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

buy drive burn affordable japanese subcompact crossovers in 2021

In our last edition of Buy/Drive/Burn, we took a look at three subcompact American CUVs competing at the $25,000 price point. Most of you seemed to agree they were all terrible, but the Trax edged out the Buy in the comments.

Let’s see how you feel about the Japanese competition.

Honda HR-V

On sale elsewhere since 2013, Honda’s HR-V made its way to North America in 2016. On the same platform as the Fit, the HR-V was refreshed in 2019 with a new grille and more LED goodness, most of it designed to make it look more familiar to Civic customers. The HR-V is available in LX, Sport, EX, and EX-L trims, and all-wheel drive is available at all levels. Today’s budget nets us a low-level Sport AWD. Priced at $24,470, the HR-V uses a 1.8-liter inline-four for 141 horsepower and wrangles those horses with a CVT.

Mazda CX-30

The CX-30 is the newest competitor of our trio. Introduced for 2020, CX-30 occupies a similar market space as Mazda’s other subcompact crossover, CX-3. CX-3 uses the old Mazda 2 platform, while the larger CX-30 is a Mazda 3 underneath. CX-30 is available in seven different trims, from Base to Turbo Premium Plus. Front- and all-wheel drive are available throughout the range. Today’s version is a lower-level Select Package AWD for $25,300. Power arrives via the 3’s 2.5-liter inline-four, which produces 186 horsepower. The transmission is a six-speed auto, also from the 3.

Toyota C-HR

The CH-R arrived for the 2017 model year as Toyota’s smallest crossover. Based on Corolla, the CH-R was initially intended to wear a Scion badge before that marque’s untimely demise. In a strange product planning decision, the CH-R is the only car here to forego an all-wheel-drive option. However, in other markets, the CH-R is available with all-wheel drive, which means Toyota would prefer you purchase the more expensive RAV4 if you’re in North America. There are four CH-R trims: LE, XLE, Nightshade, and Limited. Today’s budget mandates a Nightshade, which has lots of black trim and additional trim-specific paint options. CH-R is powered by a 2.0-liter engine from the Corolla, good for 144 horsepower, and all CH-Rs use a CVT in North America.

Three Japanese crossovers asking for your dollars, which one’s worth buying?

[Images: Honda, Mazda, Toyota]

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2 of 32 comments
  • Steve Biro Steve Biro on Feb 01, 2021

    There's no question the CX-30 is the best of the bunch - even though I hate Mazda's radio control interface. And the CX-30 is pretty peppy with the same engine as the base CX-5. The HR-V is nothing great but a friend of mine has one. Actually, it's fine for many people - in the same way a base Civic sedan is. But Honda's obvious cost-cutting is almost shocking. The CH-R? I have no idea who that vehicle is for. So... buy the Mazda, drive the Honda (but only briefly) and burn the Toyota.

  • Millerluke Millerluke on Feb 03, 2021

    Buy the HR-V Drive the Mazda Burn the Toyota - cause it's hideously ugly. I think it unintended accelerated out of the ugly garage and hit every beam on the way by...

  • 2ACL What tickles me is that the Bronco looks the business with virtually none of the black plastic cladding many less capable crossovers use.
  • IBx1 For all this time with the hellcat engine, everything they made was pathetic automatic scum save for the Challenger. A manual Durango, Grand Cherokee, Charger, 300C, et al would have been the real last gasp for driving enthusiasts. As it is, the party is long over.
  • MaintenanceCosts The sweet spot of this generation isn't made anymore: the SRT 392. The Scat Pack is more or less filling the same space but it lacks a lot of the goodies, including SRT suspension, brakes, and seats. The Hellcat is too much and isn't available with a manual anymore.
  • Arthur Dailey I am normally a fan of Exner's designs but by this time the front end on the Stutz like most of the rest of the vehicle is a laughable monstrosity of gauche. The interior finishes suit the rest of the vehicle. Corey please put this series out of its misery. This is one vehicle manufacturer best left on the scrap heap of history.
  • Art Vandelay I always thought what my Challenger really needed was a convertible top to make it heavier and make visability worse.