the three-way heatable front seats and two-way heated steering wheel rim.
Overall, the UX is an enjoyable place to spend time, from the interior’s aesthetics to its overall comfort and roominess. The driver’s seat is generously adjustable and the powered steering column provides ample reach and rake that should allow for a good seating position no matter your body type, which isn’t always the case for my long-legged, short-torso frame. The seatback provided decent lower support too, the same for both cars, other than the two-way powered lumbar support that didn’t quite meet up to the small of my back. The F Sport’s front seats were certainly bolstered more effectively up by the shoulders, however, yet they’re designed to fit a wider backside than mine, so they’d probably do more to keep a larger person in place during fast cornering than me.
Despite the F Sport’s steering wheel looking sportier and receiving textured leather for its lower two-thirds, both rims felt equally thick and padded and therefore good in my hands, with identically comfortable thumb to optimize control. Of course, I preferred the paddles attached to the F Sport’s wheel more than merely shifting via the console-mounted gear lever on more luxuriously appointed UX, but honestly, I drove these little SUVs conservatively throughout each two-week stint, other than for testing purposes, so I doubt I would end up missing the paddles all that often if this were my regular daily driver.
Instead of taking advantage of this perfect segue into the UX’ driving dynamics, I best finish off my tour of the cabin, particularly how the rear seating area measured up to my average-sized (for a teenager) five-foot-eight stature. For starters, I wouldn’t try stuffing three adults into the second row, unless they’re smaller folk, but there should be plenty of space for two in all directions, no matter their shape or size. They shouldn’t be thrown around if you decide to get enthusiastic behind the wheel either, thanks to good bolstering in the outboard positions. They’re comfortable too, with decent lower back support, plus a wide armrest filled with cupholders folds down at centre to improve things more. Two USB charging ports can be found on the backside of the front console, just below a set of HVAC vents, but that’s it for rear seat luxuries.
As far as touchy-feely surfaces go, the entire dash-top is made from a pliable composite and includes a wonderfully upscale stitched and leather-wrapped section that visually flows all the way from the left side of the gauge cluster, under the centre display, to right side of the dash. This is joined by a padded section just below, ahead of the front passenger, which perfectly matches the back half of the door uppers and inserts. The front portion of those door uppers are finished in the same premium composite as the front dash section, which Lexus also finished the edges of the centre console in a really soft, plush leatherette to protect the inside knees of larger occupants from chafing. Other niceties include cloth-wrapped A pillars and touch-sensitive LED overhead lamps, while all of the switchgear was made from a high-grade dense plastic, with tight fitment and good damping. I was surprised, however, to learn that the rear door uppers were finished in hard plastic, which just isn’t good enough for this class, plus rear seat heaters aren’t available either.
The cargo compartment is luxurious enough too, with a nice quality of carpeting in all the expected places, plus chromed tie-down hooks at each corner, but Lexus didn’t go so far to add stainless steel sill plates. They did upgrade the 2021 UX 250h’s cargo floor with an adjustable section, however, which adds 141 litres (5 cu ft) to its dedicated volume, increasing from 481 (17) to 623 litres (22 cu ft). When folding the 60/40-split rear seats down, available stowage space increases to 1,231 litres (43.5 cu ft), but this brings up one of my lone complaints, the lack of a centre pass-through or even better 40/20/40 rear seat configuration.
I should also mention that all UX trims now come standard with blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert as part of the Lexus Safety System 2.0 for 2021, which also includes the brand’s Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection and Bicycle Detection, Lane Departure Alert with Steering Assist and Road Edge Detection, Lane Tracing Assist (LTA), All-Speed Range Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, and Automatic High Beam assisted headlamps.
Even before being upgraded, the 2020 UX received a five-star rating from the U.S. NHTSA (there was no info for the 2021 model), but the IIHS gave it Top Safety Pick status, with best-possible “G” (for good) ratings in all categories except for the headlights that received a worst-possible “P” (for poor) result due to excessive glare when using the low beams around sharp corners, plus only fair nighttime visibility scores in both sharp and gradual corners. I certainly didn’t notice any negatives after dark, but I’m not about to argue with America’s Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The only utility in this class to earn higher Top Safety Pick Plus status was Volvo’s XC40, while Buick’s Encore GX was the only competitor to match the UX, albeit with a mixture of “A” (for acceptable) and “M” (for Moderate) headlight and child seat LATCH results. All others didn’t receive either Top Safety Pick honour, so kudos to Lexus for being much better than average.
Straight-line performance and at-the-limit handling aren’t better than average, however, but ride quality, quietness and other types of refinements are near the top, which means Lexus has managed to give its smallest, entry-level model a level of driving comfort and poise that comes near to matching the larger compact NX. The 250h is the UX you’ll want to own if the traction benefits of all-wheel drive are important to you, incidentally, thanks to an electric motor driving the rear wheels that automatically adjusts the torque-split between both front and rear axles. This improves handling when accelerating and cornering, especially when driving on slippery roads, plus it makes the UX easier to get off the line. The base UX 200 utilizes a front-wheel drivetrain, by the way, so the hybrid is really the way to go for both performance and fuel economy.
Regarding the former, the base UX 200 slots a 169-horsepower 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine behind its gaping grille, while the 250h gets a net horsepower rating of 181. As noted earlier, a CVT transmits torque to the front axle, resulting in power delivery that’s smooth and linear, rather than aggressive. Then again, the aforementioned active sound control made the F Sport version sound more exciting, and Sport mode (standard across the line) elevated performance parameters, improving shift response, but all said, this is probably the type of SUV best left in Eco mode more often than not, because that’s how you’ll eke out its impressive 5.7 L/100 city, 6.2 highway and 6.0 combined fuel economy rating, which gives the hybrid a significant edge over the base UX’ 8.0 city, 6.3 highway and 7.2 combined results.
This efficiency makes the UX 250h easy to live with, but the little luxury SUV’s resale value might pad your wallet even more when it comes time to trade-in or sell. It was deemed best-in-class in the “Premium Subcompact Utility Vehicle” category of J.D. Power’s 2021 Canada ALG Residual Value Awards, while it also came out on top in the “Luxury Compact SUV/Crossover” segment of Vincentric’s Best Value in Canada Awards.
Also notable, the UX was the highest ranked “Small Premium SUV” in J.D. Power’s 2021 Initial Quality Study, and tied for runner-up in the same third-party analytical firm’s 2021 U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, while Lexus topped J.D. Power’s 2021 Vehicle Dependability Study, and is also the most reliable luxury brand according to Consumer Reports.
If that’s not enough to interest you in a new UX, consider that Lexus least expensive model starts below the $40k threshold, at $38,450 (plus freight and fees), which is the mid-point in this class, once again if we include Buick and Mini as luxury brands. The Encore starts at just $24,998, which really doesn’t qualify it for premium status in base form, but the price rises to more than $35k when loaded up, while the Encore GX can easily be optioned past $40k. The Countryman, on the other hand, starts at $32,990 and can be upgraded to almost $60k, so it definitely qualifies as a luxury contender. In fact, a fully loaded UX 250h, which starts at $40,250, doesn’t even break $50k, at $40,090 (plus freight and fees), while Lexus was throwing in up to $1,000 in additional incentives at the time of writing, as per CarCostCanada’s 2021 Lexus UX Canada Prices page.
Important for 2022, Lexus will eliminate the base UX 200 trim, causing the base price to rise to $40,700, so we’ll need to see how this impacts sales. I’m guessing not too much, because it this FWD variant wouldn’t be getting the axe if it sold well. If you’d rather have the initial savings of the less expensive UX, however, you’ll need to act quickly, if any are still available.
Whether you go for a 2021 UX or a 2022, you’ll be getting a very comfortable, well-appointed and efficient subcompact luxury SUV. It’s got to be one of the easiest vehicles to drive in any class, and thanks to its diminutive dimensions it’s even easier to park. If you, your partner, or child is learning to drive, or if they simply feel uncomfortable wielding a big, heavy utility around the city, yet appreciate the outward visibility gained from a small SUV’s ride height, this little Lexus is a very good choice. Of course, the UX can be seen as a smart decision for all the other reasons outlined in this review too, therefore it’s easy to recommend.
Review and photos by Trevor Hofmann
If you want to know where the future lies in the automotive industry, just look where automakers are putting their money. Obviously, major investment is going into electric and other alternative fuels…
If you want to know where the future lies in the automotive industry, just look where automakers are putting their money. Obviously, major investment is going into electric and other alternative fuels with minimal returns so far, but amongst more conventionally-powered segments, the subcompact crossover SUV category is growing faster than any other.
In fact, the subcompact SUV segment has more than tripled from just eight competitors in 2010 to a shocking 25 this year, while the subcompact car category has simultaneously contracted from nine rivals in 2010, and an even more significant total of 18 in 2014 (mostly due to boat loads of fuel-friendly imported city cars taking a stab at our market before mostly saying sayonara, auf wiedersehen, and arrivederci, not to mention annyeong for the South Korean-sourced Chevy Spark EV), to just six now, one of which (Chevy’s Bolt EV) is purely electric. The result is this affordable SUV class becoming the majority of brands’ market entry point; hence the importance automakers are placing on these smallest of small SUVs.
Speaking of size, the segment has not only grown in numbers, but also in diversity. So far, eight brands offer two or more models within this category, with Kia providing three. Even Buick, General Motors’ near-luxury division, which only has four models to its name, includes two in this segment alone, a tally that grows 2.5 times under GM’s umbrella when factoring in Chevy’s threesome (they added the all-electric Bolt EUV this year).
Similar to how the mid-size SUV segment is divided into two- and three-row alternatives, subcompact SUVs can be had as micro-sized city car replacements or slightly larger alternatives to yesteryear’s subcompact hatchbacks. A good example of the latter is Honda’s HR-V, which was formed off the back of the now defunct Fit. Similarly, Hyundai’s class-leading Kona (which gets updated for 2022) rides on an all-new B-SUV platform only shared with Kia’s Seltos, but the Venue being reviewed here was built on the back of the old Accent and current Rio 5 (kind of… keep reading).
The Venue, on the other hand, which is one of the smaller micro-utes available, is based on the Hyundai-Kia K2 platform that, in regular “K” instead of “K2” form, previously underpinned Accent as noted a moment ago. Yes, I know the Accent was a full subcompact and not a city car, but it’s related to the K1 platform used for smaller hatchbacks not sold here. Either way, it’s tiny for an SUV, and follows a trend initiated by the aforementioned Encore and Trax, which have done very well over the past decade, not to mention others that have long departed, such as Nissan’s Juke and Cube, and the Scion xB (a slightly larger and much more conventional looking second-gen Juke remains available in other markets).
To be fair to Mazda, they’re a smaller independent automaker with nowhere near the deep pockets of Hyundai, so a complete redesign of the smaller utility may not have been in the cards due to budgetary constraints. Hyundai is therefore more capable of gaining market share in a sub-segment that probably won’t achieve the same level of sales as its larger subcompact, the Kona, which is currently the overall subcompact sales leader.
Its lead is so significant, in fact, that it’s hard to imagine any rival catching up. Maybe a redesigned Qashqai could close the gap, being that Nissan’s oddly named utility previously owned top-spot in the subcompact category, but now the Kona outsells the Qashqai by almost three to one, with 31,733 deliveries in 2020 compared to just 11,074. The difference has shrunk to about 2.5 to one over the first six months of 2021, however, with 15,715 Konas down Canadian roads compared to 6,384 Qashqais, but it’s still a massive lead.
The Venue is newer to the market than its key Kicks rival, so it still has some catching up to do. Last year it found 10,740 entry-level SUV buyers compared to 14,149 for the Kicks, the latter being number one in the smaller micro-ute group, yet the Venue’s success was still impressive for its first full year on the job, not to mention the fact that Hyundai didn’t have anything to sell into the subcompact SUV class before the Kona that arrived partway through 2018, compared to Nissan that’s been selling Cubes and Jukes in Canada since 2009 and 2010 respectively, many of these models’ customers naturally gravitating to the Qashqai and Kicks.
In case you’re wondering where the Venue stacks up in sales compared to all the others it directly competes against, its near 11k 2020 tally landed it in second place behind the Kicks, followed by the C-HR with 7,135 deliveries last year, the Encore with 6,650, CX-3 with 6,445, Trax with 3,887, Countryman with 1,637, Renegade with 362, and 500X with 35 (that’s not a typo).
As of Q2 2021’s close, the Venue was still in second, although the refreshed Kicks’ numbers grew to 9,628 units compared to just 2,021 for the littlest Hyundai (that’s not a typo either), with the C-HR only managing 1,553 deliveries, the Encore a mere 534, which therefore caused it to be jumped by the CX-3’s 1,510 unit-sales and Trax’ 891, while Mini’s SUV found just 310 new owners (it is more of a luxury ute, however, and therefore much higher in price), the smallest Jeep coaxed in an insignificant 15, and the spicy Italian an infinitesimal 6.
So why is the Venue so successful in a market segment it only just entered in the latter months of 2019? It’s cute, well-appointed, comfortable, roomy for its outward dimensions, drives well, and is easy on fuel, while, based on Hyundai’s overall brand reliability, it should also be dependable. Hyundai ranked third (or fourth) amongst mainstream volume brands in the latest J.D. Power and Associates 2021 Vehicle Dependability Study (whether or not we choose to include Buick in the mainstream sector or premium), while its sister company, Kia, placed first.
Toyota, incidentally, was second, while Hyundai’s Tucson tied for runner-up in the same study’s “Small SUV” category, beaten by Kia’s Sportage, which was basically the same vehicle under the skin before its recent redesign (and will be once again after Kia updates the Sportage for 2023). Now that these two utilities have grown in size to match the RAV4, CR-V and Nissan Rogue, I expect them to compete in the “Compact SUV” class, leaving room for the Venue, Kicks and others to vie for the Small SUV award.
Kudos in mind, the Kona Electric was top of its “Electric/Plug-In Hybrid SUV/Crossover” class in the consumer section of Vincentric’s 2021 Best Value in Canada Awards, while the most recent J.D. Power 2021 Canada ALG Residual Value Awards placed the conventionally-powered Kona highest in its “Micro Utility Vehicle” category. Hyundai won other awards in different categories, but for the sake of relevance I thought it best to leave such reporting to its small SUV sector.
It will be interesting to see how the Venue will fare, or for that matter if those at the helm of the various third-party analytical firms choose to further divide their SUV categories in order to allow a more even playing field for this new class of smaller, less expensive utility. Let’s see what happens.
If I were on one of these organizations’ panels, I’m pretty sure of how I’d vote after spending a week with the Venue. Or at least I was sure after a week behind its wheel, when I made it clear in my notes by saying, “Hyundai has created another hit! The Venue is my new favourite sub-subcompact SUV!” Just the same, while writing this review now, I’ve been driving a refreshed 2021 Kicks SR for the better part of a week, which has been very impressive as well, so I should probably temper my enthusiasm for the Venue, just a bit.
From a styling perspective, the Venue can only be described as cute. Much the same could’ve been said about the Kicks before its update, but Nissan gave the refreshed 2021 model a larger, bolder new grille and sleeker headlamps, resulting in a micro-SUV that just may now appeal to more everyday guys. Despite having a fairly large grille of its own, the Venue presents a softer, kinder look, complete with a tiny set of narrow driving lights/turn signals up on top of the front fenders (à la Jeep Cherokee in its current fifth-generation, albeit pre-mid-cycle makeover), plus larger headlamps underneath, which are surrounded by cool circular LED signature lighting, and finally a classy light satin-grey apron underscoring everything.
The latter stays the same across the Venue’s four-trim range, but the otherwise halogen driving lights and automatic on/off headlamps become LEDs when adding the Urban Edition Package to Trend trim, or when upgrading to top-line as-tested Ultimate trim; the headlights being bifunctional and even including adaptive cornering capability. My tester also had its normally blackened grille insert swapped out for a bright metal one, standard with Ultimate trim, while its sharp looking 17-inch alloys, shod with 205/55R17 all-season tires, are shared with the just-noted Trend.
The $500 Urban Edition Package will be a must-have for artistic types that want splashes of exclusive two-tone colour decorating key exterior components, such as the unique lower front and rear fascias, mirror caps, rocker panel garnish, and roof, some of these colours adding a bit more to the bottom line, but well worth it for those who want it. This said, Ultimate trim targets a more conservative crowd that clearly want to keep things classy, my tester finished in $200 Fiery Red exterior paint, which is clearly the most eye-catching colour from a somewhat more subdued palette of blues and shades.
Despite the Urban Edition Package making the Venue look sportier, it’s devoid of the Ultimate’s rear disc brakes, utilizing the base model’s rear drums instead. Both upper trims receive great looking premium cloth upholstery with leatherette bolsters inside, however, with the Ultimate also getting an exclusive driver’s sliding armrest with a hidden storage box below.
The gauges are analogue, expected in this class, with a large monochromatic display at centre. While black and white displays might’ve been ok a number of years ago, I found this multi-information display a bit disappointing, considering I was driving a top-line model. Ultimate trim also gets a clearer high-definition 8.0-inch centre touchscreen, which looked fabulous, but unusually, this upgrade includes a downgrade from wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration to a less convenient wired system.
It’s the only trim to get navigation, however, not that it’s as necessary after integrating your smartphone, but HD and satellite radio upgrades are always a big bonus to this music buff, and while it sounds quite good for the class, it doesn’t include the cool driver’s seat headrest-mounted speakers found in the top-tier Kicks. Many will appreciate Hyundai’s Bluelink smartphone connectivity service, mind you, which is available in Ultimate trim, while I would never complain about the extra front USB-A port found in Trend trims and above either.
I should mention the centre infotainment system’s processor is extremely fast when reacting to inputs. For instance, you can move the map around with your finger in real-time without any delay or image degradation. I even flicked it around extremely fast for testing purposes, and it never missed a beat.
What is missing? Most 2021 Nissan Kicks trims swap out one of the USB-A ports for a USB-C, not available in the Venue, while my top-tier Kicks SR Premium tester included a split-screen backup/overhead parking camera within its 8.0-inch display, instead of a simpler rear-view only setup. On the Venue’s side, the base Kicks only comes with a 7.0-inch centre display, one inch smaller than Hyundai’s entry-level monitor. This said, neither offer a wireless charging pad, which is something that would benefit all owners no matter the trim level.
Both top-level micro-SUVs include single-zone automatic climate control, the Venue’s laid out in an attractive and space-efficient three-dial design including buttons and digital readouts integrated within, although the Venue provides three-way heatable front seats in all trims, which heat up to near therapeutic levels, while the Kicks makes buyers move up to its second-rung SV trim for warmers that don’t get quite as hot. Heated steering wheels that warm up all the way around the rim are also on the menu for both micro-crossovers, with each requiring a buyer to move up one notch in their respective trim hierarchies.
Trims in mind, the Venue is available in four, including Essential, Preferred, Trend and Ultimate, priced at $17,599, $21,599, $22,699, and $24,999 (plus freight and fees) respectively. Hyundai is currently offering the 2021 model with up to $1,500 in additional incentives according to CarCostCanada, while CarCostCanada members were saving an average of $1,250 at the time of writing. Find out how the CarCostCanada system works, and be sure to download their free app from the Google Play Store or the Apple Store, so you can access all of their important info when you need it most, some of which includes factory financing/leasing rates, rebates, and dealer invoice pricing that can save thousands upon purchasing any new vehicle.
The only model available with a six-speed manual is base Essential trim, with all others making Hyundai’s Smartstream iVT standard. iVT stands for Intelligent Variable Transmission, incidentally, which when translated into simple English means it’s a chain belt-based continuously variable transmission that’s been designed to reproduce the shift pattern of a manual transmission in order to provide a more natural feel, plus respond quicker to driver input, while still delivering better efficiency than a regular automatic gearbox. What’s more, the iVT’s chain belt utilizes the belt’s tension in order to adjust the pulley’s diameter, therefore eliminating belt slippage and reducing drag. The chain belt is also maintenance-free, thus adding to transmission lifespan, which should improve long-term reliability.
It certainly doesn’t feel like a regular continuously variable transmission (CVT), which is what you’d be getting in the Kicks (not that I felt particularly put out by Nissan’s gearless box), with the Venue’s providing snappier shifts via eight “steps” that make it worthy of steering wheel-mounted paddles, let alone its gear lever-actuated manual mode.
Additionally, the Venue’s Sport mode really made a difference when pushing hard, impacting engine response and allowing slightly higher revs between shifts, plus it affects shift speed as well, with the result being a more entertaining Sport mode than found in the Kicks, but then again, it’s not as dramatic as the Mazda CX-3’s (an SUV that’s being discontinued in North America, by the way).
So set, the Venue sprinted away from standstill at a fairly quick pace, or at least quicker than expected from a 1.6-litre four-cylinder that only makes 121 horsepower and 113 lb-ft of torque. That efficient autobox, which needs to take some credit for the Venue’s impressive 7.9 L/100km city, 7.0 highway and 7.5 combined fuel economy with the iVT autobox or 8.6, 6.8 and 7.8 respectively with the manual (the CVT-only Kicks is rated slightly better at 7.7 L/100km city, 6.6 highway and 7.2 combined), has something to do with the engine’s power delivery, no doubt, but take note that despite its SUV styling the Venue is not available with all-wheel drive.
Just like the Kicks the Venue is front-drive only, notable from the initial front-wheel spin experienced at full throttle from a standing start, which I might add was quickly followed by traction control intervention and the just-noted straight-line performance. It therefore had no trouble getting ahead of most stop light dawdlers, and was acceptably fast for those moments when I wanted to dart in and out of congested city traffic.
Steering is direct enough, and it’s turning circle very small, allowing dreamy manoeuvrability in parking lots and laneways. Get it on a winding back road and the Venue performs quite well too, albeit within reason. It’s no Mini Countryman after all, and at about half the price when loaded with features, we shouldn’t expect it to be.
On the highway, however, it was a complete joy. I bet you didn’t expect me to say that, because top-speed isn’t anything to write home about. It maintains illegal highway speeds easily, however, so no issue there (unless you’re not paying attention and get caught), but more importantly, the little Hyundai offers great tracking ability and a wonderfully smooth ride for such a short wheelbase.
As noted earlier, the Venue is one of the truest of micro-SUVs, with its 2,520-millimetre span from front to rear axles even short for the subcompact class. It’s actually second smallest, behind Ford’s EcoSport, with a wheelbase of 2,519 mm, while even the rather small interior of Toyota’s C-HR rides on a much lengthier wheelbase measuring 2,640 mm.
Fortunately, the comparatively upright Venue feels larger inside than its external dimensions suggest. To clarify, it measures 4,040 mm from nose to tail, 1,770 mm from side-to-side, and 1,565 mm tall (or 1,590 mm with roof rails), while its front and rear track stretches 1,555 and 1565 mm respectively, which once again makes it shorter than anything else in the class save the EcoSport, but its 1,770-mm of width makes it exactly the same as the H-RV from side-to-side, while wider than the CX-3, the base Trax, and once again the EcoSport. Vertically, however, its 1,590-mm height makes it nowhere near as tall as the 1,650-mm high EcoSport or many of its other rivals, but it’s still taller than the CX-3, C-HR, and Kona, making its headroom quite expansive.
The Venue’s cargo capacity is good at 902 litres when the 60/40-split rear seatbacks are folded flat, while dedicated luggage space is 528 litres, just 16 litres short of the Kona’s 544 litres behind the rear seats. The Kicks offers 915 litres of maximum cargo space, incidentally, but the gain is so nominal it’s more or less a wash, yet its dedicated storage volume measures 716 litres, which is a significant bonus in this tiny SUV class.
Back up front, the driving position is excellent, with the tilt and telescopic steering column’s rake and reach capable of being moved far enough rearward to provide my long-legged, short-torso frame ample comfort and control over the lovely leather-clad steering wheel, which allowed for a relaxed seatback while a wrist could easily hang over the top of the steering wheel rim; the ideal check for driver seat positioning. I also found plenty of space from side-to-side, although folks used to a larger utility might find themselves sitting a bit closer to their front passenger than in compact or mid-size SUVs.
The rear passenger compartment is spacious and the seats comfortable too, plus despite being a bit tight for three adults there’s a seatbelt in the middle for a third passenger, better left for smaller folk or children. There’s no foldable centre armrest, which is common for this class, but it would’ve been a nice addition. Likewise, there aren’t a lot of rear-seat creature comforts, unusual for a top-line Hyundai, but once again very normal for an entry-level vehicle. This means there are no rear seat warmers, no rear air vents, and not even a port to plug in and charge a personal device. The Kicks, on the other hand, provides two USB-A chargers on the backside of the front centre console.
It’s a nicely finished, relatively refined cabin too, but don’t expect a lot of soft-touch surfaces. The dash-top is made from a nicely textured composite, but it’s hard, and each door upper is hard-shell plastic as well. Even the door inserts offer no cushioning, the only area to get some slightly padded leatherette, stitched with contrasting thread no less, are the door armrests.
This, unfortunately for Hyundai, is a big downgrade from the latest Kicks SR Premium that pampers with pliable, padded, premium-level pleather, also with contrast-stitching, from the very left to the very right of the dash facing, plus the centre armrest, instead of being a firm yet pliable rubber in the case of the Venue, is just as comfortable as the cushy door armrests that flow down in one single piece from the equally comforting door inserts. What’s more, Nissan even wraps each side of the lower front console in stitched, padded leatherette, protecting the inside knees from chafing while looking downright sensational at the same time, so Hyundai might want to give its ultimate Venue a bit more luxe when it comes up for a refresh.
The Venue’s aforementioned leather-wrapped steering wheel is very nice, however, but once again I think you’ll be more impressed by the top-line Kick’s more padded and sportier shaped flat-bottom leather-clad rim, while both models’ leather-enhanced shift knobs will probably be more of a personal taste issue—although the leatherette boot shrouding the Venue’s gear lever wears a more pronounced contrast stitching that adds a bit more style.
The Venue’s fabric seats are really attractive, and finished in leatherette with light grey stitching and similarly coloured piping on the bolsters. The textured inserts feature a swoopy light grey “J” pattern (or reverse-J on the driver’s side) that matches a similar black-stitched pattern on the lower cushions, which I have to say is not only really nice, but totally unique and much more creative than most automakers offer. Hyundai even repeats the pattern on the back seats, something not always seen in the lower classes.
Some other details include metallic white trim around the vent bezels and under the tablet-style infotainment touchscreen, although the latter looks more like a free Alcatel giveaway tablet from five years ago than anything from Samsung or Apple. The shifter surround gets the same metallic white treatment, while the door handles are in a dark grey metallic finish. All of the switchgear is impressive for the class too, featuring nice dense composites, extremely tight fitment, and high-quality damping. I have to say, whoever came up with this interior design should get some sort of award, at least from Hyundai, because it’s really well done.
Not surprisingly these days, but still a treat in such a small, inexpensive vehicle, my Venue came well-stocked with advanced driver assistive systems in a suite dubbed Hyundai SmartSense. Of course, this list includes Forward Collision-Avoidance Assist with Pedestrian Detection (a.k.a. automatic emergency braking), plus Blind-Spot Collision Warning, Lane Keeping Assist (that’s so good it can nearly drive itself on the highway, and even on city streets, almost like the Hyundai Driving Assist semi-autonomous feature), Lane Change Assist, Rear Cross-Traffic Collision Warning, and Driver Attention Warning, while automatic High Beam Assist adds convenience.
A feature I really like is a subtle audible notification that lets you know when the car in front leaves after being stationary at a stoplight. This is useful if you happen to be looking down to change the radio station, setting some other function in the infotainment system, or operating the HVAC system, or for that matter talking to someone in the car.
It’s these types of thoughtful features that raise Hyundai above most peers, and have made it a success story in Canada. The Venue is now the most affordable way to get into the Korean brand when buying new (albeit only a few hundred less than the base Elantra), and the least expensive crossover SUV in the country, by a long shot. Factor in their five-year or 100,000 km comprehensive warranty, and this cute little utility becomes difficult to argue against.
Review and photos by Trevor Hofmann
I want you to feel good about being Canadian for a moment. No, it’s not for anything our various governments are doing, not that I’ll allow this review to get political. It’s not out of some false…
I want you to feel good about being Canadian for a moment. No, it’s not for anything our various governments are doing, not that I’ll allow this review to get political. It’s not out of some false sense of superiority over our American neighbours either, but more so because of something Mercedes-Benz Canada is doing with its entry-level A-Class.
First off, M-B made the Hatch body style available in Canada from the get-go, a model I previously reviewed in A 250 trim and am once again doing now in AMG-tuned A 35 guise, while neither has been offered to our friends in the U.S. of A. It’s the slightly smaller, fractionally lighter and therefore arguably sportier version of this Mercedes subcompact luxury twosome (threesome if you include the CLA), not to mention the measurably more practical variant as well, so it fits nicely into our pragmatic market.
Mercedes’ offers the classy little A-Class Sedan in our small luxury car sector too, available in as-reviewed A 220 trim as well as a four-door A 35 variant. For 2022, however, insult gets added to American injury, in that MBUSA will be discontinuing its A 35 Sedan (as well as the AMG CLA 35) from the U.S. lineup altogether (plus plenty of other AMG models), leaving only the A 220 (and CLA 250) to those wanting a subcompact three-pointed-star car.
So therefore, let yourself feel good, Canadian sport compact fans! Mercedes has your back in more ways than one, and believe me, either one of these AMG-tuned A 35 4Matic models is worthy of your attention. I spent one thoroughly enjoyable week with each, starting with the A 35 Hatch and finishing off with an A 35 Sedan. The size difference referred to earlier is noticeable, incidentally, especially while parking, due to 112 mm (4.4 in) less length from nose to tail, while the hatchback’s 17 fewer kilograms (38 less lbs) makes it a smidge quicker off the line and a tiny bit more flickable through the curves.
In total, the A 35 Hatch measures 4,445 mm (175.0 in) compared to the Sedan’s 4,557 mm (179.4 in), while both share a 2,728-mm (107.4-in) wheelbase. This makes the A 35 Sedan third longest in the compact B segment, behind the CLA 35/45 that’s 137 mm (5.4 in) shorter. It also has the second longest wheelbase in the class, but at just 1,791 mm (70.5 in) wide (not including its mirrors), only two competitors are narrower, including the soon-to-be discontinued BMW i3 BEV, and the comparatively tiny Mini Cooper 3-Door hatchback, although the latter model hardly qualifies for luxury brand status in its entry-level trim. To finish off the basic measurements, both A 35 Sedan and Hatch are 1,432 mm (56.4 in) tall.
That last figure makes the A 35 a bit taller than the category average, which aids head space, while the cars’ previously noted wheelbase provides good legroom all-round, but those seeking practicality will want the Hatch, as its 368-litre (13.0 cu-ft) cargo area is 125 litres (4.4 cu-ft) greater than the Sedan’s 243-litre (8.6 cu-ft) trunk. That’s also the smallest boot in the subcompact luxury car class, and when compared to the trunk in BMW’s 2 Series Gran Coupe, which can handle up to 430 litres (15.2 cu-ft) of gear, it’s underwhelming to say the least. Then again, if you only need to cram in a single golf bag it’ll probably do, although when factoring in that a person purchasing an A 35 Hatch won’t be seen clumsily stuffing their trolley cart into the A 35 Sedan’s leather- and psuede-lined rear passenger compartment, the truncated A-Class might be the more elegant of the two.
On that note, each and every car in the A’s luxury B-segment comes standard with an impressively finished interior, particularly when talking materials quality plus overall fit and finish, although top-tier As, which include these two AMG variants, provide a level of eye-popping wow-factor that nothing in this premium category can match. Of course, Mercedes’ massive driver display cum centre touchscreen is a serious attention getter, not only for its sizeable near digital overload, but more so for the colourful, artful graphics infused within. It’s a joy to look at and ultra-easy to use, plus comes packed full of pretty well every feature you could ever want.
Equally dazzling are the numerous buttons, knobs, toggles and switches found throughout the cabin, most made from satin-finish aluminum or something that looks and feels similar, while the jet engine-inspired vents across the instrument panel are downright gorgeous. As for softer surfaces, Mercedes finishes the majority of touchpoints with high-quality pliable synthetics, as well as padded leather or suede-like micro-fibre, with harder composites only used for panels below the waist, which is also the case for most others in this class.
The engine start/stop button is found next to three of the just-noted HVAC vents, with a quick press reminding there’s even more to get excited about ahead of the firewall. Applying right foot to throttle initializes a sensational assortment of mechanical sounds, or at least more than I was expecting from a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder. A total of 302 horsepower comes via fast-revving action, while most of its 295 lb-ft of torque seems available from near standstill. Launching from a stoplight feels instantaneous, with 100 km/h only requiring 4.7 seconds, unless you’re in the Sedan that needs 0.1 seconds more for a 4.8-second zero to 100 km/h run.
For sure, a tenth of a second is splitting hairs. There’s no way you’ll be able to feel such a difference from the seat of your pants. Both cars’ standard 4Matic all-wheel drive optimize the grip of each 225/50R18 Continental ProContact performance tire, these even tenacious in wet weather, while the steering wheel paddles make the most of the AMG-tuned seven-speed dual-clutch automated transmission, which provides swift yet smooth shifts of all gears. Likewise, braking performance is brilliantly strong, with both A 35s slowing from 100 km/h to a halt in merely 33 metres (109 ft).
Cornering prowess is equally impressive. Its components aren’t any different than most peers, including an electronic variable-assist rack and pinion steering setup, a front Macpherson strut and rear multi-link suspension design, plus the AWD system and 18-inch rubber noted earlier, but the resultant handling can only be matched by a small assortment of competitors. Throw the A 35 into a tight, fast-paced curve and it reacts with a level of precision that’s almost unrivaled, staying fully planted and horizontal to the road surface below, fully poised to take on the next corner. It remains just as stable when hard on the brakes, even mid-corner.
I’d guess the Hatch is slightly more tossable through the series of high-speed two-laners I used for testing purposes, thanks to the trimmer curb weight noted earlier, but I’d be hard pressed to tell the difference, even if I were lucky enough to drive them both back-to-back on the same backcountry road. So, unless you’re planning to create an autocross star after Mercedes’ warranty runs out, either should do. I’m just glad Canadians get the choice of both, let alone an A 35 at all.
Speaking of choice, those who would rather pay less for a more compliant ride and better fuel economy can opt for Mercedes’ most affordable A 220 4Matic Sedan or the once-again sportier A 250 4Matic Hatch. These provide more forgiving suspension tuning, with personalities that are generally more comfort-biased. The A 220 puts out a reasonable 188 horsepower and 221 lb-ft of torque, whereas the A 250 makes 221 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque, the latter being identical numbers to the CLA 250 4Matic, incidentally.
Likewise, most of lesser As’ cabin luxuries are similarly soft (minus the ultra-psuede) and equally well made to the AMG versions of each, while the aforementioned 10.25-inch-times-two MBUX driver display/infotainment system can be had in their upper trims (lesser variants use 7.0-inch displays stuffed into the same enclosure).
By the way, estimated fuel economy ratings are 9.6 L/100km in the city, 6.9 on the highway and 8.4 combined for the A 220 Sedan; 9.4 city, 6.8 highway and 8.2 combined for the A 250 Hatch; 10.7 city, 8.2 highway and 9.5 combined for the A 35 Sedan; and finally, 10.6, 8.2 and 9.5 respectively for the A 35 Hatch. And yes, those relatively low numbers combine for a fair compromise considering the A 35’s output. Then again, at more than $1.50 per litre where I live, and considerably more if you plan on filling your A 35 up with recommended premium fuel, the A 220 is the budget option that would keep on giving well after the initial purchase.
That brings up price, which is $49,800 plus freight and fees for either AMG A 35 Sedan or A 35 Hatch, which means there’s an $11,600 price spread from base A-Class to AMG when comparing the sedans, and a $9,600 jump upwards from the entry-level A 250 to the hyper-tuned version of the hatchback. Of course, the upgrades represent much more than just performance, being that many otherwise optional features come standard with the two AMG models, plus some of the previously mentioned finishings can only be found in the A 35s.
In summary, it’s probably best to snap one of these AMG models up while you can. Considering nothing similar will be available in the U.S. for 2022, and ditto for most other AMG models throughout Mercedes’ range, they could become popular grey-market cars for enthusiasts south of the 49th. Additionally, it may not be too long until M-B’s Canadian division follows the MBUSA’s lead. Certainly, Canada is a very different market from the U.S., with especially unique small car preferences, but once again the performance car carnage Mercedes is enacting down south is impacting most AMG variants, so this isn’t a compact-versus-mid-size issue. For now, we seem safe going into 2022, but I wouldn’t hesitate if you’ve got any AMG model in your sights.