Best small SUVs and crossovers for 2021
The best small SUVs and crossovers give you a commanding, high-rise view of the road, a practical, spacious interior and larger door openings. These crossovers can also be powered with smaller engines than their four-wheel drive counterparts, so you can have the tough off-road look without the higher running costs of a full-fat large SUV.
But despite cars in this class all following a similar recipe, our tests continually find models that don’t meet expectations.
Pick the wrong one and you could end up driving a car with mediocre fuel economy, middling driving experience, little safety equipment and so-so passenger space. In fact, one of the most popular models we’ve tested falls short against its rivals due to high CO emissions at motorway speeds – something the official tests don’t cover.
Keep scrolling for the very best small SUVs and crossovers we've tested, including new EV and hybrid models.
Best new small SUVs and crossovers
We drive every car we review for hundreds of miles on real roads before putting them through scientific lab-controlled tests. We also retrieve unique survey data from actual car owners. That’s why our reviews are always the most informative out there.
Best used small SUVs and crossovers
Demand for small SUVs has only really grown in the past few years, which means not many have been on sale long enough to reach a second-generation model. The cars that have will typically use traditional petrol or diesel – but this will change in time.
However, as SUVs can come at a premium, buying used can still be a great way to get more for your money. Our experts select the very best models, below.
What to avoid when buying a small SUV
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.
A 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.
But make sure you check whether autonomous emergency braking (AEB) has been fitted, as sometimes this is only available as an option on cheaper models. AEB systems use sensors and cameras to monitor the road ahead and alert the driver to an impending collision. It will automatically perform an emergency stop to reduce the effects of the collision.
It's also worth checking the car has electronic stability control (ESC) fitted. It's been mandatory since 2014, but some older used models may go without this essential electronic safety aid – it drastically reduces the potential for loss of control in tricky conditions.
Despite the stereotype of SUVs being fuel-guzzlers, 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 75.3mpg
- But choose the wrong model and you’ll get just 32.1mpg.
Our rigorous lab tests have also revealed problems with very high CO emissions in certain models – typically at motorway speeds. So don't forget to read our – these will give you the full fuel economy and emissions picture for every engine we’ve tested.
Look at the section below to find out which models you should avoid.
Small SUVs and crossovers to avoid
Pick a dud and you could end up with a car that costs a fortune to run, expels way too many pollutants, is unsafe on the road and breaks down on every other journey.
Be confident in your choice by checking our reviews – and avoiding the cars below. We don’t award a Best Buy to a car that produces too many emissions, nor do we recommend a model that’s unsafe or extremely unreliable. In fact, if a car receives a Euro NCAP safety rating of three stars or fewer, it’s an automatic Don’t Buy.
Video: how to buy the best crossover or compact SUV
From fuel economy to car safety, we compare crossovers to 4x4s and hatchbacks, to help you decide which car is right for your needs.
What is a crossover or compact SUV?
Crossovers and compact SUVs 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-height makes them marginally more competent on rough tracks.
Good examples of the crossover breed are:
Crossovers vs small or medium-sized hatchbacks
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 and tight parking.
However, the additional ground clearance you get with a crossover gives you that extra bit of breathing space if you encounter a savage speed bump or pothole. Parents will appreciate the extra height, higher roofline and larger doors when fitting child car seats or loading up the car for a weekend away.
Would you be better off with a proper 4x4 over an SUV?
If you’re planning on regularly venturing properly into the rough stuff, then you should at least consider a model with full four-wheel drive.
Compact SUVs may look like 4x4s, but there aren't many that will cope with real-off road conditions with ease, but they should cope just fine with the occasional gravel track.
To improve efficiency, many crossover models are two-wheel drive and are designed primarily for use on tarmac.
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.
Some crossover models now come with multi-mode traction control systems in place of four-wheel drive. These allow the driver to select the best setup for different surfaces (gravel or snow, for example), with the system altering its intervention to allow for the best possible traction.
With their two-wheel drive and small engines, crossovers aren't necessarily the best tow cars. You'd be better off with a 4x4 or a four-wheel drive large car if you're keen on caravans and the like.
Popular small SUVs and crossovers
Want to know which hybrid cars are the most popular on our website? Keep reading.
Kia E-Niro (2019-), around £32,595
Class: compact/small SUV
Fuel type: electric
We liked: seven-year warranty
We didn't like: small boot
Kia's full electric version of the e-Niro claims a Tesla-rivalling range of 282 miles but at a more affordable price. How does it compare with rivals such as the Hyundai Kona Electric and Kia Soul EV, and does it measure up to that range in our tough tests?
Mazda CX-3 (2015-20), around £11,227
Class: compact/small SUV
Fuel type: petrol/diesel
We liked: it's quiet
We didn't like: poor visibility
The Mazda CX-3 might be one of the best-looking compact SUVs available – but is it a great family car?
Hyundai Kona Electric (2018-), around £32,848
Class: compact/small SUV
Fuel type: electric
We liked: well equipped
We didn't like: tight rear legroom
With battery-only power and relatively affordable pricing, could the Hyundai Kona Electric be the car that gets you to switch to electric?
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 and , 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.
But be careful. If you tend to drive further afield and won't be able to plug in regularly, a PHEV could work out more expensive.
Most people may assume that a PHEV's emissions-free driving range gives them a one-up on conventional hybrid models, which are fuelled entirely by petrol. And it would seem so, if you go by manufacturer-published fuel economy figures, as most models have a three-digit mpg figure. This is because official fuel-economy tests for PHEVs extrapolate figures from their electric range.
Our own independent tests are based on actual energy and fuel consumption over a fixed distance (100km for comparability purposes). This means we can give you an accurate breakdown in our of just how expensive PHEVs can be to run in any given situation, which is necessary given their varying fuel and electricity consumption.
Are compact SUVs and crossovers safer?
Never assume compact SUVs and crossovers are safer than other car classes. 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. That's why when any car that performs particularly poorly for safety, or is awarded three stars or fewer after crash testing by official safety organisation Euro NCAP, is automatically designated a Don't Buy car.
Are small SUVs and crossovers more reliable?
Based on the results of our annual Which? Car Survey, the small SUVs and crossovers (0-3 years old) car class is the least likely to break down.
- Just under 2% of owners in our survey had to call out a recovery service in the year before the survey – this is impressive, even for such new cars
- By comparison, just over 6% of luxury cars under three years old broke down.
As expected, small SUVs are more likely to break down as they get older: just under 4% of cars aged 3-8 years old had to be recovered. However, this is still much lower than most of the other classes. The bulkier medium/large SUVs had the worst rate for older cars (6%).
It's important to remember that breakdowns are not the whole story when it comes to reliability, though. In our survey, we not only ask motorists about breakdowns but also how many issues they've had, what they were and how much time the car spent off the road, if at all. With the data we collect we can then determine how reliable a model of car is in its first three years and in years three to eight of its life.
And while class reliability is a great starting point, you can't base your choice of model solely on that. You should always check our detailed write-ups, based on our extensive lab and road tests in our before you buy.
Why do you want a compact SUV or crossover?
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 . 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. And it doesn't have to be functionality over style these days either; many new estate cars look great, too.
Where the extra height and taller doors of crossover models does 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, 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 300 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. This is all so we can give you an accurate miles-per-gallon figure that you can rely on. We also include a motorway test – something that official tests don't cover.
Testing in controlled lab conditions means the results we collect are directly comparable between different cars, helping us 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 annual Which? Car Survey and use it to generate detailed reliability ratings for the cars we test.