Subaru’s smallest crossover shrugs off imperfections

The 2018 Subaru Crosstrek is one of the better subcompact crossovers — but you might find an even more appealing model in another market class. COURTESY PHOTOThe 2018 Subaru Crosstrek is one of the better subcompact crossovers — but you might find an even more appealing model in another market class. COURTESY PHOTO  When you’re shopping for a car, it’s easy to get tunnel vision — to focus on a specific market class, and look only at vehicles within that one single class.
Say, for example, that you decide you want a subcompact crossover. This is a class that blends the utility of an SUV with the affordability, conveniently diminutive dimensions, and economical fuel consumption of a small car.
If you’re focused within that class, the redesigned 2018 Subaru Crosstrek emerges as a leader.
Priced from $22,710 with all-wheel-drive as standard equipment, the Crosstrek beats most competing subcompact crossovers for its interior comfort, acceleration, ride quality, and gas mileage. It also trumps last year’s model for its updated in-dash technology and solid-feeling ride quality.
The Crosstrek also brings appealingly spunky styling — a cheerily unpretentious attitude toward a splash through the mud, all without looking aggressively cutesy or truck-like. Its alloy wheels look like they belong on a Jeep, not a Mercedes-Benz. The look departs little from the first-generation Crosstrek, but it works.


New Jeep Cherokee is a compact crossover

The 2019 Jeep Cherokee compact crossover, priced from $25,440, is newly updated with a redesigned front end, new features, and an available turbocharged engine. COURTESY PHOTOThe 2019 Jeep Cherokee compact crossover, priced from $25,440, is newly updated with a redesigned front end, new features, and available turbocharged engine. COURTESY PHOTO  Historically, the Jeep Cherokee was a boxy, utilitarian, mud-loving SUV whose extreme off-road capability made up for its crude on-road talents.
But since the 2014 model year, the Cherokee has been an aggressively modern compact crossover. Except for the vertically-slatted grille and a few cabin details, the 2014 Cherokee’s design paid little homage to its Jeep heritage.
Although sales have been strong, critics and customers alike have been divided over the latest Cherokee. Now, for the 2019 model year, Jeep has updated the vehicle to address some of customers' common complaints.
Attentive Jeep fans will notice the first difference instantly. The 2014-2018 Cherokee wore an odd face, with slit-like headlights sitting at the very top of the front end, and a second pair of boxier headlights below them. The 2019 model moderates that effect, drawing from Jeep’s smaller Compass and larger Grand Cherokee.


Pair of small crossovers has hidden flaws

2018 Toyota C HR cropped for webThe 2018 Toyota C-HR looks sporty and modern, but it’s humdrum to drive and its in-cabin connectivity is below par. COURTESY PHOTO  Sometimes, a car can stand out so positively in certain ways that it is worth forgiving its weak points. Other times, however, a car’s strengths can leave you blind to any flaws. The latter is a far more dangerous proposition, because you might only notice a vehicle’s downsides after you’ve already driven it off the lot.
Such a trap is easy to fall into when considering a pair of subcompact crossovers, the all-new 2018 Toyota C-HR and the freshly updated 2018 Mazda CX-3.
The Toyota mixes concept-car styling with five-door practicality, an elevated seating position, respectable gas mileage and an affordable base price of $23,495. The Mazda, meanwhile, trounces its ordinary-feeling competitors’ driving dynamics with sporty handling that makes it feel comparatively luxurious.
But look carefully at both of these crossovers before buying. While they may indeed fill the right niche for you, their compromises can also leave you wondering: “But... why?”


Alfa Romeo, Volvo heat up holiday crossover class

2018 Volvo XC60 cropped for webThe redesigned 2018 Volvo XC60 is a luxurious, well-rounded crossover that's priced from $42,495.  COURTESY PHOTO  As a family car, crossovers have become almost ubiquitous -- having vanquished the station wagon and minivan, and having even overtaken the sedan with their excellent versatility, high seating position, and in-demand image; they're now appealing to buyers across a significant swath of the market.
Volvo was among of the first automakers to recognize the appeal of a compact but luxurious crossover, launching the first-generation XC60 in 2010. It offered the brand's traditional safety, comfort, and Scandinavian aesthetics, but without the bulk of its larger sibling, the XC90.
Since then, a host of comparable luxury marques has made a compact premium crossover offering, including Lexus, Jaguar, Porsche and Alfa Romeo. Most of these models — generally priced starting in the upper $30,000s to lower $40,000s — have emphasized sporty styling and performance, taking advantage of their relatively svelte dimensions to position themselves as the more fun alternative to a larger-sized crossover.
But despite a redesign for 2018, the XC60 is standing by its original formula. More boxy than sleek, it prioritizes a roomy interior and provides respectable outward visibility. The cabin is both posh and quite spacious for a compact crossover, and what comes under the cabin allows the vehicle to boast quite the smooth ride.


Mitsubishi crossover, big Toyota sedan retain some appeal

2018 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport cropped for webThe 2018 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport doesn't impress for its refinement or fuel efficiency, but it delivers a true crossover experience in a small and affordable package. COURTESY PHOTO  Mitsubishi was ahead of the curve when it launched the 2011 Outlander Sport. A size smaller than a Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4, the Outlander Sport offered the high seating position, available all-wheel-drive and useful cargo capacity of competing compact crossovers – just without as much bulk or as high of a price.
Now, an entire market class has joined Mitsubishi: the subcompact crossover. It faces off against such competitors as the Honda HR-V and Toyota C-HR, after those automakers also realized that not everyone wanted a crossover as large as their best-selling models.
The Outlander Sport has changed little since 2011, but it retains its fundamental appeal. From its base price of $21,360, the 2018 Outlander Sport provides a credible crossover experience in a class where some models offer no more cargo space or ground clearance than an economy car. Mitsubishi also boosts its value quotient by including such items as a touchscreen infotainment system, 18-inch alloy wheels and automatic climate control as no-extra-cost standard equipment, along with generous warranty coverage.
That's not to say that it's all good news. Even back in 2011, the Outlander Sport wasn't too impressive for its refinement or driving dynamics – and without major mechanical upgrades since then, it's not surprising that the 2018 also isn't going to blow you away.


Chevy and Buick crossovers offer full-size space and some other nice options

2018 Chevrolet Traverse cropped for webThe redesigned 2018 Chevrolet Traverse full-size crossover boasts various improvements over last year's model, but its strongest asset is an especially roomy interior. COURTESY PHOTO  When a car is redesigned, it's more likely to become larger than smaller. Understandably so: Extra space is an obvious selling point to justify the new model over its predecessor.
General Motors bucked this trend with the fully-redesigned 2017 GMC Acadia. Once a plus-sized crossover, the all-new 2017 model slimmed down into the midsize class, gaining fuel efficiency and handling agility, even if interior volume declined.
But the Acadia's former mechanical twins – the Chevrolet Traverse and the more luxurious Buick Enclave – didn't follow the same path. Redesigned for 2018, these two crossovers remain unapologetically massive, with among the best space for passengers and cargo in anything short of a minivan.


Volkswagen goes mainstream while Lexus just ages

2018 Volkswagen Tiguan cropped for webThe 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan is roomier and safer than its predecessor, but it remains on the pricey side for the compact crossover class. COURTESY PHOTO  Look at the characteristics of the most popular vehicles in the U.S., and the two key attributes that will stand out to you are size and price, as Americans understandably look for cars that hit the sweet spot of roominess and affordability.
In recent years, the compact crossover class has exploded for precisely those reasons. At prices well below $30,000, buyers can find well-equipped vehicles with comfortable seating for five passengers and ample cargo.
But one of those compact crossovers – the Volkswagen Tiguan – has in recent years excelled in neither area. Smaller yet more expensive than a Ford Escape, Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4, the Tiguan tried to provide a luxury experience at a discount – the sporty performance and outstanding build quality of an Audi, for prices closer to a Honda. But that sales pitch never really worked. While some buyers appreciated the Volkswagen's unique niche, the heart of the market remained elsewhere.


Fiat and Jeep offer distinctive crossover flavors

2017 Fiat 500X cropped for webThe 2017 Fiat 500X looks sportier than the Jeep Renegade, but the Jeep has more interior space. COURTESY PHOTOYou'd never guess from looking at them, but the tested 2017 Fiat 500X and 2017 Jeep Renegade have more in common than their boldly orange paint jobs. Hidden below carefully distinctive styling — both brands pile on heaps of their respective flavors — these two subcompact crossovers are fundamentally identical.
The unexpected relationship between the curvy, retro Fiat and the assertively boxy Jeep stems from the merger between Fiat and Jeep's owner, Chrysler. The two models ride upon a Fiat-designed platform and are powered by Fiat-designed four-cylinder engines.
Their mechanical relationship ensures that they share many strengths and weaknesses, even as they offer decidedly different flavors.
Regardless of whether you pick the Renegade or the 500X, you end up with an abundance of personality — a characteristic that's lacking from such popular subcompact crossovers as the Honda H-RV, Nissan Rogue Sport and Chevrolet Trax. The impression is that the design teams genuinely enjoyed themselves.


VW crossover and the redesigned Camry stand out

2018 Volkswagen Atlas cropped for webThe 2018 Volkswagen Atlas is a must-see full-size crossover for shoppers who care about interior space and handling agility. COURTESY PHOTO  The best method of breaking into a new market segment: being better than the competition.
In many key ways, Volkswagen pulls off that approach with the 2018 Atlas, the German carmaker's first full-size seven-passenger crossover. Exceptional interior volume benefits both passengers and cargo, and composed ride and handling lend it a sense of mechanical sophistication.
Priced from $31,425, the Atlas faces strong competition from the best-selling Ford Explorer and Honda Pilot; the updated Nissan Pathfinder; the sporty and luxurious Mazda CX-9; the fuel-efficient Toyota Highlander; and the 2018 redesign of the extra-roomy Chevrolet Traverse.


Infiniti and Mazda crossovers blend style, value

2017 Infiniti QX60 cropped for webThe 2017 Infiniti QX60 large crossover is the luxury version of the Nissan Pathfinder. COURTESY PHOTO  What separates a mainstream car from a luxury one? It's easy to find vehicles that blur the line.
For example, a premium brand might sell its own version of a less-expensive vehicle from a mainstream one. Or a mainstream brand might offer a stylish, classy and feature-laden model that essentially matches the luxury competition on substance, if not on reputation.
A pair of seven-passenger crossovers represents these respective approaches. Respectively, they're the Infiniti QX60, recently updated for 2017, and the Mazda CX-9, which was last redesigned for 2016.

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