American Carmakers Bring Their A-Game in the Tight Competition Among Compact SUVs

Some years ago, American-made vehicles, especially those in the small vehicle segments, lacked much in the way of excitement.  But that was before the compact SUV segment became America’s most popular non-truck category.  Indeed, the popularity of compacts now has more to do with choice than budget.  Accordingly, American carmakers have stepped up their game to remain relevant in the fierce competition.

Chevy Trax Comes Back Strong

The first-generation Chevrolet Trax was discontinued after the 2002 model year.  But now it’s getting another go with the redesigned 2024 model.  This time around, it comes loaded up with a lot of high-demand features, while still remaining Chevy’s most affordable vehicle. It is in fact, one of the most affordable vehicles in the entire compact SUV segment.

American-made vehicles
The 2024 Trax starts at $21,495 but low supply is pushing the market average MSRP higher.  Our top shelf 2RS tester got added creature comforts and more sporty add-ons for a list MSRP of $23,900.  Adding a sunroof, driver confidence perks and special paint added about $2K and delivery was another $1K. All in, for $27K, it had much to offer.

Features and Power Exceed Expectations

It’s handsome inside and out. Five distinct trims LS, 1RS, LT, 2RS, and ACTIV are designed to meet every driver’s needs. Indeed, Trax starts with many of the same features you find on more expensive SUVs, including standard forward collision mitigation with automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane keeping system, and automatic high beams.  Optional blind-spot warning and adaptive cruise control are also available. The new Trax is also comfortable and spacious with exceptional cargo storage. 

A longer wheelbase and wider track provide excellent handling.  And since it’s lower to the ground, it drives more like a car than an SUV. You might expect little from its inline three-cylinder engine paired to a six-speed automatic transmission, but with 137 hp, it’s on par with its rivals. And with 162 lb-ft it has plenty of torque to keep up with traffic around town. It’s even rated to tow 1,263 pounds. 

If you do a lot of highway driving you might find acceleration to be a little slow. And its EPA-estimated fuel economy of 30 mpg combined is average for its class. The lack of a four wheel drive option may deter some. But as a city driver that will do just fine for the occasional road trip, it’s worth considering if you are shopping for a small SUV that’s big on value.

Ford Makes Its Best-Selling Escape Even More Compelling

Ford Escape is one of Ford’s most popular vehicles and one of the best-selling crossovers around today. For 2023, the Ford Escape got a significant refresh.  Outside, Escape gets a new look in front and back. Inside, a larger infotainment screen with a Sync 4 infotainment system are highlights. There’s plenty of room all around, including knee space for rear passengers.

Four Available Powertrains

Four engine choices start with a turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder EcoBoost® engine (180 horsepower, 199 lb-ft of torque) paired to an eight-speed automatic transmission driving the front wheels.  Higher trims upgrade to a turbocharged EcoBoost® 2.0-liter four-cylinder (250 hp, 280 lb-ft) with standard all-wheel drive that bests a lot of rivals in performance.

The 2.5-liter hybrid powertrain is also an option on higher trims.  Good for 192 total system horsepower, the hybrid drives the wheels through a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). 

All-wheel drive is an option on base trims and standard on higher trims, it is not offered on the Escape PHEV.  The plug-in version of the hybrid engine is also a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. It is paired with an electric motor, combining for 210 total horsepower. The PHEV is joined to a continuously variable automatic transmission driving the front wheels. 

Class-Leading Tow Capacity

The 2.0L EcoBoost® is rated for 3,500 pounds. The 1.5L EcoBoost® has a towing capacity of 2,000 pounds, and both the 2.5L Hybrid and 2.5L Plug-In Hybrid can tow up to 1,500 pounds.

Base price for Escape starts at $29,495.  With seven trim levels and options to add on all, buyers can option theirs out according to their wish-list and budget.

American carmakers
We tested the Escape with the 2.0-liter turbo-charged engine.  It gets an EPA-estimated 26 mpg combined in city/highway driving.  With Platinum trim, it included many features offered as options on other trim levels.  $37,465 was listed as its base price.  Extras including a Premium Tech Package with Active Park Assist and Head-Up Display, a Panoramic Vista Roof, 19-inch wheels and special paint added $4,500.  All in with delivery, it was just shy of $43K.

The Hornet– Signature Dodge Muscle

American-made vehicles
The base price of our 2023 model Hornet GT Plus tester starts at $34,995. GT Plus slots just above the base GT and below the R/T trims. The Tech Pack (adding more advanced driving aids) was $2,245. The Track Pack added adaptive dual-mode suspension, upgraded Brembo Red brakes, 20-inch Abyss Finish wheels and all-season performance tires for another $2,995.  With delivery, its tag was $41,810.

Road & Track says, “For when you must buy American, Hornet provides acceptable practicality and an above average driving experience.” From its functional hood scoops and wide stance to its futuristic interior, the Dodge Hornet does indeed share much with its cousin among the Stellantis family, the Alfa Romeo Tonale.  And it will cost you about $10K less than the Italian version.

American-made or not, few come close to Hornet’s performance. 

While most other compacts prioritize efficiency over performance, the Hornet’s turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder is good for an impressive 268 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque. Paired to a nine-speed automatic and standard all-wheel drive, it bests most of the competitors with a 0-60 mph sprint of 6.5 seconds. And upper trims are even more zippy.  And when properly equipped, the new Dodge Hornet’s GT and GT Plus can tow a maximum of up to 2,000 pounds.

Buick Encore GX Fits The Bill for Those Seeking Luxury without Luxury Brand Pricing

Those who appreciate a compact with more of a premium feel will relish all the Buick hallmarks on the Encore GX.  From its classy looks to its comfortable ride, and with a spacious and upscale interior and ample cargo area, it’s quiet and easy to drive. And all Encore GX models offer a robust list of included and optional tech and safety features.  With a starting price of $26,895, that’s higher than that of most of its rivals. But it’s still less than luxury brand pricing.

3 Trim Levels, 2 Engine Variants & 2 Different Transmissions to Consider

 All choices start with front-wheel drive, with all-wheel drive as an option.  A turbocharged 1.2-liter three-cylinder engine on the base (Preferred) trim gets 137 horsepower with162 lb-ft torque. Mid-level Touring trim and top shelf Avenir get the turbocharged 1.3-liter three-cylinder with 155 hp and 174 lb-ft. Front-drive models have a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).  And those with all-wheel drive have a nine-speed automatic transmission.

American carmakers
Our 2024 Encore GX AWD with top-of-the-line Avenir trim showed an MSRP of $31,900.  Another $2,700 in options added adaptive cruise control, wireless charging, HD surround vision, rear camera mirror with washer, hands-free power liftgate, Bose premium speaker system, Rainsense front windshield wipers and rear park assist.  All in with delivery, it could be yours for just under $36K.

More Compacts to Compare…

In our review about stand-out SUVs we include the Ford Bronco (considered a compact in its day when it launched in 1966, but now considered a mid-size) and discuss the Toyota Corolla and Hyundai Tucson’s place among the contenders in the crowded compact SUV segment.

 Hyundai Santa Fe  represents a unique half step toward larger midsize SUVs.   And the availability of a hybrid version is another compelling reason to consider it.

Mazda adds CX-30 and CX-50 to its compact SUV line-up.

The 2024 Encore GX is one of two entry-level crossover SUVs from Buick; the other is the all-new Envista. 

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