2013: the year of the small SUV

* Our round-up of new small SUVs in 2013 * Market for downsized cars is booming * Most are more practical than hatchbacks...

2013: the year of the small SUV

The small SUV market came into its own in 2013. We’ve never before seen so many compact SUVs launch in the UK market in a single year.

Manufacturers have been racing to produce smaller versions of popular SUVs – or jacked-up versions of popular hatchbacks – ever since they saw the success of downsized cars like the Nissan Juke that arrived in 2010, and the Range Rover Evoque that went into production in 2011.

The market for Nissan Juke-sized cars, in particular, is booming. These small SUVs all aim to blend hatchback running costs and driving dynamics, with the added space and practicality of a raised bodystyle.

Here’s our round-up of the new small SUVs that launched in the UK in 2013.

Chevrolet Trax

The Chevrolet Trax’s engines are all up to the job of hauling it around, but none of them are especially flexible. While the chunky looks definitely appeal, the ride isn’t as forgiving as you’d expect in an SUV, either. The firm set-up does at least give decent body control, but the steering offers little feel to make it an enjoyable drive. With dealer discounts it can be an affordable purchase, but it doesn’t come close to threatening the class leaders.

Fiat 500L

The Fiat 500L might be more mini-MPV than mini-SUV, but there’s no doubt it’s a rival for other cars listed here. Swathes of glass flood the cabin, and a roomy rear bench and boot mean this is one of the most spacious and practical cars in the class. It has a fairly composed ride and reasonable body control. The Trekking version gives the 500L SUV-like styling, but we don’t think it’s worth the extra cost.

Ford Ecosport

The Ford Ecosport is the newest of the small SUVs listed here. None of this bunch are especially great to drive, but the Ecosport is undoubtedly the best in this respect, offering a decent blend of agility and comfort. The engines are strong and equipment levels are generous, but this car is let down by an impractical side-opening boot door, and a cabin that feels like a cheap, drab version of a Fiesta.

Nissan Juke Nismo

The Nissan Juke appeared in 2009 as a concept, and 2010 in production form, but this year we got to sample the hot version of the small SUV. The Nismo looks the part, and the performance isn’t far off junior hot hatches, but it’s disappointing to drive and the ride suffers with the sportier suspension. If you’re looking for a hot hatch, there are better rivals available that won’t cost as much to buy or run.

Peugeot 2008

The Peugeot 2008 has a practical cabin that looks and feels classier than every rival in this list. It’s far from the most intuitive car for the driver, but the materials used around the dashboard are top notch. Running costs are competitive, but on the road, the 2008 disappoints. The engines offer flexible performance, but the light steering robs you of confidence at speed, and the body control is poor through bends.

Renault Captur

The Renault Captur offers plenty of room for four adults, as well as one of the biggest boot spaces in its class. Refinement is another one of its strengths, with little road and wind noise at speed, and only minimal vibration from the efficient diesel engine. In fact, we just wish the engines on offer were a bit punchier, and that the cabin didn’t feel quite as cheap.

Suzuki SX4 S-Cross

The Suzuki SX4 S-Cross doesn’t offer much headroom for passengers in the back, but there’s plenty of space for luggage in the boot, and the rear seats fold almost entirely flat. The cabin is far from plush, but the S-Cross is a practical, well-equipped family transport that’s one of the best value cars at any price point.

By Ed Callow