Buy/Drive/Burn: Affordable American Subcompact Crossovers in 2021

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
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buy drive burn affordable american subcompact crossovers in 2021

They’re small and space efficient because they’re hatchbacks, and they sell well because they’re called crossovers. Which small American CUV is worth buying with real money if you’ve got a $25,000 budget?

Chevrolet Trax

The Trax is the oldest of today’s trio. On sale elsewhere since 2013, it arrived in North America in 2015 after GM saw the success of the more upscale Buick Encore. Updated and facelifted for model year 2017, the Trax continues into what’s likely its final model year relatively unchanged. The most upscale Premier trim vanished this year, which leaves the LS and LT. In LT all-wheel-drive trim, the Trax pairs its 1.4-liter inline-four (148 HP) with a six-speed auto, and asks $23,820.

Ford EcoSport

Ford’s EcoSport has been on sale in various markets around the world since 2013, though it didn’t arrive in North America until 2018. That year was a mid-cycle refresh year, and the point Ford was desperate for North American subcompact SUV product. The EcoSport is available in four trims: S, SE, Titanium, and the new SES. Unlike Trax, buyers can choose from either a 1.0-liter three-cylinder or a 2.0-liter four-cylinder on all trims except SES. Today’s budget nets us a mid-level SE trim, with 2.0-liter (166 HP) and all-wheel drive routed through a six-speed auto for $24,950.

Jeep Renegade

Renegade arrived in 2015, as the long-awaited replacement for the Jeep Patriot which seemed to soldier on forever. Sold in a wide variety of configurations around the world, the Renegade is on FCA’s Small Wide platform with the Fiat 500X and Tipo. It was updated and facelifted for the 2019 model year, which switched up engine availability. 2021 brings a dizzying array of eight Renegade trims which we won’t list here. Renegade reaches higher in price than EcoSport or Trax, so we must stick to base Sport 4WD trim today. 180 horses from the 2.4 are sent through a nine-speed automatic. You’ll pay $24,350.

Three subcompact sellers, which one goes home with you?

[Images: GM, Ford, Stellantis]

Corey Lewis
Corey Lewis

Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Writing things for TTAC since late 2016 from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio. You can find me on Twitter @CoreyLewis86, and I also contribute at Forbes Wheels.

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2 of 74 comments
  • 3SpeedAutomatic 3SpeedAutomatic on Feb 03, 2021

    All three represent the bottom end of the CUV market. Just like the Chevette, Escort, and Omni of the past. Each is entry level quality allowing others to joint the now defacto SUV craze. You get what you pay for. Not happy with any of the three, but will take the plunge: Buy: Fiat/Jeep Renegade - Drove one in Ft Lauderdale for a week. All was OK, however, it had a electrical gremlin: the starter would not engage at random. Let the car sit for a few minutes, and all was fine. Drive: Chevy Trax - Used to be an import from Asia meant reliability and great engineering. Looks like GM didn't get the memo. Have sat inside of a Trax while selecting from a selection of CUVs at a rental car lot and immediately felt something was missing. Went with the Renegade above. Burn: Ford EcoSport - Sorry, 3 pot engines don't cut it on the Interstate. I understand a 4 cylinder is available, but only with AWD. Is it possible to swap out a 3 pot FWD with a 4 banger without telling William Clay??? Sure would make for a better product. At best, buy a used version of the above to send you child off to college or attend tech school. Once your offspring gets their first regular paystub, guess what gets immediately traded-in at the local dealership. Makes them appreciate money, effort, and reward.

  • Theonlydt Theonlydt on Feb 03, 2021

    Buy - Jeep. Their used prices are surprisingly strong. It's funky. It's an awful car, but so are the others on this list. Drive - Chevrolet Trax - at high speed into the side of the Ecosport. Seriously, it's utter pump. The Encore has a charm, a very small charm, barely perceptible, but the Trax is dreadful. Not a good ownership proposition. Burn - Ecosport. The third worst vehicle I've driven in the last decade (the worst was the Dodge Caliber, second worse the Dodge Avenger). It was a "titantium" spec, like that made it any better. Cheap, cynical, nasty POS. BURN THE BASTARD!

  • 285exp If the conversion to EVs was really so vital to solve an existential climate change crisis, it wouldn’t matter whether they were built by US union workers or where the batteries and battery materials came from.
  • El scotto Another EBPosky, "EVs are Stoopid, prove to me water freezes at 0 degrees Celsius" article.It was never explained if the rural schools own the buses or if the school bus routes are contracted out. If the bus routes are contracted out, will Carpenter or Bluebird offer an electric school bus? Flexmatt never stated the range of brand-unspecified school bus. Will the min-mart be open at the end of the 179-mile drive? No cell coverage? Why doesn't the bus driver have an emergency sat phone?Two more problems Mr. Musk could solve.
  • RICK Long time Cadillac admirer with 89 Fleetwood Brougham deElegance and 93 Brougham, always liked Eldorado until downsized after 76. Those were the days. Sad to see what now wears Cadillac name.
  • Carsofchaos Bike lanes are in use what maybe 10 to 12 hours a day? The other periods of the day they aren't in use whatsoever. A bike can carry one person and a vehicle can carry multiple people. It's very simple math to figure out that a bike lane in no way shape or form will handle more people than cars will.The bigger issue is double parked delivery vehicles. They are often double parked and taking up lanes because there are cars parked on the curb. You combine that with a bike lane and pedestrians Crossing wherever they feel like it and it's a recipe for disaster. I think if we could just go back to two lanes of traffic things would flow much better. I started coming to the city in 2003 before a lot of these bike lanes were implemented and the traffic is definitely much worse now than it was back then. Sadly at this point I don't really think there is a solution but I can guarantee that congestion pricing will not fix this problem.
  • Charles When I lived in Los Angeles I saw a 9-5 a few times and instanly admired the sweeping low slug aerodynamic jet tech influenced lines and all that beautiful glass. The car was very different from what I expected from a Saab even though the 900 Turbo was nice. A casual lady friend had a Saab Sonnet, never drove or rode in it but nonetheless chilled my enthusiasm and I eventually forgot about Saabs. In the following years I have had seven Mercedes's, three or four Jaguars even two Daimlers both the 250 V-8 and the massive and powerful Majestic Major. Daily drivers of a brand new 300ZX 2+2 and Lincolns, plus a few diesel trucks. Having moved to my big farm in central New York, trucks and SUV's are the standard, even though I have a Mercedes S500 in one of my barns. Due to circumstances with my Ford Explorer and needing a second driver I found the 2006 9-5 locally. Very little surface rust, none undercarriage, original owner, garage kept, wife driver and all the original literature and a ton of paid receipts and history. The car just turned 200,000 miles and I love it. Feels new like I'm back in my Nissan 300ZX with a lot more European class and ready power with the awesome turbo. So fun to drive, the smooth power and torque is incredible! Great price paid to justify going through the car and giving her everything she needs, i.e., new tires, battery, all shocks, struts, control arms, timing chain and rust removable to come, plus more. The problem now is I want to restore it and likely put it in my concrete barn and only drive in good weather. As to the writer, Alex Dykes, I take great exception calling the 9-5 Saab "ugly," finding myself looking back at her beauty and uniqueness. Moreover, I get new looks from others not quite recognizing, like the days out west with my more expensive European cars. There are Saabs eclipsing 300K rourinely and one at a million miles and I believe one car with 500K on the original engine. So clearly, this is a keeper, in love already with my SportCombi. I want to be in that elite club.