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Cars & travel.

22 September 2021

Best small SUVs and crossovers for 2021

The best small SUVs offer a great driving position as well as practicality, impressive fuel efficiency and top reliability ratings. Discover the best new and used models available now
Daljinder Nagra
Volvo XC40
Volvo XC40

The best small SUVs and crossovers give you a commanding high-rise view of the road, a practical and spacious interior, and large door openings. They can also typically be powered with smaller engines than larger full-sized off-roaders, so you can have the tough aesthetic and road presence of a 4x4 without the higher running costs of a full-fat SUV.

However, despite cars in this class typically 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.

Scroll down the page for the very best small SUVs and crossovers we've tested, including new EV and hybrid models.

What is a crossover?

The term 'crossover' is a fairly recent addition to the new-car lexicon. It's typically used to describe smaller SUVs, which are a crossover between a conventional small hatchback and a full-sized 4x4. 

The term is also often used to describe medium-sized SUVs that do without the off-road hardware of proper 4x4s, as well as high-rise MPVs, and other models that blend features of two traditional types of car. But for the most part, it's best to think of a crossover as a small, road-biased SUV.

Best new small SUVs and crossovers

The small petrol, diesel or hybrid SUVs we've highlighted in the table below strike a good balance of passenger and load space, ride comfort, fuel economy and reliability, so you can buy with confidence.

Which? members can log in to see the small SUVs and crossovers we recommend. If you’re not already a member, join Which? to unlock our recommendations below and all of our expert impartial reviews.

  • 73%
    £21917.00

    Electric crossovers may dominate our Best Buy tables, but if you need the convenience of a petrol engine, this model should definitely be on your shortlist. It's superb to drive and feels very high quality. Just make sure you can live with its merely average practicalityin terms of luggage space and limited legroom for rear passengers.

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  • 72%
    £27546.00

    This part-electric model boasts generous standard equipment, low running costs and the peace of mind of a long manufacturer warranty. The boot is tad pokey, but passengers are very well catered for in terms of space.

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  • 70%
    £27773.00

    This car is rare amongst compact SUVs in that it really does feel sporty to drive. It's no one-trick pony either; it's well-appointed, comfortable and has a range of strong and economical engines.

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  • 69%
    £17461.00

    This model holds up its maker's reputation for practicality and ease of use. There's a huge amount of space for passengers, it's very easy to drive and has a good crash safety rating. You'll need to avoid cheaper models to get the best equipment, though.

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  • 69%
    £29637.00

    It's more of a large hatchback than a small SUV, but this model stands out amongst rivals thanks to its spacious, high-quality cabin, excellent safety rating and plush ride quality. Diesel engine refinement isn't as good as we'd hope from a premium brand and the infotainment controls can be confusing to the uninitiated, but otherwise it's a decent all-rounder.

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Tables last updated July 2021. 

Best new electric small SUVs and crossovers

The best small electric SUVs score just as highly in all our tests as their traditional counterparts, but produce zero emissions. If you're ready to make the switch to an EV, here are the best models available.

  • 78%
    £32845.00

    Excellent driving range at a relatively affordable price is just part of the appeal with this mid-size BEV. It's easy to use and get in and out of, comfortable on the move and backed by a long manufacturer warranty.

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  • 77%
    £29873.00

    This model has an impressive driving range and is absolutely effortless to drive. Boot space hasn’t been affected in the transformation into a zero-emissions car, though it wasn’t much to write home about in the first place.

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  • 74%
    £32446.00

    This stylish small SUV is further improved by electric power. Not only is it pleasantly hushed on the move, it has the potential for very low running costs. Add to this a roomy, high-quality cabin and a lot of standard safety kit, and it makes for a great emissions-free SUV.

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  • 74%
    £28545.00

    If you like your electric SUVs with a sporty feel, this model is well worth a look. It's fun and agile to drive, with a decent driving position. It feels a high quality product, too and has lots of standard equipment. Where it comes up short is in its limited driving range and small rear cabin.

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  • 71%
    £32774.00

    This model certainly has the styling to stand out from the crowd. Thankfully it backs it up with a comfy cabin and plenty of safety kit. Function has followed form in some respects, though, as the rear seats are cramped and the snazzy-looking infotainment system can be fiddly to operate.

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Best used small SUVs and crossovers

Demand for small SUVs has really grown in the past few years and there is a rapidly-growing selection of high-quality used models. Typically, these won't be available with the latest mild or full hybrid tech (depending on model), but this will change in time. 

As SUVs can come at a premium, buying used can be a great way to get more for your money. Our experts select the very best models, below.

  • 75%
    £6339.00

    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.

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  • 72%
    £10651.00

    One of the best all-round and best-looking compact crossovers money can buy; this is especially good news given the low starting price. It's also economical, quiet and comfortable. We have issues with models made before the 2018 facelift – specifically how they handle during sudden swerving manoeuvres – so you'll want to avoid these early models. Read our review for more details.

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  • 72%
    £15036.00

    The smallest model in its manufacturer’s range of SUVs, this car is available with wide range of tech and safety options. It’s also comfortable and efficient to drive. Its city credentials are marred somewhat by a wide turning circle and poor visibility to the rear.

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  • 68%
    £7973.00

    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.

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  • 67%
    £8322.00

    This model is fun to drive and makes an impression with its funky coupe styling – a trend that’s since been copied by more premium manufacturers. It's worth noting there are just two seats in the back, though.

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Not found the car for you? Go straight to all our small SUV and crossover car reviews

Video: how to buy the best small SUV

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 in the event of a crash 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 scores poorly in Euro NCAP safety ratings, or is extremely unreliable. 

  • 45%
    £11995.00

    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.

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  • 45%
    £19169.00

    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.

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What's the difference between a compact and small SUV?

Compact SUVs are typically the smallest models available, and are normally little more than regular small hatchbacks given mildly raised suspension and beefed-up body styling to give a more rough-and-tumble look. Examples include the Honda Jazz Crosstar and the Audi Q2.

While there are no hard and fast rules (sizes and shapes can vary greatly between manufacturers), small SUVs are normally slightly larger and have a conventional SUV shape. However, other than an increased ride height and commanding driving position, they're normally no better equipped for off-road use than a hatchback or saloon model. Popular examples include the Volvo XC40 and the Volkswagen T-Roc.

What's the difference between a small and large SUV?

If you plan to regularly venture on to rough tracks or go off-road entirely, then you should at least consider a model with full four-wheel drive.

Small SUVs may look like 4x4s, and they should cope just fine with the occasional gravel track, but there aren't many that will tackle real off-road conditions with ease.

To improve efficiency, many crossover models are two-wheel drive and are designed primarily for use on tarmac. 

Full-sized 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, either. You'd be better off with a 4x4 or a four-wheel drive large car if you want to tow a caravan or large trailer.

If you want a vehicle to take off-road, see our expert pick of the best large SUVs and 4x4s

What to look for 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 SUV. It gives a commanding view of the road and helps make people feel safer while driving.

However, depending on model, you may not be any better off in terms of load space or passenger comfort by paying the premium for a small SUV instead of buying a similarly sized alternative.

For ultimate long-distance comfort, large saloons are likely to fit the bill better, and most will compete with small SUVs 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. 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 SUV models does come in handy is in fitting a child car seat, simply because the seats are easier to access in the first place.

The appeal of the raised driving position and being seen in a stylish 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.

Are small SUVs expensive to run?

Despite the stereotype of SUVs being fuel-guzzlers, that's not always the case with small SUVs; 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
  • Choose the wrong model and you’ll get just 32.1mpg. 

There are models that guzzle gas as much as their larger SUV cousins, but you shouldn't tar them all with the same brush. There are several small 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 the Toyota C-HR, to plug-in (PHEV) versions such as the 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 have a comparably far shorter electric driving range. And it would seem so, if you go by manufacturer-published fuel economy figures, as most models have an impressive, three-digit mpg figure. This is because official fuel-economy tests for PHEVs extrapolate figures from their claimed 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 plug-in hybrid car reviews of just how expensive PHEVs can be to run in any given situation, which is necessary given their varying fuel and electricity consumption.

We also include a motorway test to better reflect real-world driving. For more information, see how we test cars.

Are small SUVs safe?

Don't 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.

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.

At Which?, we don’t think top-notch safety should be optional. That's why any car that performs particularly poorly for safety in our assessments, or is awarded three stars or fewer after crash testing by official safety organisation Euro NCAP, is automatically made a Don't Buy. Unfortunately, there are small SUVs and crossovers that we won't recommended because of their low safety ratings. Find out which cars didn't make the grade: Don't Buy cars.

Are small SUVs 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 you'd expect, 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 aren't 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 car reviews before you buy.

Should you buy a small SUV or a hatchback?

Crossovers are sometimes marketed as city-friendly SUVs, but they're almost always still larger than the hatchback or other models they’re based on. This is because they're 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. The greater weight and typically higher centre of gravity doesn’t tend to make for a thrilling drive – but there are exceptions. 

Read our small SUVs and crossover car reviews to find out which these are.

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 vehicle 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 which models are better, and why, and helping you find the perfect vehicle for your needs. 

And so you know which models 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. 

To take the guesswork out of choosing your next car, use our independent car reviews.