Top 11 Best Small SUV Cars
Small SUVs are booming these days – more efficient and cheaper to run than their chunkier full-SUV counterparts, compact SUVs have marked out their own niche in recent years.
Most manufacturers have jumped on the small SUV bandwagon with an option to buy in this category after Nissan launched the Qashqai way back in 2007. It’s a vibrant market with growing choice.
And it’s easy to understand their appeal. They make the ideal city car – with seats lifted high, with a commanding view over traffic. Small, compact SUVs are perfect for those who want off-road styling without the bulkier SUV heft that more family-friendly versions offer.
But it’s not just about style and seating height. Some also come with the option of all-wheel drive, meaning you can take them off the beaten track if you really need to. It’s their all-roads versatility that marks them up as a better option to many crossovers and less-beefy small cars.
But even the humble crossover has now become too big for some, Ford, Vauxhall and even Hyundai have now bought out small SUV cars to open up choice. These are normally hatchbacks that feature some rugged, go-anywhere looks.
It all goes to show how desirable compact SUVs have become. They’re beginning to dominate every buying category.
Let’s take a look at some of the smaller options that are currently on the market, from tiny crossovers to even smaller hatchbacks.
Our top 11 best small SUV cars to buy are:
- Ford Ecosport
- Peugeot 2008
- SEAT Arona
- Mazda CX-3
- Vauxhall Adam ROCKS
- Suzuki Swift 4×4
- Fiat Panda 4×4
- Ford KA+ Active
- Suzuki Ignis
- Hyundai Kona
- Kia Picanto X-Line
Ford’s smallest, high up, baby SUV comes in the form of the Ecosport. Roughly the size of a Fiesta, this butch looking mini off-road wannabe starts at £17,850.
Although this compact model has been out for a while, the Ecosport was recently facelifted both inside and out. As standard you now get the superb Ford SYNC system on an 8-inch colour touchscreen and there’s also the option of a premium 10 speaker B&O sound system.
There are a range of engines to pick from. You can choose the 1.0 litre EcoBoost petrol (which has won Engine Of The Year six times now) in either 125 or 140 BHP versions.
There’s also a 1.5-litre diesel with 100 BHP or 125 BHP; any of those options mean the Ecosport is no slouch, but you’re best off picking the diesel if you want to do any minor towing though.
It might be small, but the upright stature and high ground clearance make the Ecosport an excellent choice for those with an active lifestyle, whether it’s darting through city traffic or adventuring to the coast for a long weekend.
Price: Starts from £17,850
- Powerful engine choice
- Automatic gearbox available with entry-level petrol engine
- Top range trims look the best
- No all-wheel drive option
- Cramped rear seats
Peugeot’s little 2008 started out life as a bit of an ugly duckling. Looking just like a stretched 208, it didn’t really fit into the market. That was until the explosion in small SUV cars came about. With a facelift the 2008 suddenly made sense and appealed en-masse.
Starting at £17,735 the 2008 is a lot of car for the money. While it’s still classed as a small hatchback, it offers greater space than the Ford Ecosport, especially when it comes to passenger legroom.
Even in entry-level ‘Active’ trim, the 2008 looks great. The range-topping GT-Line adds bigger alloys, metal effect skid plates and a full dechrome that includes black roof bars.
You can opt for automatic gearboxes on the 1.2 litre 110 BHP petrol and 120 BHP 1.5-litre diesel. Manuals can only be had with the 82 BHP, 130 BHP 1.2 petrol, or the 100 BHP 1.5-litre diesel engines.
One thing a lot of other small SUV’s lack is any off-road ability, well the 2008 offers a system called Grip Control, while it’s still only 2 wheel drive it uses the traction control system to help in low-grip conditions like snow, mud and sand. The system is standard from mid-range Allure trim.
Seeing as the 2008 was initially launched in 2013 it’s probably due to renewal in the next year or two, so watch out for deals on the current model and if there are any special run-out editions with all the goodies attached.
Price: Starts from £17,735
- Grip Control – Mild off-road ability without the need for a 4×4
- All trim levels look stylish
- Active city braking optional
- Limited exterior customisation
- 82 BHP engine will be painful to live with
SEAT launched the Arona early last year. It’s their small SUV offering and is roughly the size of the Ibiza, their hatchback. Prices start from £17,150 and go all the way up to £22,865 for the range-topping XCELLENCE Lux spec.
Thankfully there aren’t any underpowered, poverty spec engines to be had, the entry-level 1.2-litre TSI packs 95BHP which is ample in a car of this size.
You can pick the Arona in a host of different colours with alternating roofs to add a touch of personalisation. Whereas most manufacturers would charge you for this, it’s all a no-cost option on the Arona.
17” alloys come as standard as do body coloured door handles, a 6.5-inch infotainment system which includes Apple Car Play and Google’s Android Auto along with Mirror Link.
There’s also cruise control, air con and LED daytime running lights. That’s a lot of decent kit on just an entry level car, many of those would be optional extras on the likes of an Audi Q2.
Price: From £17,150
- High kit levels
- No cost for personalisation
- Prices can creep up to become very high
- Doesn’t handle as well as it’s bigger brother the Ateca.
Mazda are a brand often overlooked by most people. They may be small volume in the UK, but that adds a rather large helping of exclusivity which is always welcome when you see so many German vehicles on our roads.
The CX-3 offers some compact off-roading looks with the handling characteristics of a hot hatch. In fact, it’s something Mazda have become masters at. All of their cars incredible to drive. So the CX-3 is the one to get if you love to hoon it down a B road rather than sit patiently in traffic.
Prices start from £19,395 for the entry-level SE Nav+ and go up to £22,095 for the Sport Nav+ model. Kit is high to begin with, featuring 16-inch alloys, sat nav, a 7-inch infotainment system, cruise control, heated folding mirrors and a six-speaker stereo system.
In fact, from the outside, it’s difficult to see the differences in the three trims on offer. The only changes are rear privacy glass, larger alloys, different headlamps and the addition of some chrome for the top end Sport model.
Price: Starting at £19,395
- Handles fantastically
- Not as many dealers around
- More powerful engines bump the price up a fair amount
Vauxhall Adam ROCKS
While this model isn’t currently on sale now, it’s an honourable mention as they can be found aplenty at decent prices on the second-hand market. Around £8,000 will get you a well specced, low mileage example.
Just make sure you avoid the breathless and rather unsafe 1.2 litre. With only 69 BHP you’re probably better off diverting around hills and they’re truly painful to live with.
Instead, opt for the pluckier 1.4 litre. While it won’t set the world alight by any means it has 89 BHP and is significantly better to live with.
Vauxhall’s Adam ROCKS quite possibly looks best in white. The black side cladding and roof make them look rather mean and wide. Ride height is lifted by 15mm, and there’s some stick on skid plates front and rear. That’s all there is to it, so don’t even think about taking it off road.
In late 2018 Vauxhall added the ‘ROCKS Air’ edition which included an electric folding sunroof, to compete with the likes of the 500C and DS3 Cabrio. These models are a lot pricier, but do feature the newer 1.0-litre turbocharged engine which has a lot more grunt than both the 1.2 and 1.4.
Price: Used 2015 models are around £8,000
- Unique head-turning looks
- Rather exclusive as you don’t see many around
- Awful 1.2-litre engine
- Later models are pricey second hand
Suzuki Swift 4×4
Another second-hand shout is the last generation Suzuki Swift 4×4. When the brand announced this it was a bit of a curveball. While Suzuki is known for their compact off-road prowess with the likes of the Jimny, who would want a 4×4 Swift?
Well, they aimed to offer something nobody else in the market had, a cheap hatchback with genuine off-roading abilities. The FIAT Panda was doing the same thing, but it was also pretty pricey.
A used 1.2 SZ3 with over 100k on the clock can be found online for around the £4,000 mark. Look for ones with half the miles, and you’ll only pay £1,500 more.
This makes the Swift 4×4 the perfect tool for those who live in remote locations and experience inclement weather regularly in the winter. While the Swift 4×4 doesn’t have the luxuries of a low range gearbox, its rear wheels will kick into action at the first sign of any slipping. It will traverse snow, grass and mud with ease.
Price: From £4,000 for a 2015 model
- Solid build quality, they’ll take a lot of mechanical abuse
- Lower-spec models are quite bare inside
- Simple mechanical all-wheel drive, no special modes or gearbox
Fiat Panda 4×4
FIAT still offer the Panda 4×4 in two variants, the standard 4×4 and the Panda Cross 4×4. The latter costs just £14,870, but the Cross is probably the one you’ll want if you’re serious about off-roading in a small SUV car.
Not only does the 4×4 Cross pack all-wheel drive, but it also comes with mud and snow tyres fitted as standard. It also has raised suspension and a drive mode selector with three different compact options. You also get built-in skid plates, red tow hooks and unique Panda Cross bumpers and side trim.
Basically, it looks like a badass 4×4 but in a tiny compact form. For use around town, it’s no doubt overkill but it would look awesome. It’s not all for show either, the Panda 4×4 is seriously competent when taken off the beaten tarmac, whether that’s plugging away through mud, venturing down some green lanes or taking to the mountains at the weekend.
Price: £14,870 for the regular Panda, £16,470 for the Panda Cross
- Strong off-road credentials
- Go anywhere looks
- Limited boot space
- Only one engine choice
Ford KA+ Active
These days the compact Ford Ka has become all grown up. In fact, it’s now the same size as a Fiesta. As the exterior dimensions have grown so have the interior. This is a far roomier car than it once used to be. You won’t feel as though you’re sitting on your passenger’s knee as you would be in a Swift 4×4.
Priced from £11,300 for the entry Studio trim, there’s a £1,000 increase to step up to the Zetec model and a further grand for the Active.
We’ll be looking at the KA+ Active though and it looks like a baby off-roader in all sense of the word. There’s off-road style plastic cladding on the sides, roof rails and different front and rear bumpers. You’ll have to be speedy if you want one though as Ford is removing it from the line-up in September this year.
In terms of engine choice, there’s a punchy high revving 1.2-litre petrol or a 1.5-litre diesel with 94 BHP. Both are available only with a 5-speed manual gearbox. If you like something with a bit of go to it, then the diesel will suit you best, either way, both will be amazingly efficient around town.
A high up driving position gives you a commanding view in the KA+ Active, as the ride height has also been increased by 25mm to give more ground clearance. Sadly there’s no four-wheel drive option, so it’s all looks for the KA.
Price: Starting at £13,300
- Great price for such a big car
- Choice of petrol or diesel engines
- No all-wheel drive or off-road modes
- Autonomous city braking is extra
Suzuki Ignis 4×4
Yet another Suzuki to make the list is the Ignis 4×4. Arguably the replacement for the last generation Swift 4×4, the Ignis is another incredibly capable little machine from the Japanese brand.
All-wheel drive is only available on the top end SZ5 trim which starts at £13,849. However, you’ll need to add another £1,000 for the mild hybrid 1.2-litre petrol engine with 4WD.
The Ignis uses the same system as the Swift 4×4. A mechanical differential sits at the rear of the car, when slip is felt it locks and starts to power the back wheels. It’s simple, there’s no buttons to press or modes to select, it just works without any user interaction.
Due to that, the Ignis is still pretty frugal around town as only the front wheels will be driven. If you don’t need four wheel drive then the entry-level SZ3 starts at £10,849, but at this price, both interior kit and exterior looks are a bit basic.
You need to move up to the mid-range SZ-T to get the side mouldings on the arches, roof rails, larger alloys and luxuries like air-con, DAB and a rear parking camera.
Price: From £10,849
- Incredibly small
- Easy to manoeuvre around town
- Superb usable 4WD
- Cramped rear seats
- Fiat Panda is similar money and larger
Bigger than most of the cars on this list the Hyundai Kona is one of the best looking small SUVs on the market. Underneath that compact edgy skin, you’ll find the same bits and bobs as a Kia Stonic, but the Hyundai is prettier.
Designed with young millennials in mind, the Kona starts at £17,305, which is incredibly affordable for the size of car. Range-topping ‘Premium GT’ will add nearly an extra £10k onto that price, making the Kona a heady £26,160.
Ideally, try and opt for something in the middle, like the Premium, or Premium SE. These balance nicely between affordability and good kit levels. Exterior looks change very little across all the trims, so nobody will know if you’re scrimping.
Four-wheel drive is an option on Premium GT only, which makes it incredibly expensive but at least Hyundai offer it. So many crossovers are two-wheel drive only these days.
None of the engines available are bad. All have upwards of 112 BHP which is enough due to the Kona’s lack of heft. There are two diesel options available, a higher powered 1.6 litre with 134 BHP can be coupled with a DCT automatic gearbox. The highest powered 1.6-litre petrol with 175 BHP powers the four-wheel variant.
There’s also an Electric Kona, which is undoubtedly the best affordable EV on the market right now.
Price: From £17,305
- Lots of trims options to choose from
- Great exterior & interior
- Lower-spec models can be spartan
- Prices ramp up incredibly quickly
Kia Picanto X-Line
While Kia’s little Picanto X-Line doesn’t get the luxury of all-wheel drive as the Ignis does, it gives so much compact style it’s hard not to turn your head when you see one.
Once again you’ll find side cladding around the arches, unique front and rear bumpers with a faux skid plate, twin exhaust tips and 16-inch alloy wheels. There’s autonomous city braking, LED lights all-round, rear privacy glass and a 7” touchscreen.
Prices start at a rather high £12,995, which is considerable due to the Picanto’s small size. A fully blown 4WD Ignis isn’t much more, and that can actually head off-road.
If you want to fork out even more than that, the X-Line S starts at £14,395. It adds on all the other luxuries like cruise control, automatic air con, heated seats and steering wheel, wireless phone charging, rear parking sensor and even an electric sunroof.
There’s just the one engine, a 1.25 litre coupled with either a manual or automatic gearbox, expect to pay around £700 more for the privilege. The 83 BHP keeps the little Picanto feeling brisk, and the automatic gearbox is decent to boot.
Price: From £12,995
- Head-turning looks
- Lots of kit
- Pricey for its size
- Rear seats are a tight fit
Small SUV cars may be all the rage, but what if you want another compact car?
It’s all about cheap and cheerful motoring around town, while lots of the cars in this list can provide that, you’re often paying a lot for those compact SUV-inspired looks.
Opting for a normal looking hatchback could save you a few thousand, why not take a look at our top 7 best city cars and see if anything takes your fancy? There’s also our guides to the best small cars and best small automatic cars on the market.
Prefer something bigger? If you’re not looking for a small car, check out these: