Best small SUVs to buy in 2021

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

BuyaCar team
Feb 12, 2021

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.

What’s more, there’s now a genuinely attractive electric SUV among their ranks in the form of the Hyundai Kona.

Best small SUVs on sale now

1. Mazda CX-3

Best small SUV for putting a smile on your face

Our pick Mazda CX-3 2.0 Skyactiv-G 120 Sport Nav
Used deals from £10,300
Monthly finance from £175*

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.

The CX-3 was updated in September 2018, and received an all-new diesel engine. On the outside it was subjected to a new grille, while an electronic handbrake replaced the manual lever type, while a padded centre armrest and a folding centre rear seat with cupholders wereadded.


2. Mini Countryman

Best small SUV for the personal touch

Our pick Mini Countryman Cooper
Used deals from £12,500
Monthly finance from £174*

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.


3. Citroen C3 Aircross

Best small SUV for distinctive design

Our pick Citroen C3 Aircross PureTech 110 Feel
Used deals from £7,990
Monthly finance from £132*

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.


4. Audi Q2

Best small SUV for image and space

Our pick Audi Q2 1.4 TFSI Sport
Used deals from £14,380
Monthly finance from £189*

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. A sporty version of the Q2, called the SQ2, joined the range in 2019. Its 296bhp engine catapults the car from 0-62mph in 4.8 seconds, so it’s no slouch.

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.


5. Suzuki Ignis

The best SUV for economical motoring

Our pick Suzuki Ignis 1.2 SZ3
Used deals from £7,201
Monthly finance from £119*

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.


6. Citroen C4 Cactus

Best small SUV for parking in city streets

Our pick Citroen C4 Cactus PureTech 130 Feel 
Used deals from £6,795
Monthly finance from £128*

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 the Citroen 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.


7. Seat Arona

Best small SUV for a car-like feel

Our pick Seat Arona 1.0 TSI SE Technology
Used deals from £9,999
Monthly finance from £158*

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.


8. Dacia Duster

Best small SUV for cheap and cheerful motoring

Our pick Dacia Duster dCi 110 4x4 Ambiance
Used deals Limited stock

A pragmatist would argue that you shouldn't 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 not so fancy that you feel house-proud towards 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.

An all-new model has gone on sale, powered by more modern and efficient engines, although the older 1.6-litre petrol will be carried over. It may be all-new but it looks very like its predecessor, only chunkier. Access trim will be as basic as ever but the next one up, called Essential, will at least have air conditioning and even a heated driver’s seat.


9. Honda HR-V

Best small SUV for practicality

Our pick Honda HR-V SE
Used deals from £9,295
Monthly finance from £176*

The HR-V was treated to a major facelift in the summer of 2018, but as a used car you can still get hold of older models. There's a choice of three engines, a 1.6-litre diesel, which is no longer available with new models, along with a 1.5-litre petrol engine available with either 130hp or 182hp is you're after a little more power.

Along with the changes to the engine line-up the HR-V gets a smoother look outside, and more comfortable seats inside. Fortunately, the changes haven't come at the expense of space and practicality. The HR-V continues to have 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.


10. Hyundai Kona Electric

Best small SUV for electric power

Our pick Hyundai Kona Electric 64kWh Premium
Used deals from £23,450
Monthly finance from £328*

The Kona Electric was the first electric SUV for the real world; it's relatively affordable and has a decent range. On that point, real-world tests have shown the more powerful of the two models to be capable of 259 miles per charge.

Granted, a conventional diesel or petrol SUV will easily outrun it but for most drivers, most of the time, the Kona Electric could be the solution for emissions-free, SUV motoring.

The most powerful Kona is very quick, but even the lower powered model feels nippy, and that electric range is better than a Renault Zoe or Nissan Leaf and easily enough for a typical commute.

Downsides are a rather small boot and a cramped rear interior but front seat space is excellent. And remember, there’s a £3,500 government contribution to come off the price.


*Representative PCP finance - Ford Fiesta Titanium:

Monthly payments over 48 months: £192
Deposit: £0
Mileage allowance: 8,000 per year
Optional final payment to buy car: £2,923
Total amount payable to buy car: £11,926
Total cost of credit: £2,426
Amount borrowed: £9,500
APR: 9.9%

Buyacar is a credit broker, not a lender. Our rates start from 6.9% APR. The rate you are offered will depend on your individual circumstances.


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