Seven seats appear to be a key selling point these days. Be it small MPVs or large SUVs, if it's got a third row, they usually fly off the dealership lots. This brings us neatly into what may possibly be the next hotly contested part of the market.

Manufacturers are trying to squeeze in extra seats in cars and one of the latest segments to do so is the subcompact SUV crowd. Slightly bigger than five-seat B-segment crossovers, these cars promise to deliver flexible practicality without the extra bulk. At the moment, this specific market has been cornered by one car but there are two new contenders coming this year.

Spec-check: 7-seat subcompact SUVs

The Contenders

It is perhaps safe to say that the Honda BR-V kicked off the idea of a subcompact, seven-seat SUV in the Philippines. As of now, it's the only subcompact SUV (crossover, to be more specific) with three-row seating available locally. Despite being slightly smaller than the HR-V, we said that it made good use of its cabin space with a decent amount of room on all three rows.

This year however, it will have to face fresh-faced rivals from Mitsubishi and Toyota in the form of the Xpander and Rush, respectively.

The Mitsubishi Xpander is the production version of the XM Concept which made rounds in Asia last year. Billed as a 'crossover-MPV', Mitsubishi is taking the 'two birds with one stone' approach by combining SUV and MPV capabilities. It wades into battle with the tried and true formula of seven seats and a raised ride height.

Toyota meanwhile has the Rush, which will soon make its local debut. Unlike the Honda and the Mitsubishi, the Rush sticks with body-on-frame construction. It is much like the car it is based on, the Avanza, albeit with a longer body. While it's the first time the Philippines will be getting the Rush, it has been quite a popular small SUV in neighboring ASEAN countries. Will the success abroad carry over here?

Spec-check: 7-seat subcompact SUVs

1.5-liters only

Besides having three rows of seats, all three have something in common when looking at the spec sheets. These SUVs are each powered by a 1.5-liter engine but that is where their similarities end.

The BR-V makes the most of the small capacity with 120 PS and 145 Nm of torque, putting it on top of its class. With 105 PS and 141 Nm of torque, the Xpander comes second in the engine specs department. In third is the Rush with 104 PS and 136 Nm of torque from its Avanza-derived engine.

It's worth stating that there are drivetrain differences that make each of these cars unique. For example, the Rush is the only one where which sends power to the rear wheels. The BR-V on the other hand is the lone car equipped with a continuously variable transmission or CVT. Speaking of transmissions, the Rush and the Xpander are available with a four-speed automatic. It is yet to be known of the Rush and Xpander will come with five-speed manuals once they are launched locally.

Spec-check: 7-seat subcompact SUVs

Tale of the tape

The Xpander, Rush and BR-V are slightly larger than most B-segment crossovers although none of them go past the 4.5 meter mark in length. Looking at the numbers the Xpander is the largest offering among the three, being the longest and the widest in the group. Length, width and height of the Xpander measure in at 4,475 mm, 1,750 mm and 1,700 mm, respectively.

Only the Rush surpassed the Xpander in dimensions and that was in terms of height. At 1,705 mm tall, it barely beats the Xpander by a mere 5 mm. In terms of length and width, the Rush is the smallest, putting the BR-V right in between the two. Speaking of the BR-V, it is the shortest when it comes to overall height at 1,665 mm.

Spec-check: 7-seat subcompact SUVs

Ground clearance

Let's face it, one of the reasons why people buy SUVs and crossovers is because of the ride height. As these cars are indeed marketed as such, it's much more relevant to check out the ground clearances of each.

At 220 mm (8.7 inches), the Rush is nearly as high off the ground as traditional SUVs. The Xpander on the other hand has a ground clearance measurement of 205 mm (8.1 inches), which is still a solid showing. While the BR-V sits closest to the ground at 201 mm (7.9 inches), it's still higher than sedans and hatchbacks.

Do note that just because these cars come with decent ground clearance, it doesn't make them off-roaders. For starters, none of these cars offer all-wheel drive. Still, their respective clearances should give you more than enough confidence when taking on rough roads.

Spec-check: 7-seat subcompact SUVs

Set and Stow

While the extra row of seats are a bonus, it does cut into cargo space when in use. So how do the three stow their third-row seats?

The Rush and the BR-V have pretty straightforward mechanisms. Simply fold the backrests down and pull a lever to flip the rest of the seat forward. After that, you have to hook it to one of the second row headrests to keep it secure.

As for the Xpander, it one-ups the Honda and Toyota by being able to fold the third-row flat. It's a one-step process that only requires the pulling of one tab to either set or stow. This also allows for more cargo space and the ability of the second row to fold flat as well, making for more flexible loading arrangements.

Spec-check: 7-seat subcompact SUVs

So how much are these seven-seat subcompact SUVs? For the BR-V, prices range from Php 1,030,000 for the entry-level S variant, to Php 1,210,000 for the V with a Modulo body kit. As for the Xpander, that starts at Php 885,000 for the base GLX M/T to Php 1,060,000. The pricing on the Rush, we might have to wait a little longer for that.

For now, we'll have to wait for the two new contenders to know more about them. With that, it seems like 2018 is starting to look like yet another year for high-riding seven-seaters.