Here we look at small Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs), one of the fastest-growing segments in the automotive market in recent years, and one which is expected to grow even further in the years ahead.
As 2020's sales figures have shown, SUVs are now poised to usurp sedans as the most popular car type in Singapore.
It's easy to see why small SUVs appeal to a significant proportion of the car-buying population.
They offer the same qualities as larger SUVs, namely a raised seating height that offers easier cabin ingress and egress, rugged looks, all-round practicality and good use of space.
SUVs offer more headroom and easier-to-load boot areas than sedans
At the same time, their small dimensions mean that they are easy to drive and pilot in an urban environment like Singapore. Most of these small SUVs offer a footprint that's no bigger than a regular family hatchback, which means you get the benefits of an SUV without the drawbacks of poor manoeuvrability and being difficult to park.
The non-luxury small SUV segment is dominated by the mainstream East Asian brands, but European brands have been muscling in on this territory.
While they are typically a little more expensive, they also offer more tech and/or brand recognition, if that's your thing.
And importantly, small SUVs are affordable too - unlike mid-sized SUVs (we've ranked the best of them here) which typically cost more than $170,000 with Certificate of Entitlement (COE), small SUVs can often be had for as little as $120,000 with COE in 2022.
But COE prices have skyrocketed in 2022, which is why we've divided the guide into Cat A and Cat B cars.
By now a very familiar sight on Singapore's roads, the Honda HR-V has been an extremely popular choice among drivers here for half a decade now.
An attractive price tag is certainly one factor behind its popularity, but the HR-V also had the benefit of first-mover advantage, being one of the first of its kind in the market when the small SUV boom was just taking off here.
Consumers (and private hire drivers) flocked towards it in droves, and it certainly went a long way towards helping Honda top the sales charts locally for a couple of years.
Ju-len does an in-depth review of the third-gen HR-V
This is the new third-gen model, and there's no missing it because it looks very different from its predecessor thanks to its body-coloured grille, high-mounted lights, and generally unique styling.
Sadly the HR-V doesn't benefit as much from a hybrid drivetrain - we detail all this in our launch story - and the e:HEV hybrid version is probably too expensive for what it is.
Unlike before, there's one trim level here - DX - but it comes with quite a lot of equipment onboard, as detailed in our review of the car, and the most useful features of the HR-V remain intact: The plentiful boot space and magic seats that offer lots of flexibility and room, despite the coupe-styling.
Nissan Kicks E-Power
Our pick: Nissan Kicks E-Power Premium Plus $135,800 with COE (May 2022)
Read our review of the Nissan Kicks E-Power here
Nissan's brand new, never-heard-the-name-before Kicks landed in Singapore in mid-2020, and it was one of the few Japanese small SUVs with a hybrid system. Nissan's proprietary E-Power system works in a different way from conventional hybrids and feels like an electric vehicle from behind the wheel - watch the video review for a more in-depth explanation.
While the Kicks E-Power isn't as efficient as the Toyota Yaris Cross Hybrid (see below), it still outguns conventional gasoline competitors by a mile, and the instant electric torque of the E-Power system also delivers extra fun and a little bit of an advantage in city traffic.
There are minor quibbles: The build quality isn't top-notch and the cabin doesn't have a huge amount of useful stowage spaces, and vibration from the 1.2-litre triple is noticeable. However, the good comprehensively outweighs the bad because overall the Kicks is the best car Nissan has made in years.
It does everything a small SUV should: Have an interesting appearance, a strong set of features, a modern interior, and the benefit of hybrid power. We recommend the Premium Plus model over the Premium edition, as for a $3,000 difference it adds active safety features.
Toyota Yaris Cross
Here's another new entrant to our list in 2021. If there ever was a more appropriate car for the times, we haven't seen it. The Toyota Yaris Cross arrives at a time when this style of SUV is rampantly popular, while what's under the bonnet helps owners get maximum bang for their buck.
Announced as an all-new model in 2020, the Yaris Cross is a coupe-styled SUV with a hybrid-only drivetrain. The Yaris Cross avoids the mis-steps of its brother the C-HR, by dialing back styling a little and coming across as something that's not trying too hard but also looking contemporary at the same time.
Inside there's solid Toyota build quality, and we especially like that the car's infotainment system now has full-colour and touch, smartphone syncing via Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and doesn't feel like it was taken off a car five years before, plus there is plenty of stowage space so no phones flying around the cabin.
The rear seat is impinged a little by the coupe styling, but nowhere near as claustrophobic as the C-HR's, and four adults will journey in relative comfort, while the 399-litre boot isn't the biggest, but is still plenty useful and has a dual-level floor.
Active safety also bolsters the car's appeal: It comes full-featured with Pre-collision Warning System with Intersection Turning Assist and Emergency Steering Assist, plus Lane Tracing Assist and Lane Departure Assist, and Radar Cruise Control.
But what will really draw buyers in 2021 is the car's hybrid drivetrain: Not only does it make for a smaller price, thanks to VES, but the Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive system really shows the brand's expertise in making hybrid systems that work here.
Quoted fuel consumption is 3.8L/100km, but you can easily better that with a gentle right foot. On top of that, the Yaris Cross is genuinely fun to drive and does very well in corners, with a decent ride quality too.
No surprise that's it's already a strong seller in Singapore and looking to be a future mainstay of the brand.
Category B Small SUVs
A new entrant to our list for 2021, the previous Kia on this list was the Kia Stonic, a very capable SUV, but with the upshift in size of small SUVs, the Stonic with its sub-$90,000 with COE price tag really belongs to the compact SUV class once more. Kia fans needn't worry, as a 'proper' sized SUV for the small mainstream SUV segment debuted last year, the Seltos.
With its unabashedly boxy, tough styling, the Seltos is an SUV that references the origins of the segment with proper off-road inflections - compare this to the wildly popular coupe SUV style of the HR-V and Yaris Cross (read more below).
The upside of this is that the Seltos feels like a car one size up, thanks to lots of interior space and a tall roof with plenty of headroom. It can just about fit five adults, while the large 433-litre boot is practical for loading things into, again thanks to the square dimensions.
Kia didn't skimp on the interior features either. While the build quality isn't out-of-this-world, it's good enough for the segment, and makes up for it with lots of equipment.
A 7.0-inch driver instrument display panel is matched with a 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment system that's Android Auto and Apple CarPlay capable, there's quilted leather seats with ventilation, a sunroof, mood lighting and a wireless device charger - all stuff you'd usually find in a luxury car.
There is a Seltos GT Line model, but it only adds cosmetic updates so our pick for value is the mid-range SX model.
The Seltos is one of the more powerful cars in this class, with a 140hp 1.4-litre turbo engine. That makes it yes, a COE Category B car, hence the price getting close to $150,000. Shocking? Well, it's 2022, and as you'll read on, there are rivals that face the same problem.
But if you can stomach the price, the almost-250Nm of torque makes for sprightly performance around town, and it would translate well on a trip to Malaysia too. The only shortcoming is that it looks like a drinker, in comparison to hybrids.
The CX-30 may be Mazda's small SUV offering, but, badge notwithstanding, one could easily mistake it for a much more upmarket car from a luxury manufacturer. It boasts a plethora of safety features, a premium quality interior, and an entertaining drive to boot.
Its sleek styling, with a lower roofline than most ordinary SUVs, should appeal to the younger set who want a more stylish-looking car. But it also comes with the benefit of a lower centre of gravity, translating into more planted driving manners for the enthusiastic driver.
The sole engine variant available is a 2.0-litre 164hp naturally aspirated petrol and requires a Cat B COE, which puts it at a disadvantage against some of its smaller-engined rivals tax-wise. But the unit itself is smooth and efficient and offers decent performance.
The entry-level Classic trim ($161,888 with COE) offers great value, with an 8.8-inch infotainment system that comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The mid-spec Elegance trim ($163,888 with COE) is our choice, as it adds safety systems like blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, but if you plump for the top-of-the-line Luxury trim ($171,888 with COE), you get adaptive cruise control and autonomous braking as well, but that brings the price well past the $120,000 mark, which may be out of the park for small SUV budgets.
With mainstream SUVs being such a competitive market, you only have to spend a little more to start looking at European competition too. Case in point is this car - the Skoda Kamiq.
In recent times, Skoda is one of the most successful mainstream brands in Europe thanks to strong product offerings which bundle lots of value with eye-catchingly small price tags and the Kamiq is a continuation of that.
While it's a tiny bit smaller than the rest of the small SUV class, the Kamiq punches well above its weight in all areas, and doesn't feel like a smaller vehicle at all. In top-level Monte Carlo trim, it's also packed full of features and looks suitably sporty, so it's well worth a test drive if you don't mind expanding your budget a little.
The Kamiq has a 1.4-litre engine with a generous 148hp, so it requires a Category B COE, but in an era of higher COE prices if you can stretch from the $130,000-ish even Cat A small SUVs require, you do get a bit more for your money.
ALSO READ: Toyota Alphard Hybrid now available in Singapore
This article was first published in CarBuyer.