As we enter 2016, we would like to point out that 2015 was the year of the SUV. Small, large or midsize utility vehicles virtually flew off the lots. According to the Wall Street Journal, car sales overall are down, whereas total SUV and crossover sales are up by about 15 percent year over year.
Whether you chalk it up to low gas prices or growing families, it's clear to see this segment isn't slowing down. This is why we aren't surprised to see a spate of new entries. The newest SUV segment that seems to be en fuego is that of the compact variety.
Chevrolet, Honda and Mazda all have new entries for the 2015 or 2016 model years, and we liked them all. But, of course, we have our favorite.
Here's a quick comparison of the smallest new SUVs on the market:
2015 Chevrolet Trax
This new compact crossover from Chevrolet is based on the same platform as the Buick Encore, and it's equipped with a 1.4-liter, 4-cylinder engine and a 6-speed automatic transmission.
The Trax' simplicity is what I like best. It doesn't offer a lot of options or extras, and even at the top-of-the-line LTZ trim, it's still pretty basic. Of course, this can also be a downside. Instead of offering a lot of high-end options like navigation or forward collision warning, Chevrolet sticks to the K-I-S-S principle. There are available up-level features such heated front seats, rear park assist, leatherette seating surfaces and 18-inch wheels, but that's about as fancy as it gets. In lieu of navigation, the Trax does offer a snazzy app called BringGo that you can download to your phone for $59.99. It will get unlimited lifetime updates, and projects seamlessly through the Trax infotainment screen - just like a factory installed navigation system. Another great thing about the Trax: It comes standard with a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, which connects up to seven devices. Your first 3 months are free, and data plans start at $15 per month.
Overall ride and handling in the Trax is smooth and quiet. It's meant to be an urban vehicle and does quite well in tight city spaces. The Trax is also an IIHS Top Safety Pick, which could be a huge selling point for this little SUV since neither the Honda HR-V nor the Mazda CX-3 (not rated yet) have made TSP status.
Base price: $20,995
Top-of-the-line price: $27,405
MPG (city/hwy/combined): 26/34/29 (2WD), 24/31/27 (AWD)
- Coolest feature: BringGo
- Loved it: Wi-Fi hotspot
- Hated it: Cheap interior
2016 Honda HR-V
The all-new Honda HR-V is kind of like a mini CR-V. It has all the flexibility and functionality; it's just smaller. What I really like about the HR-V is that you can get it as basic or tricked out as you want it. The base transmission is actually a manual, which I find interesting. It's available in both LX and EX trims, and upgrading to an automatic will only add $800 to the bill. So, for die-hard #SaveTheManual fans, you're able to equip this vehicle with a manual transmission that includes heated front seats, Bluetooth phone pairing, Honda LaneWatch and a multi-angle rearview camera.
To get navigation, you'll have to give in to the automatic transmission, but that's what most people want anyway. The best thing about the HR-V is that with all-wheel drive, navigation and every other whistle and bell it offers - you top out under $27K. The HR-V is the clear value winner in this segment.
Equipped with a 1.8-liter, 4-cylinder engine, the HR-V is both quiet and competent. It has the option of a 6-speed manual or a continuously variable transmission.
Similar to the Trax, the HR-V is meant for urban driving and handles parallel parking and tight spaces with ease.
Though the HR-V is packed with value and safety technology, the crash-test ratings are not all "Good." There are two that are "Acceptable," and there is no front crash prevention available. But everything else about this new entry from Honda is pretty awesome.
Base price: $20,815
Top-of-the-line price: $26,640
MPG (city/hwy/combined): 28/35/31 (2WD), 27/32/29 (4WD)
- Coolest feature: Honda LaneWatch
- Loved it: Flexible seating
- Hated it: Touch-screen volume control
2016 Mazda CX-3
I'll admit I have a soft spot for pretty much every Mazda product. In addition to being attractive and well-appointed, they are sporty and fun-to-drive. Which is why I really preferred the 2016 Mazda CX-3 out of this bunch of new compact crossovers. I also loved all the available high-end tech gadgets, including a navigation system that alerts you to upcoming red light cameras. But, I will admit, there are two downers: real-life fuel economy for me was far below EPA estimates and the headrests are not made for petite people.
The CX-3 is equipped with a 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder engine that is peppier than the other engines in this group. The only transmission available is a 6-speed automatic.
Though the CX-3 hasn't been received its crash-test ratings yet, I will point out that there is an i-Activesense Package ($1,920) available in the Grand Touring trim, with radar cruise control, close proximity warning, smart city braking, collision warning and lane departure warning. This is similar to the advanced safety systems available on the CX-5, and that crossover receives the IIHS Top Safety Pick+ award - the highest honors from this organization.
Base price: $20,840
Top-of-the-line price: $27,420
MPG (city/hwy/combined): 29/35/31 (2WD); 27/32/29 (4WD)
- Coolest feature: Red light camera alert
- Loved it: Low cost to add high tech safety
- Hated it: Headrests
As I mentioned at the beginning, all three of these are great new entries in the compact crossover segment. They all have all-wheel drive availability and unique tech features. Whether you're looking for safety, comfort or a peppy ride, one of these is sure to hit the mark. So, if you're testing one, you should test the other two to find where your preference really lies.