Best small SUVs 2024 and the one to avoid – tried and tested

Thinking of buying a new small SUV? Then make sure you read our rundown of the top 10 cars in this booming sector – plus, find out which one we'd avoid...

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by
Steve Huntingford
Published27 May 2024

Small SUVs are among the most popular types of car on sale, and with their combination of rugged looks and low running costs, it’s not hard to see why.

In many cases, they’re also among the smallest cars to provide the sort of high driving position that many drivers seek, so can be a great buy, regardless of whether you’re commuting, ferrying the family around or simply need a fuss-free model that can do it all.

There are literally dozens to choose from, though, which is why we test every element of a small SUV to see how it compares with rivals.

Best small SUVs Ford Puma VW T-Roc

We consider everything, from what it's to drive, to how practical it is and how much equipment you get for your money.

Our reviewers have driven every single model on sale in the UK, guaranteeing that when we deliver a verdict, it’s one you can trust. And they all agree that the Lexus LBX is the very best small SUV you can buy – indeed, it’s so good that it's the 2024 What Car? Car of the Year.

Below we've taken a closer look at the LBX, and named the other small SUVs that are worth a place on your shortlist. Plus, we've called out the model that is best avoided. 

If you want to find out more about any of the cars here, or to see how much you can save on them by using our free New Car Deals service, simply click on the appropriate links. Alternatively, you can read our full rundown of the best SUVs of any size.


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Our pick: 1.5 Premium Plus 5dr E-CVT

0-62mph: 9.2 sec
MPG/range: 61.4mpg
CO2 emissions: 103g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 402 litres
Insurance group: 24E
Driving
Interior
Practicality
Buying & Owning

Strengths

  • High-quality interior
  • Efficient hybrid system
  • Very well equipped

Weaknesses

  • Fidgety low-speed ride
  • Tight rear seat space

Think Lexus only makes big, expensive cars? Well, think again, because the Lexus LBX is a small SUV with a comparatively small price tag. Yet despite this, there’s nothing cut price about how it looks, feels or drives.

The interior is the classiest you’ll find in any small SUV, even if it’s a little tight in the rear seats, and there’s plenty of equipment fitted as standard. The LBX is good to drive, too, with well-weighted steering and a grippy front end. And because it's a hybrid, it can run near-silently on electric power at low speeds.

Fuel economy is another strength, with the LBX officially capable of 65.7mpg. Plus, Lexus has topped our table of the most reliable car makers for the last seven years.

"Not only is the LBX’s interior beautifully screwed together, but it also features a more appealing mix of materials than any of its rivals." – Will Nightingale, Reviews Editor

Read our full Lexus LBX review

Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

  • Comfortable ride and quiet on the motorway
  • High-set driving position for a small SUV
  • Good boot by class standards

Weaknesses

  • Touch-sensitive controls can be fiddly
  • Upper trims and engine options are too pricey
  • Unexciting handling (the Ford Puma is a sharper drive)

While all of the cars in our top 10 impress, it's the Volkswagen T-Roc that's the small SUV to choose if comfort is your top priority. What's more, this goes double if you specify your car in entry-level Life trim; this brings comparatively small 16in alloy wheels shod with high-profile tyres, which are ideal for absorbing lumps and bumps in the road surface.

You won't be left wanting for kit, either because Life trim still comes with automatic lights and wipers, dual-zone climate control, adaptive cruise control, adjustable lumbar support, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring.

And the driving position is another strength, with the T-Roc sitting you higher than many rivals. Just bear in mind that its interior is nowhere near as plush as the LBX's, even though a mid-life refresh saw soft-touch materials added to the surfaces you touch most often.

"If it was me, I'd not only specify the T-Roc in the entry-level trim, but also with the cheapest engine, because this turbocharged 1.0-litre unit is surprisingly gutsy." – Neil Winn, Deputy Reviews Editor

Read our full Volkswagen T-Roc review

Our pick: 200kW Premium 66kWh 5dr Auto

0-62mph: 6.7 sec
CO2 emissions: 0g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 313 litres
Insurance group: 32E
Driving
Interior
Practicality
Buying & Owning

Strengths

  • Great to drive
  • Plush, high-quality interior
  • Great safety rating

Weaknesses

  • Small boot
  • Slightly choppy low-speed ride
  • Efficiency could be better

The first fully electric SUV to feature on this list is a very different animal to electric Smarts of old, which offered pitiful real-world ranges and felt completely out of their depth once you left the city limits behind.

Instead, the Smart #1 (pronounced hashtag one) has a 62kWh battery that's good for an official range of up to 273 miles, depending on version. The standard model comes with 268bhp, which means you won't have any trouble getting up to motorway speeds, or you can opt for the hot Brabus version, which ups power to 422bhp, and drops the 0-62mph sprint time to just 3.9sec – that's as fast as the Audi RS3 hot hatchback.

Inside, the #1 doesn't place you as high up as some rival small SUVs, but you can see out of it very well, thanks to upright and slender windscreen pillars. What's more, that interior has an upmarket yet modern feel that's reminiscent of a product made by Apple.

"The steering wheel of the #1 is the perfect size and thickness, plus I like the way its design is reminiscent of the one in the old Smart Roadster." – Mark Pearson, Used Cars Editor

Read our full Smart #1 review

Our pick: 1.5 TSI SE L 5dr

0-62mph: 8.9 sec
MPG/range: 46.9mpg
CO2 emissions: 137g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 521 litres
Insurance group: 19E
Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

  • Good to drive
  • Excellent interior space
  • Smart and sturdy-feeling interior

Weaknesses

  • Seat Ateca is more fun to drive
  • VarioFlex seats no longer standard
  • No hybrid options

If you want to get the most bang for your buck from a small SUV, then the Skoda Karoq should be near the top of your shortlist.

Not only is the Karoq keenly priced against rivals, but it also comes loaded with kit. Indeed, even entry-level models give you 17in alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control and automatic lights and wipers. And upgrading to our preferred SEL trim, with its larger wheels and more adjustable rear seats, won't cost much either.

Skoda's mid-range petrol engine, badged as the 1.5 TSI 150, is our pick of the range, because with 148bhp it never feels out of puff, yet it should still keep your running costs in check. As a bonus, the Karoq's ride is much more comfortable than that of the closely related Seat Ateca.

"One of the reasons why I'd recommend SEL trim is because it brings Varioflex rear seats that can slide and recline independently of one another, and even be removed entirely." – Dan Jones, Reviewer

Read our full Skoda Karoq review

Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

  • Great driving position
  • Well-equipped
  • Slow depreciation

Weaknesses

  • Limited boot space
  • So-so fuel economy and emissions
  • Land Rover’s reliability record

If you want to feel like you're in a large SUV but still keep the dimensions of a small one, then the Range Rover Evoque could well be the car for you.

You sit higher than you would in most cars from the class above, meaning you have a great view over the traffic ahead. Plus, everything you touch feels suitably premium and built to stand up to the rigours of family life.

You can opt for plug-in hybrid power in the Evoque, or a traditional petrol or diesel engine – the latter being especially useful if you plan on towing a caravan. But whichever you choose, ride comfort impresses, and the Evoque can take you farther off the beaten track than the rival Audi Q3 and BMW X1.

"Leather might be associated with Range Rovers these days, but the original 1970 car actually had fabric upholstery, and the Evoque harks back to those days by giving you the option of plush wool seats." – Steve Huntingford, Editor

Read our full Range Rover Evoque review

Our pick: 200kW Single Motor Plus 51kWh 5dr Auto

0-62mph: 5.7 sec
CO2 emissions: 0g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 400 litres
Insurance group: 35E
Driving
Interior
Practicality
Buying & Owning

Strengths

  • Great to drive
  • Smart interior – particularly in Ultra spec
  • Starting price undercuts many rivals

Weaknesses

  • Rear space isn't great
  • Efficiency could be better
  • Fiddly touch-sensitive controls on steering wheel

The Volvo EX30 is the brand's first bespoke electric car, and one that's remarkably easy to drive, thanks to well-judged pedal responses that make for smooth and predictable acceleration and braking.

Volvo has also managed to strike a superb balance between ride comfort and handling; indeed, the EX30 is slightly better than the closely related Smart #1 in both areas.

You get more standard kit with the #1, though, plus it has a more user-friendly dashboard layout than the EX30 and a roomier interior. 

"Make sure you specify the optional 'flax decor' dashboard. It really lifts the EX30's interior." – Lawrence Cheung, New Cars Editor

Read our full Volvo EX30 review

Our pick: 1.6 GDi Hybrid Advance 5dr DCT

0-62mph: 11.2 sec
MPG/range: 60.1mpg
CO2 emissions: 106g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 466 litres
Insurance group: 16E
Driving
Interior
Practicality
Buying & Owning

Strengths

  • Impressive range
  • Plenty of space for occupants and their luggage
  • User-friendly dashboard layout

Weaknesses

  • Steering wheel short on reach adjustment
  • Not much fun to drive
  • Some motor whine around town

While some electric SUVs are designed to look just like their petrol-engined counterparts, the Hyundai Kona Electric practically shouts about its green credentials. 

To go along with its space-age looks, the Kona Electric gets up to 215bhp, depending on which version you go for, and an official range of up to 319 miles. What's more, we found it to be a relaxing car to spend a long journey in, helped by soft suspension which takes the sting out of most road imperfections. Just bear in mind that there's a flip side: the Kona Electric isn't much fun to drive.

Lots of adjustment in the seat and steering wheel mean that most drivers should have no trouble finding their perfect setup. And your rear-seat passengers will have more room to stretch out than in the rival Jeep Avenger or Peugeot e-2008.

"While it's not up there with the plushest options in the small SUV class, I think the Kona Electric's interior is a nice place to be. Most of the materials you touch regularly feel like they'll stand up to the challenges of family life, and I like that all of the major controls fall close to hand." – Darren Moss, Deputy Digital Editor

Read our full Hyundai Kona Electric review

Our pick: 1.0 EcoBoost Hybrid mHEV 155 ST-Line DCT 5dr

0-62mph: 8.7 sec
MPG/range: 49.6mpg
CO2 emissions: 128g/km
Seats: 5
Insurance group: 17E
Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

  • Great fun to drive
  • Remarkable blend of performance and fuel economy
  • Big and cleverly designed boot

Weaknesses

  • Rear space is adequate rather than outstanding
  • Visibility could be better
  • Volkswagen T-Roc is more comfortable and quieter

Thanks to agile handling and surprisingly nippy acceleration, the Ford Puma will put a bigger smile on your face than any rival; it's the best small SUV to drive. However, it’s also a car that you can buy with your sensible hat on, thanks to its excellent real-world fuel economy, which comes courtesy of clever mild hybrid technology.

The interior is mostly good, too, featuring an infotainment system that's easier to get along with than the one in the rival Nissan Juke. And the Puma's boot is amazingly practical, with an 80-litre storage box hidden beneath the floor – it even has a plug in the bottom so you can hose it out.

Rear seat space is only so-so, though, and Puma prices have risen significantly over the years, so it's not the bargain it was when we named it Car of the Year, back in 2020.

"Even the entry-level Ecoboost 125 engine delivers nippier acceleration than you get from most other small SUVs, but I'd go for the gutsier Ecoboost 155, because it doesn’t cost that much more and lets you really make the most of the Puma’s handling." – Doug Revolta, Head of Video

Read our full Ford Puma review

Our pick: 1.0 TSI 110 Life 5dr

0-62mph: 10.4 sec
MPG/range: 52.3mpg
CO2 emissions: 123g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 440 litres
Insurance group: 14E
Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

  • Comfortable ride
  • Surprisingly spacious interior
  • Cheap running costs

Weaknesses

  • Rivals are more fun to drive
  • So-so interior quality
  • Reliability could be better

If you’re after something that’s stylish, comfortable and practical, the Volkswagen Taigo could be a great option for you, because it blends the space of an SUV with the svelte shape of a coupé.

True, it's not as fun to drive as some rivals, but that’s forgivable given its superb ride, generous rear passenger space and the fact that you get plenty of toys with evens the entry-level version.

There are no hybrid or electric options, but the entry-level 1.0-litre TSI 95 petrol engine we recommend shouldn’t cost you a lot to run. Indeed, it should average more than 50mpg according to official figures.

"While the Taigo was launched in Europe in 2021, it actually has a South American sister – called the Volkswagen Nivus – that went on sale a year earlier." – Dan Jones, Reviewer

Read our full Volkswagen Taigo review

Our pick: 1.0 TSI SE 5dr

0-62mph: 9.7 sec
MPG/range: 52.2mpg
CO2 emissions: 122g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 400 litres
Insurance group: 16E
Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

  • Remarkably roomy rear seats
  • Huge boot by class standards
  • Comfortable ride

Weaknesses

  • No sliding or reclining rear seats
  • Not especially well equipped
  • Other small SUVs have a higher driving position

In contrast to the T-Roc further up of this list, the Skoda Kamiq puts you quite low to the ground; in fact, its seats are barely any more elevated than that of the Skoda Scala family hatchback which might disappoint those looking for something with a higher seating position. 

However, in almost every other respect it's a fine choice, with a supple, well-controlled ride and a remarkably spacious interior being particular highlights. That interior feels classier than that of the Volkswagen T-Cross, too, but not the T-Roc.

If you’ll mainly be driving alone in town, then the entry level 94bhp 1.0-litre petrol engine is peppy enough and keeps costs down, but if you’re going to be filling every seat and driving farther regularly, then you’ll appreciate the extra power of the 108bhp 1.0-litre option.

"All Skodas have an array of 'Simply Clever' features that are designed to make live easier, and the Kamiq is no exception; they include an ice scraper which is stored on the inside of the fuel filler flap, and a window washer reservoir that opens to reveal a built-in spout." – Will Nightingale, Reviews Editor

Read our full Skoda Kamiq review


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And the small SUVs to avoid...

Jeep Renegade

The Renegade has its merits: it’s roomy and has genuine off-road ability, while the diesel engines sip fuel. However, it's comparatively expensive to buy, the ride is unsettled and refinement is woeful.  Read our review

FAQs

Which small SUV is the most fun to drive?

The best small SUV to drive is the Ford Puma, because it feels agile and composed through corners and has steering that gives you a far better sense of connection to the front wheels than you get in most rivals.

Which small SUV has the most room?

The Skoda Karoq is the most practical small SUV on sale, offering plenty of space for five occupants and their luggage.

What is the best secondhand small SUV in the UK?

We reckon the Ford Puma is the best used small SUV on sale, because it offers the same mix of practicality and driving fun as a new Puma, but looks much better value relative to rivals.

Which small SUV is the easiest to get in and out of?

Lots of buyers like small SUVs because you don't need to stoop down to get into them in the way that you do with a family hatchback. However, while most of the small SUVs in our top 10 score strongly in this respect, the T-Roc is notable for its wide doors and the fact that its generous rear leg room gives you lots of space to manoeuvre your legs in.

Which is the most reliable small SUV?

The Suzuki Ignis is the most reliable small SUV on sale, according to the real-world data collected in the 2023 What Car? Reliability Survey, with a score of 99.4%. At the other end of the scale, the Citroën C3 Aircross was rated the least reliable small SUV by owners, with them reporting numerous electrical faults; it scored 84.3%.

Which small SUV has the highest seating position?

One of the perceived benefits of buying a small SUV is the visibility you get from sitting high up. But while some make you feel like you're the King or Queen of the road, others disappoint in this area. The Range Rover Evoque offers a particularly lofty driving position, while the Skoda Kamiq places its driver barely any higher than a regular family hatchback would.