Best small SUVs 2023
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...
Small SUVs are among the most popular cars on sale, and it's easy to see why: they often offer the elevated seating and muscular looks of more traditional 4x4s, but without the high purchase price or running costs.
Below, we name the top 10 you can currently buy – and reveal the small SUVs that are best to steer clear of. You'll see plenty of popular models on the former list, including a previous What Car? Car of the Year.
If you want to read more about a particular car or see what deals are currently available on it through our free New Car Buying service, just click on the relevant link.
But first, here are the answers to the most frequently asked small SUV questions:
What's the best small SUV you can buy?
Every year, What Car? conducts a reader survey asking people why they bought their current car, with almost 22,000 people completing the latest edition. We then use this data to help us determine what buyers are looking for in each class, with small SUV owners prioritising a high driving position, generous standard equipment and a comfortable ride. Based on this, we believe the Volkswagen T-Roc is the best small SUV on sale.
Learn more about how we test cars
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 annual 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.
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.
As good as some of the other cars on this list are, if you're looking for the best all-rounder, it's the Volkswagen T-Roc that's the best small SUV you can buy today.
Stick to the cheaper engines and trims, and 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.
- Comfortable ride and quiet on the motorway
- High-set driving position for a small SUV
- Good boot by class standards
- Touch-sensitive controls can be fiddly
- Upper trims and engine options are too pricey
- Unexciting handling (the Ford Puma is a sharper 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.
- Great fun to drive
- Remarkable blend of performance and fuel economy
- Big and cleverly designed boot
- Rear space is adequate rather than outstanding
- Visibility could be better
- Volkswagen T-Roc is more comfortable and quieter
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.
- Great performance
- Clever, high-quality interior
- Great safety rating
- Small boot
- Slightly choppy low-speed ride
- Some basic functions are hidden in the infotainment system
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.
- Great driving position
- Slow depreciation
- Limited boot space
- So-so fuel economy and emissions
- Land Rover’s reliability record
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 SE L 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.
- Good to drive
- Excellent space and seating flexibility
- Smart-looking and sturdy-feeling interior
- Seat Ateca is more fun to drive
- You can no longer specify an adjustable boot floor
- No hybrid options
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.
- Comfortable ride
- Surprisingly spacious interior
- Cheap running costs
- Rivals are more fun to drive
- Interior quality could be better
- No adjustable lumbar support
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.
- Remarkably roomy rear seats
- Huge boot by class standards
- Comfortable ride
- No sliding or reclining rear seats
- Not especially well equipped
- Other small SUVs have a higher driving position
Volkswagen's 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.
- Spacious, flexible interior
- Impressive for safety
- Good to drive
- Only slightly cheaper than the superior T-Roc
- Interior is hardly plush
- SEL and R-Line trims too pricey
Audi's 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, no other small SUV offers you a more 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.
- Classy and user-friendly interior
- Tidy handling
- Slow depreciation
- More expensive than some rivals
- Mini Countryman is more practical
- Firm ride with 19in alloys
The Toyota Yaris Cross makes a strong case for itself against the crowd of small SUVs if your top priorities are reliability and low running costs.
Inside, the Yaris Cross has a well built interior – with a driving position which places you higher above the road than in the Ford Puma and Skoda Kamiq – and while seeing out of the back isn't the easiest, all models come with a rear-view camera to help with parking.
Just bear in mind that there are more spacious and practical alternatives.
For all the latest reviews, advice and new car deals, sign up to the What Car? newsletter here
- Very efficient
- Lofty driving position
- Uncluttered dashboard is easy to use
- Could be more spacious in the back seats
- Vocal engine when accelerating
- Not as fun to drive as the Ford Puma
And the small SUVs to avoid...
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
The best small SUVs in 2023
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
Audi Q2 long-term test
Earlier this year we named the Audi Q2 as the small SUV with the best interior – so can it be a suitable replacement for someone looking to downsize and save money?