The Ultimate Car Guide for Gentlemen – Compact Utility

Buick Encore

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Small is in, and Buick—a big-car expert—wants everyone to know it can do small just as well. The Encore is a pocket-sized Enclave and features some of the big Buick SUV’s traits. Its stylish cabin is feature rich, quiet, and comfortable for four. The base engine is a 138-hp 1.4-liter turbo four, which delivers on fuel economy but struggles under heavy loads. A more powerful 153-hp version of the engine is optional. Handling is fairly agile and the ride is silky smooth, but steering lacks feel.

Buick Envision

With a stylish cabin and a roomy back seat, the Envision quietly isolates you from the real world—in other words, it’s a Buick. A 197-hp 2.5-liter four pairs with a six-speed automatic and front-wheel drive. Premium and Premium II trims get a 252-hp 2.0-liter turbo four and all-wheel drive. Active noise cancellation and an 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard; a 360-degree camera, adaptive cruise, and automated emergency braking are optional.

Chevrolet Trax

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Despite a cool name, the Trax is an unadventurous choice in a segment with more exciting, fun-to-drive choices. It offers a roomy cabin and is powered by a 138-hp 1.4-liter turbo four with a six-speed automatic; take your pick of either front- or all-wheel drive. Steering feedback is okay and the ride is smooth, but is tuned more for comfort than sport. Inside, there’s lots of tech, with 4G LTE, a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot, and 7.0-inch touchscreen featuring Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Fiat 500X

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Grown up but still cheeky, the 500X complements its minuscule sibling, the Fiat 500, by offering more space and all-weather capability while retaining its classic Italian style. A 160-hp 1.4-liter turbo four drives the front wheels through a six-speed manual; a 180-hp 2.4-liter four and nine-speed automatic power the front or all four wheels. A drive-mode system provides three settings for different driving conditions and the cabin of the 500X is packed with safety features and technology.

Ford C-Max

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While comfortable and fun to drive, the C-Max’s high EPA-estimated fuel-economy numbers are basically fantasy. A 2.0-liter four and electric motors in the CVT combine for 188 hp; in our testing, the C-Max and the plug-in C-Max Energi got only 32 and 33 mpg, respectively. If a hybrid can’t top a gas-powered opponent’s fuel economy, then why bother? The Energi’s EV-only range of 19 miles is inadequate, too. That the C-Max drives much like a conventional hatchback only furthers that point.

Ford EcoSport

As its name suggests, the Ford EcoSport is a sporty, compact crossover offering an economy-minded package. It has plenty of storage space and a snazzy side-hinged rear hatch. A 1.0-liter turbocharged three-cylinder with front-wheel drive is standard, while a 2.0-liter four with all-wheel drive is optional; both use a six-speed automatic. An 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Also available is a 10-speaker premium sound system pumping out 675 watts.

Honda HR-V

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The HR-V mixes angles and curves in an attractive design that lends it a sporty look while hiding its budget-friendly roots. A 141-hp 1.8-liter four comes with either a six-speed manual or CVT and front- or all-wheel drive. The flat-folding second-row provides cargo-hauling bragging rights, and rear-seat room is generous. Although it lacks some of the active safety features offered among its competitors, standard equipment includes a backup camera, Bluetooth, and 17-inch wheels.

Hyundai Tucson

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Named after an American desert town, styled in Germany, and built in South Korea, the Tucson is a globe-trotting go-getter. It’s value packed, too—touchscreen infotainment with satellite radio is standard. Limited models have nav and leather seats. A 164-hp 2.0-liter four, a six-speed automatic, and front-drive are standard; a 175-hp 1.6-liter turbo four, seven-speed automatic, and all-wheel drive are optional. The Eco model got 25 mpg in our testing, only 1 mpg better than a turbo we tested.

Jeep Compass

With Grand Cherokee looks and a budget-friendly price, the Compass is the tweener Jeep we’ve been waiting for. A 180-hp, 175 lb-ft four-cylinder engine can be front- or all-wheel drive and mates to either a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed or 9-speed automatic. It can feel sluggish when pushed, but the Compass is composed on the road, and the available Trailhawk model offers real off-road chops. Standard Uconnect and available Apple CarPlay are welcome luxuries in a comfortable cabin.

Jeep Patriot

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Those seeking an affordable off-roader should check out the Patriot—but move fast, as this is likely its last year on sale. It offers either a 158-hp 2.0-liter or a 172-hp 2.4-liter, both four-cylinders. For transmissions, choose among a five-speed manual, a six-speed automatic, and a CVT. Front-wheel-drive is standard; all-wheel drive is optional. Uconnect infotainment and satellite radio are standard. The Patriot is no joy ride, but its boxy styling is charmingly reminiscent of classic Jeeps.

Jeep Renegade

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Its seven-slot grille marks it as a Jeep, and despite its size, the Renegade’s a capable off-roader. A 160-hp turbo four offers a six-speed manual and either front- or all-wheel drive; a 180-hp four with a nine-speed automatic is also available. Trailhawk models get four-wheel drive with low range, hill-descent control, and a traction management. The interior boasts comfy seats and ample cargo room. Responsive steering, a comfortable ride, and good brakes make the Renegade capable on-road too.

Jeep Wrangler

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In a world of soft-road-only car-based crossovers, the Wrangler is a tough-as-nails off-road expert. Four-wheel drive is standard, as are a 285-hp 3.6-liter V-6 and a six-speed manual; a five-speed automatic is optional. Two- and four-door “Unlimited” models are offered, both with a choice of soft or hard convertible tops. The Rubicon gets front and rear locking differentials, a 4.0:1 low-gear ratio, and a disconnecting front anti-roll bar for wheel articulation and rock-crawling prowess.

Kia Soul

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No dancing hamsters required—the Kia Soul is truly fun and practical, which helps it earn a 2017 10Best award. Driving the front wheels is your choice of either a 130-hp 1.6-liter four-cylinder with a six-speed manual or automatic, or a 161-hp 2.0-liter four with the automatic. The 201-hp 1.6-liter turbo four is the brawniest of the bunch and comes with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard at this price point, and a panoramic sunroof is optional.

Kia Sportage

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If you can get past the odd face of the Sportage and into the driver’s seat, you’ll find a tasteful interior that’s almost Audi-like in its detail. A 181-hp 2.4-liter four, six-speed automatic, and front-wheel drive are standard on EX and SX; all-wheel drive is optional. The SX Turbo offers a 240-hp 2.0-liter turbo four. The interior features touchscreen infotainment; Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available. Active safety features, such as automated emergency braking, are also offered.

Mazda CX-3

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The CX-3 is a fun and feisty runabout with a can-do attitude, offering taut handling paired with edgy styling. A 146-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder and a six-speed automatic with front-wheel drive provide the zoom-zoom; all-wheel drive is optional. The CX-3 relies on its sport-tuned suspension and creative weight-saving measures to maintain Mazda’s unique brand of driving pleasure. The cabin is equally well designed, featuring high-quality materials and modern driving aids.

Mazda CX-5

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Mazda’s ethos is to blend sports-car know-how into every model, and the CX-5 is no exception. Sharp steering and a poised chassis make it the enthusiast’s pick. A 155-hp 2.0-liter four, six-speed manual, and front-wheel drive are standard; a 184-hp 2.5-liter four is optional, with six-speed auto and all-wheel drive. The smart cabin, easy-to-use infotainment, and optional safety tech—adaptive cruise, automated emergency braking, and more—underscore the CX-5’s great all-rounder standing.

Mini Cooper Countryman

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Offering practicality not found in other Mini products, the Countryman is agile, yet roomy for its size. Power comes from a 121-hp 1.6-liter four-cylinder, which mates to the front wheels via a standard six-speed manual. All-wheel drive and a paddle-shifted six-speed automatic are both options. The S and John Cooper Works versions offer more power and all-wheel-drive options. The Countryman retains the quintessential Mini driving characteristics and quirkiness, despite its larger dimensions.

Mini Cooper Paceman

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What we have here is a mini-er Mini, smaller and more expensive than its four-door Countryman counterpart. Power comes from a 121-hp four-cylinder with front-wheel drive standard, along with a six-speed manual; a six-speed automatic is optional. Mini Connected is optional and offers a 6.5-inch screen with smartphone integration. The Paceman still has the soul of a Mini, great handling, and is not without its charms. More powerful S and JCW models are also offered and are reviewed separately.

Mitsubishi Outlander Sport

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With its angular looks, the Outlander Sport cuts a swath through the sameness of cookie-cutter crossovers. A 148-hp 2.0-liter four with front-wheel drive mates to a five-speed manual; a CVT is optional and can be had with all-wheel drive. For more power, there is a 168-hp 2.4-liter four with a CVT; front-wheel drive is standard and all-wheel drive optional. There are some pluses—a low base price and a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty—but the Sport won’t steal an enthusiast’s heart.

Nissan Juke

 

The Juke puts the “fun” in “funky,” making it perfect for those who want a spry and speedy little runabout that also stands out in traffic. It’s powered by a 188-hp 1.6-liter turbo four-cylinder with front-wheel drive; all-wheel drive is optional. Sadly, a CVT is the only available transmission, which takes some joy out of driving. On the plus side, its light and informative steering makes it easy to fling around back-country curves or to jockey for position on a crowded interstate.

Nissan Rogue Sport

Known as the Qashqai in Europe, the Rogue Sport adopts an easier-to-pronounce name and familial styling here in the States. The Sport is more than a foot shorter than the Rogue, but the two share basic mechanicals. A 141-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder and CVT drive the front wheels; all-wheel drive is also available. Bluetooth phone connectivity, satellite radio, and a backup camera are standard; a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system is optional. The Rogue Sport goes on sale this spring.

Scion xB

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Scion has refreshed the new Scion xB look and has hooked it up with a youthful appearance which is sleeker than the current model. The vehicle stretches 168-inches long, 69-inches wide and stands at a height of 63 inches. It will have a wheelbase of 102-inches. At the front, the vehicle features a new fascia with redesigned bumper, a large grille and new long but narrow LED headlights. This makes the Scion look sleek. At the rear, the car comes with redesigned rear bumper and new chrome exhaust tips. The car 4- door vehicle will also be offered in new body colors all in a bid to gain more audience than its predecessor.

Subaru Crosstrek

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The rough-and-ready Crosstrek’s standard all-wheel drive and 8.7 inches of ground clearance pave the way for adventure. Acceleration is unhurried from a 148-hp 2.0-liter flat-four that pairs with either a five-speed manual or a CVT. The sedately styled interior is straightforward, with supportive front seats and good outward visibility. Bluetooth and a 6.2-inch touchscreen are standard; a 7.0-inch touchscreen is available. Options include adaptive cruise control and automated emergency braking.

Toyota C-HR

C-HR stands for Coupe High-Rider, despite this little ute having four doors and riding rather low for a crossover. A 2.0-liter four pumps out 144 hp and teams with a CVT. Oddly, the C-HR is front-drive only; all-wheel drive is not an option. Safety tech includes a forward-collision warning system with pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning with steering assist, automatic high-beams, and adaptive cruise control.

Volkswagen Golf Alltrack

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If you want go-anywhere capability in a fun-to-drive wagon, the Golf Alltrack is the ride for you—and it’s a 10Best winner, too. A 170-hp 1.8-liter turbo four-cylinder pairs with a six-speed automatic and a brake-based all-wheel-drive system. The raised suspension provides 6.9 inches of ground clearance, but it doesn’t deteriorate the Alltrack’s athletic attitude. A 6.5-inch touchscreen features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto; adaptive cruise control and automated emergency braking are optional.

Volkswagen Tiguan

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While comfortable, well-built, and distinctively styled, the Tiguan is short on interior space and high on price, making it a hard sell. It’s still a sporty offering: A lively chassis and well-tuned suspension impart a level of agility most rivals can’t match. A 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder makes 200 hp and drives the front wheels through a six-speed automatic. All-wheel drive is optional, but the Tiguan is best suited for on-road exploits. This summer marks the debut of a redesigned model.

About the Author Arnold Sithole

I help men look and feel their best by providing them with information to make affordable choices and to take decisive actions so they can get what they want in the world.

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