Best Subcompact SUV for 2022

These little utility vehicles are big on character.

Editors' note: The list of products in this story is no longer actively maintained and may include outdated recommendations. See the latest CNET car coverage here

Some people looking for a truck or an SUV always assume that bigger is better. Those people have clearly never owned a subcompact SUV. These trusty vehicles are seen by many as affordably mass-market machinery, but they're also capable of providing a growing family with everything it needs at a great value. There aren't as many options for subcompact SUVs, but that market is growing at a fast rate every year.

Whether you're looking for something fancy, something efficient or something simply good, these are our choices for the best subcompact SUVs your money can buy. It's also worth noting that some of these subcompacts may be larger than others, but rest assured: Everything we mention here is quite small.


For years now, the Hyundai Kona has remained one of our absolute favorite small SUVs. And despite an influx of new competition, the Kona still stands out as one of the best subcompact vehicles available for purchase.

There isn't just one reason, either. The Kona drives superbly, whether with its tiniest engine or the honkin' turbo four-pot in the Kona N. There's also an electric variant available for those ready to embrace EVs. For its price, styling and build quality are surprisingly high. We could keep going, too. It's a great value.

2022 Hyundai Kona, Kona N Line debut in US-spec

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Step aside, Kona; you're not the only high-quality game in town anymore. Even though the Kona has long been one of our top choices for a subcompact SUV, Japanese automaker Mazda has a new offering that gives the Kona a serious run for its money.

The CX-30 packs an excellent powertrain by way of an optional turbocharged I4 producing 250 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque, which makes it pretty darn sprightly for something this small. And it does that engine justice by virtue of being a great car to drive. Sure, the infotainment system leaves a bit to be desired, but excellent styling and driving characteristics make the CX-30 a proper value. 

2021 Mazda CX-30 Turbo: Pretty and premium

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There aren't many small luxury SUVs on sale, but of the few choices on offer, Audi's subcompact Q3 crossover leaves the best impression.

The Audi Q3 grew a bit in its second generation, but dimensions only tell part of the story. Build quality and style are top-notch, and the infotainment system standard on every Q3 is one of our favorites across the entire car industry. It may not win many races, but it'll definitely look the best when it arrives. And with a starting price well below the average new-car transaction price, the Q3 is a good way to break into a luxury marque without breaking your wallet in two.

2019 Audi Q3: A serious small luxury SUV threat

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The Hyundai Kona is traditionally a pretty sedate mass-market crossover, but not in this form. The Hyundai Kona N is a kick in the pants in a segment that doesn't generally offer this kind of experience.

The Kona N gets its power from a turbocharged 2.0-liter I4 making 276 hp and 289 lb-ft, which is sent to the front wheels by way of an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission. It's loaded with all sorts of fun tricks, like overboost, racing-game-inspired cabin tech and a variable exhaust tone. It's a beast.

Hyundai Kona N is the brand's first hot SUV

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Electrified subcompacts aren't quite ubiquitous yet. But that's good for the Kia Niro, because its many variants have a lock on the market until enough competitors arise.

The Kia Niro Hybrid is a standard gas-electric hybrid sandwiched into a capacious hatchback body. It isn't exactly powerful, nor does it love to get tossed around, but that's not the point of the car; instead, it's going to keep you away from gas stations for longer and provide a ride that's comfortable with tech that's easy to use. What's not to like? 

2021 Kia Niro gains a few new features

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Plug-in hybrids allow buyers to go electric with the comforting backup of a proper gas engine. There are even fewer PHEVs in this segment than there are hybrids, but again, that's a good thing for Kia.

The Kia Niro Plug-In Hybrid takes the same formula as the standard hybrid and adds a 8.9-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery. That might not sound like much, but it allows for about 26 miles of electric driving at a time, which could cover a commute. And, like every other Niro variant, the car wrapped around that powertrain is pretty darn good.

2020 Kia Niro PHEV: The pragmatic performer

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The Volvo C40 Recharge is the automaker's first full battery-electric vehicle, although many, many more are on the way. Yet, despite being a first effort of sorts, our time with the Recharge proves this feels nothing like a first attempt.

Relying on a 78-kWh battery and a pair of electric motors, this tiny SUV offers up an impressive 408 hp and 487 lb-ft, with 60 mph arriving in 4.5 seconds. Volvo expects this little guy to get around 225 miles on a charge, which isn't as much as some competitors, but the whole experience is polished in a way that, say, a Hyundai Kona isn't.

Read our 2022 Volvo C40 Recharge Pure Electric review.

Volvo's electric C40 Recharge is a coupeover with serious style

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Some of these cars on this list are easier to pick than others. This category was simple, because we didn't have to pick a favorite, the US government did.

The EPA rates the Hyundai Kona as more efficient than any other non-electrified subcompact SUV, with an estimated fuel economy of 30 mpg city and 35 mpg highway. Then again, this little utility vehicle is all about thrift, making just 147 hp from its 2.0-liter inline-4. Its CVT is smooth, and the interior quality is higher than what you'd maybe expect from one of the least expensive vehicles on sale today.

2022 Hyundai Kona Electric gets more aero-forward look and new tech

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With the average new-car transaction price shooting well past $40,000 this year, it's no surprise that so many people are clamoring for a new car that's not going to break your wallet in half. Well, friends, you're in luck, because the Kia Soul exists, and it's great.

The 2022 Kia Soul starts at $20,545 including $1,175 for destination, making it one of the most affordable new cars on the market. And it's a good one, too, offering about 33 mpg highway and a standard 8-inch infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Throw another $900 into the mix and you can fit the Soul with every active and passive safety system Kia offers. Not a bad deal!

2020 Kia Soul: A box with no rough edges

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There are plenty of fine subcompact products from the usual players in the luxury game, like BMW and Mercedes-Benz. But none of them looks like a million bucks as much as a Range Rover Evoque does, especially now, when its latest refresh puts its looks closer to the big-boy Range Rover than ever before.

That counts both inside and out, too. The Evoque is full of clean lines and minimal visual clutter. Most of the center stack is a screen, and the seats can be outfitted with the same soft Windsor leather we enjoy on far more expensive Land Rover products. It's hard to find a plusher subcompact SUV than this one.

2020 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque: A looker inside and out

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You won't be tackling Moab in any subcompact, because the wild hardware required isn't really available in this segment. That said, if you do plan on tackling some trails and maybe finding a more remote place to camp, and you need something small for the task, the Subaru Crosstrek is a pretty good way to get there.

The Crosstrek isn't really a subcompact, but it's small and we're rounding down. All-wheel drive is standard, as is 8.7 inches of ground clearance, the latter of which should be pretty important in the event of a few stray rocks on the trail. In addition to being small and fordable, the Crosstrek has an attractive cabin and some impressive on-road efficiency, meaning it won't be totally annoying to pilot once you're back on solid ground.

Read our 2021 Subaru Crosstrek review.

2021 Subaru Crosstrek: Entirely competent

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A few of these categories don't have a clear winner. Since automakers share so much of their tech between their vehicles these days, it only felt right to talk about our favorite tech-laden cars as a group.

In this category, Hyundai and Kia reign supreme. When their vehicles don't include the full suite of active and passive safety systems, those upgrades are often available for a low price. Nearly all their vehicles across the price spectrum come standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but if you do prefer the in-house interface, these automakers have one of the best infotainment systems on offer today. These are easy cars to recommend for tech aficionados.

2021 Kia Seltos: A stylish little ute

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Again, we have a tie. Automakers have offered long warranty periods as a way to offer buyers peace of mind for a longer stretch of time, which these days can often extend to a full decade.

Mitsubishi, Hyundai and Kia all offer impressive warranties. In terms of bumper-to-bumper coverage, all three offer a 5-year, 60,000-mile warranty. All three also give the buyer a 10-year, 100,000-mile warranty for the powertrain. It's never fun calling the dealership, but knowing you're protected against unforeseen costs can help soften the blow.

The 2020 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport is an oldie, not a goodie

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This category would have had a different winner a few months ago. Prior to the release of VW's latest SUV, the subcompact with the most cargo room was the Kia Seltos. But now, thanks to some clever packaging, the Volkswagen Taos has taken the crown.

Despite its diminutive frame, the VW Taos offers nearly 28 cubic feet of cargo space with all seats up. That number jumps even higher to 66 cubes once that second row is folded down. Simply put, that's a ton of capacity. The number shrinks a bit if you opt for all-wheel drive, given the extra hardware required to get those wheels to move, but the Taos is a hard act to beat either way.

Read our 2022 Volkswagen Taos review.

2022 Volkswagen Taos: What you see is what you get

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You're not going to be towing horse trailers or entire double-wides with a subcompact SUV, but some of these little utes are able to tow a couple thousand pounds, which should help you get more of your stuff around town.

The Jeep Renegade, Kia Seltos and Mazda CX-30 are all capable of towing 2,000 pounds, but that's not the highest figure among small SUVs. Volvo has them all beat, with the XC40 SUV offering an impressive 3,500-pound tow rating. Need to get a race car across town? Now you can, and you don't have to buy something the size of a small apartment building to make it happen.

2021 Volvo XC40 Recharge has big power and a little frunk

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Most vehicles these days carry the same kinds of active and passive safety systems -- forward collision warning, lane-departure warning, all that good stuff. Which is why, to settle this category, we went straight to the experts at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. According to their figures, the Mazda CX-30 reigns supreme in safety.

Safety is more than the sum of the aforementioned tech systems. In every crash test, the CX-30 achieved the IIHS' top rating of Good. It also received full marks for vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-pedestrian crash protection. Surprisingly, what puts the CX-30 ahead of its rivals, however barely, is its child-seat LATCH system, which the IIHS rated Good+ thanks to its ease of use.

2021 Mazda CX-30 Turbo: Pretty and potent

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Comparison of the best subcompact SUVs for 2022

Category NameBase EngineOutputFuel Economy (mpg, city/hwy/combined)Base Price
Best subcompact SUV Hyundai Kona2.0-liter I4147 hp / 132 lb-ft30 / 35 / 32$22,545
Best subcompact SUV runner-up Mazda CX-302.5-liter I4186 hp / 186 lb-ft25 / 33 / 28$23,425
Best subcompact luxury SUV Audi Q32.0-liter I4 turbo228 hp / 258 lb-ft22 / 30 / 25$37,595
Best subcompact performance SUV Hyundai Kona N2.0-liter I4 turbo276 hp / 289 lb-ft20 / 27 / 23$35,445
Best subcompact hybrid SUV Kia Niro Hybrid1.6-liter I4104 hp / 109 lb-ft51 / 46 / 49$25,945
Best subcompact plug-in hybrid SUV Kia Niro Plug-In Hybrid1.6-liter I4139 hp / 195 lb-ft105 MPGe$30,845
Best subcompact electric SUV Volvo C40 RechargeDual electric motor408 hp / 487 lb-ftTBD$59,845
Best subcompact SUV for fuel economy Hyundai Kona2.0-liter I4147 hp / 132 lb-ft30 / 35 / 32$22,545
Best affordable subcompact SUV Kia Soul2.0-liter I4147 hp / 132 lb-ft28 / 33 / 30$20,545
Best subcompact SUV if money is no object Land Rover Range Rover Evoque2.0-liter I4 turbo246 hp / 269 lb-ft20 / 27 / 22$46,050
Best subcompact SUV for off-roading Subaru Crosstrek2.0-liter H4152 hp / 145 lb-ft28 / 33 / 30$23,820
Best subcompact SUV for cargo space Volkswagen Taos1.5-liter I4 turbo158 hp / 184 lb-ft28 / 36 / 31$24,690
Best subcompact SUV for towing Volvo XC402.0-liter I4 turbo187 hp / 221 lb-ft23 / 32 / 26$36,195
Best subcompact SUV for safety Mazda CX-302.5-liter I4186 hp / 186 lb-ft25 / 33 / 28$23,425

How we made our list

We drove them, of course! Over the past year, and for many years prior, Roadshow's editors have evaluated the entire new-car spectrum, which gives us all the context we need to figure out which cars are best for you, dear consumer. We have decades of collective experience in determining what provides the best value, and those efforts have led to the list you're reading right now.

Of course, it bears mentioning that this list shouldn't be taken as canon. Your experience matters most, so take these recommendations to your local dealerships and get to test driving. Once you've actually had some time with a car, you'll be in a better place to make a decision that takes your interests and preferences into account. And don't forget to take the above prices with a grain of salt; haggling is, for better or worse, still part of the buying experience for most people.