Best small SUVs
If you want the advantages of an SUV with the running costs of a family hatchback, our top 10 run-down explains which are the best small SUVs to pick.
SUVs saw a massive explosion in popularity in the mid-2000s; they're now a go-to choice for a vast swathe of car buyers. Cars such as the Nissan Qashqai and Ford Kuga became big sellers as a result. This success has also seen the introduction of many smaller, more fuel-efficient models in recent years, with manufacturers realising that buyers with smaller budgets and smaller parking spaces still want cars with SUV style. The Nissan Juke arguably kicked it off, but nearly all brands offer their own version now.
The SUV genre continues to diversify, with smaller ‘compact’ models such as the Kia XCeed and Ford Focus Active offering buyers yet another, much sleeker variation of an SUV. Models of this type offer a raised ride height and rugged-looking exterior design, yet bring even lower purchase and running costs. You can even get SUV-like variations of front-wheel-drive superminis that boast rugged looks without the off-road ability, such as the Dacia Sandero Stepway, Ford Fiesta Active and Audi A1 Citycarver.
Smaller SUVs and crossovers are often based closely on a supermini mechanical package – the Renault Captur, for example, shares its platform with the Renault Clio. This helps to keep these cars relatively affordable, and often promises low running costs thanks to small, economical engines. Despite this, they're often just as spacious as a brand's family hatchback.
If you need something a little larger, we've also produced a guide for the best medium-sized SUVs, as well as a top 10 of the best SUVs across all classes and sizes. This last list in particular is well worth a look, as some of the best small SUVs manage to hold their own remarkably well, even when pitched against bigger models.
Read on for our list of the top 10 best small SUVs.
The latest model of the Renault Captur represents an upgrade from the previous one in almost every area. It’s slightly bigger, so space in the rear seats and in the boot are better than before, and the rear seats can slide fore and aft so you can prioritise room for feet or luggage. Between 422 and 536 litres of boot space is available.
The interior is now much plusher and tech-filled, with a hi-res 9.3-inch portrait touchscreen on top-spec cars and optional elsewhere. Adaptive cruise control and lane-departure warning are standard, though. There’s a choice of five engines (three petrol and two diesel), with between 95 and 153bhp, and a new E-Tech plug-in hybrid. The diesel claims 58.9mpg but the petrols or the hybrid will be best for drivers who do most of their driving in town.
The Skoda Kamiq is the firm's third entry into the already packed SUV arena, and it could be their best yet. Featuring Skoda’s familiar design on a smaller scale, the Kamiq is a thoroughly modern, rugged-looking SUV. Beneath the sharp looks, it sits on the same platform as the Volkswagen Polo, Skoda Fabia and Skoda Scala hatchbacks.
Inside the Kamiq features a solidly constructed interior with simple to use controls and plenty of soft-touch materials. It also has a 400-litre boot and smart features like an ice scraper stored in the fuel filler cap. Two petrol engines are available, with a turbocharged 1.0-litre in either 94 or 113bhp power outputs, while a more powerful 148bhp 1.5-litre petrol engine uses cylinder-on-demand technology, helping to save fuel. Even as standard, the Kamiq is well equipped with a touchscreen, DAB radio, LED headlights, air con and three sets of ISOFIX points.
The Ford Puma has returned as a small SUV, with a style-led design like the original coupe but now with more space for families. Like the revered coupe, the Puma also boasts class-leading handling, so if you want your crossover to be a fun steer this is the one to choose.
Its sharp chassis is complemented by a 1.0-litre three-cylinder turbo petrol with either 124 or 153bhp and, as well as peppy performance, both also offer impressive fuel economy of around 50mpg. This is partly thanks to clever mild-hybrid technology that stores energy as you drive to give the engine a helping hand in traffic and when accelerating. Ford hasn't ignored the interior, either, giving the Puma a sizeable 401-litre boot that's bigger than you'll find in the Ford Focus. Not only this, but a washable 80-litre storage box under the boot floor adds to its everyday practicality. Families can also be confident in the Puma's safety thanks to a five-star Euro NCAP rating, with a 94% score for adult occupant protection.
Citroen has mastered a comeback in the last few years, embracing the quirky design philosophy that made its classic models stand out and concentrating on comfort. So, not only does the Citroen C3 Aircross look unique, it’s also one of the most relaxing small SUVs to spend time in, with a smooth ride and soft, comfortable seats. Offered with advanced 1.2-litre petrol or 1.5-litre diesel turbocharged engines, it’s easy on the wallet, too, without sacrificing performance.
Even the entry-level model gets Bluetooth, DAB radio and air-conditioning, but there’s lots of options to upgrade with more desirable features, colour schemes and interior ‘ambiences’. It’s not a case of style over substance though, the C3 Aircross has a boot that can expand to 520 litres.
Peugeot’s striking new look for the 2008 will likely win over even more customers following the success of the original, which found a million homes. The main difference for buyers of the latest 2008 is having to decide whether to order theirs with a petrol, diesel or electric powertrain (the electric model is called the e-2008). Peugeot impressed us with the interior of the 3008 and they’ve done it again with the 2008.
Not only is the design futuristic, its high quality too, with piano-key buttons, a 10-inch HD touchscreen and Peugeot’s impressive i-Cockpit dominating the dashboard. Interior space is also impressive, with good legroom and boot space. Equipment levels are good across all trim levels, but the 2008 does cost slightly more than other small SUVs like the Renault Captur. A 1.2-litre petrol engine is available in three power outputs and there’s one diesel engine.
All models are front-wheel drive but Peugeot’s ‘Advance Grip Control’ is offered to help in slippery conditions. The electric e-2008 comes with a 134bhp electric motor and 50kWh battery, achieving a 0-62mph time of nine seconds. The e-2008 offers up to 193 miles of range and costs slightly less than a Hyundai Kona electric and Kia e-Niro.
The Volkswagen T-Cross has a smart looking design, with some sleek detailing that makes it stand out. From any angle, it's easy to spot that it's from the VW range, with a wide front grille and black bodywork detailing providing contrast to the bright palette of paint colours. Inside, the T-Cross offers space for five adults, a modern eight-inch touchscreen infotainment system and smartly designed sliding rear seats to help create more luggage space when you need it.
VW has prioritised comfort over sporty handling but the T-Cross is still refined at speed, keeping its composure over rough road surfaces. Power comes from a 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine, with the 113bhp version providing enough punch for most buyers. You can also specify a T-Cross with a DSG automatic gearbox, which adds a premium to the price but could prove useful for commuters. The strongest all-round spec is the SE trim, which represents good value with an excellent level of standard kit - Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, lane-keeping assist and adaptive cruise control amongst other things.
As with the Renault Captur, the second-generation Nissan Juke features familiar styling and a host of upgrades over its predecessor. The Juke was one of the first small SUVs and this new model improves the formula with extra family-friendliness and space, low running costs and an improved driving experience. Its boot is much bigger too, now offering 420 litres of space.
An eight-inch touchscreen (on Acenta trim and above) lifts and modernises the Juke’s interior, while standard equipment includes LED headlights, DAB radio, Bluetooth and cruise control. There’s only one engine available from launch - a 1.0-litre petrol with reasonable acceleration and fuel economy - but more engines and a plug-in hybrid model are due. While it’s not the main selling point of a small SUV, it’s pleasing that new Juke is better to drive.
While some mainstream rivals are slightly more relaxing to drive and more practical, the CX-30 is one of the best to look at and best to drive. Performance is good, particularly if you go for the 178bhp SkyActiv-X petrol, as the entry-level SkyActiv-G petrol engine only offers 120bhp. All the engines are reasonably economical and all CX-30s are reasonable to insure, while servicing shouldn’t break the bank.
Safety is always a consideration for families and the CX-30’s safety performance is another key strength. Not only did it manage to score five stars, it scored the highest ever safety score of any car under Euro NCAP testing at 99%. Reliability is another Mazda strong suit - the brand came fourth out of 30 manufacturers in our 2020 Driver Power survey.
The SEAT Arona is the smallest member of the Spanish brand's popular SUV line-up, sitting below the mid-size SEAT Ateca and seven-seat SEAT Tarraco. It’s based on the same technology as the latest SEAT Ibiza, giving it an exceptional start in life. The Ibiza is one of our favourite superminis and the Arona follows suit in the crossover class. Its engines are sure to win over many buyers, because both its 1.0-litre and 1.5-litre petrols are refined, punchy and affordable to run.
The Arona’s handling is almost as sharp as its looks, which are clearly influenced by the larger Ateca, but with the option of a contrasting roof. Equipment is excellent, with every version getting a touchscreen infotainment system, alloy wheels, DAB radio and Bluetooth. Impressive headroom and a 400-litre boot mean the Arona is quite a bit more practical than the Ibiza, while a five-star crash rating attests to its safety.
If the Honda HR-V has a standout party trick, it’s an ability to provide more interior space than a Nissan Qashqai while being smaller outside. This trick, worthy of comparison with Doctor Who’s Tardis, is made possible by rear ‘magic seats’, the bases of which flip up like a cinema seat to allow tall items to stand in the footwells. There’s also a 448-litre boot, which is almost 100 litres bigger than a Hyundai Kona's.
Buyers can choose from a cheap-ish 1.5-litre petrol engine and a 1.6-litre diesel, with the latter being our pick thanks to its claimed 56.5mpg economy and lower CO2 emissions. Although there’s plenty to recommend the HR-V, it can get quite expensive very quickly; for that reason, we recommend sticking to SE trim. Also be aware the manual gearbox is smooth-shifting and a joy to use, while the CVT automatic is noisy, expensive and makes the HR-V slower.