SUVs have flooded the U.S. car market. With so many choices, you’ll have to do some digging to decide which one offers you the best value. But if you’re looking for a subcompact crossover, research shows the 2021 Subaru Crosstrek and 2021 Kia Soul are strong contenders.
What earned these 2021 crossovers the top two spots in the subcompact category on MotorTrend‘s list of the best SUVs? And which one is better?
The 2021 Subaru Crosstrek
MotorTrend describes the 2021 Crosstrek as a “raised Subaru Impreza hatchback with body cladding.” The second-generation Crosstrek is one of the segment’s larger SUVs. It offers standard all-wheel drive, solid traction, and a higher ride, popular with SUV fans.
The Crosstrek claims the top spot on MT’s list because it’s an overall great SUV. Even with a raised suspension, it offers a capable ride with excellent handling. The 2021 Crosstrek’s responsive steering lends confidence whether you’re navigating a curvy country road or cruising on the highway. The higher ground clearance allows it to venture onto rougher roads than some of its peers.
Its roomy cabin is well-made and boasts a smart layout. Subaru refreshed the interior in 2021 with a new grille and front bumper. All models with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) get the EyeSight suite standard. It’s an impressive selection of driver assists, now with lane centering and adaptive cruise control.
The Sport and Limited trims offer a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine producing 182 hp. The Sport trim also features the dual-mode X Mode system with a deep snow/mud setting. It gets StarTex leather upholstery too. There’s also a hybrid version that drives on electricity for shorter distances.
But the 2021 Subaru Crosstrek isn’t perfect. The MT team found the standard 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine sluggish, hurting its performance on the highway and on hills. And models equipped with a CVT can be jerky. The team found the powertrain to be too hyper when the Crosstreak resumes travel from a stop.
The 2021 Kia Soul
The third-generation Kia Soul is as practical as it is quirky. It’s also highly versatile, so you can customize this small SUV to meet your needs.
Taking the number two spot on MT’s list, the Soul still doesn’t offer AWD. That’s likely part of the reason the Crosstrek ranks above it.
Still, in the subcompact SUV class, the Soul is hard to beat. MotorTrend cites the Kia Soul as an example of an affordable vehicle that’s also truly unique. All models offer a great driving experience with agile handling. The Soul navigates winding country roads like it was designed for them.
The base engine is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder putting out 147 hp. Combining solid body control with just enough power, the Soul never feels sluggish or lacking. The engine benefits from a nicely tuned CVT.
But if you want more power, there’s a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that gets good fuel efficiency too. The turbo combines with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission that’s not as smooth at lower speeds. And the sport-tuned suspension helps the Soul’s handling on standard 18-inch wheels without sacrificing comfort.
Even though you’ll find a lot of hard plastic in the cabin, it’s well done for an SUV under $20,000. The Kia Soul has one of the best infotainment systems, boasting an available 10.3-inch touchscreen. There’s a lot of space for cargo and people, plus good visibility all around. However, the body shape makes the Soul rather noisy and less aerodynamic.
The 2021 models get a standard rear occupant reminder to check the back seat when you exit the SUV. Kia added more safety features to X-Line trims, which also got new shock valves. And GT-Line models have 18-inch wheels.
The GT-Line Turbo is now known as the Soul Turbo. That trim comes with new badging on the steering wheel, tailgate, and grille.
Which subcompact SUV is better?
Both the 2021 Subaru Crosstrek and 2021 Kia Soul are great small SUVs. Many consumers will lean toward the Crosstrek for its standard AWD. But that’s not the only thing that puts it ahead of the Soul.
The Soul’s handling is not as agile as the Crosstrek’s. The Soul’s interior, when compared to the Subaru’s cabin, is lacking as well. Though the Kia got some new safety features on higher trims, it doesn’t offer as many active safety features as the Crosstek.
The base-model 2021 Subaru Crosstrek costs nearly $5,000 more than the Kia Soul. But the AWD, standard advanced safety features, and a well-crafted cabin justify the difference.