Trucks and SUVs

2021 Finalists: Small Luxury SUV

We Canadians love SUVs and to assuage our endless appetite, manufacturers now offer them in all sizes, including subcompact, which is a relatively new segment of luxury vehicles. These small crossovers are for drivers who want something small and nimble enough to fit in city traffic, park in the little spots, and slip through sudden snarls. But the same vehicle needs to be rugged and roomy enough to carry their snowboarding equipment for a socially distanced weekend in the country.

Our jury of more than 20 of the country’s top automotive critics considered every single vehicle in this segment and voted on the best ones to move onto the final round of voting. The judges considered 12 criteria: Value, innovation, technology/features, user-friendliness, performance, engineering, driver satisfaction, design, safety, fuel efficiency, and, in the year that brought Bill and Ted back after three decades away, “overall excellence.” With all those variables, you may be surprised at how similar the numbers and offered features are. It’s a vicious, tight, competitively cutthroat category, but with heated seats.

2021 Volvo XC40

The XC40 won both this category and as the Overall Best SUV in last year’s Awards and it has once again made it to the final round. Summarizing it as “a lovable small ute with a few quirks,” long-time contributor Peter Bleakney gave a shining review of the XC40. It received high scores in styling, practicality, and safety.

Inside, there’s an economical use of space with plenty of clever storage throughout and easy folding to create more storage. Although the ergonomics and user-friendliness of the controls could be improved, interior design is chic and has a Scandinavian sensibility baked right into it, which is also reflected in the understated by handsome exterior style.

This small SUV also offers a long list of features, an excellent powertrain, and makes a strong value play. To quote, Bleakney: “Volvo and value in the same sentence? Yes, you read that right,” noting the base Momentum model starts under $40,000.

2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA

The redesigned and distinctive Mercedes GLA starts at $42,400 and sits low to the ground, more like a car than a truck, something that’s reflected in its great driving dynamics. The entry-level trim, the 250 4MATIC features a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine that emits an efficient 221 and 258 lb-ft of torque. It’s matched with an eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission that sends power to all four wheels. Riding on 18-inch tires, it leaps from zero to 100 km/h in 6.7 seconds. With the seats up, the cargo capacity is 435 litres; with the seats down, it expands to 1,430 L.

The driver assistance offerings include back-up camera, automatic emergency braking and lane-keeping assists, lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, and every city-dweller’s favourite, automatic parking. Try it once and you’ll never risk scraping bumpers in tight spots again.

Everything in the cabin is where you expect to find it, giving the driver a good sense of command. Roof rails flanking that sunroof offer further cargo-carrying expansion for when you when you want to quit town.

2021 Lexus NX

Let’s start with something completely different. Lexus has an app called EnformRemote that lets you start the engine, cool or heat the cabin, lock or unlock the doors all remotely. Imagine the impact on your mornings with no need to chase down your key fob. The app supplies plenty of other data for the more serious nerd, everything from fuel levels to vehicle health reports. The Enform technology extends into the infotainment system, which offers all the usual suspects, from Bluetooth capability to Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, accessible via an 8-inch screen that’s controlled via a somewhat finicky touchpad.

Again, we find a sporty contender with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine that churns out 235 hp and is hooked up to a six-speed automatic transmission. Cargo capacity is 501 litres and the NX starts at $44,350.

The NX’s safety features compete well in this category too: automatic high-beams that won’t blind oncoming drivers; radar cruise control that slows and accelerates depending on what the driver in front of you does; lane-departure and lane-keep assist to remind you with beeps and tugs at the steering wheel just how distracted you really are in traffic; and a pre-collision system intervenes by stopping you when you don’t see something, like a bicycle or pedestrian.

2021 Audi Q3

The Audi Q3 is an excellent representation of what the German brand offers but in a smaller and more affordable package. It doesn’t make a lot of compromises and has an overall feeling of quality that belies its $39,250 starting price. It’s easy to park, affordable, and is also roomy for passengers and cargo, with its sliding and reclining rear bench. The 530 L in the back expand to 671 L when that bench is in its foremost setting – and 1,359 L when flattened.

This small SUV contains yet another turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine that churns out 228 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque.

The Q3 boasts an impressive array of driver assistance features and a funky visual innovation, a 12.3-inch high-resolution digital gauge cluster, is available. It displays Google Maps, navigation, and infotainment basics, turning the traditional instrument cluster visible behind the steering wheel into a hard-to-ignore quasi-art gallery in your direct line of sight.

You can choose to decorate the Q3 with your choice of 11 colours and up to 20-inch wheels.

2021 BMW X2

The X2 doesn’t really look an SUV and BMW would probably be pleased to hear this because it calls this vehicle an “SAV”, for sports activity vehicle. And what does that mean? The X2 looks almost like a sedan from the front, while from the rear, it’s desperately pretending not to be a hatchback. Meanwhile up top, the panoramic glass roof expands the feeling of space, putting some calm into subcompact with seating for five.

The base xDrive 28i starts at $43,275 and features yet another 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo engine that achieves 228 hp that helps it get from zero to 100 km/h in 6.5 seconds. Governed by an eight-speed transmission, it delivers city/highway fuel efficiency of 9.9 and 7.6 L/100 km, respectively. AWD is standard.

The starting price is just that but there’s so much worth adding like the M Sport X package for the 28i model. It increases the power to 301 hp, making its throaty turbocharged 2.0-litre engine the most powerful four-cylinder in BMW’s lineup and dropping the zero-to-100-km/h number to 4.9 seconds.