Photo courtesy of Fiat Chrysler Automotives

Automakers are betting big on even smaller SUVs. Building on the overwhelming popularity of small SUVs, Honda, Jeep and Mazda have released all-new subcompact SUVs in the past year that they believe will become hot commodities. Aimed at first-time car buyers, young families and empty-nesters, these vehicles combine flexible cargo space with a commanding view of the road, at a price point that many people can afford.

Three subcompact SUVs are setting the pace for the class: the Mazda CX-3, Honda HR-V and Jeep Renegade. Despite the CX-3's top overall ranking, both the HR-V and the Renegade trump it in some individual categories.

Photo courtesy of Mazda North American Operations

Performance: No one expects world-class speed from these small, affordably priced vehicles. But the CX-3 handles exceptionally well, according to reviewers, with some saying its handling is best-in-class. Test drivers also report that the steering is particularly tight, which lets the CX-3 handle corners and turns with ease.

The CX-3’s one performance weak point is acceleration. While the four-cylinder engine is fine around town, critics say the CX-3 can have trouble passing cars on the highway. The Jeep Renegade, by contrast, has a standard turbocharged four-cylinder engine with a manual transmission that reviewers say has sufficient power for highway driving.

Photo Courtesy of American Honda Motor Co., Inc.

Interior: Both the Jeep Renegade and Honda HR-V have better interior scores than the Mazda CX-3. Most critics complain that room in the back seats of the CX-3 is tight, especially when the front seats are adjusted for an average size adult. A few also find the back seats are positioned too high, increasing an adult passenger’s level of discomfort.

On the other hand, test drivers say the HR-V has very roomy rear seats and provides the most overall cargo space among the three. The Renegade rivals the HR-V in seating space for passengers, with some critics describing the interior as “airy,” even with five adults inside.

All three subcompact SUVs have a number of standard connectivity and safety features, with the Renegade earning praise for its easy-to-use UConnect infotainment system. However, amid growing concerns over vehicle hacking, the Renegade has been recalled in order to patch a security vulnerability. Both the HR-V and the CX-3 come standard with a rearview camera, while the Renegade does not.

Reliability: The Jeep Renegade competes well with the CX-3 for performance, and ranks better than the CX-3 and HR-V for interior comfort. Its reliability, however, is in question. Neither the CX-3 nor the HR-V have been rated for reliability by J.D. Power and Associates as of now. But these two automakers tend to earn very good reliability scores, and poor scores for the CX-3 and HR-V would be unexpected. The Renegade has been scored and received a not impressive 2.5 circles on a five circle scale. Three circles is “about average,” and two circles is “the rest.” Such reliability scores are typical of Jeep vehicles.

The subcompact SUV that is best for you will, of course, depend upon your individual needs. The Mazda CX-3 and the Honda HR-V are solid, all-around vehicles. While the Renegade is their equal or better in individual categories, its reliability score keeps it in third place.

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