The 2024 Subaru Impreza RS Is Trying To Find Itself

In a crowded compact hatchback segment, the normal Impreza has some challenges.

Subaru has some long-standing credibility among two very distinctly different owner bases, helping it enjoy success for decades. If you’re the enthusiast driver who wants to hit the canyons, autocross, or track, the Impreza WRX and STi variants have had your attention. Should you be the outdoorsy type who loves to hit your local farmers market and explore hiking trails, Subaru offers a handful of models in varying sizes to meet any demands you have.

The Impreza has been a decent car that ticks lots of boxes for Subaru drivers, offering affordability, practicality, reasonable size, and all-weather drivability. In this RS trim, the Impreza gets cool badges, sportier black-painted exterior trim, and dark gray wheels while the interior is treated with cooler black and red seats, aluminum pedals, and trim accents in gunmetal and simulated carbon fiber. Sadly the Impreza STi is gone for now, but the WRX is still in the lineup for drivers who want a quicker Subaru.

With an all-new Impreza rolled out for 2024, Subaru has made a full slate of updates to its popular compact model, with hatchback competitors including the Honda Civic and Mazda 3 in its sights. How does it compare?

The Main Figures

Under the 2024 Subaru Impreza RS’ hood you’ll find a familiar 2.5-liter direct-injected 4-cylinder boxer engine which produces 182 horsepower and 178 lb-ft of torque. With a CVT as the only available transmission in the Impreza, which is definitely the natural choice for its owners, and like all Subaru models, the Impreza RS has standard symmetrical all-wheel-drive. The base Impreza gets a 2.0-liter, 150-horsepower engine, so the RS gets a nice bump, and the WRX gets 271 horsepower if you crave more juice and a manual transmission option. EPA fuel economy estimates for the Impreza RS are 26/33/29 (city/highway/combined).

The Honda Civic hatchback (depending on trim level) has a choice between a 2.0-liter naturally-aspirated motor (with 158-horsepower and 138 lb-ft of torque) or a 1.5-liter turbo (punching up to 180-horsepower and 177 lb-ft). The Mazda 3 hatchback’s standard N/A 2.5-liter produces 191 horsepower and 186 lb-ft, and the 2.5 turbo in the Mazda 3’s top trim bumps up to 227 horsepower and and 310 lb-ft on regular unleaded while pushing out 250 horsepower and 320 lb-ft of torque on premium unleaded. Honda only offers front-wheel-drive in the Civic, and the Mazda 3 is equipped with FWD too, except in the Premium Plus trim that comes with all-wheel-drive.

Pricing for the 2024 Subaru Impreza begins at $22,995 for the base trim, and the quicker RS starts at $27,885. After adding options including a power moonroof, Harman Kardon audio system, and premium Oasis Blue paint, this Impreza RS I tested hit a total MSRP of $31,045 after destination. This price puts the Impreza RS in-line with upper hatchback trim levels in the Honda Civic and Mazda 3 depending on which interior creature comforts are important to you.

The Grocery Getting Hatchback You Expect

For city duty, the new 2024 Subaru Impreza RS gets the job done. The 2.5-liter boxer engine isn’t quite quick, but it’s fine as a daily driver. The Honda Civic provides similar power from a much smaller engine, and Mazda’s standard 2.5-liter feels more robust, and it’s turbocharged version blows the segment away. If you need more power from your Impreza, the WRX is the way to go. The Impreza’s CVT isn’t helping win this enthusiast driver over, tuned more for economy and smoothness than fun. Mazda uses conventional gears in the 3, and Honda still makes the best CVT out there (even if I still loathe those ‘boxes).

Suspension tuning is good, with a ride that’s responsive but not overbearing while avoiding any dullness. Subaru gave the steering a bit more weight than I expected from a compact hatchback, which isn’t a bad thing. Although that steering feels a bit artificial at low speeds. Subaru’s all-wheel-drive gives it a bit more rotation than ordinary compact hatchbacks, but the Mazda 3 holds a serious advantage in the dynamics department, and the Civic is in between them both.

Compact enough to squeeze into any parallel parking spot, the new Impreza isn’t bloated, and the visibility out of the cabin is good at any angle, which is refreshing in an age of oddly thick C pillars on hatchbacks. The Impreza RS’ cabin gets sportier black seats with thicker red bolsters that did a good job of keeping me comfortable on a trip to Houston and back while sticking me in place when I tossed it around a twistier road. On a quick dinner run with friends, the Impreza’s back seat was fine for them, but you’ll want to only stuff your kids back there for longer drives.

A low floor of the Impreza’s cargo area makes loading up your groceries or camping gear easier, the hatch has a simple cargo cover to hide your belongings, and there’s a small storage bin concealed beneath the trunk’s floor. The back seat folds 60/40, in case you have a ton of things to stash in the Impreza. Deep cupholders keep your drinks steady, the door pockets have big spots for reusable water bottles, and the center armrest has a bunch of space for small belongings to be tucked away.

Subaru redesigned the interior of the new Impreza, and the upgraded infotainment system option quickly grabs your attention. Now boasting an 11.6-inch screen, the Impreza moves into the current area of tech-heavy cabins. This Impreza RS tester was upgraded with the Harman Kardon audio system, which is impressive for a car in this segment.

Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto can be managed from the screen in a massive vertical display, while some menu selections have shortcuts at the bottom. The Impreza definitely has a bigger screen than both the Honda Civic, which has a slightly smaller touchscreen, and the Mazda 3 that still relies on a puck to control its screen and system. A wireless charing pad is concealed beneath the infotainment panel, with aux, USB-A, and USB-C ports above it for additional devices.

Not Quite The Adventurer

Despite the impressions you’ve got from Subaru over the past couple decades, not every owner is a camping, farmer’s market shopping, animal hugging hippie. Those buyers will still enjoy the Impreza having all-wheel-drive and decent practicality for getting to an outdoorsy adventure. At least the AWD system will come in handy when the weather sucks.

Just don’t try to attack the trails with the Impreza RS. This is a street car fitted with all-season tires and ordinary ground clearance. It’ll get you to the hiking trailhead, but it’s not blasting over a gravel rally course. Should you crave the great outdoors and choppy off-road terrain behind the wheel of a new Subaru, opt for a Crosstrek or Forester instead. Even more enthusiastic adventure drivers should check out Subaru’s Wilderness lineup.

The Good And Not Great Things

As compact hatchbacks go, the new Impreza RS has some good looks. Edgy in the right ways, the reshaped exterior looks good. I definitely appreciate that the lower level Impreza didn’t get the extra body cladding that makes the WRX look oddly cheap. The RS’ black exterior trim pieces and dark grey wheels look cool, and give this Impreza a bit more style. The extra few hundred bucks on this Oasis Blue paint is a worthwhile spend too.

I appreciate that Subaru’s interior still uses knobs and switches for volume and climate controls, which is something I demand from a new car. Same goes for the plethora of buttons on the steering wheel, partially because they’re carryover components from previous Subaru models. The aluminum pedals and red stitching add that rally look a Subaru should have too.

For all the things Subaru does well in the new Impreza, there are some things that need to step up. Fit and finish in the Impreza’s cabin aren’t great for a $30,000 car in 2023, with both the Honda and Mazda doing a considerably better job with materials and design. Dated switchgear for the heated seats and windows aren’t great either.

I appreciate the larger optional infotainment display Subaru offers in the Impreza, but the iconography and font selection looks like some stuff thrown together by a junior front-end dev that was designing their first iOS jailbreak theme in 2010. The huge app buttons and low-resolution display don’t help this theme either.

An Improved Impreza, But It’s Not Enough

After a week behind the wheel of the all-new 2024 Subaru Impreza, I can’t figure out why someone would by this trim level and spec. Subaru made several of improvements over its predecessor, but this car still feels like it’s from 2017. There is nothing the new Impreza does exceptionally well, the cabin is filled with dated components, and there are lots of “meh” moments behind the wheel. If you want a more fun Subaru, there’s always the WRX, but that is definitely more expensive, has a CVT as the automatic transmission, and adds unattractive body cladding.

Subaru has some loyal buyers, but they need to head over to a Honda, Mazda, or VW dealer. A loaded Mazda 3 hatchback has all-wheel-drive and a considerably more powerful 2.5-liter turbo engine for a little more money. If AWD isn’t a requirement, and you don’t need a hatchback that’s focused on fun, the Civic’s Sport Touring trim level is a great option at the same price as the Impreza. At the end of the day, the VW GTI is definitely the hatchback I’d drop my cash on, continuing to lead the field as the fun to drive, pleasant to look at, and practical to use hatchback.

The 2023 Kia Sportage Steps Up Its Game

Long overlooked as a basic little crossover, Kia gives the new generation a big upgrade.

Kia’s Sportage started its life in the late 1990s as a pint-sized SUV, fitting modest budgets while offering some sort of cute-ute looks. Back then, it was a cheap little car that your high school daughter would beat up for a few years before maturing to a better car to take care of. Over the years, Kia has moved the Sportage up in segments at a slow pace, but for 2023 it is all new and grown up. Same goes for the brand itself, with a new design language and a trendy–almost confusingly futuristic–new badge.

Proportions have certainly increased, with the Sportage now in the same range as a Kia Sorento. Lots of tech and comfort improvements have also been added, making the Sportage a contender against the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, and Mazda CX-50 (which I recently reviewed). With those competitors enjoying sales success for quite some time, is Kia’s upgraded crossover worthy of stealing some market share? Time to find out.

The Key Specs and Updates

It’s easy to do a double-take with the 2023 Kia Sportage, thanks to its all-new exterior which employs that Kia calls its “Opposites United” design language, part of Kia’s global brand transformation and tagline “Movement that Inspires.” Agency-heavy copywriting aside, the new look is cool, sporting sharper and more muscular lines, edginess that isn’t overdone, and headlight housings that employ boomerang-shaped daytime running lights. Built on Kia’s third-generation N3 platform, the Sportage Hybrid’s chassis is stronger and lighter than before, aimed at better driving dynamics and safety.

Now seven inches longer overall, the 2023 Kia Sportage boasts a wheelbase growth of three inches, while only increasing its height and width by half an inch. In stretching the wheelbase, there’s more interior volume for people and their stuff, enabling the Sportage to now offer a class-leading 41 inches of rear legroom while also providing 39 cubic feet of rear cargo space. Loads of insulation have been added to the new Sportage, to reduce wind and road noise, and to give its occupants a more luxurious ride.

Powertrain upgrades are welcomed, with the somewhat tame 1.6-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder benefitting from a 44kW permanent magnet electric motor that produces a combined 227 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. In standard form, the Sportage hybrid is fitted with front-wheel-drive, which boasts 43 MPGs (same EPA ratings for city, highway, and combined) and over 500 miles of cruise range, and the tester I was supplied was upgraded to all-wheel-drive, which slips to 38 MPGs.

In its modest LX trim, with front-wheel-drive, the 2023 Kia Sportage starts at a base price of $27,490, the middle EX model starts at $31,190, and the range-topping $36,190 Prestige AWD I tested added Shadow Matte Gray paint, a cargo mat, cargo net, cargo cover in the batch, and carpeted floor mats (somehow still an option on a car over $30k) to hit a total MSRP of $38,530 after $1,295 for destination. Compared to a similarly-equipped Honda CR-V hybrid, the Sportage has a considerable power advantage combined with the expected price break Kia usually has over its rivals.

Family Hauling Goodness

Ignore the badge when you slip into the Kia Sportage, and you’ll think you’re in a more premium class of car both when you look at the cabin and when you hit the road. On the handling front, the all-new Kia Sportage is certainly more pleasant than I expected from a mid-sized crossover, but nothing in this segment can outdo the slightly more expensive new Mazda CX-50 that’s fantastic to drive. That said, Kia did a great job with the dynamics, making the Sportage much more appealing to drive than many crossovers in this segment. Ride smoothness is great too, when middle-child crossovers typically get suspension calibrations that are jittery at best.

All-wheel-drive probably helps the Kia’s agility, in a world where boring FWD crossovers reign. The steering feel is a bit over-boosted in the hands of this enthusiast driver, but the ordinary motorist will appreciate the ease of steering inputs over any city streets and while parking at the supermarket. Unless you live in a climate with extreme winters and a long gravel driveway, where you’ll appreciate the Prestige trim’s heated windshield, skip the all-wheel-drive option to not only save a few bucks, but to extend your fuel economy.

The Sportage certainly feels like a bigger crossover, which depending on your family’s needs might be a bit too much. If you’ve only got two small kids, maybe the Honda HR-V I recently tested is a better fit. Should your family include teenagers who have active extracurricular lives, you’ll appreciate having a ton of space for their long legs and gear to stuff in the back. Especially when your hands are full, and you kick your foot under the bumper to engage the Sportage’s hands-free power tailgate.

Kia has certainly stepped up its cabin quality, and the seats for all five occupants are big and plush. The 2023 Sportage benefits from cooler features including a massive single screen that actually holds two 12-inch displays for the instrument cluster and infotainment screen, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto installed. While my iPhone 14 Pro was plugged into the USB-C port, it was quick to overheat and stop charging, which wasn’t ideal when the wireless charging point required precise placement to activate (something that was difficult to manage, when the surface was prone to allow my phone to slide about).

I like the 360º camera system that neatly integrates into the infotainment screen, paired with the remote parking assist, making sure that any curb rash or dings of neighboring cars are definitely your fault and not the car’s. The Kia Access App allows access to features like remote climate control and door lock/unlock when synced with your Apple and Android-based smartphone or smartwatch.

The upgraded insulation is a noticeable improvement in the 2023 Kia Sportage, and the wind and road noise are at levels I’ve experienced in nicer models from Mercedes and BMW. Climate controls are easy to reach, with buttons for the controls that matter, and there’s a stylish puck for the transmission selector. Upgraded Harman Kardon audio is a nice feature in the Prestige trim too.

The Highs and Lows

While a big shift in the design department, I appreciate Kia’s attempt to catch the attention of buyers who want a cooler look from their crossover. There are certainly lots of angles, but unlike the design language on lower level family of Hyundai offerings (which I loathed in the new Elantra sedan I reviewed), the Kia styling is cool without pushing too hard. The floating grille and angular lighting assemblies stitch together nicely, and the theme carries well from front to back of the Sportage’s body.

Angles aren’t too wild inside the Sportage’s cabin either, and I like the shapes used for the climate vents that are flanked by a cool metallic trim. Kia gave the Sportage lots of smart interior features like blind spot camera displays that neatly incorporate into the instrument cluster when using your indicator, coat hangers that are sculpted into the front seats’ headrests, and USB-C charging ports placed high into the side and edge of the front seat so that rear passengers don’t waste cable length for charging and using their iPad or Nintendo Switch on a road trip.

There are a couple small complaints I have with the 2023 Kia Sportage, but they aren’t big hangups. While trying to look a bit cooler than the other moms’ crossovers, I am not a fan of using matte paint on the Sportage. Save that finish for properly performance-focused cars and bodies. I spotted a fellow Sportage driver on the road during my test week, and a normal metallic shade looked good on this Kia.

Integrating digital displays for the instrumentation and infotainment was done with a lesser screen, and the lower-resolution gauge cluster isn’t great to look at. Same goes for the climate control panel, which uses digital controls that look like buttons, and washes out in bright daylight. Particularly while wearing polarized sunglasses. Adding a bunch of pixels would help these features move up in class considerably.

While leading its segment in rear cargo volume, the new Sportage’s boot could have a bit more storage solutions to offer than a simple small concealed bin under the floor. For growing families, and all their things, crossovers need to offer versatility and better solutions for packing away your belongings in a stable manner. Triple-digit highs during a Texas summer don’t help the ventilated seats nor climate control system’s attempt to keep you cool, with the Sportage’s seats barely feeling like the fans were on and the A/C struggling to cool the cabin when at its coldest setup.

A Massive Improvement, Doesn’t Lead The Pack

Kia did a good job with this all-new Sportage, giving it a reasonably powerful drivetrain, loads of space inside, and a big stack of the tech features crossover buyers demand. The added efficiency of the hybrid powertrain boosts driving range and MPGs, giving the Sportage an advantage over its competition while still offering an engine that doesn’t suffer to deliver those EPA figures (looking at you, Honda CR-V). Even with my tiny complaints, I think the Sportage is a good crossover to consider. Over a RAV4 or CR-V, the Sportage is certainly a solid option.

I applaud Kia for moving the Sportage up in class, giving it a styling theme that is more appealing than most other boring crossovers, and for providing a cabin experience that feels more expensive. The challenge is that, at the price point of a loaded Sportage, I’d rather spend the money on a nicely-equipped Mazda CX-50 I reviewed that has even nicer appointments in its upper trim, looks great inside and especially outside, and provides a considerably more enjoyable driving experience.

VW Atlas Cross Sport Tries To Be The Cooler Big SUV

The chopped version of the big German SUV finds itself in an awkward spot.

VW’s large SUV offers good functionality and space for a family, as I noted when I first drove it in 2021, but felt it didn’t get enough respect as a reasonably-priced three-row SUV. Unfortunately the Atlas doesn’t get much love from buyers because there are more long-standing American options that often get picked as repeat purchases.

The German marque wanted buyers to give the Atlas another look, so it followed the crossover coupe trend, carving up the big SUV to give it slightly smaller proportions and smarter styling lines. Does that make it a better choice in a field full of bigger SUVs?

The Key Details

The VW Atlas Cross Sport’s competition includes the Chevy Blazer, Ford Edge, and Honda Passport (which I reviewed not long ago, in its off-road TrailSport trim) Compared to its full-size variant, the Atlas Cross Sport has a tapered roofline, taking away the option for a third-row seat. Losing five inches of overall length and two inches of height, I definitely like this shape more than the big body Atlas I reviewed after its refresh a couple years ago.

VW offers the Atlas Cross Sport with its 235-horsepower (with premium unleaded) 2.0-liter turbo standard and the 276-horsepower 3.6-liter VR6 as an optional upgrade on upper trim levels. Front-wheel-drive comes standard, with VW’s 4MOTION all-wheel-drive optional, and the AWD option allows Atlas Cross Sport drivers to also tick a box to add VW’s Active Control, which enables several terrain drive modes. Trim levels are SE and SEL, with technology package options to add more goodies.

Base price for the 4-cylinder Atlas Cross Sport is $35,150, and all-wheel-drive adds another $2000 to the sticker. Opt for the VR6, and the price begins at $41,070, with 4MOTION taking the figure up to $42,970. My tester is the base SE trim, with the tech package and added panoramic sunroof, hitting a total price of $40,575.

The Functional Family Hauler

Big SUV or not, the Atlas Cross Sport is nice to drive, providing dynamics you expect from VW. The steering is remarkably sharp for a vehicle of this size. You will be reminded of the Atlas’ proportions, and the suspension is nicely tuned for a hint of response, but without feeling harsh at all. Just don’t go tossing the Atlas around, thinking you’re in a GTI, because this is still a big car. The base 4-cylinder isn’t so hot in a big SUV, more suited to the GTI hot hatch it’s shared with. Having to lug around 4,400 pounds is a task the 3.6-liter VR6 is better at, which I appreciated having in the three-row Atlas I tested a couple years ago.

Seats are big and cushiony, but could use a bit more lateral support, and I’ll go into other thoughts on the seating surfaces in a moment. Despite not having a third-row seat, the Atlas Cross Sport still boasts a cavernous interior that five passengers will be comfortable riding in, so long as there are kids in the back seat. Cargo space in the rear hatch is gargantuan, with a pair of bins straddling each side of the boot, but I do wish there was a hint more organizational features designed into the Atlas Cross Sport.

VW’s updated MIB3 infotainment system is on-board, with an 8-inch touchscreen that incorporates wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There’s also a wireless charging pad tucked under the center cluster. Volkswagen’s digital cockpit is standard on all Atlas Cross Sport models, and I appreciate how tidy the instrument cluster layout is, no matter which view you choose. I stuck with the more conventional look, but there’s a massive map view that’s helpful when you’re on a road trip.

Some Positive Points

When VW gave the Atlas a refresh a couple years ago, it was a big improvement. Not that the first generation was unattractive, but this new Atlas looks sharp and clean. No overly fake flares and angles, and no absurd body cladding to give a false impression of ruggedness. Even the vents in the front bumper are real.

Inside, Volkswagen was practical with the Atlas’ function, providing lots of spaces to tuck away your stuff, while being intuitive and close within reach. Since the switchgear in the Atlas is based on parts used in VW models for over a generation, we avoid the capacitive touch button setup that was my only big gripe in the Mk8 GTI I reviewed last year. There are real buttons and knobs everywhere you want them, even if they’re the same bits you get in the base model Golf that costs half as much as the Atlas.

Not So Wonderful Things

The base 4-cylinder SE trim of the Atlas Cross Sport has no drive modes for the powertrain nor terrain. You’ve got to upgrade to the bigger engine and then tick another option box to get both of those features, so the setup is a bit plain if you want more customization and personality. Because the four-banger is and engine more appropriately used in smaller, lighter cars in VW’s lineup, it’s working overtime in the Atlas, making a dent in its fuel economy. EPA estimates are 21/25/23, but I only achieved 20 during my week-long test.

When I discussed the comfort of the seats earlier, I didn’t dive into the coverings themselves, which is made from leatherette. I’ve felt some decent faux leather over the years, and the grade used in the Atlas Cross Sport is not great. The stitching work along the edges and door cards looks a bit cheap, and the fake carbon fiber look weave along the bolsters doesn’t make much sense. Not great from what should be considered a somewhat premium brand and model. The Honda Passport I reviewed holds an advantage here, but the Atlas is nicer inside than a Chevy Blazer or Ford Edge.

VW’s MIB infotainment works nicely, and has a responsive touchscreen, but having a very spartan UX theme and iconography makes you have to extend the time looking at the screen to tap the right app or make adjustments, which isn’t great while driving. Opt for the technology package if you’re buying a base model Atlas Cross Sport, which fits dual-zone climate control, keyless access, and remote start, even though I think those should be standard on a car in this class in 2023.

It’s Not Bad, But It Doesn’t Stand Out

VW did a good job of making the Atlas more attractive by offering this Cross Sport body style. I think it’s the right Atlas to get, if you want a big VW as your family car. By taking away some of the dimensions of the three-row Atlas, you’re still getting an SUV that feels big while only being a two-row seating model. While it’s better than many of the competitors VW feels it has, the Atlas Cross Sport slid into another class, almost by accident.

Now viewed as a two-row SUV, there are other crossovers that are more attractive than the Atlas Cross Sport in several ways. The Honda Passport is good, reliable, and looks the part as a rugged smaller SUV, but it’s not as great as engaging to drive. Instead, I think Mazda’s new CX-50 I recently enjoyed is the right choice for a two-row midsized crossover, not just because of its cooler styling, but its interior is more upscale, and the driving impressions are better than any affordable crossover I’ve tested.

The Audi SQ5 Sportback Tickles Your Quick Crossover Fancy

You don’t have to be boring if you want a crossover, and Audi provides a quick one.

Crossovers. We all see them everywhere. Mostly in grayscale shades, boring as ever, and driven to do the most basic tasks, while having little to no personality. From time to time, manufacturers decide to inject some personality and performance, offering more enjoyment for those who want a practical crossover’s functionality but crave the twisties on the weekend. Even as mild upgrades, the fun crossover looks to entertain those drivers who need a car that ticks several boxes.

No stranger to pepped-up variants, Audi has slapped its “S” badge on several models in its lineup for decades, offering subtle styling upgrades to match reasonable performance improvements. Competing with the quicker forms of the BMW X3 and Mercedes GLC, the Audi SQ5 provides clean styling, loads of good features, and more fun in its crossover package. Now offered in a sportback body, Audi gives its popular mid-sized crossover a coupe-like roofline to appear slightly cooler.

The Key Specs

Shared with several Audi S models, the SQ5 gets Ingolstadt’s 3.0-liter twin-turbo V6 that produces 349 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque. While it’s down on power versus the BMW X3 M40i and AMG GLC 43, the SQ5 sportback pushes those figures through an 8-speed automatic and quattro all-wheel-drive to sprint from 0-60 MPH in 4.7 seconds (matching the Benz, and 0.3s slower than the BMW) on its way to a limited top track speed of 155 MPH (when fitted with summer tires). Take it easy on the accelerator, and you’ll likely hit the EPA’s fuel economy estimates of 19/24/21 MPGs.

Audi’s pricing with most of its models is smart, with three distinct trim levels offered–Premium, Premium Plus, and Prestige–for the SQ5 Sportback. The Premium model starts reasonably-equipped at $59,200, the Premium Plus adds more features at its $63,300 starting figure, and the Prestige model starts at $68,500 (adding Bang & Olufsen audio, Audi’s virtual cockpit instrument cluster, OLED headlights, acoustic glass for the windscreen and front two windows, top-view parking cameras, heated steering wheel, and heated and chilled front cupholders).

This Prestige SQ5 Sportback I tested added Florett Silver Metallic paint, S Sport Package (sport adaptive air suspension, sport rear differential, red brake calipers), 21-inch wheels and summer tires, Nappa leather seats, and the black optic package that gives the exterior gloss black details to hit a total price of $76,515.

Upmarket Daily Functionality

More engaging than your typical crossover, the Audi SQ5 Sportback is an enjoyable place to spend your commutes and errand runs. You’ll definitely be the cool parent in the school pickup line, but without looking like you’re trying too hard. Your kids and coworkers alike will appreciate that you opted for the more fun variant of the people hauler when you take them along, thanks to plenty of punch underneath, even when you’re being somewhat tame behind the wheel. In the comfort drive mode, the SQ5 is composed without feeling too disconnected, a reminder that you opted for the fun crossover model. Even with 21-inch wheels opted, the SQ5 was reasonable over Austin’s poorly maintained city streets.

The exterior lines of the SQ5 Sportback are clean yet stylish, which is a refreshing change compared to many crossovers that are overly angular while pretending to have more character. More subtle than sporty, the shade of silver selected for this SQ5 Sportback was of high quality, but I’d suggest picking one of Audi’s cooler paints (like the lovely District Green I tested a while back on both the SQ5 crossover and S5 Cabriolet).

Anyone who slides into the SQ5’s cabin will appreciate the extra lateral support that doesn’t feel too forceful, and I love the red leather option detailed with quilted stitching. Just give me a ventilated seat option for hot Texas days. Four adults can comfortably fit inside the SQ5’s cabin, with room for five occupants if there are kids in the back seat. If you really need more space to spread out, you’ll need to step up to a three-row Audi Q7.

Because it has the coupe-like roofline, the SQ5 loses a hint of cargo volume. Down to 25 cubic feet with the rear seats up and 52 with them folded flat, rather than the standard SQ5’s 26 and 54, respectively. I couldn’t identify a meaningful drop in headroom in the back seat versus the conventional SQ5 I drove previously. This Audi finds itself with a bit more space than the GLC, and less than the X3’s volume. There’s plenty of practical storage nicely placed throughout the cockpit, and I love how the wireless charging tray slides forward and back to either give you quick access to your phone or hiding away when you want to use the heated and cooled front cupholders.

Audi neatly balances sportiness, luxury, and a cool factor within its cabin, with the SQ5 Sportback getting a familiar look and feel to other models in the lineup. The SQ5’s cool ensemble of leather, alcantara, and carbon fiber is fantastic. I’m praising Audi for sticking with a theme that has worked for years, thankfully continuing to employ physical buttons, knobs, and switches throughout its interior, with exceedingly intuitive placement. The screen on the climate control knob displaying the temperature is a smart touch too.

The MMI display has high resolution too, making it easier to read while looking like it belongs in a much more expensive car, supplemented by wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The BMW X3’s cabin is a bit bland, and the Mercedes GLC’s layout might be too space age for some. The Audi virtual cockpit allows drivers to tweak the instrument cluster to their liking, and I went with the minimized display that only showed the digital tachometer and speedometer while hiding the side displays.

Hauls More Than Groceries

With a longer than usual coffee run or any escape from reality, the SQ5 is a decent performer. It’s no RS6 Avant (which is my favorite fast four-door or wagon I’ve reviewed), but that’s nearly double the cash to throw in your driveway. As a performance crossover with all sorts of cool tech features and an extremely comfortable cabin, the SQ5 Sportback gets the job done. Over some fun Central Texas roads, the SQ5 Sportback was certainly fun to toss around, I didn’t go into this test expecting it to be a top-notch sport sedan, so I give it good marks in the fun department.

As is fitted to many Audis, the drive select system provides three default drive modes, with one individual mode to suit your tastes. Similarly to my other reviews of fun Audi models, I do wish there was a bigger spread in the feel and behavior of the drive modes, particularly in the dynamic one. I did make sure to have the sport engine and exhaust sounds enabled in my individual setup, to make the SQ5 have a bit more grunt than the usual crossover I’d encounter during my drive. I have to poke fun at the fake quad exhaust pipes molded into the SQ5 Sportback’s rear bumper, with the real ones more basic and concealed behind there.

The optional sport differential definitely gives this SQ5 Sportback more effective rotation in the bends, but there’s a bit too much boost with artificial sensations and electric assistance felt trough the perfectly thick steering wheel. I found that putting the steering in sport through the individual drive mode actually gave the SQ5 more realistic feedback in any driving condition. While not as fast and precise as the PDK in the Porsche Macan, the SQ5’s 8-speed automatic offers shifts that are still quick and smooth while helping propel this crossover ahead.

Managing the SQ5’s weight transfer is easy, thanks to the adaptive air suspension, but giving it the beans on a demanding stretch of road will make the brakes and average performance Pirelli P Zero rubber remind you that this crossover coupe is carrying around 4,300 pounds of German metal. When I evaluated the traditional crossover-bodied SQ5 two summers ago, I flogged it along the Angeles Crest Highway in Southern California, and aside from the brakes getting a bit hot during longer stints, it performed well in a demanding environment. Your weekend escape to a backroad should be just fine.

District Green looked fantastic during a sunrise session on the Angeles Crest Highway.

Quick Crossover Coupes Can Be Good

Sporty crossovers are all the rage these days, allowing drivers more grateful ingress and egress while boasting more cargo space than a quick sedan. I can appreciate enthusiast drivers that previously opted for fast four-doors or coupes wanting the flexibility of a one-car solution found in the SQ5. It’s comfortable for longer hauls, looks great, packs plenty of tech features, and provides enough fun for the weekly back road sprint.

Should you want more fun from a fast crossover, the Porsche Macan S or GTS might be your best bet versus the AMG GLC 63 or BMW X3M Competition, but expect to spend a lot more cash over the SQ5. If you’re not hot on the SQ5’s crossover shape, but still want some extra storage practicality, Audi’s S5 Sportback (and quicker RS5 that I tested) hits the sweet spot with a more subtle sedan-like body. Against the BMW X3 M40i or Mercedes-Benz GLC 43, the Audi SQ5 definitely gets my pick.

The 2023 Honda HR-V Is A Little Crossover Gem

In a sea of boring compact crossovers that have no personality, this little Honda swims to the top.

Pint-sized crossovers are everywhere, replacing a generation of compact sedans and hatchbacks plenty of people owned for ages. As manufacturers looked to capitalize on the desire for crossovers on a budget, too many of these little utility vehicles got the short end of the fit and finish stick, and left plenty to desire in the driving enjoyment department.

In its previous generation, the HR-V was based on a dated platform borrowed from the Honda Fit, which wasn’t the greatest thing to drive. Thankfully Honda gave its popular HR-V a big update for 2023. With a new chassis, more stylish exterior lines, and a much needed interior upgrade, Honda’s most affordable crossover aims to please a wider range of buyers who want to tote more people and gear without breaking the bank.

The Useful Figures

Honda’s HR-V is the entry level crossover in its lineup, packing room for four adults (or five occupants, with three kids in the back seat) and decent space for all their stuff. All 2023 Honda HR-V trim levels are powered by a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder that produces 158 horsepower and 138 lb-ft of torque. Front-wheel-drive is standard on all HR-Vs, with Honda’s Real Time all-wheel-drive available for an additional $1,500, with a CVT as the only transmission selection. EPA fuel economy estimates are 26/32/28 for the front-wheel-drive model, and only give back the slightest MPGs with all-wheel-drive, at 25/30/27.

As trim levels move up, Honda neatly packages features and convenience into each HR-V option. Pricing for the HR-V’s base LX trim starts at $23,800, the mid-level Sport is $25,900, and the range-topping EX-L starts at $27,900. The EX-L I tested added all-wheel-drive and Nordic Forest Pearl paint (another $395) to hit an MSRP of $30,590 after destination.

The Zippy City Car

As little crossovers go, the 2023 HR-V is actually fun to drive. With 158 horsepower and decent torque–which isn’t too shabby for a little car–Honda’s entry crossover zips around nicely. Though it has a CVT mated to that engine, Honda’s ‘box actually engages effectively, rather than hampering any hint of performance or drivability. Some of its competition should really reevaluate how a CVT should operate. t

Honda’s brake auto hold feature is fantastic for city driving, allowing you to take your foot off the pedal and relax a bit when stuck at a red light. Honda Sensing–which is a comprehensive suite of safety features–comes standard on the HR-V, continuing to provide exceptionally functional lane keeping and adaptive cruise control systems that some more expensive cars don’t execute nearly as well.

Steering feel is great, feeling a bit more like a Civic Si than an entry-level crossover, and the ride quality is quite good over any drive. There are normal, eco, and snow drive modes featured in the HR-V, and hill descent control is ready with the push of a button, should you be tackling more complicated terrain than the local grocery store parking lot. Just don’t mistake this HR-V for an off-roader when you take the family on a camping trip, having reasonable all-season tires fitted to the EX-L’s slightly cooler painted and finished wheels.

Cabin appointments in the new HR-V are great, taking lots of cues from the updated Civic I tested last year, with considerably better fit and finish than the last generation. The leather seats are soft to the touch yet perfectly supportive, with a cool mix of contrasting stitching and perforations, and the front seats heat up nicely when desired. Not a fan of infotainment screens that are seemingly slapped atop a dash, at least Honda’s system is easy to use, also offering a high-resolution display.

What really surprised me in the HR-V is the amount of passenger volume offered inside what’s Honda’s smallest car. Even in the back seat I had plenty of legroom. The HR-V’s rear storage area is big too, with the cargo capacity increasing considerably when the back seats fold flat with a 60/40 split. If you need more space inside and out, Honda did just give a big update its CR-V too. As you’d expect from Honda, the HR-V also has lots of little places to stash your things, even keeping your phone stable when it’s tucked away.

The Good And Not Great Things

The trend of adding harsh edges and fake vents to cute-sized crossovers is a terrible one, and I’m happy to see that Honda gave the updated HR-V more subtle and clean exterior lines. Even the body cladding on the fenders is tidy, using painted panels rather than the cheap-looking gray plastic too many OEMs are slapping on small crossovers.

I like this new interior styling language Honda has applied to its models, giving not only a strong sense of continuity no matter which model you hop behind the wheel of, but also refining a cockpit that’s neatly balancing intuitive and cool. That HR-V benefits from this cabin design language, and the EX-L trim gets good doses of contrasting-stitched leather to coat the dash, door cards, and center console. Actual buttons and knobs are used extensively inside the HR-V, with Honda avoiding the often employed capacitive touch controls and screens by other manufacturers.

Smart shortcut digital buttons added to the bottom of the infotainment screen are a cool touch too, making use of the system customizable depending on your needs. In this EX-L trim, I like that Honda gave the HR-V wireless charging in addition to wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but didn’t skimp on the USB ports throughout the cabin for all occupants. The ambient lighting system is kinda minimal, but it’s one more upgrade in the top trim level HR-V.

The use case for the HR-V had to include moms handling the day-to-day needs of the family, and the rear hatch has a load-in floor that seems a bit high for a small crossover. On days when errand runs involve heavier items, this is one tiny complaint I have on behalf of shorter HR-V drivers. Cargo space is definitely big for what appears to be a small crossover on the outside, but I wish Honda gave the HR-V’s rear hatch area more practical storage solutions–like netting and concealed pockets–for tucking away your stuff.

While clean in its design, and smart to allow for customized displays, the HR-V’s instrument cluster is a bit basic in its layout and color theme. It’s easy to let your eyes blend in all the numbers and indications on the gauges without some sort of contrasting needles and dials. Cool appearances aside, the new hexagonal dash vents are begging for dust, dirt, and hair to get stuck behind them, leading to difficulty cleaning after years of ownership. Honestly my negatives about the HR-V are minimal, with none of these being reasons to avoid this pint-sized Honda.

A Great Little Crossover On A Budget

An inexpensive compact crossover doesn’t have to cheap out with its looks, features, nor quality, and thankfully Honda got the memo. The new HR-V is a great option for those who want a decent crossover that packs a bunch of good features and driving dynamics into an attractive package that doesn’t beat up your monthly budget.

While I feel that more drivers should opt for hatchbacks rather than compact crossovers, to keep the driving sensations more fun while lowering the center of gravity, I’m not shifting the tide of buyers happily lining up to drive these cute-sized utes. Luckily manufacturers are stepping up the crossover offerings while making them more enjoyable to drive, with only modest price increases. If you’ve got to stick an affordable little utility vehicle in your driveway, the new Honda HR-V is a great choice to make.