Nowhere is the luxury car market’s competitiveness more obvious than in the subcompact crossover category. Combining accessible pricing with the trendiness of SUVs, these are the vehicles automakers use to get first-time luxury shoppers through the door in the hope that they eventually trade up to pricier models and become brand loyalists.
This year, a brand-new model wowed our jury of 20 auto industry experts, garnering enough votes to top the Best Subcompact Luxury SUV group and knock the well-established Lexus UX out of the top five.
2023 Genesis GV60
This year’s Best Subcompact Luxury SUV is the Genesis GV60, a new-for-2023 model that’s also the brand’s first-ever all-electric vehicle.
Riding on a platform shared with three other Hyundai Motor Group EVs – the Hyundai Ioniq 5 and Ioniq 6 and the Kia EV6 – the GV60 comes standard with a dual-motor, all-wheel drive powertrain that provides 314 hp and 446 lb-ft in Advanced trim, while a Performance configuration gets 429 hp.
Road Test Editor Dan Ilika thought the GV60 provided the kind of elevated driving experience buyers expect from a premium brand, thanks in part to the top trim’s adaptive suspension, which uses a camera to scan the road so it knows what kinds of bumps are coming up. Ilika said it delivered “a luxuriousness . . . that its Hyundai and Kia platform mates are missing.”
The GV60 is also impressively good at booting it when the need arises. Ilika tried out his Performance trim tester’s boost mode, which boosts the car’s output to 483 hp and 516 lb-ft for 10-second bursts and “sends this little crossover surging down the road in a hurry.”
Ilika found a useful interior under the GV60’s sleek shape, including front-seat space that “makes the GV60 feel bigger than it is.” Combine that with standard heat and ventilation for the front seats and heat for the rear seats and steering wheel, plus the Performance trim’s massage function, and just about every driver should be able to find a comfortable driving position.
The GV60 is a strong value, too: Both trims include loads of standard features you have to pay extra for in competitors like the BMW i4. Another established model, the Tesla Model Y, costs $10,000 more to start than the fully loaded GV60 Performance package.
If there’s a downside, Ilika thought his test car’s 378-km driving range was a little weak, calling it “a missed opportunity that this little crossover isn’t able to drive further between charging sessions.”
Still, on the whole, the GV60 is a pretty impressive vehicle. In his first drive review, noting that as of spring 2022, there were already 1,500 names on the car’s Canadian pre-order list, Peter Bleakney urged readers to “go make the call, then come back and finish reading my impressions. Yes, the GV60 is that good.”
Genesis GV60 pricing starts at $71,000 in Advanced trim and $79,000 in Performance configuration.
2023 Volvo XC40
The 2023 Volvo XC40 is coming off an impressive run in the AutoTrader Awards. In 2021, it took the title of Best Overall SUV, and last year, our jury named it the Best Subcompact Luxury SUV. So while this small Swede’s fortunes have fallen somewhat, that’s only because the competition has caught up.
Volvo certainly hasn’t been resting on its success. In 2022, the XC40 was the basis for Volvo’s first all-electric model, the XC40 Recharge Pure Electric. This year, Volvo has refreshed the car’s styling and installed new mild hybrid powertrains in gas-powered models that promise similar performance with slightly better fuel economy.
Our jurors haven’t reviewed the refreshed XC40 yet, but their positive experiences with the pre-refresh version helped Volvo keep its spot as a Best Subcompact Luxury SUV finalist.
In early 2022, Jil McIntosh reviewed the XC40 Recharge, in which she found the same sharp styling that had made a good impression in previous reviews. “It’s . . . gorgeous inside (and) everything looks and feels high-quality.”
The XC40 Recharge is the most powerful version of the car, with 402 hp and 486 lb-ft of torque that impressed McIntosh with its ability to “get out of its own way and then some. It’s great for highway merging and passing, but on the flip side, it’s easy to regulate the throttle . . . without feeling that your car’s constantly on the muscle.”
And that’s from a vehicle that Justin Pritchard said, in a review of a 2019 model with a relatively modest 248-hp gas engine, “feels like a little pocket rocket” in which he couldn’t “imagine most shoppers wishing for more power.”
McIntosh wrote that the XC40’s conversion to an EV may actually have improved the car’s already-impressive handling, as its underfloor battery pack lowers the car’s centre of gravity: “That plus the all-wheel drive performance gives it grace and confidence around curves.”
Again, this is a vehicle other reviewers have already praised for its handling. Back in 2019, Pritchard had a blast driving his tester during a Sudbury winter, calling the XC40 “the most fun I’ve had with a Volvo in the snow. The XC40 can be as childish and slippery or as planted and sure-footed a thing to drive as you like.”
2023 Volvo XC40 pricing starts at $42,250 for a B4 AWD Core model with a 194-hp turbo four-cylinder engine. The top gas model is the $55,600 B5 Ultimate configuration with 248 hp. The 402-hp Recharge model picks up at $59,950 in Twin eAWD Core trim and runs to $73,900 for the Twin eAWD Ultimate package.
2023 Audi Q3
If the Volvo XC40 is one of the most stylish finalists in the Best Subcompact Luxury SUV category, the Audi Q3 is not far behind. Audi has a knack for adapting its styling language to vehicles of all sizes, so the Q3 looks unmistakably like an Audi despite its tidy footprint.
The Q3 repeats its 2022 top-five finish despite being in its fifth model year following a 2019 redesign. Our most recent review is Matthew Guy’s take on a 2022 model in top Technik trim. He praised user-friendly tech like an infotainment system accessed through the central display and a digital gauge cluster you can customize: “The Audi user interface . . . has menus which are easy to navigate and tend not to bury commonly used features.” Guy also liked that Audi places hard controls for the HVAC system below the central screen instead of incorporating them into the touch display.
Audi made the slick digital gauges standard in 2022, so you don’t have to go for the priciest Technik model to get them.
This year, the $40,350 Q3 Komfort 40 configuration starts with a 184-hp 2.0L turbo engine. In the $43,100 Komfort 45 variant, Audi upgrades that to a 228-hp version of the same motor that powers all other trims up to the Technik 45 at $49,600.
Matthew Guy felt that 228 hp was more than enough to move the Q3 with authority, but criticized the car’s eight-speed automatic transmission for being slow to downshift for acceleration. The Q3 also doesn’t have a truly high-performance option to keep up with the quickest vehicles in this class.
The Q3’s small size was evident to the six-and-a-half-foot-tall Guy, who found the front seat cushions too short to properly support his legs. He also described rear seat space as “pinched,” but that’s not out of the ordinary in a subcompact vehicle.
In her first drive report on the restyled 2019 model, Lesley Wimbush appreciated the lack of “wind or road noise intruding into the nicely crafted cabin,” and concluded that “the Q3 is a very nicely executed small crossover.”
2023 BMW X1
BMW is another repeat finalist in the Best Subcompact Luxury SUV category. Initially, BMW’s fourth-place finish here was based on the brand’s two-pronged approach to this category with its X1 and X2 models. But not long before this article was published, BMW discontinued the sportier X2, leaving the more mainstream X1 as the company’s sole entry in this lucrative segment.
The X1 is BMW’s least expensive model, its $45,800 price positioning it as the entry point to the brand’s lineup. But despite standing on the lowest rung of the BMW price ladder, a 2023 redesign helps it live up to the automaker’s reputation and maintain its spot as a Best Subcompact Luxury SUV category finalist.
Editor-in-Chief Jodi Lai thinks the new X1’s appeal begins with its styling: “I wish BMW scaled up this exact design for some of its larger SUVs . . . because it’s that strong of a look.”
While she found the 2.0L turbo four-cylinder engine makes “plenty of power,” what impressed her more was the way “all the mechanical elements work together seamlessly . . . and cohesively.”
Lai also praised the practicality of the X1’s large cargo area, three-piece folding rear seat – a setup she described as “so European” – and loads of small-item storage up front.
On the negative side, she wrote that the X1’s infotainment system doesn’t have BMW’s usual console-mounted iDrive dial, which is easier to use while driving than the touchscreen. And while the new X1’s base price includes more driver safety assists than before, BMW still charges extra for heated front seats and steering wheel, and adding those items and others Lai considers essential for an upscale vehicle takes the price well out of entry-level territory.
2023 Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class
Occupying the final spot on the list of Best Subcompact Luxury SUVs is the Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class, which falls to fifth place in the ranking from last year’s second-place finish.
Benz redesigned the GLA into a second-generation model in 2021, smoothing out the awkward looks of the original and creating more interior space. The GLA comes in three trims, all powered by a 2.0L turbo four-cylinder engine. The GLA 250 kicks things off with 221 hp, the AMG GLA 35 gets 302 hp, and the AMG 45 model squeezes 382 hp from its hand-built motor.
In a first drive test, reviewer Jeff Wilson noted the impressive appearance of the GLA 250’s MBUX infotainment system, but was quickly disappointed by the learning curve required to use it effectively. “Mercedes promotes the ease and functionality of voice-activated commands . . . and this might be the best means of operating . . . what the car offers.”
A few months later, Wilson spent a week in the GLA 35, whose 302 hp made this “little crossover properly exciting” with 300 lb-ft of torque “to rip away from stoplights and squirt through traffic in a most entertaining fashion.”
However, Wilson was less enthused by the GLA 35’s stiff ride, which “bumps and jounces around” and “only serves to shake up the occupants.”
Road Test Editor Dan Ilika took the wheel of the AMG GLA 45 model, whose “otherworldly” engine “absolutely howls its way to 100 km/h.” Of the GLA 45’s handling, Ilika wrote that “body roll is a non-factor even when hustling hard on a twisting road.”
The 6-foot-3 Ilika also liked the GLA’s interior, whose rear seat was roomy enough for him to fit comfortably behind a driver’s seat set to his preference. And with the rear seats folded, he fit his mountain bike in the back with just the front wheel removed.
2023 Mercedes-Benz GLA pricing starts with the $45,000 GLA 250. From there, it’s $53,900 for the AMG GLA 35 and $63,900 to get into the GLA 45.