Best small SUVs and crossovers for 2020
By Daljinder Nagra
Article 8 of 16
The best small SUVs and crossover cars combine practicality, fuel efficiency and reliability with a great driving position
The best small SUVs and crossovers give you a commanding, high-rise view of the road and a practical, spacious interior. These crossovers are also more fuel-efficient and easier to manage around town than a full-sized large SUV.
Most car manufacturers now offer at least one compact SUV in their range, with models such as the Audi Q3, VW Tiguan, Vauxhall Mokka and Renault Captur. But the best-known by far is the ultra-popular Nissan Qashqai.
You need to choose your compact SUV carefully. Otherwise you could end up with a car that lacks safety equipment, is thirsty and unreliable.
Below are the very best small SUVs and crossovers that excelled in our independent lab and road tests, plus the small SUVs we recommend you should avoid.
Alternatively, you can use the links below to jump to our crossover and compact SUV car buying tips:
Small SUVs and crossovers are very popular, but with so many to choose from it can be hard to sort the diamonds from the duds. Fortunately, we've done the work for you. See below the exceptional models revealed in our definitive lab tests.
Best new compact and small SUVs
The best used small SUVs and crossovers
SUVs can come at a premium, so buying used can be a great way to get more for your money. Our experts select the very best models to choose.
Best used compact and small SUVs
This upmarket model certainly drives very well, with assured handling and a range of eager engines to choose from. But it doesn't shine in the practicality stakes - the rear seats are a little too cramped, as is the boot. We also wish it were a little smoother. But there's lots of space up front. This is a crossover for keen drivers.
Rugged styling and four-wheel-drive as standard places this mid-size model at the more utilitarian end of the compact SUV spectrum. It feels built to last and has an interior that puts function over form. Hard suspension means ride comfort is compromised, though.
Aside from the usual electric car compromises of a high purchase price and limited range (103 miles in our own independent tests), this car is a thoroughly practical and likeable electric compact crossover. Low day-to-day running costs (and government grants) should help ease the financial burden, however. So if your lifestyle and budget can accomodate this car, then it should certainly be considered.
You’ll pay a premium, particularly for top-spec models, but this car goes a long way to justifying its robust pricing. Not only is it one of the most upmarket compact SUVs available, it’s available with a range of powerful and economical engines. It’s impressively comfortable on long journeys and is available with a wide range of technology.
Not found the car for you? Go straight to all our small SUV and crossover car reviews.
Three small SUVs and crossovers to avoid
The small SUV and crossover class is a relatively new one in motoring, but it has quickly become one of the most popular and is now responsible for some of the bestselling models in the UK.
The boom in popularity meant every manufacturer wanted a slice of the action, releasing their own small SUVs with mixed results.
Electronic stability control is vital on a tall car. Too many small SUVs and crossovers don't have it.
The high driving position is one of the major benefits of owning a crossover. It gives a commanding view of the road and helps make people feel safer while driving. Electronic stability control (ESC) is vital on a tall car to avoid body roll and to help the car feel stable round corners. Too many small SUVs either don’t have ESC or offer it as an optional extra, which means it could be missing from used models.
ESC factors into our safety checks. If it’s absent, we won’t recommend the car.
Despite the SUV moniker, there are high expectations of how cheap a small SUV should be to run. Our testing found that crossover cars have one of the biggest disparities between the most and least-efficient models.
Choose the right car, and you can expect up to 67.2mpg. But choose the wrong model and you’ll get just 21.9mpg.
Take a look at the models you should avoid.
Only logged-in Which? members can view the small SUVs and crossovers you should avoid, below. If you’re not yet a member, you can get instant access to this and all of our online reviews if you join Which?
Compact and small SUVs to avoid
This is one of the only compact crossovers designed for serious off-roading. Unfortunately that means its on-road dynamics are compromised. It’s bumpy, noisy and has very vague steering. We could live with that for its ability in the rough-stuff, but what’s harder to swallow is its poor performance in crash tests. With a poor Euro NCAP safety rating, we wouldn’t want to use it as family transport.
This compact Crossover has a lot going for it: it's nice to drive, comes with lots of kit and is backed by a lengthy warranty. Unfortunately, entry-level models don't get all the safety kit as standard. The result is a three-stars out of five Euro NCAP safety score and a Which? Don't Buy rating.
This model has won plenty of fans with its no-frills approach to motoring. It’s a credible compact SUV, with just the basic equipment. Unfortunately that includes its active safety kit - an area we don’t think you should have to compromise on. With a three-star out of five Euro NCAP safety rating, it’s a definite Don't Buy.
Crossovers are essentially small SUVs that typically use the underpinnings and engines from conventional hatchbacks.
The idea is that you get the high driving position and at least some of the road presence of a full-size SUV, but without the high running costs or impracticality of driving and parking them in town.
Crossovers can also offer larger boots than conventional hatchbacks, while their raised ride-heights make them marginally more competent on rough tracks.
Good examples of the crossover breed are:
- Honda HR-V, which is based on a Honda Jazz
- Mazda CX-3,which shares parts with the Mazda 2 small hatchback.
Crossovers are sometimes marketed as city-friendly SUVs, but they are almost always still larger than the hatchback or other models they’re based on. This is because they are both longer and wider.
You may find a conventional small or medium-sized hatchback more suitable for your needs, particularly if you regularly have to negotiate narrow streets.
They may look like 4x4s, but there aren't many compact SUVs that will drive over a muddy field with ease.
To improve efficiency, many crossover models are two-wheel drive and are designed primarily for use on tarmac. If you’re planning on regularly venturing into the rough stuff then you should at least consider a model with full four-wheel drive.
Full-size SUVs and 4x4s are often fitted with locking differentials and low-range gearboxes – off-road specific hardware that you’ll struggle to find on the spec list of nearly all crossovers.
With two wheel drive and small engines, crossovers aren't the best towers either. You'd be better off with a 4x4 or a four-wheel drive large car if you're keen on caravans.
If you want a vehicle to take off-road, read our guide to the best large SUVs and 4x4s.
Are small SUVs and crossovers expensive to run?
As a halfway house between small cars and 4x4s, compact SUVs can go either way on fuel economy. There are compact SUVs that guzzle gas as much as their bigger cousins, but you shouldn't tar them all with the same brush. There are several compact SUVs that are as cheap to run or cheaper than small cars.
In particular, there is a growing number of hybrid models in the small SUV class, ranging from conventional hybrids such as the Hyundai Kona Hybrid and Toyota C-HR, to plug-in (PHEV) versions such as the BMW X1 PHEV and Kia Niro PHEV. These could reduce your fuel bills considerably, particularly if you do most of your driving around town.
We drive every car we test on real and simulated roads to give you an accurate miles-per-gallon figure that you can rely on. Our tests go beyond the official tests. We include a motorway test to better reflect real-world driving. For more information, see how we test cars.
Despite the imperious feeling of security given by a commanding driving position, crossover SUVs are often no more protective in a crash than a conventional hatchback.
Furthermore, cheaper models often do without desirable active safety technology, such as autonomous emergency braking, which can prevent low-speed collisions altogether.
At Which? we don’t think safety should be optional. Any car that performs particularly poorly for safety, or is awarded less than four out of five stars after crash testing by official safety organisation Euro NCAP, is automatically designated a Don’t Buy car.
Depending on model, you may not be any better off in terms of fuel economy, load space or passenger comfort by paying the premium for a crossover instead of buying a conventional car.
For ultimate long-distance comfort, large saloons are likely to fit the bill better, and most will compete with crossovers in terms of passenger and luggage space.
If you’re simply looking for an easy to use, practical family car, then you should also consider one of our best estate cars. These offer oodles of boot space without compromising on cabin space, and are available in all manner of sizes and specifications, to suit every requirement and budget.
Where the extra height and taller doors of crossover models do come in handy is in fitting a child car seat, simply because the seats are easier to access in the first place.
Ultimately, though, the appeal of the raised driving position and being seen in a bulky-styled SUV is too much for some to resist, but objectively there is little else to distance them from the rest of the family car market.
We test cars more thoroughly than anyone else
Our tests go further than those carried out by other organisations and, because Which? is independent and doesn’t accept advertising or freebies, you can trust our reviews to give you the full, honest and impartial truth about every car we test.
Every car we review is subjected to more than 100 individual tests in a lab, on a test track and on real roads – and we really clock up the distance, driving around 500 miles in every car we test.
Testing in controlled lab conditions means the results we collect are directly comparable between different cars, helping us to determine exactly which models are better and why, and helping you find the perfect car for your needs.
And so you know which cars are likely to prove reliable for years to come, we also gather feedback from thousands of UK car owners through the Which? Car Survey, using it to generate detailed reliability ratings for the cars we test.
To take the guesswork out of choosing your next car, use our independent, expert car reviews.