When we refer to subcompact SUVs, we’re talking about pretty small machines. As the name suggests, subcompact means it’s a class below compact, so this is never going to be a proper ladder-framed chassis with a body on top.
Rather, these are crossovers – a monocoque construction where the body is the chassis – but that doesn’t mean they can’t be luxurious. The category is blessed with tiny SUVs that abound in leather, woodgrain and have all the latest connectivity features. So, which should you choose?
The five best luxury subcompact SUV models
It’s a list that looks complete, I’m sure you’ll agree. But there is one vehicle which is missing – the new Lexus UX.
That’s not because it doesn’t fit into the category. Rather, it hasn’t been released yet, and we haven’t driven it either. While it could very well become the best in its category, it’s a 2019 car and therefore can’t be included in our list above.
So let’s talk about the reasons why we’ve included those five vehicles.
This is one of the darlings of the segment, with a very different take on what luxury should be. For example, it may not seem luxurious to have recycled water bottles used in your door cards, but feel the texture of the felt-like material that has been created from the bottles, and you start to comprehend what Volvo is doing.
There are a heap of drive-train choices and the interior presentation is second to none. With a large touchscreen infotainment system that operates like an iPad, the XC40 is familiar to the millenial generation which it’s aimed at, but also familar to anyone else who wants something a bit smaller than an XC60.
The thing is, it’s not small at all. Hop inside and you’re greeted with massive legroom and good headroom.
It also drives very well, and later on will come in electrified versions for those who are a little more environmentally conscious.
Based on the same platform as the truly excellent BMW X1, the X2 is a fraction smaller and therefore is closer to the ideal size for a subcompact SUV. It has all the hallmarks of the X1, with its excellent build quality, road-hugging handling and space.
But it’s also a bit more quirky than the more conventional X1, with the roundel on the rear pillars, the coupe-like shape and the wide kidney grille.
Inside you’ll find a very modern take on BMW’s cabin presentation and the iDrive 6 infotainment system is right up there with connectivity and speed that matches the best of them. And laid out in both tile and menu form, it’s very easy to navigate.
The harder plastics are cleverly disguised in the lower sections of the cabin, and the whole interior feels premium.
You can have both gasoline and diesel options and when paired with the eight speed auto, the drive-trains are very smooth and refined. We’ll have a full drive review up soon, so watch out for that one.
The Q2 is one of those vehicles that looks a little awkward in photos, but once you see it in the metal, it all starts to make sense.
It has the same interior presentation as the Audi A3, but is packaged in crossover form, so it’s very classy and functional, too.
Audi’s fantastic MMI infotainment features here, with a screen that cleverly disappears into the dash when the car is switched off. But it’s easy to navigate and set up to your personal preferences.
It actually drives a bit better than the A3 as well, thanks to slightly longer travel suspension giving a more comfortable ride. And when optioned with leather seats, it’s a very comfortable way to cruise the streets.
One thing must be said, though – it isn’t the last word in interior space. It’s a small crossover and as such doesn’t benefit from the legroom and headroom in the back that the X2 and XC40 have. The luggage space also isn’t that great.
Despite this, the drive experience and build quality more than make up for it. If it’s an urban luxury runabout you need, the Q2 should definitely be on your shopping list.
Like the Audi Q2, the Mercedes-Benz GLA is based on the same platform as a hatch, which is a disadvantage because it means that the proportions and interior space are largely dictated by a small hatchback, but it’s an advantage because its squat dimensions means it’s kind of a pocket rocket. Especially in GLA 45 AMG guise.
But let’s look at what most folks go for – the GLA 250. This is a turbocharged crossover that has a three-pointed star up front, and for most people, that’s enough.
But it also offers an involving drive experience, its 208-hp turbo 2.0-liter inline-four can be had in front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive versions and the seven-speed auto does an excellent job of smoothly shifting and keeping the engine on the boil when need be.
You can have Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and Wi-Fi if you option them, and the stereo is pretty good, too. But thanks to its size, it’s easy to park and easy on the dino-juice.
A vehicle that often gets overlooked is the Infiniti QX30, and we feel the reason is that it looks more like a hatchback than a crossover. However, its longer shape belies its ground clearance and its performance on dirt roads.
It will surprise most with how far off the beaten path it can be taken. But let’s be honest, most of the time it will be stuck on city streets. And that’s no bad thing, because it’s right at home there as well.
What makes it worth a second look?
Well, its refined 208-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four is very nice, with a good amount of torque and refinement. There are front or all wheel drive versions, and the seven-speed automatic is adept at keeping the QX30 feeling alive.
More importantly, its car-like chassis offers excellent road-holding and grip, so when the straight roads of the city turn into something more challenging, this Infiniti doesn’t curl up into a ball and want to go home. Instead it relishes the opportunity to get into it.
The cabin is very attractive and everything feels solidly put together. Sure, the 7.0-inch infotainment touchscreen is starting to show its age, but it’s still functional and responsive.
on the negative side of the ledger, however, is a very cramped and impractical cabin. This is why it features last on our list of subcompact luxury SUVs. But if having something European isn’t your thing, and you want the reliability of a Japanese brand, you can’t ask for much more than this.
Yes, 2019 has brought us some fascinating machines, and you can take a look at some of those we’ve reviewed already by heading over to our SUV Reviews page.