In the current subcompact sport-ute boom, the best vehicles boast features that defy their entry-level status. Are you man enough to go tiny?
1. Honda HR-V
Horse Power: 141
Zero to 60: 9.5 seconds
MSRP (from): $20,520; shop.honda.com
When Honda put the tall-but-tiny HR-V on the market three years ago, the company expected to snag young drivers with its smallest, cheapest crossover. But because of the HR-V’s extreme versatility, they found buyers across the age and economic spectrum. It’s the ride to get if you’ve got gear to haul but still need a vehicle that can squeeze into a tight spot. Remove a headrest, flop down the passenger-side seats, and you can carry a nine-foot surfboard. Fold the rear seats up and you can roll in a mountain bike. For 2019’s refresh, Honda adds the brand’s impressive suite of safety tech, which includes lane-keeping. The cabin’s soundproofing also does a better job of muffling the engine’s drone, and perhaps most vital, you can control the stereo’s volume via a dial again.
2. Nissan Kicks
Zero to 60: 9.7 seconds
MSRP (from): $17,990; nissanusa.com
Looking for an affordable ride for your teenage driver or college kid—without skipping on the newest safety tech? Nissan’s Kicks might be your answer: The base model starts at just under $18,000 yet includes automatic emergency braking—the single safety feature we think every buyer should demand. Our $20,290 test car had a suite of niceties, too, from a 360-degree camera view to Bose speakers in the headrests. On paper, the Kicks lags behind its competitors in power: The four-cylinder makes a paltry 125 horsepower, but coming off a stop, it feels sprightlier. That’s because the Kicks weighs nearly 300 pounds less than similar vehicles—a factor that helped us get 33 miles a gallon despite driving like a Monster Energy–swilling 17-year-old. Punch up the look by tweaking the colors for any of the 12 interior and exterior details.
3. Hyundai Kona
Zero to 60: 6.6 seconds
MSRP (from): $19,500; hyundaiusa.com
It’s time to wipe your brain of the lackluster experience with that airport-rented Elantra a few years back and reconsider Hyundai. The new-to-the-market Kona comes out swinging with a bump in power (175 horsepower if you choose the 1.6-liter turbo in our $29,775 test model had; a 2.0-liter pushing 147 horsepower is standard) and a more grown-up interior than its competitors. We like the Kona’s techie cabin, with everything from a heads-up display (optional) to Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and a touchscreen (standard). Compared with the HR-V, it’s got five cubic feet less cargo space and nearly five inches less legroom in back, but it offers more fun from the driver’s seat.