By on September 28, 2016

2015 Jeep Renegade red

There’s a problem with subcompacts. All sorts of subcompacts.

Subcompact hamburgers. Subcompact basketball players. Subcompact beds. And especially subcompact crossovers.

After years of examining subcompact cars before purchasing a compact, you know the drill. With a subcompact, you save a little bit of money, realize negligible benefits at the fuel pump, and suffer sharp reductions in useable space, not to mention typical losses of power and refinement.

The burgeoning subcompact crossover market is no different. Sure, the base price of a typical all-wheel-drive subcompact crossover is roughly 15-percent lower than the base price of its all-wheel-drive compact sibling, but a handful of subcompacts are just as thirsty as their big brethren and some see catastrophic reductions in cargo capacity.

As a result, and as a general rule, TTAC is no fan of the subcompact crossover genre.

The value simply isn’t there — and we have some math to prove it.

Recognizing that consumers are nevertheless acquiring more than 40,000 of these subcompact crossovers each month, we wanted to know just how bad, or good, the value equation is.

We devised a formula. Incidentally, the vehicle that sells more often than any other subcompact crossover received the highest score in our equation.

TTAC Subcompact crossover compact sales chart

In fact, the Jeep Renegade, America’s best-selling subcompact utility vehicle, was the only vehicle in the spreadsheet comparison test to receive a positive score.

Here’s how it works. The issue we have is the poor way in which these urban cute-utes compare with compact crossovers. Thus, the numbers we’ve compiled compare a given subcompact crossover, the Jeep Renegade as an example, with its larger sibling, the Jeep Cherokee.

Chevrolet Trax vs. Chevrolet Equinox.

Honda HR-V vs. Honda CR-V.

Mazda CX-3 vs. Mazda CX-5.

Mitsubishi Outlander Sport vs. Mitsubishi Outlander.

Nissan Juke vs. Nissan Rogue.

Subaru Crosstrek vs. Subaru Forester.

We selected five major categories, including weight-to-power (in which the Renegade, CX-3, and Juke beat the Cherokee, CX-5, and Rogue), passenger volume, cargo volume, fuel economy, and most importantly, price. We’ve used advertised base prices for the least expensive all-wheel-drive versions of all vehicles.

  • Price: a subcompact that, in base AWD form, costs 19-percent less than its compact sibling receives 19 points. None of our subcompact entries cost more than their compact siblings, so all gained points in this category.
  • Fuel: a subcompact that consumes 4-percent less fuel than its compact sibling receives four points, a subcompact that consumes 4-percent more fuel than its compact sibling would lose four points, but none of our subcompact entries consume more fuel on the EPA combined scale than their compact siblings.
  • LBS/BHP: a subcompact with a weight-to-power ratio 13-percent better than its compact sibling receives 13 points, but a subcompact with a weight-to-power ratio 15-percent worse than its compact sibling loses 15 points.
  • Cargo Volume: a subcompact that loses 35-percent of its compact sibling’s seats-up cargo capacity loses 35 points.
  • Passenger Volume: a subcompact that loses 16-percent of its compact sibling’s passenger volume loses 16 points.
  • All categories are given equal weight

Of benefit to the Renegade is the poor space efficiency of the Jeep Cherokee. While the Nissan Juke offers 18-percent less passenger volume and 73-percent less cargo volume than the Rogue, the Renegade’s passenger compartment is only 4-percent smaller than the Cherokee’s; its cargo area only 25-percent smaller.

The Renegade’s argument is further strengthened by a large price differential. The basic 4×4 Renegade’s base price is $5,000 below the Cherokee’s.

19.2 12.5 7.4 -24.8 -4.1 10.2
19.1 17.4 -7.4 -40.6 -6.9 -18.4
14.1 7.4 -15.4 -37.6 -3.8 -35.3
4.4 4.0 -7.7 -35.2 -10.0 -44.5
14.3 0 12.9 -63.6 -15.6 -52.0
Outlander Sport
10.8 0 -4.8 -36.5 -23.9 -54.4
0 23.9 -73.3 -18.1 -57.4

While the Mazda CX-3 and Nissan Juke gain points in the power race — both cart around significantly less weight than their big brothers in base AWD form — they lose out in the space wars and have no advantage in fuel economy compared with the CX-5 and Rogue.

In fact, the Nissan Juke’s combined EPA rating is identical to the Nissan Rogue’s, but Nissan recommends premium fuel to achieve maximum performance. The Chevrolet Trax’s differential, exacerbated by the outgoing Equinox’s (four-cylinder, AWD) worst-in-the-field 23 mpg rating, was the biggest fuel economy advantage of the group.

In the end, the Juke, Outlander Sport, and CX-3 achieved the worst overall scores. Incidentally, they’re the three lowest-volume subcompact crossovers in the test. Only the Mini Countryman and Fiat 500X, vehicles without direct compact siblings, sell less often in the United States. We excluded the Buick Encore because the Envision is now such a significant leap upmarket.

These are purely objective findings, yet even with subjectivity excluded, we wouldn’t necessarily say the Jeep Renegade is the best vehicle in its class. Remember, this our attempt to discern how a vehicle stacks up inside its own showroom, not in the segment itself.

Our discoveries merely suggest that some of the credit for the Renegade’s success may be its standing relative to the Jeep Cherokee. Subcompact crossovers are not usually tenderly positioned in the U.S. market. But because of its boxy shape, favourable pricing, and on-paper fuel economy advantages, the Jeep Renegade is a better challenger for its compact sibling than its subcompact rivals are in their own showrooms.

Timothy Cain is the founder of, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @goodcarbadcar and on Facebook.

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70 Comments on “TTAC Subcompact Crossover Equation: Can You Find Good Deal in a Fleet of Bad Deals?...”

  • avatar

    What this formula has really told you is that you get more space per dollar in the compact segment. The other items in your formula pretty much add up to noise. (And as you point out your outlier, the Renegade, is there because the Cherokee is so poorly packaged.)

    The better compact crossovers are far better packaged than they used to be. I expect we’ll see similar improvements in the subcompact category as manufacturers get more experience building them.

    • 0 avatar

      If the smaller vehicle costs less, gets better MPG and has enough room for the buyers what is wrong with that? Some people around here love to rant that many people buy a larger vehicle than they really need and now we have complaints about people who buy the vehicle that they feel is just right for them.

      • 0 avatar

        Was I complaining or judging? I was only trying to make an observation about what the numbers were saying.

        My real complaint about subcompact crossovers isn’t the space but the fact that so many of them (HR-V and Trax being particular offenders) seem phoned in with respect to refinement.

        • 0 avatar

          Sorry if I implied that you were complaining or judging, that was not my intention. It was meant to be echoing your comment.

          • 0 avatar

            No worries at all. It’s the internet, so of course I was bound to misunderstand.

          • 0 avatar

            I certainly could have worded it better. Maybe starting off the first sentence with I agree, or wording the second sentence something like “and now we have an article complaining about” in that second sentence.

            Got your writing hand ready to sign all those documents?

          • 0 avatar

            Signed them on Monday, and boy is my wrist sore! The money changed hands today and we’re getting the keys at 2:00.

          • 0 avatar

            Woohoo! Now to stress that wrist some more and get your back sore moving everything.

    • 0 avatar

      This. I prefer my vehicles like my shirts – xl – but small CUV’s appeal to a certain segment that WANTS a small vehicle – I’m guessing mostly either young, single drivers or older retirees – who want a smaller vehicle for ease of handling/parking and because they don’t carry a lot of cargo or passengers.

      It’s kind of like faulting the 4runner for being trucklike – the people who buy it WANT a truck-like SUV.

      • 0 avatar

        That’s exactly why I believe the Buick Encore is a fit for the retired lady I mentioned before. She wants a small vehicle that is easy to park, but desires more room (not to mention reliability, cheaper repair/maintenance services, and more refinement) than her current New Beetle.

        • 0 avatar

          Speaking of retired ladies and Buick Encores, I showed one to my grandmother when she was buying her most recent car. She hadn’t expressed any interest in a crossover, but she was leasing and the Encore had attractive lease deals. I pointed it out in the Buick showroom, and she asked, “What is that? A little van?” She ended up going with a Chevy Cruze.

          • 0 avatar

            The first one I saw was one My wife’s 50 something cousin bought, to haul her an her mother around. Since then most I see on the road have similar drivers.

    • 0 avatar

      This formula is obviously stacked in the direction of punishing cars with a small cargo hold. That makes the smaller car an automatic loser. The carmaker can’t shrink the seating area (at least, not the fronts) to accommodate miniature people, so the decrease in size has to come out of the back, and when you subtract 35, 40 or 60 for a single category, the outcome is a foregone conclusion.

      You could “prove” with equal ease that the smaller vehicles were superior, just by awarding 1 point for every $100 in price advantage, 5 points for every MPG, etc. This is utterly arbitrary.

      • 0 avatar

        All good points above. A few more things:

        The Crosstrek is arguably not a Subcompact SUV. It is a slightly lifted exact copy of a Compact car, without the design features most of us would associate with an SUV or CUV (same thing). A barely lifted Civic, Sentra, Cruze, etc. would not likely make this list.

        With regards to:
        “Fuel: a subcompact that consumes 4-percent less fuel than its compact sibling receives four points”
        What metric and what system were used to determine your results? As has been pointed out on this site many times before, MPG is not a linear scale. Also, MPG is not a measure of consumption.

        Lastly, I would like to see this information used to compare all the Subcompacts on the list TO EACH OTHER and all the Compacts TO EACH OTHER. Maybe choose the cheapest as a baseline, and go from there. Just because the Renegade is the only Subcompact that is better than its comparative Compact (using this test), doesn’t mean it would beat its true competition in the same test.

  • avatar

    “But its cuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuute!”

    Sale made.



    • 0 avatar

      Isn’t that what the “C” in “CUV” stands for? I doubt many buyers are looking at subcompact crossovers from a value proposition (my old Lancer Sportback Ralliart had as much, if not more, usable space in the back than a bunch of these small CUVs. And we see how well THOSE sold back in 2004…).

  • avatar

    Now I know why Toyota won’t even enter this segment, I predict it will eventually die out when folks realize the truth.

    • 0 avatar

      I wouldn’t go that far, but apparently Honda is considering moving both the HR-V and CR-V up one size segment, leaving the subcompact CUV segment.

    • 0 avatar
      Timothy Cain

      The Toyota C-HR will go on sale soon.

    • 0 avatar

      Lol, Toyota “won’t even” enter this market until its model is ready. Same with Ford’s EcoSport, it will be in the North American market eventually, its already a strong seller elsewhere.

      But, yes, let us all give thanks for mighty Toyota and their infinite wisdom. Everything automotive can be construed to show Toyota’s superiority and how *any* product they build will last 394739 miles with one oil change and a carwash. Its really too bad that their cars are usually below class standards, are overpriced, and are bought mostly by the clueless.

      Let us pray.

      Oh great Toyota, hollowed be thy name. As I walk through the valley of the airport rental lot, I know thou art there to provide me with bland 10 year old new cars so I can drive around with an undue sense of smugness knowing I am so much smarter than anyone who drives anything less. A-men.

    • 0 avatar

      They WERE in the segment with the original RAV4. They quickly enlarged it, possibly over complaints about cargo space, and maybe the cost of making a subcompact more crash-worthy, more economical, and less prone to tip over.

  • avatar

    I would imagine that the findings would be the same comparing subcompact cars to their compact car siblings. But nobody cares about cars…

  • avatar

    I’ve never seen a promo photo of the Renegade that *wasn’t* a Trailhawk. That approaches false advertising for those who think they’re looking at a low-20s price tag, as all Jeep’s pre-debut press releases trumpeted.

    • 0 avatar

      Also worth mentioning that for the base price, the Renegade doesn’t even spec A/C, unlike say a $11k Nissan Versa.

      • 0 avatar

        The Renegade really is an impressive example of manipulated upsell from the get-go. Getting all the coin they can for the cute Trailhawk.

      • 0 avatar

        True … but neither does the Wrangler, and nobody seems to think that’s a Dirty Tricksy Lie, somehow.

        (Just like the base Wrangler ain’t a Rubicon, either.

        For that matter, I did a spot check, and the Jeep promo photos on the Wrangler site are … almost all Rubicon badged, in the ones that show the outside hood.

        It’s like car companies show you the Popular High Spec Version when pricing the bargain basement one as the starting price!


        • 0 avatar

          That dovetails with the general fact that manufacturers send only the high trim editions to press fleets so the reviewers get to rate the one with all the bells and whistles.

        • 0 avatar


          Well, I would never presume any Wrangler would be a value proposition for me.

          I *did* entertain such thoughts when hearing 20K and seeing a nice high-riding and cowcatcher-less Renegade.

  • avatar

    I would not buy one of them, too much road noise, not enough cargo room, just not a good value at all.

    • 0 avatar

      “not enough cargo room”

      This. That’s what this segment most lacks, the station-wagony space behind the rear seat of even the boxier models. But the most egregious destroyer of rear utility is the brokeback HR-V.

    • 0 avatar

      Just wait until Toyota’s entry debutes, suddenly it will seem like THE PERFECT car, mostly because of the badge. It could be a 2001 Echo but it would be SO refined and roomy and sexy and last 50,000 years whereas everything else with break 50 times a month.

      • 0 avatar

        Hey I resent that! My 2002 Echo is still rolling smooth and purrs like a kitten! Peppy little manual transmission, and a subwoofer under the driver’s seat!

        (My iPhone works great with a 1/8″ plug-to-cassette-adapter.)

  • avatar

    If you live in a city with extremely tight parking, like I do, the smaller exterior dimensions of a subcompact are worth a lot.

  • avatar

    I’ve always looked at this subcompact CUV class with extreme derision, but when I thought about it, my own empty nester parents could really use and enjoy something of this sort. They currently employ a base 5spd ’07 Fit for most of their hobby farm and bee-keeping duties in hilly rural Central NY. The car acquits itself amazingly considering what it is tasked with, namely climbing some pretty steep hills with marginal traction at times and having enough cargo volume to to transport bee hives, fencing, anything and everything gardening related. I remember visiting them and intermittently losing traction driving the Fit up a slippery dirt road in 2nd gear on the way to the farm. They enjoy the excellent fuel economy, and the car is a great grocery getter and commuter when it’s not on the farm (snow tires in the winter help a ton). Having said that, I could see something with a bit more clearance and AWD, while retaining the 30+ mpg in mixed driving appealing to them. Excellent reliability is a must as well, the Fit has only needed oil/filters/brakes/tires in the decade that they’ve now owned it.

    Maybe Toyota can bring over the “Rush,” the Avanza would also be excellent from a durability and cargo hauling perspective, but RWD only would be less than ideal. An HRV seems like it’d be a shoe in, but I think my dad likes driving a 5spd too much to give it up. Subaru Crosstrek or Renegade are the only two real contenders given their requirements then, and I don’t think serial Honda/Toyota folks would feel comfortable buying an Italian built Jeep with a small turbo motor to own long term, and I’m not sure the Subaru has the correct form factor with the seats down. If someone brought a super efficient compact fwd/4wd truck over, I think they’d be all over it. If Kia threw an AWD system from the Sportage on the Soul, that would be a perfect match as well.

    • 0 avatar

      From the way you say they are using the car, it sounds to me like they might find the fuel economy penalty for a 6-speed Forester (around 25 mpg in mixed driving) to be worth it. The excellent manual-transmission version of the Subie AWD system would be really helpful to them, as would the additional cargo volume.

      They’d just have to get used to the fact that axles would go on the list with the brakes, tires, and oil.

      • 0 avatar

        Yep I think a base model forester would fit their needs nicely, and they’d fit even more into the crunchy Ithacan demographic haha. There’s seemingly a whole movement of ‘back to the earth’ people in their neck of the woods that all live in modest houses set back in the woods out in the sticks. A Subaru makes all the sense in the world there. They have my old 4wd MPV (with snow tires as well) for when they need to haul something bigger/heavier or really need to get out somwhere in snowy conditions. And of course my mom has her ’09 RX350 (also on snow tires) as her everyday car and for road trips.

        I think a small part of me actually likes seeing the Fit used to absolute capacity, refreshing in the era of massive overkill of “just in case” this and that. It sounds like I was complaining about the poor traction over bad roads, but I actually had a blast making the most of my driving skills versus just coasting up with something AWD.

    • 0 avatar

      In my experience the over 50 crowd loves them. Also the Under 40 female crowd seems to love Jukes Outlander sports and the honda one. (too many letters) at least around here.

    • 0 avatar
      Pete Zaitcev

      Rush could be an excellent idea, depending on how much it would cost to federalize it. After all it is a Daihatsu at heart.

      Renegade is *HUEG*. It’s longer than my Wrangler actually. That’s why I started looking at Crosstrek, even though it does not have any kind of low gear.

  • avatar

    Thank you for including AWD in your equation. Although the sorority girls don’t care whether their CuteUV has AWD – this guy won’t put up with the shortcomings of any CUV without some increased all weather capability, I don’t care how many times a year I actually use it or don’t use it.

    • 0 avatar

      Sorority girls might be driving them, but they’re probably not the ones writing the check or securing loans all by themselves. someone is going to imagine their poor, defenseless daughter spinning out and crashing into a ditch during some bad weather and they’ll fork over the few grand extra for AWD.

      • 0 avatar
        DC Bruce

        As if AWD would prevent the calamity you describe. My poor defenseless daughter did quite fine in Madison, Wisconsin with the family’s old FWD Saab, equipped, of course, with real snow tires, not “all-seasons.”

        What’s worse, for those who don’t know better and believe the TV commercials, AWD will give them a false sense of security with respect to the speed at which they can negotiate curves and the distance within which they can stop, or even slow down to avoid trouble.

  • avatar

    I think the logic is wrong here. Most people looking at a subcompact SUV would have a hard time looking at a compact SUV, primarily because it’s such a huge size jump. Subcompact SUV shoppers are generally coming to them from compact cars, which are similarly sized but without AWD or that jolly ride height. COmpared to those, a compact SUV generally feels like driving a bus.

  • avatar

    Not to nit-pick, but isn’t the Renegade’s next closest sibling in size the ComPatriot? And if one of those two vehicles is the proper in comparison, I do believe that the Renegade stickers for a bit more.

    Such a situation would surely impact your scoring.

    • 0 avatar

      If you don’t want to count those, you have to at least count the soon-to-be-announced Compass The Sequel. I think they’re hoping it’ll cannibalize more Cherokee sales than Renegade sales though . In fact, it may be a step towards retiring the Compact US Wide platform entirely.

  • avatar

    Good one

  • avatar

    The fact that the Renegade is the segment top seller confirms that “metrics” don’t apply in many purchase decisions.

    It’s far from the cheapest, fastest, most reliable, best fuel econ, most loved dealer body, etc.

    But it has “appeal”.

  • avatar

    Ultimately, it seems like Mr. Cain is suffering from a strain fo the same disease we all suffer from at times. The “darnit why don’t people just agree with me since I know what’s best for them anyway!” virus. :) Ultimately, people like what they like, not what we like for them. I prefer smaller vehicles, I live alone and have a long drive. But I often carry equiment between my office and my datacenter, so I want a hatchback to make cargo carrying easier. So why don’t I just get a compact SUV? Besides the fact that they’re not all that compact? And they get worse fuel economy? And I don’t want to pay extra for these disadvantages?

  • avatar

    @ Kenmore,
    yea, it ain’t big, but the HR-V gains a few points with its floor to ceiling utility.

  • avatar

    What percentage of these small CUVs are sold with AWD? A part of me thinks they sell because a lot of people think they will die horribly if they try to drive a fwd car during snow flurries. If one buys a FWD version, which I suspect at least half do, then I don’t get the appeal… even if AWD really isn’t necessary.

    Combine this with the apparent fact that manufacturers can jack up a car an inch, call it an SUV, and charge a $4k higher price, and I understand their desire to sell them, if I don’t understand the desire to buy one. Case in point, Subaru Crosstrek vs. Impreza.

    There is one key reason to like the Renegade, for me, and that’s the availability of the 1.4T/manual combined with AWD. To me, NONE of the stuff from the Trailhawk version is required to make this an interesting car and that trim only comes with the 2.4/9A. At a sticker price around $24k, a Latitude-level AWD/manual Renegade seems like a decent deal even before discounts are factored in. Its only real competitor is the Subaru Cross Trek but finding a manual in one of those is like finding a unicorn and it’s pretty under powered. Both Subaru and Jeeps seem to hold their values incredibly well, to boot.

    • 0 avatar
      bill h.

      Yes Steve, when my son (an FCA engineer) was going to turn in his 2015 4×4 Latitude Renegade with the 1.4T/6M that he drove as an early production evaluation vehicle for the better part of a year, we decided to get it at the “employee cost” of $15k (w/13k miles, CPO). He saw no reliability issues during his time with it, so we felt it was a decent deal for an AWD CUV that was appropriately sized for our needs, and still got better MPG than any other car we currently own. And the manual gearbox makes it all the more fun, although it won’t win any drag races either.

    • 0 avatar

      “Jeeps seem to hold their values incredibly well, to boot.”

      I think that the only Jeep that can be said of is the Wrangler. Everything else not so much. For $24k, I’d be buying a Subaru Forester with a stick shift all day long. But I suspect dealers would be discounting pretty heavily off that $24k MSRP.

    • 0 avatar

      The appeal to me is, I want a wagon or hatch with utility, unfortunately for me at this point this means a CUV whether I want the lift or not, as I cannot afford the luxury makes actual wagons.

    • 0 avatar
      Pete Zaitcev

      One funny thing about modern Subarus is that on both XV (Crosstrek) and Forester, the manual versions are the only ones that still come with the viscous coupling. All the CVT versions use a slipper clutch like the one used on RAV4 since 1997. The question is, why bother with a Subaru if the signature Subaru technology is missing?

  • avatar

    Hmmm… I often ponder over what I will replace my 2012 Impala LTZ with when I reach that point. Another car? A smaller car? A CUV? Who knows by then.

    One car I checked out that I really thought was cool is the Cruze hatch back. I liked that a lot.

    I like the looks of the Chevy Trax, as it is a cheaper Encore, and I really don’t want a Toyota or Honda, but I may change my mind by then.

    Maybe a Compass… (running away FAST!)

  • avatar

    This is why we tend to see more adventurous styling and color choices on smaller cars.

  • avatar

    Not sure if this was mentioned, but the way a score is designed/derived throws subjectivity into the mix.

    I think subcompact crossovers are a waste, but I’ve been in Europe on vacation with various rentals and I have a new respect for subcompact cars. My manual brown diesel Focus wagon rental feels needlessly huge, though the added refinement is a big boon over the ~700 miles I have to drive it. But yea, subcompact is the new compact and compact is the new midsize.

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