Best small SUVs

Pint-sized and chunky, small SUVs offer a high driving position without the bulk of a big car

James Mills
Aug 7, 2018

Secretly, most drivers would probably like to be driving a Range Rover. And who can blame them? Its confident stance, spacious and lavishly appointed interior and impressive go-anywhere, tow-anything capabilities are beyond compare. But there’s a snag: the price.

Little wonder, then, that smaller, more affordable sport utility vehicles (SUVs) have become one of the fastest-selling types of car in Britain. Drivers still get some of the high-seating position, practical interior and, generally, the option of four-wheel drive – without the eye-watering price tag of the real deal. These cars are also known as crossovers because they typically use the mechanical parts from a conventional small car, crossed with the higher driving position of a proper off-road SUV.

The choice of models has grown faster than a bamboo plantation, thanks to their wide-ranging appeal. They are popular with young families; older drivers who appreciate the easy access of a taller car; employees who want a company car that can carry their bike at the weekend; and newly qualified drivers who can now realistically dream of an SUV as their first set of wheels.

The ten best small SUVs on sale now

Mazda CX-3

Best small SUV for putting a smile on your face

Our pick Mazda CX-3 Sport Nav 2.0 Skyactiv-G 120
Latest Mazda CX-3 deals from £11,750
Finance from £163 per month

There aren’t many small SUVs that try hard to put a smile on the driver’s face, but the Mazda CX-3 is one of them. There’s a precision and poise to the way this pretty little car goes about its business. And it means that when you have it all to yourself, an open winding road can be a real pleasure to drive.

However, it’s not perfect. The CX-3 is a bit confined in the back seats and the boot could use more space, so you’ll need to size it up carefully and decide whether it meets your needs.

Mazda offers the CX-3 with a choice of two or four-wheel drive but for most situations, the former is perfectly acceptable.
Mazda CX-3 buying guide

 

Mini Countryman

Best small SUV for the personal touch

Our pick Mini Countryman Cooper
Latest Mini Countryman deals (current model) from £15,500
Finance from £234 per month

You wouldn’t want to be given the job to count how many different combinations of Minis there were, because it would take more than a lifetime of head-scratching. Under the watchful eye of BMW, Mini introduced the concept of personalisation and drivers loved the idea of making a Mini theirs.

Today, that trend continues, and you can have plenty of fun configuring the big-ish Countryman on the company’s configurator. It’s worth pointing out that the second generation Countryman is a big improvement over the first, especially for cabin space and the quality feel of the interior.

And happily, the fun-to-drive feel remains alive and kicking, even if the engines, sound insulation and choice of options – such as the automatic gearbox and four-wheel drive – has given the car a more sophisticated feel.
Mini Countryman buying guide

 

Citroen C3 Aircross

Best small SUV for distinctive design

Our pick Citroen C3 Aircross Feel PureTech 110
Latest Citroen C3 Aircross deals from £12,749
Finance from £182 per month

Some small SUVs give you a higher driving position, but not much more space than if you had bought a standard small hatchback. That's not the case with the C3 Aircross, which hides plenty of practicality behind its zany design. Adults should be able to get comfortable in the back, thanks to a reasonable amount of legroom and the 410-litre boot is larger than you'll find in a Volkswagen Golf.

The family-friendly focus continues in the way that it drives: cushioning rough roads comfortably and minimising leaning in corners. Although it was only launched last year, there's already plenty of choice on the used market. Prices start at less than £15,000 for entry-level new cars or mid-range 2017 models with low mileage.
Citroen C3 Aircross buying guide

 

Audi Q2

Best small SUV for image and space

Our pick Audi Q2 1.4 TFSI Sport
Latest Audi Q2 deals from £18,890
Finance from £259 per month

Small but perfectly formed, the Q2 brings a touch of class to the small SUV sector. All of Audi’s hallmarks are here: slick styling and impressive build quality, efficient engines and surprisingly good roadholding.
Our favourite engine, the 1.4 TSI petrol unit can switch off two cylinders when they’re not required, such as when coasting downhill or driving steadily at main road speeds, helping to save fuel.

It’s a comfortable car that’s also fun to drive. As you’d expect, you can have your Q2 in two or four-wheel drive, although you pay handsomely for the latter. There’s a reasonable amount of space, certainly enough for two adults to be comfy in the back. The boot is a reasonable size, too.
Audi Q2 buying guide

 

Suzuki Ignis

The best SUV for economical motoring

Our pick Suzuki Ignis 1.2 SZ3
Latest Suzuki Ignis deals from £8,700
Finance from £126 per month

Even modestly sized family SUVs can leave drivers with the nagging doubt that there’s no way it will fit into a parking space near the school gates or on the high street. Not so the pint-size Suzuki Ignis, which looks a little like a bigger car that’s been shrunk on a hot wash, but has an attitude all of its own thanks to edgy styling and a wheel-at-each-corner stance.

It’s also packed with features. You can opt for a mild hybrid system or four-wheel drive, but the engine choice is simple: a 1.2-litre petrol that’s enthusiastic and economical. Job done.

Now take a look at the prices. Until the end of June, Suzuki is offering discounts of £1500 to £2000 on every model in the range. That’s a serious saving on what was already an affordable car, and means you can pick one up for less than £10,000.

 

Citroen C4 Cactus

Best small SUV for parking in city streets

Our pick Citroen C4 Cactus Feel PureTech 130
Latest Citroen C4 Cactus deals from £6,600
Finance from £114 per month

Anyone that lives in town or a village centre and has to park on the street might be interested in one of the more novel features about Citroen’s latest C4 Cactus. It features rubber inserts around the bumpers, wheel arches and lower doors – all places that tend to end up scraped when an inconsiderate driver has subjected your car to a spot of Parisian-style parking. Admittedly, these aren’t as bold as the Airbump rubber panels in the doors of cars sold until last year, but buyers didn’t like those, apparently, so they went in the bin.

And no matter where you live, the car’s smooth suspension and comfortable seats mean that the C4 Cactus does a jolly good job of riding smoothly over Britain’s diabolical roads.

The downsides to this French fancy is that nearly all of the car’s gadgets and gizmos are controlled using a touchscreen on the dashboard, drawing your eyes – and attention – from the road. And the rear windows don’t lower into the doors, instead they are hinged, which won’t be popular with passengers.
Citroen C4 Cactus buying guide

 

Seat Arona

Best small SUV for a car-like feel

Our pick Seat Arona SE Technology 1.0 TSI
Latest Seat Arona deals from £15,295
Finance from £225 per month

Using the same mechanical parts as its class-leading Ibiza small hatchback, the Arona delivers a similar blend of space, quality, equipment and agility; a combination that few small SUVs can match. But that's also the downside of the Arona. Apart from a higher driving position and a litle more headroom, it;s so car-like that you might wonder whether it's worth the premium over the excellent Ibiza.

In any case, it's worth steering clear of the sportier mid-range FR models, which come with firmer sports suspension that's less comfortable over potholes. The standard set-up is perfectly balanced for comfort and responsiveness when you turn the wheel.
Seat Arona buying guide

 

Dacia Duster

Best small SUV for cheap and cheerful motoring

Our pick Dacia Duster Ambiance dCi 110 4x4
Latest Dacia Duster deals from £6,277
Finance from £119 per month

A pragmatist would argue why pay the slightest attention to the glossy brochures and enticing videos that are used to sell cars when we all know the reality of living with one: spilt coffee, muddy welly boots, chocolate stains, car-sick children and the pong of wet dogs.

That’s when the Dacia Duster comes into its element. It’s a good car that drivers can be proud to own, but no so fancy that you feel house-proud toward it. It can cope with hard knocks, has space for five and their luggage, there’s enough technology in the latest model to stop smartphone addicts turning twitchy and best of all, it’s priced to meet the financial needs of millions of families around the UK. A new model has just gone on sale but the best deals remain on the outgoing car. 
Dacia Duster buying guide

 

Honda HR-V

Best small SUV for practicality

Our pick Honda HR-V 1.6 DTEC SE
Latest Honda HR-V deals from £13,887
Finance from £204 per month

Whatever you do, don’t call the Honda HR-V small. It has one of the biggest boots in its class. The cabin is nearly as spacious as larger SUVs, from the class above, such as the Nissan Qashqai. And the back seats are a stroke of genius, with a base that can be raised like a theatre seat to make space for a bike or pot plants.

That’s not the only reason it feels grown up. The DTEC diesel is one of the most efficient in the class, making it cheap to tax, yet it’s smooth and delivers effortless acceleration. The manual gearbox feels as good as a sports car’s and the ride and handling are smooth and stable.

 

Nissan Juke

Best small SUV for getting a good deal

Our pick Nissan Juke N-Connecta 1.2 DIG-T
Latest Nissan Juke deals from £7,350
Finance from £122 per month

The Nissan Juke was novel when it first came out, with attention-grabbing styling and an interior that – in places - was designed to resemble a motorbike’s fuel tank. But seven years later, it is feeling its age, as the competition move the game on.

Interior space – or lack of - is its biggest drawback. This is a small and cramped car that can’t compare with more modern alternatives. The turbocharged 1.2-litre petrol engine helped improve the driving experience, and the handling is okay-ish, but in most respects the Juke is nearing retirement.

However, if you’re after a bargain, then this is the place to look. The Juke was always competitively priced, and as it ages and the number of alternatives increases, so the deals improve.
Nissan Juke buying guide

 

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