It may be a new year, but it’s the same old story at the entry-level end of the automotive marketplace, where subcompact SUVs remain some of Canada’s most popular new vehicles.
In the minds of many Canadians, small utilities have replaced compact cars as the vehicle type of choice for commuting and family driving, thanks to their affordable prices, practical interiors, and available all-wheel drive traction to make winter a little more bearable.
This year, one of the segment’s best-known models, the Honda HR-V, has been completely redesigned, and AutoTrader’s jury of more than 20 auto industry experts thought Honda’s effort good enough to make the HR-V the only new model on the list of the five best subcompact SUVs to consider in 2023.
The rest of these vehicles were voted by the jury to be the best in this segment, representing subcompact crossovers they would feel comfortable recommending to their own family and friends. They were all finalists for the 2023 AutoTrader Award for Best Subcompact SUV.
Honda is back in the subcompact crossover game with a second-generation HR-V that has proven good enough to knock the still-popular – and still very good – Hyundai Kona off our list of the best subcompact SUVs.
The new HR-V replaces a design that debuted in 2016 with an innovative interior that provided class-above interior space, but was quickly outclassed by the aforementioned Kona and a redesigned Subaru Crosstrek, both of which arrived as 2018 models.
What makes the new HR-V special? For one thing, it’s significantly larger, and that extra size translates into more rear-seat legroom, enhancing the HR-V’s credentials as a family vehicle. Even without the old model’s slick rear seats, the 2023 HR-V’s cargo space is more generous and lines up nicely against the class leaders.
Another enhancement is the 2023 HR-V’s new engine, a 2.0L that makes 158 hp and 138 lb-ft of torque – up 17 hp and 11 lb-ft from the old car’s 1.8L. That modest bump in output works with a new continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) to give the 2023 HR-V a punchiness the old car lacked, according to AutoTrader.ca Road Test Editor Dan Ilika.
Even the HR-V’s entry-grade LX trim comes nicely equipped with items like automatic A/C, a 7.0-inch touchscreen, and passive keyless entry. New this year to all trims is a 7.0-inch digital gauge cluster, adding an upscale touch to this sub-$30,000 vehicle.
Clearly, the shine has not worn off of Kia’s smallest SUV model, the Seltos, which enters its third model year with no changes, but remains a favourite among AutoTrader.ca’s experts.
It certainly doesn’t hurt that the Seltos is one of the cheapest AWD vehicles you can buy, but neither looks nor feels that way. And then there’s the fact that the Seltos was the victor in a head-to-head comparison with the Toyota Corolla Cross – which you’ll notice is not among our top five choices in the compact SUV class.
It helps that the Seltos comes in a range of configurations, starting with an affordable 2.0L/CVT powertrain that upgrades to a 175-hp turbo 1.6L for less than $34,000 in SX trim, which includes upscale touches like a head-up display, ventilated seats, adaptive cruise, wireless phone charging, and a big touchscreen.
Despite the Seltos’s small footprint, you get some of the most generous rear-seat legroom and cargo space in the segment. Road Test Editor Dan Ilika says visibility is also a plus, thanks to this Kia’s upright stature.
All in all, the Seltos offers the right combination of value and character to attract mass appeal in the crowded subcompact SUV class.
The Mazda CX-30 is another relatively new addition to the subcompact SUV class that has made a big splash, and it gets a little bit better for 2023. This year, Mazda revised the CX-30’s 2.5L four-cylinder engine for a nearly 10 per cent reduction in combined (city/highway) fuel consumption, making it more efficient than the car’s entry-grade 2.0L engine. Call that a cherry on top of this great-looking, fun-to-drive crossover, which remains one of Canada’s best subcompact models.
As before, every version of the CX-30 offers an engaging drive that belies its $27,050 starting price, while the top-end GT Turbo configuration combines torquey performance with features and design cues that take this Mazda upscale and make it worthy of a nearly $39,000 price tag. Those treats include an auto-dimming driver’s side mirror, head-up display, navigation, and adaptive/auto-levelling headlights.
The CX-30 also stands apart for its standard AWD in a category where most competitors start with a front-wheel drivetrain.
Taken all together, the CX-30’s positive traits outweigh its snug interior and annoying infotainment system, according to Editor-in-Chief Jodi Lai.
The Subaru Crosstrek may start out as a lifted and slightly modified Impreza hatchback, but the end product is a vehicle with a lot more personality.
Subaru has made no changes to the Crosstrek for 2023, and yet it easily held onto its place on our list of Canada’s five best subcompact SUVs, according to our jury.
Like most of its competitors, the Crosstrek starts with a modest 152 hp from its base 2.0L engine, but an available 2.5L gets 20 per cent more power with almost no fuel consumption penalty. Like the Mazda CX-30, the Crosstrek is notable for its standard AWD, and it stands out even more for the manual transmission available in lower-priced trims – a real rarity in this class.
The downside for stick-shift fans is that Subaru doesn’t let you combine it with its EyeSight suite of safety assists, which is bundled with the automatic CVT.
Still, the Crosstrek remains an attractive choice in the segment it helped create, thanks to a ride more comfortable than that of many competitors and a competent AWD system that lives up to the brand’s go-anywhere reputation.
The VW Taos is another repeat AutoTrader.ca Awards finalist in the subcompact SUV category, making our list for its second year on the market.
Volkswagen has sweetened the Taos’s deal for 2023 by adding new standard features in all three trim levels. That new kit includes forward collision mitigation and blind spot monitoring in the base Trendline, and adaptive cruise, automatic high beams, an auto-dimming mirror, and rain-sensing wipers in mid-level Comfortline trim. Trendline and Comfortline models with AWD also gain standard 18-inch wheels for an extra dose of style.
Those extras come with minimal price increases to help strengthen the Taos’s value proposition – one of the 2022 model’s few weak points.
The Taos’s fundamentals remain the same: A 1.5L turbo four-cylinder makes 158 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, which goes through an eight-speed automatic transmission in FWD models and a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox with AWD. As before, fuel economy is strictly average for the class, but the 1.5L’s generous torque helps make up for that.
We admit we’re still miffed VW ditched the basic Golf hatchback in favour of a more expensive crossover, but at least the Taos is easy to like for what it is.