Small CUVs are the new must-have vehicle in the US. In the pacific northwest alone, there's a Subaru on every street corner. I see more XV Crosstrek's than plain-Jane Imprezas, despite the only difference being some plastic cladding, wheels and a mild suspension lift.
CUVs that entered into the even included the Fiat 500x Easy, Kia Sportage SX, Mazda CX-3 Grand Touring, Mitsubishi Outlander Sport SEL, Subaru XV CrossTrek and Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Limited. Each vehicle had its unique attributes, styling and driving dynamics.
I'm conflicted on the Fiat 500x's styling. It has the distinguished Fiat look, but it's proportionally too long. Plus, I'm a bigger fan of its Jeep platform mate – the Renegade. The 2.4-liter inline with 9-speed automatic had no trouble scooting the 500x around the go-kart course. I was quite surprised by the throaty exhaust note from the little four cylinder, too.
I called the Kia Sportage SX the best compact SUV you could get for a balanced all around vehicle. While I still like the Sportage's sinister grin and Porsche Macan-like styling, I'm not a fan of the color. Brown seems to be making a comeback as a color choice on vehicles, but Kia's shade is like Chipotle, I just don't find it appealing, but some people do.
Mazda's entry was a street-legal go-kart – the CX-3 – designed for pure enjoyment of the go-kart course. With only 146 horsepower from the 2.0-liter four-cylinder, the CX-3 might not speed up as quickly in a straight line as the other class competitors. But with a curb weight a scooch under 3,000 lbs, it was extremely nimble, fun to toss around and the CUV to beat when it comes to windy roads.
Mitsubishi refreshed the Outlander Sport for 2016 with new front styling and tacked on faux fender vents. I'm not a fan of the new look and like the former 2015 styling a lot better. The Outlander Sport is no speed demon, but the Mitsubishi Super All-Wheel Control (S-AWC) all-wheel drive system shares technology from the Lancer Evolution and it's fantastic for distributing power as needed to all four wheels.
I love how the Subaru XV Crosstrek looks, despite not being a fan of the regular Impreza hatchback or sedan. There's something about lifting a compact car a few inches, adding plastic cladding and tossing on an attractive set of wheels that does it for me. It's the default car to get if you're a resident of the pacific northwest.
The RAV4 Hybrid was my personal favorite in the compact class – something I never thought I'd say in my life about a hybrid. With Sport mode enabled, the RAV4 Hybrid was able to provide a rear-wheel drive-like experience despite its front-wheel drive roots for plenty of smiles-per-gallon. The only thing that would make it better is stickier performance tires and the looks of the SE trim level, because the stock low rolling resistant tires didn't like being pushed to its limits.