As tempting as a big SUV may be to purchase, they cost a lot of cash. Not everyone has that kind of money to spend, but a small or compact SUV? That could be significantly more affordable... not to mention they've absolutely displaced the sedan as the body style of choice for modern car shoppers.
You'll find a whole slew of options on sale today, but the small and compact segment is a particularly giant one (so to speak). We'll save you time and show you the best choices for a small SUV.
Whether you want an SUV capable of getting your dogs to the park or your kids to baseball practice, compact crossovers are more than equipped for the task. Considering the sheer variety of vehicles on sale today, there's something for just about everyone, whether your priorities involve tech, safety or towing capacity. Let's take a look at some of our favorites.
Usually, leaning too hard on design means an automaker may be trying to gussy up a car that is otherwise mediocre. But not the 2022 Hyundai Tucson. In addition to its unique appearance, a veritable laundry list of stuff to like gives the Tucson the top spot on our list of small SUVs worth recommending.
A sharp exterior aesthetic gives way to an impressive interior, both in terms of overall style and in terms of the materials adorning the cabin. Its complement of tech is hard to beat, with a base 8-inch touchscreen that can be expanded to 10.3 inches by checking an options box. A standard 2.5-liter inline-4 makes 187 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque, and front-wheel drive is standard while AWD is an option. With a starting price under $30,000, the 2022 Hyundai Tucson isn't going to break your wallet in half, either.
The honeymoon period is over, but the 2022 Ford Bronco Sport remains at the forefront of our collective mind when it comes to recommending a sharp, sensible small SUV.
The Ford Bronco Sport carries a few styling elements from the larger Bronco model, but the Sport carves out a place for itself with its blocky styling atop its unibody chassis. Even with fully independent suspension front and rear, the Bronco Sport does a darned good job off-roading. And, if you equip this SUV with its peppier 250-hp turbocharged inline-4, it can scoot like the dickens.
The Genesis GV70 takes everything that we loved about the Korean automaker's first SUV offering, the GV80, and shrinks it down to a smaller, more affordable segment.
The 2022 Genesis GV70 is a proper luxury SUV that does a great job breaking past the German stalwarts in the segment. It's sharp on the outside and equally impressive inside, where it does a good job keeping your eyes busy with unique styling elements aplenty. There's a boatload of great tech in here, too. Its base 300-horsepower engine is mighty perky, but you can swap to a 375-hp twin-turbo V6 if you want more fun.
If you want a proper luxury experience, you don't need to spend insane amounts of money on some land-barge behemoth. Instead, you can spend a more sensible amount on a smaller luxury vehicle that still puts the emphasis on comfort and convenience. In that arena, the 2022 Mercedes-Benz GLC300 reigns supreme.
The 2022 GLC300 carries over many notable upgrades from its 2020-model-year midcycle refresh, including a fresher look and a host of new cabin tech. Most importantly, the latest version of the GLC300 now carries Mercedes-Benz's excellent MBUX infotainment system, which is responsive, visually appealing and loaded with neat features like augmented-reality navigation directions. Throw some additional coin into play and you can kit the thing out with tons of advanced driver aids, too.
A luxury vehicle is nothing without a smooth ride, and the GLC300 delivers in that regard. Whether or not it rocks air suspension, this Merc eats bad roads for breakfast and returns nothing but comfort. Its base 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 makes a commendable 255 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque, which in rear-drive guise approaches 30 miles per gallon on the highway.
The Porsche Macan is due for an update in the coming year, at which point we will finally see its upcoming electric variant. But a minor update within the past year keeps this older performance SUV as the most compelling offering in its segment.
The 2022 Porsche Macan picks up a number of updates, including mild adjustments to the front and rear bumpers. Inside, the old switchgear is gone, and in its place is a cleaner dashboard sporting the latest iteration of the PCM infotainment system. The base Macan utilizes a 261-hp turbocharged inline-4, and while the hardcore Turbo variant is gone, the extremely good GTS gets a power bump to 434 hp.
By itself, the Hyundai Tucson is a lovely compact SUV, but adding a gas-electric hybrid powertrain gives us another reason to like this little guy.
Some things about the 2022 Hyundai Tucson Hybrid aren't limited to the hybrid variant, like its attractive exterior and surprisingly luxurious-for-its-segment interior. The infotainment tech is top-notch, too. But the best bits are under the hood, where a 1.6-liter turbocharged I4 pairs with a 1.5-kilowatt-hour battery for a net 226 horsepower. More importantly, it achieves an EPA combined fuel economy of 37 mpg, a number we had no problem matching. It's plenty affordable, too, starting at $30,235 for its base Blue trim, which is nicely equipped.
Having 300 horsepower? In a Toyota RAV4? You'd better believe it, and even though the RAV4 Prime isn't about performance, it packs plenty.
The 2022 Toyota RAV4 Prime takes the garden-variety SUV and throws electrification into the mix. A 2.5-liter gas engine combines with a 134-kW electric motor to provide a net output of 302 hp. But efficiency remains at the forefront of the equation; the RAV4 Prime offers up to 42 miles of electric-only travel, and when there are no electrons left, its gas engine can manage some 38 mpg combined. Bundle that up with a $40,000-ish price tag, and you've got quite the compelling small SUV.
The 2022 Chevrolet Bolt EUV takes everything that was good about Chevy's original Bolt and lifts it skyward a smidge. Throw in more attractive sheet metal and even more cabin tech, and Big Bowtie's got an instant winner on its hands, as we noted in our recent first drive.
A 65-kWh battery works with a 200-horsepower, 266-pound-foot electric motor to provide an estimated range of 259 miles, which is about tied with the Hyundai Kona Electric and well ahead of the Nissan Leaf Plus. Its most impressive piece of kit is Super Cruise, which permits hands-off vehicle operation on premapped highways across the country. There's nothing quite like it, especially in this segment, and its inclusion alone makes the Bolt EUV noteworthy. Thankfully, there's a nice car wrapped around it.
The 2022 Volvo C40 Recharge is the first vehicle from Volvo to be sold only as an electric model. It's also the company's first crossover coupe, in addition to being the first Volvo to come with a leather-free interior. These are all previews of what to expect from the brand at large, but in this specific EV, it all combines to feel like a winner.
The Volvo C40 Recharge uses two electric motors to produce an impressive 408 hp and 487 lb-ft of torque. Its aerodynamics make it a little quieter than the equivalent XC40, but it rides quite nicely either way. In addition to this fresh styling, the C40 Recharge also picks up Volvo's latest Google-based infotainment system, which is a big upgrade over the old Sensus Connect setup. It's not the cheapest EV on the block, with a starting price just under $60,000, but it's a great preview of things to come.
If you want a hyper-efficient compact SUV that doesn't dip its toes into complicated electrification, look no further than the 2022 Nissan Kicks, which is the most fuel-efficient SUV without a hybrid powertrain.
Equipped with its standard 1.6-liter engine, front-wheel drive and a continuously variable transmission, the 2022 Nissan Kicks earns an EPA-estimated fuel economy of 31 miles per gallon city, 36 mpg highway and 33 mpg combined, coming in just a hair ahead of the Lexus UX 200 and the Hyundai Venue. If you want anything more efficient than that, you'll have to reach upward and start plucking hybrid models off the tree.
But the Kicks' value play doesn't mean it's riddled with sacrifices. Instead, solid fuel economy is one of many reasons to consider the Kicks. There are tons of standard driver assistance features, the ride is quiet and the seats are plenty comfortable for longer trips. A 7-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is standard, with higher trims receiving a larger 8-inch display. Heck, it's not half bad to chuck around on some twisty mountain roads, either.
The latest generation of Kia Soul might be a TikTok pariah, with legions of Zoomers lining up to riff on this boxy crossover, but while the youths are getting in some good owns, they're missing out on one heck of a high-quality compact SUV.
The 2022 Kia Soul holds onto what helped the first Soul make its mark, looking like an actual box on wheels, but all those straight edges mean there's plenty of passenger and cargo space on offer. Its impressive starting price of $20,545 -- less than half the average new-car transaction price these days -- brings people in, but a variety of higher trims let buyers get fancier or sportier as they so desire. Even if you stick with the base model, though, you get an impressive lineup of standard creature comforts and safety tech.
Unlike midsize SUVs, a hefty majority of compact SUVs are all capable of towing the same amount, which is somewhere in the neighborhood of 3,000 pounds. Few small crossovers go above and beyond that figure, but the 2022 Jeep Cherokee does.
When equipped with its optional V6 engine, the 2022 Jeep Cherokee is capable of towing 4,500 pounds. That's about as much as an empty dump trailer, or a large flatbed trailer with about 1,000 pounds of junk on it. That's in addition to everything that comes in lower on the scale, like A-frame campers and enclosed utility trailers.
Despite not being the "big-boy" Bronco, Ford's compact Bronco Sport has the chops when the going gets dirty.
In its beefiest Badlands trim, the 2022 Ford Bronco Sport offers up 8.8 inches of ground clearance and 23.6 inches of fording depth. The roof rack can handle up to 150 pounds of camping gear, and multiple vehicle modes tailor the throttle response and other inputs to work better across different kinds of terrain, with that last bit coming standard on every Bronco Sport trim.
Better yet, all that off-road capability doesn't come with an on-road tradeoff. The Bronco Sport is just at home on pavement, with a pliant ride and gobs of power from its optional 2.0-liter turbocharged I4 (a 1.5-liter turbo I3 is standard). Style abounds, too, especially inside, where durability and versatility are doled out in equal measure.
Trying to find a truly compact SUV with a third row is not easy. But the Mercedes-Benz GLB-Class ticks all the right boxes, and in a couple months' time, it can be purchased in electric form, too.
The Mercedes-Benz GLB-Class is a blockier SUV that borrows its long-roof aesthetic from the flagship GLS-Class utility vehicle. Those proportions allowed Mercedes to sneak a third row into this small car, and while it may not have the most legroom out there, it will function as intended. Since it's a Mercedes-Benz, the GLB carries all the usual luxury-car trimmings. And, later in 2022, the EQB will allow buyers to pick up a small three-row SUV with an electric motor providing the motive force.
Whiz-bang features are Tesla's bread and butter, and its smallest SUV to date carries plenty of 'em.
If you like powertrain tech, great! You can have a Long Range Model Y variant that's equipped for an EPA-estimated 326 miles of range, or you can sacrifice some of that for a Model Y Performance that offers just 303 miles of range alongside a powertrain that's good for a 3.5-second sprint to 60 mph.
And then there's Autopilot. Loaded up with radar, ultrasonic sensors and cameras galore, Autopilot is one of the more advanced driver aids available today, taking a great deal of traffic-jam tedium and making it easier on the person behind the wheel. A 15-inch touchscreen is standard, packing over-the-air updates, embedded navigation, games and more. It's far from a perfect package, as we've discovered with our long-term Model Y, but for tech geeks, it's still a hard act to beat.
If you want a small SUV with loads of cargo space, curves are not your friend: The straighter a vehicle's lines, the more stuff you can cram in there. The Subaru Forester might not be the sleekest car on the block, but its rectilinear silhouette means there are gobs of cubic feet available inside.
The 2022 Subaru Forester offers 31.1 cubic feet of space behind the second row, which is impressive, but it's not best in class, with competitors such as the Honda CR-V coming in closer to 40 cubic feet of storage. However, when you fold down the second row, the Forester's cargo capacity balloons to a best-in-class 76.1 cubic feet, besting the likes of the Toyota RAV4 (69.8 cu. ft.) and even the three-row Volkswagen Tiguan (73.5 cu. ft.).
For this category, we based our recommendation on the hard work from the safety wonks at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The IIHS' testing regimen is the strongest in the US, and of all the small SUVs to pick up its Top Safety Pick Plus recommendation, the 2022 Mazda CX-5 sits at the top.
A number of vehicles carry the highest rating in the IIHS' crash tests, but for 2022, the group revised its side-crash test. Only a few vehicles have been evaluated with the new standards, and of those cars, only the CX-5 received the top score of Good.
The compact-SUV segment didn't really feature many major shakeups over the past year, but there are quite a few new cars coming down the pipeline that have already captured our attention. Of those, the 2023 Kia Niro looks to be one of the most promising.
The basic idea of the Niro is the same: Take a compact crossover and offer it in hybrid, plug-in hybrid and battery-electric variants. However, while the outgoing Niro looked a little boring, this new one looks like it fell off a damned spaceship, whether it's the Niro's wild new front end or that sweet "Aero Blade" that takes up the entire rear quarter panel. The interior picks up some new styling cues from the EV6 electric crossover, and it all looks great. Keep your eye on this one.
Comparison of the best small SUVs for 2022
||Name||Base engine||Output||Fuel economy (mpg, city/hwy/combined)||Base price|
|Best small SUV overall||2022 Hyundai Tucson||2.5-liter I4||187 hp / 178 lb-ft||26 / 33 / 29||$27,045|
|Best small SUV overall runner-up||2022 Ford Bronco Sport||1.5-liter I3||181 hp / 190 lb-ft||25 / 28 / 26||$29,860|
|Best small luxury SUV||2022 Genesis GV70||2.5-liter I4||300 hp / 311 lb-ft||22 / 28 / 24||$42,595|
|Best small luxury SUV runner-up||2022 Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class||2.0-liter I4||255 hp / 273 lb-ft||22 / 29 / 25||$44,900|
|Best small performance SUV||2022 Porsche Macan||2.0-liter I4||261 hp / 295 lb-ft||19 / 25 / 21||$56,250|
|Best small hybrid SUV||2022 Hyundai Tucson Hybrid||1.6-liter I4 hybrid||226 hp / 258 lb-ft||38 / 38 / 38||$30,995|
|Best small plug-in hybrid SUV||2022 Toyota RAV4 Prime||2.5-liter I4 hybrid||302 hp net||94 MPGe (38 mpg gas-only)||$41,015|
|Best small electric SUV||2022 Chevrolet Bolt EUV||Single electric motor||200 hp / 266 lb-ft||115 MPGe||$34,495|
|Best small electric SUV runner-up||2022 Volvo C40 Recharge||Dual electric motor||408 hp / 487 lb-ft||87 MPGe||$59,845|
|Best small fuel-efficient SUV||2022 Nissan Kicks||1.6-liter I4||122 hp / 114 lb-ft||31 / 36 / 33||$21,025|
|Best affordable small SUV||2022 Kia Soul||2.0-liter I4||147 hp / 132 lb-ft||29 / 35 / 31||$20,545|
|Best small SUV for towing||2022 Jeep Cherokee||2.0-liter I4||270 hp / 295 lb-ft||23 / 31 / 26||$35,590|
|Best small SUV for off-roading||2022 Ford Bronco Sport||1.5-liter I3||181 hp / 190 lb-ft||25 / 28 / 26||$29,860|
|Best small SUV with three rows||2022 Mercedes-Benz GLB-Class||2.0-liter I4||221 hp / 258 lb-ft||24 / 32 / 27||$39,650|
|Best small SUV for tech lovers||2022 Tesla Model Y||Dual electric motor||384 hp / 376 lb-ft||122 MPGe||$66,190|
|Best small SUV for cargo space||2022 Subaru Forester||2.5-liter H4||182 hp / 176 lb-ft||26 / 33 / 29||$26,320|
|Best small SUV for safety||2022 Mazda CX-5||2.5-liter I4||187 hp / 186 lb-ft||24 / 30 / 26||$27,475|
|Best small SUV to keep your eye on||2023 Kia Niro||1.6-liter I4 hybrid||139 hp / 195 lb-ft||TBA||TBA|
How we made our list
We drove them, you silly billy. CNET's editors drive countless vehicles over the course of a year, and we all try to slide into as many different cars, trucks and SUVs as possible. With combined decades of experience evaluating the latest sheet metal, the SUVs on this list represent the cars we'd most like to own in each segment.
With every best list comes caveats. Our loans are limited to a week at a time, with some long-termers staying on our driveways for up to a year, so long-term reliability and other factors are hard to determine. Pricing can be an issue, too, especially with low-initial-volume, high-demand vehicles like the Bronco. Dealers are keen to adjust pricing as they see fit, so don't forget to do some cross-dealer shopping to find the best price around you. Don't forget to test drive as many vehicles as you can, as well, to make sure our choices also fill your needs as best they can.
Small SUV FAQs
What is the No. 1 small SUV?
We rate the Hyundai Tucson and Ford Bronco Sport at the top of the small SUVs we've driven, but every outlet -- whether it's us, J.D. Power or anyone else -- uses different metrics for ranking vehicles. We cannot stress enough that scores shouldn't be taken as absolutes. Instead, use our recommendations to guide your decision making. Your needs are specific to you, and it's important to make sure your values are reflected in whatever vehicle you eventually purchase.
What are the best small SUVs on the market?
The ones we've listed above! Truthfully, there are many strong compact SUVs available. The best small utility vehicles all offer refined drivetrains, excellent function and a healthy dose of cabin tech. But again, your needs matter most, so make sure that any vehicle you purchase aligns with that.
What is the most reliable small SUV to buy?
Reliability is a tough one to track, because everyone's going to have a different experience, and we at CNET Cars generally don't test vehicles longer than a week, which is standard practice for most reviews. So, to help answer this question, we'll look at J.D. Power's latest Vehicle Dependability Study, which ranks vehicle dependability after three years of ownership. According to the 2022 VDS, the most reliable mass-market vehicles come from Kia, Buick, Hyundai, Toyota and Dodge, in that order. On the luxury side, you've got Genesis, Lexus, Porsche, Cadillac and Lincoln.