One positive result of the auto industry's migration to SUVs is that it is building some great small vehicles.
The old adage, "no one builds a great small car," no longer applies. In the $20,000 to $27,000 range is a multitude of fun-to-drive, roomy, capable and safe subcompact SUVs.
Leading the way are the Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-3 and, the object of our affection this week, the all-new 2018 Subaru Crosstek. We've driven all three and would not hesitate to recommend any, although for different reasons.
The HR-V is a smart choice if passenger room and storage volume, always a Honda strength. It's innovative Magic Seat turns the rear cargo area into a haven for odd-shaped items.
We love the CX-3 for its athletic handling, for the peppiest engine in class—zoom-zoom—and the classy ride afforded by Mazda's G-vectoring control system. Add in the available all-wheel drive, and the MX-3 becomes a vehicle that allows you to go anywhere and have a great time getting there.
Besides being a Subaru—read, "bullet proof"—the Crosstek's claims to fame include the smoothness and reliability of a 2.0-L Boxer engine, standard AWD, a rugged X-Mode for low-gear off-roading, and new continuously variable transmission that feels like a regular transmission when it shifts, eliminating CVT drone.
Basically an Impreza with increased ground clearance (8.7 inches), the new Crosstek rides on Subaru's new global platform, whose big takeaways are a quieter cabin and a ride smooth enough to lift this Subie well above a crowd that can be jittery and rough.
The big advantage of a boxer engine, pioneered by Porsche, is that cylinders are not angled toward the crank, but horizontal. This eliminates a great deal of vibration and allows for smoother application of torque.
While critics are not awed by the engine's relatively modest 152 hp, we found it more than adequate for running chores, and for running down the highway. On the brighter side, the little SUV gave us an average of around 29 mpg, which is superb for a vehicle with so much capability.
We were disappointed to see, however, that automatic emergency braking and forward collision warning are optional and not available on the base model. Toyota offers its entire driver assist package, including dynamic cruise control and lane-keep assist, as standard items.
Other manufacturers, Subaru included, are choosing to package this life-saving technology with other options to boost the sticker prices.
The optional EyeSight system ($1,395) includes adaptive cruise control, automatic pre-collision braking and lane departure and sway warning. When equipped with this package and LED responsive headlights, which aim in the direction of steering, the 2018 Crosstek earned Top Safety Pick+ Award from the Insurance Institute for highway Safety.
The 2.0i base model, $22,710 with delivery is well equipped: 6.5-in. touchscreen; Android Auto and Apple CarPlay; power windows with auto up/down on both driver and passenger sides; 60/40-split fold-down rear seat; power door locks and side mirrors; multi-function display with fuel economy information; tilt and telescoping steering column; security system with engine immobilizer; 17-in. alloy wheels; roof rails.
The 2.0i base and Premium come standard with a 6-speed manual transmission or available CVT equipped with X-Mode with HDC. The CVT gets markedly better fuel economy.
The Premium ($23,510) adds leather wrapped steering wheel and shifter, shark fin antenna, automatic headlights an all-weather Package featuring heated front seats, heated exterior mirrors and windshield wiper de-icer. The Premium also brings wider option availability, such as a power moonroof and driver assist technology systems.
The Limited looks more upscale with LED headlights, distinctive "Konoji" LED daytime running lights and standard 18-in. alloy wheels. The interior has black or high-contrast gray leather with orange stitching on seats, door armrests and instrument panel. Standard amenities include an automatic climate control system, keyless entry and push-button start, and 8-inch color display.
Our tester was a Limited with all the goodies, including an 8-speaker, amplified Harmon Kardon sound system. It priced out at $30,665, the same price range as a base Toyota Highlander or Ford Explorer. Hmmm.
The new Crosstek is selling like hotcakes, up 45 percent in January from a year ago, so Subaru is doing something right. We don't see a bunch of 'em around here, but in Boulder and Anchorage there is one on every corner.
Bottom Line: If it's a cute-ute you seek, some fine choices exist, including Subaru's new Crosstek.