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#ThrowbackThursday: 2015 compact crossover party

04 June 2020 - 17:00 By brenwin naidu
Seven of the best 2015 B-segment contenders cross swords.
Seven of the best 2015 B-segment contenders cross swords.
Image: Waldo Swiegers

Join us as we take a gander back at some of our automotive endeavours from days gone by. This week, the time machine takes us to December 13 2015, when we sought to provide an overview of what the B-segment crossover field had to offer. Five years on, buyers have even more options to choose from, in what is a truly saturated category of automobile.

Crossovers are a superb representation of how diverse consumers’ motoring needs are in 2015. We need utility for all occasions – or the perception of it anyway – in a single package. Nice looks, urban-friendly dimensions, space, a good list of standard convenience amenities and readiness for the odd dirt road foray.

The humble three-box sedan and hatchback genres are being supplanted by this newfangled genre. Get used to it.

To offer better insight into where your money could be spent, we assembled seven of the latest competitors in the B-segment crossover market. Then we headed to the hills of Heidelberg for a morning of serious evaluation - and the not-so-serious, Red Bull-powered banter that ensues among colleagues after a ridiculously early start to the day.

The Nissan Juke (from R266,500), which was one of the early pioneers of the segment, still enchants with its oddball styling and distinctive persona. Staffers were impressed at how up-to-date it feels and looks, despite being the oldest of the bunch.

Earlier this year, a host of minor tweaks were rolled out to the model. This included the adoption of a 1.2-litre turbocharged engine (85kW and 190Nm), which is peppy on the open road but seems to want to stall in the stop-go conditions of traffic. And limited space makes it tough to justify for families.

If roominess is what you seek, the Suzuki Vitara (from R239,900) is a sound proposition. But while it might have a capacious boot and spacious rear seating, the new entrant to the fold disappoints in a number of areas. Its 1.6-litre, normally-aspirated engine (86kW and 151Nm) is flaccid at these altitudes, its interior appears rather dated, and there is not much in the way of toys. Our panel of testers was ambivalent about the Vitara.

As they were about the quirky Citroën C4 Cactus (from R237,900), which was praised for its intelligent packaging, high kit levels, and in the case of the 1.2-litre PureTech Turbo model we tested (81kW and 205Nm), fizzy performance.

Its looks – while rather novel – are not going to appeal to everyone. But the Cactus ticks all the practical boxes, with an airy cabin fit for a family of four, and a relatively commodious boot.

Citroën is renowned for its off-the-wall designs. But fellow French automaker Renault appears to have taken a more universal approach to aesthetics. And with a starting price of R222,900, the Captur is the most affordable offering here - and undoubtedly the best equipped.

Standard fare, even on the base version we had, included a digital interface with navigation. An 898cc turbocharged engine serves across the board, in two states of tune. This version produces 66kW and 135Nm. Pace is acceptable – and it makes a rather endearing three-cylinder growl. However, some of the materials employed in the cabin are not of the best quality. It just does not have the same plush (albeit hard-wearing) feeling as its countryman - or some of the others here, for that matter.

Plushness was certainly a strong suit of the most expensive contender on our morning out. The Jeep Renegade (from R316,990) proved a hit in terms of refinement, with its soft-touch materials and chunky interior accoutrements. Styling was appreciated by the team, too. And thanks to its boxy shape, the Renegade offers ample interior space.

Two engines are on offer: a peachy 1.6-litre turbocharged unit (81kW and 152Nm) and a more powerful 2.4-litre power plant with 137kW and 236Nm.

Being a Jeep, it is billed by its makers as the compact crossover with the most off-road capability. If you plan to conquer more demanding obstacles, the Trailhawk version is on offer - but this could set you back R450,990, which is pretty hard to palate.

Honda’s premium take on the format is represented by the HR-V, which ranges in price between R305,800 and R361,900. Superb build quality, a classy interior ambience and stylish aesthetics are its biggest merits. It fell short in the powertrain department, however, with its droning, lazy CVT.

On test was the 1.8-litre version (105kW and 172Nm), which preferred to be finessed along, rather than hustled. Dynamically, it felt solid through the twisty bits of the countryside. But as with the Renegade, its price puts it on the radars of larger rivals.

What about the latest offering from Mazda? Ah, yes, the CX-3 – of which a homologation unit was provided for this test, as demonstration units were away at the national launch. A positive sentiment was unanimous among staffers.

The Japanese crossover embodies a host of alluring merits. Take its striking and dynamic styling for example. The interior feels nearly German. Ride quality and refinement levels are sublime. With prices starting from R254,900, it sits in a sweet middle ground on the scale of offerings presented here.

Nothing is perfect, however. Aside from rear quarters that many described as limited, plus a small boot, it was also opined that the CX-3 could benefit from a sprightlier power source. Its 2.0-litre (115kW and 204Nm) can be had with either a six-speed manual or automatic. Our car had the latter pairing, which proved annoyingly lethargic - unbecoming of a car that looks so good.

Which is the best? Tough question, that. We pointed out the talents and compromises of each. Before you make a call with your cold, hard cash, we have a simple, three-step process to recommend. First, place your buttocks in each driving seat. Then place them in the rear seats. Lastly, be sure to open the boot and use your imagination to project the luggage you and yours would require for a weekend away into the space. Happy shopping.