Want one of the best small SUVs? You're not alone, as they're extremely popular with new and secondhand car buyers. Check out our top 10 list to find out which small SUVs we rate and why.
Gone are the days when, if you wanted a family car, you headed straight to the nearest dealership to look at the latest range of hatchbacks and saloons. Only a decade ago the two bodystyles dominated new car sales, but tastes adapt and it seems buyers mostly crave SUVs (Sports Utility Vehicles). And the car industry has responded in full force.
That's why there are more SUVs now than there are traditional hatchbacks and saloons. While cars like the Ford Focus and BMW 3 Series are still popular to buy or lease, family-friendly SUVs are beating them out of showrooms. They're available in a range of sizes, but here we're focusing on the best small SUV models.
It's not hard to see why, either. The best small SUVs (often referred to as crossovers) combine key elements of hatchbacks, family cars, SUVs and people carriers. They are cars that take up a smaller space on the road than a traditional big SUV, but with a raised-up body, higher ground clearance and imposing look that traditional car types don't offer. They're often more practical, too, with bigger boots, while the high driving position is desirable.
The best small SUVs and crossovers now cover all the bases. Larger, more expensive models include the likes of the Mazda CX-30 and BMW X1. These small SUVs make sense as a family car due to their extra practicality over a hatchback like the Mazda 3 or BMW 1 Series. As well as often having extra space, their taller bodies make it easier to step in and out, or load child seats.
Then there are smaller SUV crossovers, usually based on superminis like the Ford Fiesta. These are proving very popular with younger buyers, those downsizing from large cars or as second cars to be used as a runabout. This includes cars like the Nissan Juke, Renault Captur and Volkswagen T-Cross. They tend to be easier to park and drive (especially if you do most of your driving around town) thanks to the raised driving position, and are usually cheap to run too, with low tax, insurance and fuel costs.
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Best small SUVs 2024
1. Ford Puma
Year launched: 2020
Being a Ford it's a lot of fun to drive, with handling akin to the Ford Fiesta on which it's based. There's a superb mix of petrol engines on offer, including some with mild-hybrid assistance and even a hot Puma ST model. But the Puma isn't just about darting along country lanes; it's pretty comfortable and refined everywhere else, and manages respectable fuel economy.
While it's not as big as some alternatives, the Ford Puma is still a very practical little car. Its party piece is the so-called 'megabox' underneath the boot floor, which even comes with a drain plug so you can use it for washing your wellies or even cleaning the dog after a muddy walk. An impressively likeable crossover SUV.
2. Volvo XC40
Year launched: 2018
You might associate Volvo with boxy old estate cars, but today it makes some of the sexiest SUVs on the market. Our favourite is the XC40 – it's an uber-stylish small SUV that'll make you feel good about life every time you drive it.
The chunky-looking alternative to a BMW X1 or Audi Q3 is available with a range of petrol, diesel and hybrid engines – and there's even a pure-electric model known at the XC40 Recharge Pure Electric. You can also pick between two- or four-wheel-drive, allowing you to prioritise low running costs of go-anywhere capability. It's not the sharpest handling SUV, but it is composed and comfortable.
Of course, being a Volvo, one of the XC40's selling points is its safety record. Not only does it perform extremely well in independent crash tests, it's also available with a whole host of clever tech to prevent you from being involved in an accident in the first place. It's certainly one of the best small SUVs you can buy today.
3. Skoda Kamiq
Year launched: 2019
The Skoda Kamiq is a prime example of Skoda doing what Skoda does well. It's a no-nonsense small family SUV that undercuts on price and over-delivers on practicality. Indeed, with a big boot and plenty of space for rear passengers, the Kamiq is a small SUV that's big and well-appointed enough to be your main family car.
Just £15,000 will get you a 2020 Kamiq in not-so-basic SE trim (the S is even cheaper but a bit sparse). If you'd prefer a flashier model, a 2021 Skoda Kamiq Monte Carlo could be yours for less than £21,000. 2022 Kamiqs with very low miles start from around £18,500.
It'll be dirt cheap to run, too. OK, you can't buy a hybrid Kamiq, but the 1.0-litre petrol engine is capable of around 50mpg. It's pretty punchy, and while it's not the most exciting car to drive, it's an impressive all-rounder with decent comfort and refinement. The interior is again not exactly luxurious or dramatic, but it's hard-wearing and solidly put together.
4. Toyota Yaris Cross
Year launched: 2021
The Yaris is one of our favourite small cars, so it's no surprise that the Yaris Cross makes the grade. Its stylish design hides a solid (if unexciting) interior, while being a Toyota it should prove very reliable. It's more spacious than the Yaris on which it's based, too, although the rear is still a little cramped and the boot isn't the biggest in this class.
A big part of the Yaris Cross's appeal is its standard hybrid powertrain. Using Toyota's self-charging tech, there's no need to faff about charging up, while over 60mpg is achievable without much bother. Although it's not huge fun, the rest of the driving experience is smooth and composed.
5. BMW X1
Year launched: 2022
The previous-generation BMW X1 was a popular and well-liked small SUV, but even though it still featured in this list it was certainly getting on a bit. Now it's all shiny and fresh, with a new X1 arriving on the market late in 2022.
The new car adopts the angular, aggressively-surfaced look that BMW is pushing in recent years, but while some are an acquired taste we reckon the X1 has plenty of presence for a small SUV.
It's also really practical and bigger than you might expect, with lots of space in the front, sliding seats in the rear and a boot big enough to deal with all the family car duties. The technology has come on quite a bit, too, as has the fit and finish of that interior which is among the best of any premium small SUV.
You have more choice than ever of engines in the 2022 BMW X1, with petrol, diesel, plug-in hybrid and even a fully electric model called the BMW iX1. This replaces the old BMW i3, ditching the quirky design but bringing a much more useful 272-miles of range on a charge.
On the road the BMW X1 is just about the best handling small SUV there is. If you're a parent not ready to give up driver appeal in the face of practical needs you'll love the way it drives, although models with the sportier suspension and bigger wheels are more firm than some of the cars in this list. The only other real disadvantage is that it's so new you won't get many discounts with one.
6. Jeep Avenger
Year launched: 2023
The all-electric Avenger is a great small SUV and it will never need to visit a petrol pump. While it may bear the Jeep badge, this isn’t a SUV made for true off-roading. Its diminutive frame is best suited to city streets, although it can also stretch its legs on the motorway when required.
A range of up to 244 miles means the Avenger can zip around town without any charging worries, and it’ll even cope with a few longer stretches too - making it a highly practical EV. Stop at a fast charger and you’ll be able to replenish from 20% to 80% in as little as 24 minutes.
The Avenger also impresses with its nippy driving style and elevated ride height giving you a good view of the road ahead. There’s enough poke to keep you engaged around town, and if you do find yourself on less familiar surfaces the Avenger comes with a suite of all-terrain modes and a hill descent system.
There’s a decent amount of kit in the entry-level Longitude model, but we’d opt for the mid-tier Altitude trim if budget allows, as it gets you 17-inch alloys, adaptive cruise control, and a reversing camera among a few other goodies.
7. Kia Niro
Year launched: 2022
Get ready to see a lot of these new Kia Niros around if you haven't already. The old car was hugely popular whether it was in fleet-friendly hybrid form or the impressively affordable Kia e-Niro electric car. Now it's back, and this time it looks a lot more, well, out there.
The love-it-or-hate it design is certainly better than the old car's bland anonymity, but all the virtues we know and love from the old car are present and correct. You get extremely low running costs, plenty of standard equipment, a really user-friendly cabin and a good amount of space.
Other than the quirky shape, the new Kia Niro also benefits from a load of extra technology, some of it borrowed from one of our favourite electric cars - the Kia EV6. We really like the new 'Greenzone' drive mode, which will automatically put the car into electric mode when you drive into certain areas.
As before you can have either the Kia Niro plug-in hybrid, the full (self-charging) hybrid model or the Kia Niro EV. Both are among the most efficient and cheap-to-run SUVs ever produced, although they look and feel a bit like tall hatchbacks.
The Kia Niro's driving experience is not exceptional, but all versions are easy, relaxing and comfortable to drive. And even with the new model's price increase they are still affordable offerings.
8. Mazda CX-30
Year launched: 2019
Mazda does things a bit differently to many mainstream rivals, and the CX-30 is no different. It's basically a jacked up Mazda 3, which is no bad thing as that's one of our favourite family hatchbacks.
Mazda has instilled the same sense of sportiness, style and premium appeal in the CX-30 as its low-slung sibling. The interior is much more upmarket than you might expect, while the infotainment system is super easy to use and the design is very attractive. It's not the most versatile small SUV out there, but four adults will have plenty of space, and the raised body makes it child friendly when fitting car seats.
The CX-30's ace card is its driving experience, striking a near-perfect balance between a sporty and agile feel and a smooth ride.
Refinement is good, too, although the engine range is limited to two non-turbo petrols, with the most powerful using Mazda's innovative Skyactiv-X compression ignition for greater efficiency. It needs to be worked hard to get the best out of it, but in some ways that makes the CX-30 feel a bit like a taller, more practical MX-5 sports car.
9. MG ZS EV
Year launched: 2019
No, MG isn't making sports car right now and that's still upsetting die-hard fans. No that MG needs to worry, because it's seeing huge success in selling extremely good value and surprisingly capable electric cars. That's why the MG ZS EV deserves a place in this list.
Sure, the petrol-powered regular MG ZS is available for much less money. But that's a pretty mediocre car with thirsty, underpowered engines. The ZS EV, on the other hand, gets much better performance along with greatly reduced running costs and a much quieter, smoother driving experience.
What's more the MG ZS EV gets a good-sized battery pack, with later versions available in Long Range form for up to 273 miles on a charge. The standard model takes that down to 198 miles, which is still enough for most needs.
You also get lots of standard equipment; MG really throws the kitchen sink at the ZS EV. However the car's interior is not the most sophisticated here, with cheaper finishes and a rather lacklustre infotainment screen. But at this price no electric car is comparable with an SUV stance and long range.
10. Honda HR-V
Year launched: 2021
The Honda HR-V gets you a lot for your money. Heated front seats and the 9-inch infotainment navigation system are standard on all trims, and the hybrid engine means it will be cheap to run. It should also be great reliability wise, so if you’re planning to buy a car to keep forever the HR-V will serve you well.
On the road it feels composed, with plenty of grip and a relatively comfortable ride. It may not be ‘fun’ to drive, but the HR-V feels safe and secure, while the light steering makes it easy to manoeuvre.
Inside you’re greeted with a delightfully modern interior with great usability. It’s more stylish than before and there are plenty of physical buttons and knobs for the key features you’ll access regularly.
Passengers will be pleased too, with plenty of head and legroom in the front and rear seats, which makes it a great car for ferrying people around. Honda’s also adorned the cabin with numerous storage areas for your odds and ends, which is handy.
Best Small SUV FAQs
The best small SUV on sale in 2023 depends on your requirements. We reckon the Ford Puma is one of the best small SUVs, especially if you're looking for a car that's relatively affordable, looks stylish and is fun to drive. The new Toyota Yaris Cross is an excellent alternative, particularly as it's a hybrid model with low running costs. Toyota has an extremely strong reliability record, too.
You should also look at VW Group small SUVs such as the Volkswagen T-Cross, SEAT Arona and Skoda Kamiq – all of which are impressive all-rounders that won't break the bank. Alternatively, consider premium small SUVs like the Volvo XC40, BMW X1 and Lexus UX.
The Toyota Yaris Cross is one of the most reliable small SUVs you can buy, along with the slightly bigger Toyota C-HR. Toyota is widely accepted to be one of the most reliable car manufacturers, regularly performing well in ownership surveys such as HonestJohn.co.uk's annual Satisfaction Index.
You should also look at Toyota's premium brand Lexus, particularly the Lexus UX small SUV. A Honda HR-V would be a good alternative, or the Mazda CX-30. Both are very reliable choices.
That rather depends on what you define as an SUV (Sports Utility Vehicle). The Suzuki Ignis and Toyota Aygo X are city cars with plenty of crossover design cues and raised seating positions, but they're hardly SUVs (although the Suzuki can be had with four-wheel drive). The Suzuki Jimny and Fiat Panda 4x4 are less Sport and more Utility Vehicles, but they certainly fit the bill as tiny off-roaders.
A crossover SUV tends to be smaller than an SUV and isn’t as capable off-road. SUVs traditionally offer larger boots and four-wheel drive systems for off-roading and towing. In short, a crossover SUV will feel more like a car behind the wheel as it’s designed on a car’s platform, which makes it easier to park, drive, manoeuvre and get little ones in and out of car seats. An SUV like the Skoda Kodiaq or Land Rover Discovery will drive more like a truck so that it can cope with challenging terrains better. Saying that, most SUVs in the UK won’t be traversing more than a muddy school car park.
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