2013 Chevrolet Trax vs 2013 Kia Sportage vs 2013 Mitsubishi RVR vs
2013 Nissan Juke vs 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek

Comparison Test: Mini-Crossovers
Comparison Test: Mini-Crossovers. Click image to enlarge
Related articles
Comparison Test: Compact Crossovers, Round Two
Test Drive: 2013 Kia Sportage SX
First Drive: 2013 Chevrolet Trax
Long-Term Update 2: 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek
Test Drive: 2013 Mitsubishi RVR SE

Manufacturers’ Websites
Chevrolet Canada
Kia Canada
Mitsubishi Canada
Nissan Canada
Subaru Canada

Review and photos by Autos.ca staff

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Comparison Test: Mini-Crossovers

Introduction, by Peter Bleakney

To paraphrase Mr. F. Gump, booking vehicles for a comparison test is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get.

The original inspiration for this comparison was to bring together the more diminutive and nimble offerings in the SUV/CUV segment, and with their smaller dimensions we expected smaller price tags. Cheap and funky fun.

Not so fast, KD-breath.

It seems our manufacturers were positioning their subcompact SUV press vehicles further up the price ladder. The first clue was the Chevy Trax LTZ with all-wheel drive and an as-tested sticker of $32,195. A far cry from its front-drive $18,495 base price.

The Nissan Juke was similarly juiced up with navigation and leather, and rang in at $31,373.

Time to change strategy. How about a comparison of puny utes with premium aspirations? Yeah, that’s it.

We scored a comprehensively equipped Mitsubishi RVR – it was the most expensive of this group with an eye-widening tag of $34,108. Kia scared up a very red and moderately loaded Sportage for $31,895, although it lacked navigation, leather and a sunroof. We invited the larger Kia because we wanted to have something at the smaller end of the traditional compact SUV segment to see if its practicality would trump the others’ attributes, and our previous Crossover Comparison winner, the Volkswagen Tiguan, was add yet another price factor.

Subaru didn’t have the more upscale XV Crosstrek Limited in its fleet, but not wanting to miss out on the fun they kindly provided a just-sold and yet-to-be-delivered customer car in an interesting Desert Khaki over black leather.

No Mini Countryman? A mildly optioned base Cooper would have fit the bill, but we’ll see a paisley unicorn before we see a mildly optioned BMW press vehicle. The Cooper S ALL4s we’ve tested would have been a conceptual match but they’re on the wrong side of 40 grand, much like the Tiguan Highline was.

Comparison Test: Mini-CrossoversComparison Test: Mini-Crossovers
Comparison Test: Mini-Crossovers. Click image to enlarge

Nonetheless, this was a very diverse group. We universally loved the look of the stylin’ Kia, yet the Juke, which can be fairly described as the demented love-child of a crocodile and a gummy bear, had us divided like the Hatfields and the McCoys.

There were more surprises in store. Halfway through the test day the Trax suffered a random malfunction that rendered it undrivable. This is the stuff of PR nightmares. However, GM delivered a replacement vehicle for us toute suite, and in a weird way this whole thing may have played in the Trax’s favour.

The original Trax was saddled with an unfortunate two-tone rental-car gray interior that looked horribly cheap and accentuated the large and uneven panel gaps. The replacement was all black, imparting a considerably more upscale ambiance. It completely changed the interior ratings and overall feel of the car for this writer.

Read on to see how this battle of the Tiny Tots played out.

5th Place: 2013 Nissan Juke, by Lesley Wimbush

The Juke is one of those polarizing vehicles that divide people into camps. While some immediately embrace this amphibious little cute-ute, others find it thoroughly repulsive.  In a segment that leans towards bland conformity, the Juke makes a bold statement of individuality.

2013 Nissan Juke 1.8 SV
2013 Nissan Juke. Click image to enlarge

Count me as one of those who think this odd little vehicle “grows on you.” While my first impressions were “Ugh – it’s a frog on wheels!” , the Juke compensates for its odd appearance with perky responsiveness and tight handling.  It’s an odd little package – oversized hatchback meets small SUV, with a high-tech interior geared towards the youthful buyer.

That interestingly sloped roofline greatly compromises its usability however. The Juke had the worst rear headroom of the group, and seating three across was an exercise in discomfort – attempt it only with those whose elbows you’d like to become intimately acquainted with.

Although the Juke had decent fuel economy in 2WD mode (10.6), it rises to 11.4 L/100 km with AWD engaged. And it does require premium fuel.

While the driver can choose Eco Mode to save on fuel costs, selecting Sport Mode really wakes up this odd little ute. Under the bulbous hood is a 1.6L, turbocharged four that puts out 188 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque that’s available from 2,000 through 5,000 rpm.  That low-end torque and broad powerband result in a joyful responsiveness and the Juke fairly begs to be pushed.

Most enthusiasts will be less than thrilled with the Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT), which is a big factor in the Juke’s decent fuel consumption, but like most of its ilk, does tend to drone.

The tiny, perfect little steering wheel features thumb notches for correct driving position and steering is quick and nicely weighted.  The Juke drives far more like an oversized hatchback than a small crossover, and is extremely nimble when cornering.  The thick pillars and rakish roofline result in numerous blind spots, so the backup camera is a welcome addition. It also creates a rather small hatch opening – cargo space was the worst in the group, proven by the fact that we could not close the hatch on our ‘test box’.

Some will embrace the funky interior, others will find it a bit contrived. It features a driver-centric cockpit that carries over the bulbous theme with a curved binnacle hood and round knobs and gauges. Air vents feature little touch pads for ease of use  – a simple but thoughtful idea.

The centre console interface, or “Integrated Control System”, is a bit gimmicky but sure to delight gadget-heads.

2013 Nissan Juke 1.8 SV2013 Nissan Juke 1.8 SV2013 Nissan Juke 1.8 SV2013 Nissan Juke 1.8 SV
2013 Nissan Juke. Click image to enlarge

Select the “Climate” button, and the info display relays all the temperature info, with button controls down the side. Hit “D-Mode” and the display switches to dynamic vehicle information, and the buttons transform into three drive modes “Normal”, “Sport” or “Eco” down one side, and “Eco Levels”, “Torque” and “G-Forces” down the other.  Cute.

Seating is comfortable, but manually adjusted for both driver and passenger.

There’s a fairly decent Rockford Fosgate sound system bundled with the backup camera, although the display screen is rather miniscule.

Overall, the Juke is a lighthearted, playful vehicle aimed at those who value style and fun over utility and practicality.

Pricing: 2013 Nissan Juke SL AWD
Base price: $27,078
Options: $2,600 (Leather Navi Package)
A/C tax: $100
Freight: $1,695
Price as tested: $31,473

4th Place: 2013 Mitsubishi RVR, by Jonathan Yarkony

Finishing fourth shouldn’t reflect too harshly on the Mitsubishi RVR. As these vehicles go, it is a practical, attractive and well-equipped vehicle – perhaps too well equipped. At $34,108 (including the $1,450 Destination charge), it was $2,000 more than the next most expensive vehicle.

2013 Mitsubishi RVR GT 4WD
2013 Mitsubishi RVR. Click image to enlarge

Although for that price it did come with features like selectable 4WD (2WD, Auto 4WD, 4WD Lock), automatic HID headlights, nav system, power-adjustable  leather seating, 710-watt premium audio (with 9 speakers, one of them a 10-inch sub-woofer, keyless proximity entry and push-button start, panoramic sunroof and 18-inch alloys, it never felt like good value. The ride was clunky and noisy, the sound quality received mixed reviews (the bass, however, was indisputably heavy), the interior materials were crude (the soft-touch dash appliqué only served to highlight the low quality of other switchgear and surfaces), and the touchscreen interface seemed downright archaic. Not only that , but the navigation’s ineptitude sent Contributor Lesley Wimbush on a prolonged ‘detour’ after a wrong turn on route.

Its main strengths were ease of child-seat installation (thanks to seat height, second row legroom and accessible anchors), decent cargo space, outward visibility, and something not often mentioned in our evaluations: the best warranty in the business with 5 years/100,000 km comprehensive and 10 years/160,000 km powertrain warranties. That should offer some serious peace of mind for any shoppers looking to hold on to the vehicle for an extended period.

However, that’s a very practical reason to choose a vehicle and we suspect people tend to shop more with their hearts in this segment, looking for a vehicle that projects an image of character and fun, qualities lacking in the RVR’s driving experience and emotional appeal. It did everything it needed to, but didn’t feel like its 148 hp and 145 lb-ft of torque, the CVT doing little to enhance its performance, and was judged the poorest powertrain and in handling. The RVR was most at home just puttering along – though it still seemed noisy at all speeds, clunking suspension at low speeds and plenty of tire and wind noise on the highway, which is about the only similarities it can claim to the thrilling and engaging Evo, aside from that big, gaping grille.

2013 Mitsubishi RVR GT 4WD2013 Mitsubishi RVR GT 4WD2013 Mitsubishi RVR GT 4WD2013 Mitsubishi RVR GT 4WD
2013 Mitsubishi RVR. Click image to enlarge

Despite lacklustre acceleration, it displayed 11.5 L/100 km at the end of our test loops, mixed in with a couple others in the mid-11s. The CVT and part-time automatic 4WD of the RVR failed to come even close to the Subaru’s far better observed consumption with its CVT and permanent 4WD. The RVR’s official NRCan rating is 6.7 L/100 km highway and 8.5 L/100 km city.

Take it away from these other vehicles and the RVR is a competent and useful vehicle despite its small size, and though it can be well equipped, it fails to deliver the refinement one would expect when paying over $30K for such a small vehicle.

Pricing: 2013 Mitsubishi RVR GT 4WD
Base price: $28,998
Options: $3,660 (Peal Paint – $160; Premium Package – $3,500)
A/C tax: $100
Freight: $1,450
Price as tested: $34,208

3rd Place: 2013 Kia Sportage, by Steven Bochenek

This is the first time I’ve predicted winners in car comparisons! I called the XV (which sounds cooler when read as the Fifteen) to come in first overall, but the Kia Sportage to win the beauty contest, then place exactly in the middle overall.

2013 Kia Sportage 2.4L EX AT AWD
2013 Kia Sportage. Click image to enlarge

First time I read “Sportage” I rhymed it with ‘shortage’. My first Sportage experience compounded that. A film/communications crew of three men, we chased the Kia Forte Koup across rural Newfoundland during the 2010 Targa Rally, covering 1,200 km over eight ten-hour workdays. We became intimate with space in the 2011 model.

It got funky.

But in this category, that space is no shortage. At 4,440 mm long, 1,855 high and 1,635 mm wide, this was the second-longest, second-widest and second-tallest vehicle being compared. It even placed first for Cabin Storage.

Instead, Sportage charmingly rhymes with portage (unless you’re from Manitoba), harkening to the outdoorsy romance this category sells its buyers instead of actual space.

Sporting aside, you’d probably use yours for dropping off kids and picking up bread. If so, the Sportage’s high, spacious rear seats and wide door opening make it the easiest of these five for installing baby seats or boosters. However, when tested, the baby seat still had some wiggle room, even when thoroughly secured. On the plus side, the seat’s recline feature still worked.

This Sportage was as pretty as its name — that fire engine red seemed almost wanton on this frigid winter day — but just like most pretty people we know, it’s a bit of letdown when you see what’s inside. (Though I called the Sportage to win for beauty, I thought the Juke prettier, but am utterly alone in that.)

2013 Kia Sportage 2.4L EX AT AWD2013 Kia Sportage 2.4L EX AT AWD2013 Kia Sportage 2.4L EX AT AWD2013 Kia Sportage 2.4L EX AT AWD
2013 Kia Sportage. Click image to enlarge

The Sportage heated up fast, thanks to its highly efficient dual climate controls, standard with base price. But I cooled quickly, while chasing the chain of four competitors during its test, our first run of the day. In last place, I had to summon much of the available 176 hp from the 2.4L four-cylinder engine several times simply to keep from getting lost. Between gunning it so much and keeping the heat on high well before the day’s events began, I may have contributed to its worst standing for observed fuel economy of 12.5 L/100 km. Its official ratings are 10.2/7.4 L/100 km city/highway.

It didn’t love corners. The steering and braking were so-so, feeling more truck-like than car, but that steering-wheel leather trumps last year’s strange material.

The Sportage placed last for stereo quality (sound and ease of use) and front seat position. However in both cases, it wasn’t for lack of effort on Kia’s part. You can control the stereo easily from the steering wheel and three months of satellite stereo are baked into the base price, and it was the front seat’s long seat bottom that frustrated some drivers, while taller folk found it supportive.

But the range of front seat motion? Heroic! Stretching up to scrape my head against the ceiling and flattening almost horizontal, it was less of a pilot seat than a dentist’s chair.

Overall, it was a middling sort of ride. Hence its position. Some excellent news if this review concerns you: the Sportage placed second for warranty with a 5 year/100,000 km for both powertrain and vehicle.

Pricing: 2013 Kia Sportage 2.4L EX AT AWD
Base price: $30,095
Options: $150 (Metallic Paint)
A/C tax: $100
Freight: $1,650
Price as tested: $31,995

2nd Place: 2013 Chevrolet Trax, by Mike Schlee

The Chevrolet Trax was the biggest surprise of the group.  It was the first vehicle we picked up for this comparison test and our first impressions were “yikes, this is one expensive little truck.”  But as we picked up the rest of competitors, it became clear that the Trax is actually competitively priced, optioned, and finished for the class of vehicle; time to readjust our expectations.

2013 Chevrolet Trax LTZ AWD
2013 Chevrolet Trax LTZ AWD. Click image to enlarge

On the road, the Trax proved to be the refinement champion of the group.  It received the highest scores in both ride quality and NVH (noise, vibration and harshness).  Not only was the Trax the only vehicle whose ride didn’t border on choppy, but it was also the quietest of the group.  Normally this soft, smooth ride would result in poor vehicle responses, but the Trax actually handles decently – one of the better handlers of the group.  This could partially be attributed to the big 215/55R18 tires equipped on our fully loaded LTZ AWD test vehicle.

Powering the Trax was GM’s 1.4L turbocharged Ecotec engine that seems to be finding its way into more and more vehicles.  As usual, it produced 138 hp, which was lowest amongst our group of five, and a whopping 50 hp less than the Nissan Juke.  But this engine is more about torque, and with 148 lb-ft on tap, the Trax had more grunt than either the XV Crosstrek or the RVR.  This is the real forte of the little turbocharged engine as the 1.4L always felt more powerful than it really was, just as we’ve found in other applications.

The Trax was also the only vehicle besides the Kia Sportage to incorporate a six-speed automatic transmission rather that the increasingly common continuously variable transmission (CVT).  Despite the conventional automatic, the little Chevrolet still achieved the second-best observed fuel economy, which makes sense since – after all, it has the smallest engine; it was still a mile behind the ridiculously frugal XV Crosstrek though.

2013 Chevrolet Trax LTZ AWD2013 Chevrolet Trax LTZ AWD2013 Chevrolet Trax LTZ AWD2013 Chevrolet Trax LTZ AWD
2013 Chevrolet Trax LTZ AWD. Click image to enlarge

The biggest knock against the Trax however has to be the cheap interior.  In both look and feel, the two-tone interior in our first Trax was rental car cheap.  I say our first Trax because during the evaluation loops we had a minor mechanical breakdown that forced us to swap into a different Trax.  This actually ended up being good news for Chevrolet as the new Trax had an all-black interior that looked far more upscale than the half-gray one in the original vehicle.  The rest of the interior is well laid out and didn’t rely on any gimmicky tricks to make it look more upscale like the RVR’s tacked-on soft-touch ‘façade’ or the Juke’s funky shapes and screens.

On the outside, the Trax features a conservative design that borders on boring.  It does look a bit like a Volkswagen Tiguan in side profile, but tall, narrow and awkward from behind.  This leads to tall storage area that is very narrow and a bit shallow.  It was rated the second smallest of the group, but cargo carrying capacity isn’t really a key factor in this class of vehicle; if you want more space, why not move a class up to a similarly priced, less equipped CR-V or Forester?

In the end, the Trax is one of those vehicles that does everything well, excels at nothing, but fails at nothing.  In this class, that is good enough for second best.

Pricing: 2013 Chevrolet Trax LTZ AWD
Base price: $29,330
Options: $1,365 (Sunroof – $1,100; Cargo package – $165; oil pan heater – $100)
A/C tax: $100
Freight: $1,500
Price as tested: $32,295

1st Place: 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek, by Peter Bleakney

I’ll admit to a certain skepticism when first learning of the Subaru XV Crosstrek. Taking an Impreza hatch, jacking it up and slapping on some body cladding and funky wheels smacked of a lame marketing trick to me.

2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek Limited
2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek Limited. Click image to enlarge

Then I drove one for a week. And it snowed a lot.

All of a sudden this high-riding Impreza with the rugged swagger came into its own. With a special nod going to the snow tires, this Subie was unstoppable, and its tidy size, excellent outward visibility and general lightness-of-being made it an absolute hoot to boot about in the white stuff.

Sure, the “regular” Impreza hatch is competent, but it is dull. In the admittedly pricier XV Crosstrek form, this compact five-door hatchback is infinitely more appealing. The XV has funky charm, and a couple of interesting colours add real pizazz. Additionally, the higher seat points make ingress and egress a breeze.

Yet there must have been a lot more than this to warrant such a decisive victory in our group test.

Being based on a car, the XV was the most car-like to drive. It tied with the sporty Juke for best handler, and throughout our test the Crosstrek showed confidence-inspiring balance and a linear and feelsome helm. Its elevated ride height didn’t seem to adversely affect handling either. Body control is good, although some testers found the ride pitchy and jittery over some surfaces.

Strangely, the Crosstrek gives the impression of being bigger than the Impreza hatch on which it is based. Whatever the case, back seat leg room and head room are generous and the hatch easily swallowed our test box, getting the best marks for cargo space.

2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek Limited2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek Limited2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek Limited2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek Limited
2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek Limited. Click image to enlarge

This Subaru in an extremely user-friendly device. The 2.0L boxer-four provides sufficient urge, and mated to the CVT there is an eager tip-in off the line. The paddle shifters quickly toggle through six ‘virtual’ gears if you are so inclined.

The Subaru’s interior quality got the best marks here, although it’s hardly rubbing shoulders with Audi or Infiniti. That said, the rotary HVAC controls operate with an expensive feel and the audio with its seven-band EQ garnered universal praise.

On the down side, the touch screen drew criticism for its small and hard to see “buttons”, and Senior Editor Yarkony discovered this was the hardest vehicle in which to install his child seat.

The real kicker here was fuel economy. This Subie absolutely creamed the competitors with a 9.6 L/100 km showing over the test day. And this little SUV is no slug – unlike the lethargic Mitsubishi RVR whose 2.0L four generates the same 148 hp and 145 lb-ft. The Mitsubishi, which weighs about 65 kg more, returned 11.5 L/100 km.

And finally we come to price. At $31,990 the Subaru XV Crosstrek Limited was the second most affordable vehicle in the test. Game, set, match.

Pricing: 2013 Subaru XV Crosstrek Limited
Base price: $28,995
Options: $1,300 (CVT)
A/C tax: $100
Freight: $1,595
Price as tested: $31,990

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