Fit for purpose

You know what they say about small packages… These compact SUVs certainly pack a punch

Fit for purpose

A crossover SUV (or compact SUV) takes some of the practical features of a sport utility vehicle (SUV) and pairs them with those of a passenger vehicle, typically a hatchback. They are built with a unibody construction, similar to that of passenger cars rather than the body-on-frame design traditional to off-road vehicles and trucks. This construction method contributes to a crossover’s lighter weight, improved fuel efficiency and a more car-like handling and ride quality.

Essentially, crossovers aim to present a best-of-both-worlds form of transport to customers seeking slightly more functionality from their passenger vehicle, without paying the price or navigating the larger dimensions of a typical SUV. Compact SUVs hold an interesting design space within the motoring industry, often resembling hatchbacks that have been styled on business sedans and then fed a healthy diet of chicken and rice. And these uniquely sized and styled vehicles are taking over.

They officially took over in 2021, leapfrogging five-door hatchbacks to become SA’s most popular passenger vehicle. By August of 2023, according to IOL Motoring, crossovers and SUVs accounted for 50.3% of all new passenger vehicles sold. And as sales increase, so do the new models. Whether it be the new Chinese manufacturers that are blitzing the marketplace, or the old brands we are so familiar with, every manufacturer wants to grow their piece of the pie. The result is a motoring segment with a massive – and ever-increasing – pool to choose from.

In 2024, where should you look for value for money if you are the customer seeking versatility and practicality packaged as a crossover SUV? We’ve picked five models to take a closer look at.

Toyota Urban Cruiser 1.5 XR
Toyota comfortably remains SA’s top-selling brand, and the Urban Cruiser – actually based on Suzuki’s Grand Vitara – added to its marque’s success, with 5 992 units sold in 2023. Bear in mind that the second-gen Urban Cruiser launched only in April 2023, and we should see an increase in those numbers as the vehicle’s life cycle continues.

After just under a year on the market, reports on the model have been positive. The Urban Cruiser is fit for small adventures with its 210 mm ground clearance, but is acceptable to a budget-conscious city driver, with the 1.5L naturally aspirated engine allowing for a fuel economy of between 6L to 7L/100 km.

Inside, the Cruiser offers an upmarket cabin, with quality materials and a touchscreen infotainment system. It presents a lightweight but substantial package with quality finishes, all for R359 700, in manual configuration. The XR automatic model comes in at R382 900, and it must be considered that fuel consumption will likely lean towards the range of 7L to 7.5L/100 km for the automatic gearbox.

A major selling point for the local market is the inclusion of a service plan that encompasses the initial four services (up to 60 000 km), coupled with the support of one of the largest dealership networks in the region.

Kia Sonet 1.5 MT LX
Since its 2021 debut in SA, the Kia Sonet swiftly rose to popularity in the compact crossover segment, distinguished by its striking design and robust performance. The introduction of the turbocharged engine was a noteworthy enhancement that filled the previously noted gap in the line-up for a turbo engine – a feature prevalent among its competitors.

Due an update in 2024, the new manual model will retain its 88 kW/172 Nm 1.5L turbocharged engine, delivering enough power and torque for spirited urban and highway driving. Fuel efficiency is solid, with Kia claiming a consumption of 7L/100 km, which has actually been marginally better in certain road tests. The Sonet also features a practical ground clearance of 190 mm, making it suitable for light off-road adventures.

Equipped with essential safety and convenience features such as stability control,a wireless smartphone-compatible infotainment system, rear parking assist and automatic headlights, the Sonet does not skimp on essentials despite its competitive pricing of R360 995. Additionally, it comes with an unlimited-kilometre/five-year warranty and a four-year/60 000 km service plan.

With its combination of turbo-charged performance, a comprehensive feature set and solid build quality, all backed by Kia’s extensive service network, the Sonet presents itself as a value-packed and versatile contender in the compact crossover market.

Hyundai Venue 1.2 MPI Motion MT
The Hyundai Venue has quickly become a cornerstone of Hyundai’s success in SA, ranking as a top seller, thanks to its neatly packaged blend of style, performance and value. The introduction of an N Line variant adds a sporty flair to the line-up, which includes the efficient 1.2L engine and the more powerful 1L turbocharged option, with both manual and DCT transmissions.

The Venue line-up, comprising Motion, Fluid and the top-spec N Line models, caters to a range of budgets and preferences, with the 1.2 Motion starting at R328 900.

All models include the necessary modern touches such as a digital instrument cluster, multi-function steering wheel and, of course, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto-compatible infotainment systems.

Hyundai’s compact SUV has impressed with its road manners, standing out for a quiet cabin, smooth handling and refined driving experience. The Venue’s 195 mm clearance is sufficient to compete in the practical department required of compact crossovers.

While the Venue sits on the higher end of the price spectrum the farther up the range you look, it really is a vehicle that stands out among competitors for build quality and driving pleasure. This is underscored by Hyundai’s extensive warranty, which includes a five-year/150 000 km main warranty, extended by an additional two years/50 000 km for the powertrain, totalling seven years or up to 200 000 km of coverage. There’s also a five-year/160 000 km warranty against body corrosion, seven years/150 000 km of roadside assistance, and a three-year/45 000 km service plan with service intervals every 15 000 km.

Suzuki Grand Vitara 1.5 GL MT
In a conversation involving Toyota’s Urban Cruiser, one must make mention of its fellow Japanese compact crossover, the Suzuki Grand Vitara. The two vehicles share a platform and they share a claim to a spot in a list of value SUVs.

Introduced in 2023 as a replacement for the outgoing Vitara Brezza, the Grand Vitara – much like other competitors in the segment – is manufactured as a range of models to fit various price points and preferences. Our pick is the entry-level Grand Vitara 1.5 GL manual transmission, priced at R347 900.

The 1.5 GL MT comes kitted with a 7-inch infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, voice recognition and a reverse camera.

The GL model also comes with a host of creature comforts generally sought after by those in the crossover market – push-button start, cruise control, automatic climate control, six airbags as standard and, to bring it together, a leather-covered multi-function steering wheel.

Outside of the flagship Grand Vitara GLX auto Hybrid Allgrip, the other trim levels feature the same 1.5L four-cylinder naturally aspirated petrol engine, which sends 77 kW of power and 138 Nm of torque, with consumption levels sitting around 6L/100 km. The 5-speed manual transmission over the 4-speed automatic gearbox may also be preferable to those seeking fulfilment from the driving experience.

The Grand Vitara is a good-looking car that appeals to the contemporary eye from a design perspective but makes good on its stylistic promise with a blend of comfort and practicality. The five-year/200 000 km warranty and six-year/90 000 km service plans also add comfort and value for the prospective buyer.

Chery Tiggo 4 Pro
The Chinese disruptors leave no segment untouched, least of all the compact SUV, and the Chery Tiggo 4 Pro is a bold, luxurious and tempting alternative to the more familiar brands that dominate the crossover sector.

Chery’s design department hit the mark with the Tiggo 4 Pro, and the hexagonal, diamond-styled grille complemented by LED light clusters characterise the vehicle’s contemporary aesthetic.

The Tiggo 4 Pro’s interior is as well designed as its exterior is good looking. The cabin is well laid out and spacious, finished in classy soft-touch materials and sporting a 7-inch Apple CarPlay/Android Auto-compatible infotainment system, as well as a multi-function steering wheel.

From a practicality perspective, 180 mm of ground clearance leaves enough room for some light dirt road travelling, while general performance remains on par with the rest of the segment, as entry-level models are powered by a 1.5L naturally aspirated petrol engine that pushes out 83 kW and 103 Nm, with economy sitting at 7L/100 km. Turbo-charged engines with a bit more oomph are available in higher spec levels.

The entry-level Chery Tiggo 4 Pro 1.5 LiT manual is a wonderful value proposition. With no notable shortfalls, the model undercuts competitors by a significant amount, starting at R279 900. An added bonus is a 1 million km/ 10-year engine warranty for original owners.

By Oliver Keohane
Images courtesy of Toyota, Kia, Chery and Suzuki