But how do you choose among the superabundance of compact and subcompact SUVs on the market? Well, you can either go to a dozen of dealerships or read our comprehensive guide. We covered the 40 best, average, and worst compact and subcompact SUVs on the market in 2021 to help you choose the right one. Let’s dig in!
Honda CR-V (Best)
The Honda CR-V is one of the most accomplished compact SUVs, which isn’t exactly a surprise. The model has been popular for a long time in North America, providing owners with reliable, efficient, and comfortable means of transport. The latest model continues with that mantra and scores highly in almost every category.
Not everything is rosy – the cabin can become noisy at higher speeds, but that’s a small price to pay for the practicality you get. Notably, the CR-V has loads of space for passengers and cargo, more so than other compact SUVs. Besides, the powertrains Honda offers are also excellent, starting with the potent 1.5-liter turbo-four and up to the fuel-efficient hybrid.
Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross (Worst)
Once upon a time, Mitsubishi was one of the mightiest automakers, with stunners like the Lancer EVO and Eclipse. However, the latest Eclipse has nothing to do with the original. It’s a weirdly-shaped compact crossover/SUV, not a sports car anymore. Now, we don’t mind SUVs if they are good, but the Eclipse Cross isn’t one of them.
There are many reasons why Mitsubishi’s compact SUV fails to excite, with the most obvious being the slow, loud, and thirsty engine, an interior that looks a generation old, and an outdated platform. Mitsubishi is in dire need of a lineup refresh – let’s hope that the partnership with Nissan and Renault will help with that.
Toyota RAV4 (Best)
Toyota knows a thing or two about making SUVs and crossovers. The Japanese giant literally invented the compact SUV segment with the RAV4, and it immediately caught the attention of buyers. Today, the RAV4 is the best-selling SUV in the US, and there are numerous reasons for its success.
Like with every Toyota, the reliability factor plays a big role with customers, but the RAV4 has much more to offer. On the outside, it looks quite muscular, while the cabin is spacious and nicely-appointed. Moreover, Toyota has the best hybrid system in the segment, providing efficiency and power at the same time. Lately, the RAV4 Prime also created quite a stir – the plug-in version has 302 HP and can go 42-miles on battery power alone.
Jeep Cherokee (Worst)
The Jeep Cherokee is still the compact SUV to go for if you value off-road driving. Put some all-terrain tires on it, and it will provide you with excellent traction on slippery surfaces. However, the regular SUV owner rarely ever leaves the paved roads, and that’s where the Cherokee lags seriously behind the competition.
Put simply, Jeep’s compact SUV isn’t very dynamic or agile in the corners – it feels like a decade-old SUV in that regard. Moreover, the interior isn’t very practical – the competition offers more space for passengers and cargo. Ultimately, it is expensive, so if you don’t plan on visiting remote areas, numerous other cheaper SUVs will serve you better.
Ford Escape (Average)
Overall, the Ford Escape is a fine compact SUV. We especially like the way it drives – it eats road imperfections with ease, and it’s good to drive in the corners. Besides, the interior is spacious, both for passengers and cargo, and the turbocharged engines are powerful and efficient. Ford even offers hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions for efficiency-minded buyers.
However, the interior looks very cheap in some places, especially on the lower dash. Higher-end trims mitigate the issue to some degree, but the entry-level model is already expensive and should look and feel better. Also, the entry-level 1.5-liter three-cylinder sounds thrummy under acceleration, adding to the unrefined nature of the interior.
Chevrolet Equinox (Average)
Just like the Ford Escape, the Chevy Equinox is a fine compact SUV, but one that fails to excite. Its redeeming quality is the space on offer – the cabin is very comfortable for passengers on both roads, and the cargo area can swallow a lot of goods. Besides, Chevy managed to make its compact SUV good to drive in the corners, and its infotainment tech is among the best.
However, the entry-level model is expensive for what it is; its cabin doesn’t feel premium enough to justify the price tag and the engine lacks overtaking power. Not to mention, the ride quality isn’t especially good, especially on larger wheels.
Hyundai Nexo (Worst)
Hydrogen vehicles carry a lot of promise for a better and more sustainable future. Notably, they don’t produce harmful tailpipe emissions (only water), have a very long range, and can be refueled in minutes. However, we’re yet to see a compelling hydrogen fuel cell car, simply because there aren’t many refueling stations across the US.
Hence, the Hyundai Nexo isn’t a particularly good choice. It’s a fine compact SUV, and a technological tour-de-force, but the lack of hydrogen stations makes it an odd proposition. Now, if you live in California (many hydrogen stations there), you might be attracted by Nexo’s quiet operation (it’s essentially an EV), but for everyone else, don’t bother.
Kia Sportage (Best)
The Kia Sportage is already a six-year-old SUV, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s not good. Kia did its homework with this generation – the Sportage ticks all the right boxes for a compact SUV. We are especially fond of the spacious and comfortable cabin, high-quality materials, and quiet and refined ride. It’s a nice place to be for you and your family.
The Sportage might lack a bit of cargo space compared to some newer rivals, but it’s still not bad. Also, the engines aren’t particularly efficient, but they react well to your right foot. Ultimately, the Sportage isn’t very expensive, although the cabin looks quite upmarket.
Hyundai Tucson (Best)
Hyundai recently announced the all-new 2022 Tucson, which looks gorgeous on the inside and outside. However, the current model is no slouch, either. Based on the same platform as the Kia Sportage, the 2021 Tucson won’t particularly excite anyone, but it won’t disappoint, either.
Hyundai’s compact SUV is perfect for long-distance travelers. The suspension eats most road imperfections with ease, and there is not much noise entering the cabin. Inside, there is a good amount of space, and the materials feel nice to the touch. Ultimately, the 2021 Tucson is one of the cheapest ways to enter the compact SUV category, and it comes with a lengthy warranty.
Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV (Worst)
Mitsubishi recently announced the all-new Outlander, based on the same platform as the Nissan Rogue. However, Mitsubishi didn’t refresh the PHEV model, which is still based on the decade-old model. In automotive terms, the previous-gen Outlander is a dinosaur. Hence, it doesn’t drive nearly as well as more modern compact SUVs – it’s unrefined, slow, and not particularly agile.
While the plug-in hybrid might entice some buyers, let us remind you that there are already better options on the market. Notably, the RAV4 Prime has 302 HP and a 42-mile electric-only range, compared to the Outlander PHEV’s 221 HP and 24-mile range. The Mitsubishi is slightly cheaper, but then again, the savings aren’t huge.
Subaru Forester (Best)
The Subaru Forester has always been the most popular compact SUV among adventurous buyers, and we can see why. Even the base model comes with a standard all-wheel-drive, which provides much better off-road traction than your regular front-wheel-drive crossover. The Forester is also agile in the corners, although we would’ve liked a more powerful rally-focused version.
However, buyers in this category don’t seek performance. Instead, they want practicality, comfort, and ease-of-use, and that’s where the Forester scores highly. The interior is roomy, both for passengers and cargo, with nicely laid-out controls. Besides, the ride quality is very smooth, even on some rough patches.
GMC Terrain (Worst)
On paper, the GMC Terrain has everything you’d want from a premium compact SUV. It comes with generous equipment from the base model, and there are some hi-tech options available. Moreover, the optional 252 HP 2.0-liter turbo-four is very quick in a straight line, and the entry-level 1.5-liter turbo-four is no slouch, either.
However, stats on paper don’t matter much when you start driving the vehicle. The GMC Terrain is good to drive in the corners and quiet, but the ride is overly firm for the category. Besides, the interior looks and feels cheap, not something you’d want to see in a premium vehicle.
Nissan Rogue (Best)
Nissan made big changes to the all-new 2021 Rogue, and that shows almost everywhere. Inside, the materials are much nicer, the tech is advanced, and there is enough room for passengers and cargo. On the outside, the styling is bold and muscular, hiding the compact dimensions quite well.
The only disadvantage is the slow entry-level engine, although it impresses with the fuel economy. In terms of the overall driving experience, the 2021 Nissan Rogue offers a nice balance between a smooth ride and engaging handling. Moreover, the engine is much more refined now, and the CVT does its job just fine.
Jeep Compass (Worst)
Just like the slightly bigger Cherokee, the Compass shows that Jeep needs to refresh its compact offerings. In isolation, the Compass is a nice compact SUV, but compare it to the class leaders, and it quickly shows its shortcomings. Particularly, the engine is lethargic, and the 9-speed automatic transmission hunts for gears more often than not.
Enter the cabin, and you’ll immediately notice the hard plastics and an outdated design. There is enough space for passengers and cargo, but that doesn’t make it more appealing. On the road, the Compass is capable, but still not as good as its rivals. However, like any Jeep, the redeeming feature is the good off-roading ability.
Volkswagen Tiguan (Best)
Volkswagen has always been good at making family vehicles, and the 2022 Tiguan perfectly embodies that. Although it competes with the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V, the Tiguan comes with a third row for added practicality. Besides, the other two rows are very spacious and comfortable, although VW must start implementing softer seats in its vehicles.
Still, you can’t wrong the mechanicals. The turbocharged four-cylinder engine provides nice forward thrust, sounds good, and doesn’t require a lot of fuel to operate. Moreover, VW found a good balance between handling and comfort, and refinement is good, too. The only area where we’d like to see improvements is cabin quality, although many compact SUVs are even worse.
Mazda CX-5 (Best)
Mazda is a brand that does things its own way lately and does them really well. Focusing on what is important in a vehicle, Mazda is delivering excellent models in almost every category, and the CX-5 is no exception. Currently, it’s undoubtedly the best driver’s compact SUV, with tight and agile handling, and excellent steering. Besides, if you go for the turbo engine, you’ll also get a strong forward thrust.
The cabin feels very premium, too, on par with models from Audi, Lexus, and BMW. It’s also spacious for passengers, although we would’ve liked more cargo space. Still, for the driving experience it offers, the CX-5 is a class above any model in the category – you’ll love spending time behind the wheel.
Ford EcoSport (Worst)
The Ford EcoSport is a weird-looking crossover/SUV – we won’t say ugly, since it’s in the eye of the beholder, but still, the proportions are awkward. It looks tall and narrow, the opposite of what handsome cars are about. Now, those compact dimensions help with maneuvering in urban areas, but sadly, that’s the only advantage it has.
In every other area, the EcoSport lags behind the competition. The interior is cramped, the engine is very slow and thirsty, and the driving dynamics are so-so. Not that this surprises us – Ford launched the EcoSport in 2012, and even then, it wasn’t particularly competitive.
Buick Envision (Average)
The Buick Envision competes against premium rivals, such as the BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLC Class, and Audi Q5, but hardly scratches the surface of what these vehicles offer. Put simply, its German rivals are better mechanically, and have much higher-quality cabins.
The all-new Envision has some redeeming qualities, though. It has a much more modern styling inside and outside, and provides its passengers with a comfortable and serene traveling experience. The cabin is also very spacious, and the cargo area is big enough. Still, the German competition does all that, while also adding fun driving dynamics into the mix.
Audi Q5 (Best)
The Audi Q5 is one of the most competent compact SUVs, period. For starters, it has arguably the best cabin in the business – there is room for passengers and cargo, the materials are top-notch, and the tech is very easy to use. It’s also very quiet and comfortable, even at high speed. Moreover, the Q5 feels very stable in the corners, although not particularly agile.
Still, the Audi Q5 ticks all boxes for the average premium compact SUV buyer. There is one problem though – it’s expensive, especially if you go for the overly-expensive features.
Cadillac XT4 (Average)
The Cadillac XT4 is another American premium compact SUV that disappoints with its low-rent interior. The German and Japanese competition simply produces better interiors, with higher-quality materials and a more premium feel. It’s a shame because the dashboard looks quite modern. Another area where we’d like to see improvement is refinement – the competition is much quieter and offers a smoother ride.
The Cadillac XT4 has some redeeming qualities. The cabin is very spacious, both for passengers and cargo, and it looks very appealing on the outside. Besides, it’s not as expensive as its German rivals, especially after you add some options.
BMW X3 (Best)
BMW has always excited its customers with outstanding driving dynamics, direct and precise steering, and potent engines. What’s even more impressive is that the Bavarians transferred all of these things in their SUVs. The compact X3 is a great example of that – it feels very stable and agile in the corners, and its engines provide strong forward thrust.
On top of that, the X3 is also very comfortable over bumps, and quiet at highway speeds. The cabin is very spacious, too, and the materials feel nice to the touch. However, the dashboard design is from BMW’s last-gen offering and looks outdated next to Mercedes-Benz GLC’s.
Land Rover Discovery Sport (Average)
Land Rover is one of the most popular SUV brands in the world, and rightly so. However, its latest compact offering, the Discovery Sport, isn’t as good as its badge suggests. It’s not bad, don’t get us wrong – it looks very nice on the outside, and works better for off-roading than almost every other compact SUV.
However, although available with a third row, the interior isn’t very practical. Space for adult passengers is tight, especially in the third row, and the cabin doesn’t feel upmarket, although the price is very high. Ultimately, though, the engines are very thirsty, and reliability is always a concern with Land Rover.
Tesla Model Y (Best)
Lately, we’ve seen many electric compact SUVs arrive on the market, and the vehicle that started it all is the Tesla Model Y. Based largely on the Model 3, Tesla’s compact crossover is by far the most accomplished electric crossover. Inside, it’s spacious enough for five passengers, and has ample cargo space in the trunk and the front “frunk.”
Besides, the Model Y will smoke any other crossover in a straight line and provides up to 326-miles of EPA-rated range. It’s not all rosy, though. The infotainment is excellent, but it requires too much attention while driving. Moreover, the interior plastics are very cheap, and the fit-and-finish is questionable. Ultimately, the ground clearance is as low as a sports car, so forget about off-roading.
Infiniti QX50 (Average)
The Infiniti QX50 is a nice compact SUV in isolation. It looks quite attractive on the outside, the cabin is equally stylish and nicely-appointed, and provides loads of space for passengers and cargo. Besides, the QX50 drives just like you’d expect from a premium SUV – it’s comfortable, stable, and quiet at speed.
However, there are a few annoying things. Namely, the CVT transmission constantly holds the engine at higher revolutions under hard acceleration, and the sound isn’t particularly pleasing. Furthermore, although it features variable compression, the engine isn’t very economical. Ultimately, Infiniti’s infotainment system needs a lot of polish to function as you’d expect from a premium vehicle.
Audi e-tron (Best)
If Tesla Model Y’s interior is too unpolished for your taste, then the Audi e-tron might be a great option. Audi’s compact electric SUV isn’t as fast as the Model Y and won’t go as far on a charge. However, it is better in almost every other category. For starters, the cabin quality is on an entirely new level – there is no comparison there.
Furthermore, the e-tron is much quieter at speed – road and wind noise are minimal. Meanwhile, there is enough space inside for taller passengers, and the cargo area is spacious, too. The Audi e-tron is very expensive, though, and the costly options don’t help much.
Lexus NX (Worst)
The Lexus NX still pleases with its sporty and aggressive design, and its interior doesn’t look half bad either. The material quality is also excellent, just like in every other Lexus, and passenger space is comfortable. However, that’s where we run out of superlatives for the NX.
See, Lexus’ compact SUV is based on the old RAV4 and isn’t particularly good to drive. Besides, the ride quality isn’t as plush as we’d come to expect from Lexus. The biggest downside, though, is the infotainment system, which is laughably slow and hard to use with the touchpad-style controller. Fortunately, Lexus will launch a vastly-improved model soon with an all-new infotainment system and an all-new plug-in hybrid powertrain.
Volvo XC60 (Best)
The Volvo XC60 is the perfect representative of what Swedish luxury is all about. On the outside, it looks minimalistic, yet very modern, while the interior is a zen exercise for the brain. It’s also very spacious on the inside and provides enough cargo area for the whole family.
Furthermore, although it comes exclusively with turbo-four engines, the XC60 is quick in a straight line, and not very thirsty for fuel. The 472 HP plug-in hybrid is particularly ballistic, but the 19-mile electric-only range is not exactly ground-breaking. Also, the infotainment system looks very modern, but Volvo needs to work on usability.
Lincoln Corsair (Average)
The 2021 Lincoln Corsair has by far the best cabin of any American compact SUV. The interior is not only spacious but also looks upmarket and the materials feel posh. The Corsair is also very cosseting when it moves – the ride quality is very plush, and the noise is well suppressed.
The thing is though, the European competition from Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz does all these things equally well, while also offering better driving dynamics and more powerful engines. Besides, the Lincoln Corsair can become expensive in higher trims, where it competes directly with the Germans.
Audi Q3 (Best)
The Audi Q3 is the smallest SUV in the German brand’s lineup in the US. Hence, you shouldn’t expect practicality on the level of some larger options in the category. However, the interior is still fine for a younger pair with one kid. Besides, the tech inside is second-to-none, which young drivers will appreciate.
Another quality that drivers will love is the good driving dynamics and the powerful turbo engine. The BMW X1 might still be better to drive, but the Q3 comes in close-second. However, it’s not all rosy. The interior looks nice for the most part, but some components are made from low-rent materials, which is especially surprising for an Audi. Also, the options are very costly.
Mercedes-Benz GLB-Class (Average)
The van-like styling of the Mercedes-Benz GLB-Class won’t appeal to everyone, especially fashion-minded customers. However, this design opened much more space than the GLA-Class, which the GLB is based on. As a result, there is ample room in the first two rows, despite the diminutive exterior dimensions. The optional third row is very cramped, though, and we’d recommend avoiding it entirely.
Inside, the material quality is top-notch, the design is very modern and attractive, the tech on offer is outstanding. We particularly like the instrument/infotainment binnacle, which looks like it came from the future. However, the GLB-Class doesn’t excite behind the wheel – the driving dynamics are only okay, and the engine isn’t very responsive.
Alfa Romeo Stelvio (Best)
Customers that want athletic handling in a compact-SUV package should definitely check the Alfa Romeo Stelvio. The Italian SUV not only looks exquisite and sporty, but it also drives almost like a sports sedan. Specifically, the steering is quick, direct, and positive, while the chassis reacts well to the driver’s input. It is even available in a Quadrifoglio trim with 505 HP, which is a blast to drive on a curved road.
There is a price to pay for all that fun, though. Notably, the interior quality is questionable, passengers on the second row won’t be very comfortable, and the cargo area lags behind the best. Should you care? That’s an answer that only the enthusiast in you can answer.
Porsche Macan (Best)
The Porsche Macan takes Stelvio’s fun-to-drive qualities and pairs them with a much nicer interior. Space is still limited, especially when you compare it to other compact SUVs, but a family of four should do just fine.
This is a Porsche, after all, meaning it’s all about the driving experience. The Macan is not only a rocket in a straight line; it also carves corners like a sports car. You’ll also love how it feels behind the wheel, which is precise, direct, and full of feel. Although sporty, the Macan irons-out bumps with ease and isn’t very noisy on the highway.
Acura RDX (Best)
The Acura RDX is one of the best-looking compact SUVs, with dynamic styling that makes it look like it moves even when stationary. Fortunately, the looks are transmitted into the driving experience. Other than the slow-to-respond transmission, the RDX drives well on twisty roads and has enough potency to launch you forward. That’s especially true for the SH-AWD model, which has real torque-vectoring to aid in cornering.
Inside, materials are nice, and the dashboard is nicely laid-out, but the touchpad controller for the infotainment takes a lot to get used to. Fortunately, the cabin has enough space for your family and cargo.
BMW X1 (Best)
The BMW X1 is a great compact SUV for customers that want the basics covered. Like any other BMW, it drives well through the corners, but it’s also comfortable over bumps and refined. Moreover, the interior is very practical, with enough space for four adults and a generous cargo area. The rear seats even slide forward/backward, something we don’t often see nowadays.
However, the X1 is not the best SUV for tech-savvy people. For instance, the infotainment system is a whole generation behind other BMWs and in need of replacement. Furthermore, aggressive drivers might find the front seats unsupportive, which conflicts with the excellent driving dynamics. Still, these are only small niggles – the X1 is overall a great compact SUV for families.
Lexus UX (Average)
Lexus went all-in with style and appearance when developing its smallest SUV, the UX. And we think it succeeded – the UX looks sporty on the outside, with sharp and aggressive lines. The interior is also very appealing, with modern looks and high-quality materials.
However, by focusing on style, Lexus sacrificed other areas. Notably, the back seats are cramped, and the cargo area is among the smallest in the category. Besides, although the screen is large, the touchpad controller makes the infotainment system awkward to use. Ultimately, while the handling and ride are nicely sorted-out, the four-cylinder engine lacks verve.
Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class (Best)
The Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class does everything you’d expect from a luxury compact crossover. Inside, it looks classy and the material quality is great. There is also ample room for passengers, although the cargo area is slightly smaller than the competition. The infotainment system is also easy to use, with modern graphics and high-quality screen.
Down the road, Mercedes’ SUV impresses with the overall refinement. The suspension irons-out most imperfections, and noise is well-suppressed, even at higher speeds. However, this won’t be the SUV for enthusiasts – the steering responds slowly, and the handling doesn’t feel surefooted. Besides, options are very expensive, including some driver assistance systems, which should be standard for the class.
Kia Niro Hybrid (Average)
The Kia Niro might be a subcompact SUV, but in reality, it competes with the Toyota Prius, since it only comes with a hybrid powertrain. Compared to Toyota’s icon, the Niro is more practical, with more room for passengers and cargo. However, although the fuel economy is impressive, the Prius is still in a class of its own.
Besides, Kia’s hybrid system still isn’t as refined as Toyota’s – you will definitely feel when the gas engine kicks in. In that sense, the Niro feels like a generation-old vehicle. Performance is also subpar, even for a hybrid. The redeeming feature is the interior, which looks very classy.
Honda HR-V (Average)
The Honda HR-V is a subcompact SUV with an interior that competes with vehicles from the compact class. You’ll be surprised at how much cargo this tiny SUV swallows while also providing passengers with ample room for longer journeys. The cabin looks and feels nice, too. Hence, if you want a practical and cheap SUV, the HR-V is one of the best out there.
You should be prepared for some drawbacks, though. For starters, the engine feels underpowered, and when you rev it to counter that, it sounds unrefined. The ride quality also isn’t particularly impressive, even for a subcompact SUV.
Buick Encore (Worst)
The most important thing you need to know about the Buick Encore it was launched in 2013. Moreover, it’s based on the European Opel Mokka, which launched in 2012. Eight years is a lot in automotive terms, and that clearly shows in the Encore. This is not the subcompact SUV you should rush and buy, that’s for sure.
The vehicle has some redeeming qualities, like the surprisingly spacious interior and good infotainment, but that’s where praising stops. Put simply, the Encore doesn’t drive nearly as well as more modern alternatives. It’s slow and unrefined and doesn’t handle like the best out there. Wait for the next generation.
Kia Soul (Best)
The Kia Soul is all about style and should appeal to fashion-conscious buyers. However, the funky Korean crossover has other qualities. Thanks to the boxy design, the interior is surprisingly spacious, accommodating four adults with ease. The cargo area is also big for the category, although you don’t get a flat floor by folding the rear seats.
Inside, the Kia Soul isn’t as appealing as it is on the outside. The dashboard looks dated, and the material quality is so-so. Fortunately, the Soul is fun to drive and pretty comfortable. Ultimately, it’s very cheap for the style you get.