Best small SUVs and crossovers for 2021
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. The market is now bursting with popular models such as the Audi Q3, VW Tiguan, Vauxhall Mokka and Renault Captur. Arguably kicking off the trend was 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.
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.
Below are the very best small SUVs and crossovers that excelled in our independent lab and road tests, plus the small SUVs you should avoid.
Best new small SUVs and crossovers
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.
What to avoid when buying a small SUVs
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. 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.
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 table below to find out which models you should avoid.
It's also worth checking the car has ESC fitted. It's been mandatory since 2014, but some older used models may go without this essential electronic safety aid, which drastically reduces the potential for a loss of control in tricky conditions.
Small SUVs and crossovers to avoid
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 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:
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.
Would you be better off with a proper 4x4?
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.
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.
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 .
Don't assume compact SUVs and crossovers are safer
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 .
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.
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, 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.