Car Reviews: Crossover SUVs

 Infiniti QX30 Sport, BMW X1 xDrive28i, and Mazda CX-3
Crossover SUVs are so popular with American motorists these days that it makes one wonder if the traditional sedan will soon become as obsolete as the two-year car loan or 3,000-mile oil change. That's a bit far-fetched, perhaps, but as General Motors CEO Mary Barra observed at the Detroit auto show this past January, "Once someone drives an SUV, rarely do they go back to a sedan." Indeed, crossover SUVs do seem to fit Americans' do-everything, go-everywhere lifestyles. And the entry points to the class is the so-called C-segment, or compact SUV, including these three recently introduced models: BMW X1, Infiniti QX30, and Mazda CX-3.

Infiniti QX30 Sport

Vehicle layout: 2.0-liter inline 4 (208 hp), 7-speed automatic, FWD

MSRP: $39,495 (base, Sport trim), $43,195 (as tested)

MPG, combined city/hwy: 24/33/27

Standard safety features: Full side curtain air bags; passenger knee 

air bag

Spare tire: Run-flat tires

Final assembly: England

Crash-test ratings: NHTSA, IIHS: not yet rated

Infiniti QX30 Sport

The new QX30 could be the poster child of the globalized car industry. Infiniti, headquartered in Hong Kong, is the luxury-car division of Nissan, a Japanese company controlled by French automaker Renault. Moreover, the QX30 is the result of a joint effort between Infiniti and Germany’s Daimler AG, and is built at a Nissan assembly plant in England.

In a nutshell, the QX30 is a Mercedes-Benz GLA tweaked by Infiniti. Besides sharing the same platform, they use the same 4-cylinder turbo engine and 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. There are differences, the most obvious being the QX30’s swoopy, deeply sculpted exterior and the double-arched grille. Infiniti also performed its own engine software and suspension tuning. The QX30 has a longer warranty, and its $30,945 base price undercuts the GLA’s base price by nearly $3,000.

The QX30 comes in several trim levels and with either FWD or AWD. Despite its larger wheels and stiffer spring rates, the QX30 in Sport trim feels composed on the highway, with a generally comfy, quiet ride. The responsive steering deserves a shout-out, and the engine provides adequate, if not neck-snapping, acceleration. 

Infiniti restyled the GLA dash, improving the integration of the infotainment screen. Rear-seat room is tight in both vehicles, and a set of golf clubs won’t fit in the cargo area unless you lower the rear seat back. But Infiniti’s unique “zero-gravity” front seats are especially supportive. The QX30 and GLA may be kissing cousins, but their personalities are distinct.

BMW X1 xDrive28i

Vehicle layout: 2.0-liter inline 4 (228 hp), 8-speed automatic, AWD

MSRP: $36,095 (base, xDrive trim), $45,670 (as tested)

MPG, city/hwy/combined: 22/31/25

Standard safety features: Full side curtain air bags; driver and passenger knee air bags

Crash-test ratings: NHTSA: not yet rated. IIHS: Top Safety Pick

Spare tire: Run-flat tires

Final assembly: Germany, U.S., or Brazil

Kia Soul EV Plus

Based on BMW’s uber-popular 3 Series sedan, the first-generation X1 was arguably the most fun to drive of all compact SUVs. Alas, the first generation is gone, replaced by an X1 that shares architecture with the Mini Clubman. A significant change in the base version is that it now has FWD rather than RWD. And no longer is a 6-cylinder engine an option; a turbo 4-cylinder and 8-speed automatic are the only engine/transmission combo offered.

The upshot? The latest X1 is less “the ultimate driving machine” but more practical. A little taller and wider, it’s quite roomy for a compact SUV. The interior is upscale and well-crafted except for the front-seat squabs, which are uncomfortably short and flat. A cross-mounted engine allows for a shorter hood, giving excellent visibility forward. There’s now more drivetrain weight over the front wheels—good for traction on slippery pavement, not so good for super-responsive handling. Still, handling is safe and secure. And the engine is silky smooth and plenty spunky.

A FWD 2017 X1 is the least expensive BMW—SUV or sedan—with a base price just over $34,000. AWD adds $2,000, and option packages can drive the price tag crazy high. But happily, even the base model comes with plenty of standard goodies, including a power liftgate and streaming Bluetooth. Stick to the basics and you can park this BMW in your driveway for not a whole lot more than you’d pay for a compact SUV from a less prestigious brand.

Mazda CX-3 Grand Touring FWD

Vehicle layout: 2.0-liter inline 4 (146 hp), 6-speed automatic, FWD

MSRP: $25,930 (base, Grand Touring trim), $27,260 (as tested)

MPG, city/hwy/combined: 29/34/31

Standard safety features: Front side and full side curtain air bags, rearview camera

Crash-test ratings: NHTSA overall: five stars. IIHS: Top Safety Pick Plus (with optional front-crash protection)

Spare tire: Temporary

Final assembly: Japan

Mazda CX-3 Grand Touring FWD

The CX-3—Mazda’s newest, smallest crossover—continues the carmaker’s penchant for creating bold, classy vehicles, with all the sheet-metal creases and curves in the right places. The high style, quality materials, and attention to detail also extend to the cabin; even the base CX-3 Sport looks pricier than it is.

But exhilarating driving dynamics are what really recommend the CX-3, especially the steering, which is precise and perfectly weighted, with excellent feedback. It makes the CX-3 feel like a partner in every drive you take. Power from the 2.0-liter, 146-hp 4-banger isn’t overwhelming, but it gets the job done. The CX-3’s ride is composed, albeit firm, and fuel economy, at 31 mpg combined, is top-notch. 

A few things about the CX-3 could use some improvement: Road and tire noise are prominent enough to be annoying; the backseat is cramped, the cargo area modest; and the infotainment controls are needlessly complicated.

Nonetheless, the CX-3’s virtues far outweigh its shortcomings. The best value is the high-end Grand Touring trim, with its abundance of standard features and upmarket materials, at just over $25,000. Be sure to opt for the i-Activsense package of safety features, which includes adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, and more. It’s a bargain at $1,170, $750 less than in 2016.

Photo (top): Courtesy BMW

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