Best small SUVs 2024 and the ones 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 ones we'd avoid...

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by
Darren Moss
Published20 January 2024

Small SUVs are among the most popular types of car on the market, and with an emphasis on great practicality and low running costs, it’s not hard to see why. They’re also the smallest cars to provide the high driving position that so many drivers seek.

They can make the ideal car, regardless of whether you’re commuting, ferrying the family around or simply need a fuss-free model that can do it all.

Best small SUVs Ford Puma VW T-Roc

That’s why we test every element of a small SUV, from how it performs on the road, to how practical it is. 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 the 2024 What Car? Car of the Year.

If you want to find out more about any of the cars here, then click the links through to our in-depth reviews, or see how much we can save you on the best small SUV deals.

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
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 makes big, expensive cars? Think again, because the Lexus LBX is a small SUV with an equally small price tag. Yet despite starting at a fraction under £30,000, there’s nothing cut price about how it looks, feels or drives. It might owe its existence to the Toyota Yaris Cross, but you’ll be hard pressed to find similarities.

The interior is among the best you’ll find in a small SUV, even if it’s a little cramped in the rear seats, and there’s plenty of equipment fitted as standard. It’s good to drive, too, with well-weighted steering, excellent low-speed refinement and the option of four-wheel drive on higher-spec models. It’s just a shame the ride is firm meaning the LBX fidget’s over bumps.

The economy from the 1.5-litre hybrid engine is exceptional, and can officially cover 65.7mpg. It’s likely buyers will be even more satisfied with their cars’ reliability: Lexus has topped our table of most reliable car makers for several years.

Read our in-depth 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)

As good as some of the other cars on this list are, if you're looking for a capable all-rounder, the Volkswagen T-Roc is a fine choice.

With the cheaper engines and trims, the T-Roc is an even better buy than its Volkswagen T-Cross sister. In fact, it’s the cheapest engine – badged 1.0 TSI 110 – that we recommend.

The T-Roc’s cosseting ride, superb refinement and practical boot will appeal to families, plus it has one of the best driving positions of any car in the class. 

Recent updates have given it a fine interior, too, with soft materials on the surfaces you touch regularly, and the option of some bright finishers to further lift the ambience. Go for Life trim, and you won't be left wanting for kit, because it brings luxuries including two-zone climate control, 16in alloy wheels and a digital instrument cluster.

Read our in-depth Volkswagen T-Roc review

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

0-62mph: 8.9 sec
MPG/range: 51.4mpg
CO2 emissions: 124g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 456 litres
Insurance group: 14E
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 performance, the Ford Puma will put a bigger smile on your face than most rivals. In fact, we think it's the best small SUV to drive.

However, it’s also a car you can buy with your sensible hat on, thanks to its low CO2 emissions and excellent real-world fuel economy, which comes courtesy of clever fuel-saving mild hybrid technology.

Your family will like it, too, because they’ll have lots of room to stretch out, plus space to store their muddy boots thanks to an 80-litre storage box hidden in the boot floor, which even contains a plug in the bottom so you can hose it out. The rest of the interior is good, too, with an infotainment system that's easier to get along with than the one in the rival Nissan Juke, and fittings which feel more lavish than the ones in the Toyota Yaris Cross.

The Puma is so good, in fact, that it’s a former What Car? Car of the Year.

Read our in-depth Ford Puma 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 also one of the newest. The Smart #1 (pronounced hashtag one) is different from the Smart cars of old, which offered maximum seating for four and pitiful real-world ranges.

Instead, the Smart #1  has a 62kWh battery that's good for an official rage of up to 273 miles. 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 well enough thanks to upright and slender windscreen pillars. And while its infotaiment system can take a while to get used to, we like that everything feels built to last.

Read our in-depth Smart #1 review

Our pick: 1.5 P300e S 5dr Auto

0-62mph: 6.1 sec
MPG/range: 201.2mpg
CO2 emissions: 31g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 472 litres
Insurance group: 37E
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 form factor of a small one, then the Range Rover Evoque is well worth looking at. You sit higher than you would in most cars from the class above, meaning you have a great view over the traffic and road ahead.

It's not just in the driving position where the Evoque impresses, however, because every surface you touch feels premium and built to stand up to the rigours of family life. You can even opt for a non-leather interior as a no-cost option.

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. Ride comfort is generally good, but stick with smaller wheels for the best experience. And if you want to venture off-road, then the Evoque can carry you further off the beaten track than the rival BMW X1 or Audi Q3 can manage.

Read our in-depth Range Rover Evoque review

Our pick: 1.5 TSI SE L 5dr

0-62mph: 8.9 sec
MPG/range: 46mpg
CO2 emissions: 138g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 588 litres
Insurance group: 19E
Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

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

Weaknesses

  • Seat Ateca is more fun to drive
  • You can no longer specify an adjustable boot floor
  • 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. That's because when it comes to value, few rivals can match it.

Not only is the Karoq keenly priced against rivals, but it also comes loaded with kit. Indeed, even entry-level models get 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 flexible 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. Plus, the Karoq's ride is more comfortable than the similarly sized Seat Ateca and bouncy Peugeot 2008.

Read our in-depth Skoda Karoq 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
  • Interior quality could be better
  • No adjustable lumbar support

If you’re after something that’s stylish, comfortable and practical, the Volkswagen Taigo could be a great option for you. That’s because it matches 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 even 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. The Taigo should also cost you less to buy than some rivals, including the Mini Countryman, to begin with – and that's before you factor in our Target Price discounts.

Read our in-depth 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
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 at the top of this list, the Skoda Kamiq puts you quite low to the ground; in fact, its driving position is barely any more elevated than that of the Skoda Scala family hatchback. 

However, in every other respect it's a brilliant 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.

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.

Read our in-depth Skoda Kamiq review

Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

  • Spacious, flexible interior
  • Impressive for safety
  • Good to drive

Weaknesses

  • Only slightly cheaper than the superior T-Roc
  • Interior isn’t as plush as in other VWs
  • SEL and R-Line trims too pricey

The Volkswagen T-Cross is exactly what many small SUV buyers are looking for: it’s comfortable and easy to drive, without feeling like a wallowy barge. 

It’s surprisingly roomy, too. A couple of six-footers will find they have more space in the back than in some rivals, and, if you slide the rear bench forwards, there’s almost as much boot space as in some larger, family SUVs.

Despite that space, the T-Cross is compact enough to be easy to handle in town. 

The T-Cross is also competitive on running costs, whether you’re a company car driver or a private buyer, yet it comes loaded with safety kit.

Read our in-depth Volkswagen T-Cross review

Our pick: 35 TFSI Sport 5dr

0-62mph: 8.6 sec
MPG/range: 47.9mpg
CO2 emissions: 133g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 405 litres
Insurance group: 20E
Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

  • Classy and user-friendly interior
  • Tidy handling
  • Slow depreciation

Weaknesses

  • More expensive than some rivals
  • Mini Countryman is more practical
  • Firm ride with 19in alloys

The Audi Q2 was one of the first small SUVs to combine its compact dimensions with a premium badge. 

The handling is tidy and most of its engines are peppy, but it’s the quality of the interior that will really blow you away.

Indeed, few small SUVs offer such a luxurious feel – the materials are plush, and all of the buttons and switches move with satisfying precision. The Q2 also has one of the best infotainment systems around – better than those in bigger, more expensive Audi SUVs, in fact.

You’ll pay more for the Q2 than you would for most other small SUVs, including the Ford Puma and Volkswagen T-Roc, but the upshot is that the Q2 holds its value extremely well.

Read our in-depth Audi Q2 review

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And the small SUVs to avoid...

Ford Ecosport

Ford's Ecosport is as bad as its Puma is good, suffering from disappointing handling, a poor ride and limited rear space. The side-hinged tailgate is pretty impractical, too. Read our review

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