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

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis
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]

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  • 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!

  • Jeff S We have had so many article about gas wars. A lighter subject on gas wars might be the scene from Blazing Saddles where the cowboys were around the campfire and how their gas contributed to global warming or was it just natural gas.
  • Jeff S We all have issues some big and most not so big. Better to be alive and face the issues than to be dead and not have the opportunity to face them.
  • NJRide Now more than ever, the US needs a brand selling cheaper cars. I know the old adage that a "good used car" is the best affordable transportation, but there has to be someone willing to challenge the $45k average gas crossover or $60k electric one that has priced out many working and middle class people from the market. So I think Mitsu actually may be onto something. Call me crazy but I think if they came up with a decent sedan in the Civic space but maybe for $19-20k as opposed to $25 they might get some traction there's still some people who prefer a sedan.However, I just compared a Trailblazer on Edmunds to an Outlander Sport. Virtually same size, the Trailblazer has heated seats, keyless ignition and satellite radio and better fuel economy for almost same price as the Mitsu. Plus a fresher body and a normal dealer network. This has always been the challenge off brands have had. Mitsu probably would have to come in $2-3k less than the Chevy unless they can finance more readily to the subprime crowd.
  • MaintenanceCosts At least on the US West Coast, Waze is perfectly happy to send cut-through drivers down residential streets or to disregard peak-hour turn or travel restrictions. I hope if it's going to be standard equipment the company starts taking a more responsible approach.
  • MaintenanceCosts I'm more curious about the effect (if any) on battery lifetime than range. Drawing current faster creates more heat and if that heat is not promptly drawn away it could affect life of the cells.I agree this sort of thing can make sense as a one-time option but is consumer-hostile as a subscription.