2017 Chevrolet Trax ・ Photo by Chevrolet
Crossovers are swarming American roads, and the latest infestation is a new offshoot of the breed known as the mini-SUV. These diminutive boxes on wheels aren’t new, but younger consumers on tighter budgets have willingly adopted them for their low prices, decent fuel economy, weather-beating practicality, and undeniable utility. Smart car companies are rushing new, smaller, more affordable crossovers to market, equipping them with plenty of personality and the latest infotainment technologies in the hope that happy Gen-Y owners will become brand loyalists.
In 2015, Chevrolet introduced the Trax, and Jeep debuted the Renegade. They join vehicles such as the Buick Encore, Nissan Juke, Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, and Subaru XV Crosstrek in the quest for bite-sized crossover market share. Some might even consider the Kia Soul a member of this group, because all it lacks for club membership is an optional all-wheel-drive system.
Honda joined the fray in 2016, adding the new Fit-based HR-V to its lineup. The HR-V went on sale in mid May, preceding the arrivals of the Fiat 500X and Mazda CX-3 to the mini-SUV segment, but not by much. We grabbed one of the first examples of the HR-V in order to pit it against the Chevy Trax and Jeep Renegade. The goal: determine which of these three most recent newcomers is the best of the trio.
Chevy’s new Trax is based on the Sonic compact car, which is most plainly evident from the driver’s seat. Our Trax arrived in Blaze Red paint, rolling on 16-inch aluminum wheels and sporting front-wheel drive. We all thought it looked like a rental car, inside and out. The Trax averaged 29.3 mpg during testing.
Photo by Chevrolet
Honda builds the HR-V on the Fit platform, and as a result it includes all of the functionality of one of our favorite little cars but with a slightly more powerful engine. We tested a front-drive HR-V EX equipped with a manual gearbox that few dealers will stock; the optional continuously variable transmission (with paddle shifters) would cost an extra $800. The HR-V averaged 32.3 mpg during testing.
Photo by Christian Wardlaw
Built in Italy on a Fiat platform, the spunky little Renegade is sold all around the world. Because it included an optional all-wheel-drive system that the Chevy and Honda lacked, for comparison purposes, chop a whopping two grand off of our test Renegade’s price. Omaha Orange paint on a Jeep Renegade virtually ensures that you won’t go unnoticed. The Renegade averaged 25.7 mpg during testing.
Photo by Jeep
A 6-way power driver’s seat sure makes the Trax comfortable, though, and the Chevy offered the best forward visibility of the trio. Storage nooks and crannies abound, and the Trax actually has fabric-wrapped windshield pillars, a feature commonly reserved for luxury vehicles.
Nothing else about the Trax, however, comes close to imparting an upscale look or feel.
Photo by Chevrolet
Clean, modern, tasteful, and balanced design characterizes the new Honda HR-V, which looks and feels more expensive than it is. Honda, however, has made some missteps with its cute-ute’s cabin.
Our larger and taller drivers did not find the driver’s seat to be comfortable, though in terms of rear-seat room the Honda was the limousine of the group. Plus, it had the most usefully shaped cargo area, as well as the hugely practical Magic Seat setup, a hand-me-down from the Honda Fit upon which it is based.
More than anything else, though, the HR-V’s touchscreen infotainment and climate controls earned demerits for their difficulty levels while driving.
Personality goes a long way, and that’s just as true of cars as it is of people. When it comes to a Jeep Renegade, especially one dipped in orange paint, you can’t help but smile.
That grin stays plastered on your face when you get inside the Renegade, for Jeep has placed a number of what it calls “Easter eggs” throughout the cabin, surprise-and-delight iconography that regularly reminds occupants of Jeep’s history and capabilities.
Simple, traditional controls made the Renegade less complicated to operate than the Chevy and Honda, and the roomy interior provided comfortable seating and plenty of room for luggage. Like the other vehicles in this test, the front passenger’s seat folds in half to carry longer items when the rear liftgate is closed.