It’s no secret that SUVs and CUVs are immensely popular among Canadians and while luxury SUVs used to be big and brash, most automakers have widened their crossover lineups to appeal to the huge groups of shoppers who want extra utility but with a smaller footprint.
One of the latest additions to the world of SUVs and CUVs is the subcompact luxury crossover segment. This segment is an interesting confluence of form and function, which makes sense when you realize that these are vehicles aimed at young urban professionals that may like to get away on the weekends, but still want a tinge of luxury to their everyday commute. These are funky but functional, luxurious but hip, and each one of our finalists found a way to cover as many of those bases as possible.
In that light, our team of more than 20 automotive experts considered every single subcompact luxury crossover available for Canadians to buy, evaluated them using 12 different criteria, and voted to shortlist these finalists. For this segment, our jury is evaluating these finalists based on their performance in everything from powertrain and handling dynamics, to infotainment and comfort features. It’s also important that even though these are more affordable models, they do justice to the luxury badge on their hoods and don’t make any glaring compromises. A winning vehicle in this category should still offer a true luxury experience, even if that experience is downsized.
A winner will be announced January 20, 2020. Here is some more information about the finalists for Best Subcompact Luxury SUV.
We’re not quite sure what got into Acura when they designed the latest RDX – perhaps they were still jazzed about finally releasing the NSX – but it is such a colossal leap over both previous iterations of the model in the stylistic sense that there had to be something in the Kool-Aid they were sipping. Panel cuts and massive intakes abound, the taillights look like boomerangs, and the front grille is designed so that it looks like the Acura emblem is flying toward you at warp speed.
And that’s just the exterior.
Inside, the strange confluence of lines and shapes that defined the last-generation model is replaced with a much simpler and more flowing design, while the gauge cluster looks like it wouldn’t be out of place in the aforementioned NSX supercar.
It doesn’t just talk the talk, either; the latest RDX sees the last model’s V6 swapped for a 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder. The engine is good for 272 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque, meaning it’s the second-most powerful entry after the X2 M35i. Further, since it’s an Acura and Acuras have always been known for their handling, the RDX and its standard Super-Handling All-Wheel-Drive will cut through winding roads as well as anything in this segment.
When the RDX got redesigned for 2019, Acura also spent time with the infotainment system, creating a trackpad-style interface that works by dragging your finger across its surface. It’s awkward at first, but once you get used to the unique interface it becomes more intuitive and remains a step up on what it used to be. Pricing ranges from $46,190 to $56,190.
While it may be the lowest-priced vehicle here, the Q3 is still a true luxury vehicle. For starters, it gets Audi’s very good Quattro AWD as standard – always an important feature for Canadians – as well as a punchy turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder engine good for 228 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. Style-wise, it may not be the most overt vehicle here – those honours go to the RDX, hands down – but it’s a handsome little crossover that is probably the best here at flaunting its luxury undertones. The LED lighting and angular grille make for a purposeful front fascia that does well to evoke higher-end Audis such as the Q8 and e-tron.
Like those other Audis, the Q3 benefits from one of the best interiors of the group. There are high-quality materials everywhere, the build is water-tight, and the Audi Virtual Cockpit tech (in addition to the central infotainment display, the gauge cluster is also fully digitized and configurable) is a slick, intuitive example of in-car automotive tech done right. Pricing ranges from $38,900 to $45,900.
The most recent addition to BMW’s crossover lineup is a stunner to look at, with gorgeous wheels, a good application of BMW’s traditional “kidney grille” and cool details like the BMW badges on the c-pillars. Like the XC40, power comes from a single engine type and like the XC40, it’s a turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder. But unlike the XC40, the X2 can be had in either 228-hp/228 lb-ft xDrive28i guise, or 302-hp, 332 lb-ft M35i guise. The addition of the M35i – though not from the full-on M line as is the X3M or X5M – is a nice touch that shows BMW has not forgotten about the fun-to-drive performance aspects of the X2. A base X2 drives more like a hatchback than a crossover, and the more powerful versions amp up the fun factor even more. Inside, however, it’s a little more stoic than some of the others in this list, but it’s definitely functional and iDrive infotainment is a good system once you get used to it. Pricing ranges from $42,500 to $49,700.
The X2 is a relative newcomer to the BMW stable compared to the X1, which really was one of the first entries into this segment. It recently received a facelift to bring it more in-tune with the current lineup; larger kidney grille, hexagonal LED headlights, larger front intakes and new wheels all combine to modernize the X1. What we liked about it was not only its styling, but its athletic driving attitude, smart xDrive AWD system that can shuffle power quickly to where it’s most needed, and its spacious wagon-like proportions. Indeed, with the demise of the 3 Series wagon in Canada for 2020, the X1 is the closest thing you’re going to get to a sporty BMW wagon; the X2’s more chopped roofline makes it more of a hot hatch than a wagon. In addition to the styling updates, BMW has also fitted the X1 with a revised ZF eight-speed gearbox that’s faster and smoother than the previous one. It’s powered by a turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder engine with 228 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque.
Speaking of rooflines, the X1’s surprisingly tall example means good headroom for both front and rear passengers, as well as a good view out thanks to its large greenhouse. Its base MSRP of $41,500, meanwhile, puts it smack in the middle of the segment, with the X2 just above it, and the XC40 below. The X1 tops out at $47,250.
Interior and exterior styling are major strengths for the little Swedish runabout that is the XC40. At higher trim levels, the materials used in the minimalist cabin are top notch, and the seats are a masterclass in comfort. On the outside, meanwhile, neat details like the “Thor’s Hammer” headlights and contrast-colour roof help set the Swede apart form the other vehicles in this segment. The 248-hp, 258 lb-ft, 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder provides plenty of bang for your buck in the power department, while the first-class infotainment system is a great example of an automaker doing in-car technology right, and they’ve done so seemingly by taking notes from the world’s tablets and smartphones and providing a vertically aligned display screen. Other strengths include clever storage solutions and a fine attention to detail, which is important to any luxury experience.
We also liked that with a base MSRP of $39,750, the only other vehicle in the category that can be had for less is the Audi Q3. The XC40 tops out at $48,200.