Big glitzy SUVs may be strutting their stuff all over the roads in the USA, but small, sprightly crossovers like the Toyota C-HR know how to draw attention. But, while the compact in question may disappoint once you get past its sporty good looks, there are plenty of others out there that manage to deliver on the promise that their stylish appearance makes. And consumers that know it isn’t the size that matters are the ones smiling as they zip around town, weaving through traffic while the Cadillac Escalades are backed up and can’t find a parking spot big enough for those giant rear ends. Some of the most exciting names in this segment include the:
- Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class
- Ford Mustang Mach-E
- Tesla Model Y
- Volvo XC40
- Mazda CX-30
- Toyota RAV4
Real star power
Naturally, there are plenty of genuine luxury brands that know the value of a sexy compact. Both Mercedes-Benz and Volvo have excellent offerings. The latter even offers its prize-winning XC40 as a fully electric option.
Available as a standard model or an AMG variant, the smallest of the German high-riders is a gorgeous piece of machinery. The aggressive, studded front fascia is just the introduction, which sweeps up to a hood with sporty power domes before climbing the slim pillars to a sloping roofline. The image is rounded out with uniquely designed split tail lights, and bold 20-inch wheels are available.
But it’s not all sizzle and no bacon. Even in its base configuration, the GLA has 208 horsepower at its disposal. Combined with a refined automatic transmission and nimble handling, it feels as good as it looks. Naturally, this extends to the lavishly appointed interior, which is exactly what we have come to expect from the brand. However, it doesn’t have the most spacious back seat and the trunk won’t service an entire family.
The Swedish compact is one of the most distinctive vehicles on the US market, whether you opt for the standard or the Recharge. The electric model swaps out the trademark grille for a solid variant, and skips out on the exhaust, but it retains the Thor’s Hammer LED headlights and straight-edged body. Another change beneath the surface is the “frunk” – since there is no combustion engine, all that extra space was put to good use to deliver even more cargo space than the gas version.
Nevertheless, the electric motors put out a combined 402 horsepower, which is more than enough to offer an exciting driving experience. And paired with a long list of standard safety features, such as forward collision avoidance, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert, ensure that you will have no stress while maneuvering through rush hour traffic.
Style on a budget
If you’re not particularly keen to empty your wallet, but still want to make a good impression, there are still some great choices out there. You may have to compromise on the interior, though, and perhaps a few features.
The Japanese seem to have mastered the art of creating attractive vehicles at low cost. It’s hard to find an ugly Mazda. Also, while in the past, the interiors have been in stark contrast to the exterior, recent years have seen vast improvements. Now, the small crossovers from the brand are just as appealing on the inside.
The CX-30 is a niche product that slots in between the smallest model and the regular compact. However, this also makes it extremely popular since it is more spacious than the subcompacts most consumers buy. Unfortunately, you do have to spring for the fully loaded model to get the turbocharged engine, but even the base model is nice to look at with its giant grille juxtaposing the sleek headlights. Blacked-out 18-inch wheels give it a more imposing stance, while the available sunroof adds a certain air of luxury, if you’ll excuse the pun.
Another top-seller, the RAV4 is offered in three configurations: gasoline, hybrid, and plug-in hybrid. Each offers varying levels of performance, but the hybrids are miles ahead in efficiency – quite literally. The PHEV Prime is actually one of the quickest small SUVs for sale, zipping from 0-60 mph in just 5.7 seconds.
Since it is the pinnacle of the range, as the name suggests, the electrically assisted Toyota stands out with a bespoke front bumper and grille, both blacked out for optimal attitude. This looks particularly good when paired with the available 19-inch black alloy wheels, and you could take it a step further with the black roof on the top-tier trim.
Aside from its good looks, the RAV4 is phenomenally practical, with a fuel-efficient powertrain and loads of space around the cabin. This includes a highly competitive trunk, capable of storing 33.5 cubic feet of goods. Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 is included as standard along with a modern eight-inch infotainment interface.
A stellar lineup
Apart from these highly popular choices, there are still quite a few great-looking and affordable cars that go relatively unnoticed by non-motoring enthusiasts. The Volkswagen GTI is a sporty hatchback, though this particular style of vehicle is a rare sight these days.
Of course, there are the ever-popular local choices, like the Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang, but these are hardly small cars. The Mini Cooper Clubman is a good alternative if you want to maintain the small footprint but not sacrifice on the fun. These particular choices differ a bit from those above in that they either cost more or make compromises to the interior to keep costs down while emphasizing the fun.
As we move into the most uncharted waters of plug-in electric cars, the whole philosophy of motor vehicle aesthetics is changing. So, it may not be too long before these stylish rides are seen as old-fashioned, or maybe they’ll be appealingly retro? Only time will tell.