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, because they usually offer the high-set driving position, practicality and muscular looks of more traditional off-roaders, but without the high purchase price or running costs.
Here, we take a look at 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 here, including a former 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.
How we decided the top 10 small SUVs
As with all cars, we test small SUVs back to back with their key rivals so that our experienced team of reviewers can make direct comparisons.
In addition to driving them for hundreds of miles on public roads, we carry out our own performance, handling, noise and braking tests at our dedicated proving ground.
We take all of our own interior measurements, and see what luggage can actually be fitted inside. Plus, we look at how much a small SUV is going to cost you over three years, and consider how reliable it's likely to be, based on the results of our annual What Car? Reliability Survey.
Learn more about how we test cars, or see the best and worst small SUVs below
As good as some of the other cars on this list are, it's the Volkswagen T-Roc that's the best all-round 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 100 – 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)
Thanks to agile handling and surprisingly nippy performance, the Ford Puma will put a bigger smile on your face than most rivals.
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 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
If you’re after something that’s stylish, comfortable and practical, the 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 108bhp 1.0-litre petrol engine we recommend shouldn’t cost you a lot to run. Indeed, it should average more than 50mpg according to official figures.
- 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, 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.
You’ll pay more for the Q2 than you would for most other small SUVs, but the upshot is that the Q2 holds its value extremely well.
- Classy and user-friendly interior
- Tidy handling
- Slow depreciation
- More expensive than some rivals
- Mini Countryman is more practical
- Firm ride with 19in alloys
Toyota Yaris Cross
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.
Indeed, the Yaris Cross is the most efficient car we've ever put through our True MPG fuel economy test, while Toyota is consistently a strong performer in our annual Reliability Survey.
Inside, the Yaris Cross has a well built interior, 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.
- 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
Not only does the Peugeot 2008 look the part (both inside and out), it's well equipped and has a range of punchy, efficient petrol engines.
The 129bhp 1.2 Puretech 130 is particularly good; in fact, it's strong enough to make the pricier Puretech 155 feel pointless, yet also returned an impressive average of 47.3mpg in our real-world tests.
Boot space is about average for the class, but all models come with a height-adjustable boot floor, allowing you to separate the space into two compartments.
Instead, it's the comparatively high price and weak resale values of the 2008 that stop it finishing higher on this list.
If you’d rather go green, there’s a fully electric version called the Peugeot e-2008.
- Classy interior
- Well equipped
- Punchy, frugal petrol engines
- More expensive than mainstream rivals
- Relatively heavy deprecation
- Average to drive
Once the class leader among small SUVs, the Arona remains an appealing choice, thanks to precise handling, good practicality and affordable PCP finance deals.
The engine range kicks off with a 94bhp 1.0-litre petrol, but we think it’s worth upgrading to the more powerful 108bhp 1.0-litre option, which doesn’t cost a lot more but brings welcome extra pulling power.
Our recommended SE Technology trim gets you an upgraded 9.2in infotainment system as well as rear parking sensors.
- Tidy handling
- Roomier than many rivals
- Well equipped
- So-so interior quality
- Top trims are too pricey
- Rivals have more flexible rear seats
You have to put up with some dynamic compromises if you choose the Dacia Duster, but with a low starting price, plenty of kit and decent resale values, it still represents good value.
There’s also plenty of space inside the Duster – you can fit the same amount of luggage into its boot as you can in rivals which cost a lot more.
Our favourite engine is the 128bhp 1.3-litre turbocharged petrol (badged TCe 130) because it offers good mid-range pull and a pleasing briskness when you rev it out.
There’s also a more powerful 1.3-litre petrol option, an entry level 1.0-litre petrol, a version of that engine which can run on petrol and cheaper natural gas (LPG) fuel, and a 1.5-litre diesel if you’re covering lots of miles.
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- Seriously cheap to buy and run
- Spacious boot
- 4x4 version is very capable off road
- Body control and handling are poor compared with most rivals
- Interior feels cheap
- Poor Euro NCAP safety rating
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 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
Best family SUVs 2023
Want practicality, class and an elevated driving position in a relatively compact package? Then these are the top 10 cars you should be looking at – and the ones that are best avoided
Toyota Yaris Cross long-term test
The Toyota Yaris Cross is the most efficient car we've ever tested, but now our car reviewer is finding out if there's more to this small SUV than just thrifty motoring