Top 10 best small SUVs 2019

Last year, around one in three registrations in the UK and Europe were SUVs. It’s a segment that has been growing steadily for years but has only now started to pick up real pace, prompting manufacturers to build entire ranges of high-riders.

These are just below average on the size chart but are the most popular, with the segment home to several brands’ bestselling SUVs. Customers expect Tardis-like space and premium-brand quality on the inside and a commanding driving position, combined with the compactness of an average family car to keep palms unsweaty in town and on narrow lanes.

1. Range Rover Evoque

Land Rover has seized the critical lead of what’s undoubtedly the most important market segment in which it now plays with the second-generation Range Rover Evoque. Based on an all-new, mixed-material model platform, the car has adopted mild-hybrid engines and sits on a longer wheelbase than its predecessor for improved interior space without having grown significantly in any outward dimension.

The car has taken big leaps forward on mechanical refinement, cabin space, luxury ambience and technological allure. While it isn’t the most practical car of its kind, it’s very competitive on that score, with plenty of room for adults in the second row – albeit behind a fairly high shoulder line which restricts visibility a bit.

The car’s mid-range D180 diesel engine is the pick of the range, providing strong drivability and better refinement than we’re used to from Land Rover’s four-cylinder diesels. Performance isn’t as strong as in some smaller, lighter rivals, but there’s more than enough to make progress feel effortless enough.

Having rather come of age as a Range Rover, the Evoque now represents as luxurious-feeling a car as it’s possible to buy in this class – and that’ll help justify what’s a fairly high price to a great many buyers.

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2. Volvo XC40

Volvo’s first attempt at a compact SUV sibling for its established XC60 and XC90 is a real success, and in the XC40 the Swedish marque has given us a car with the sort of instant kerbside appeal you’d expect of the class-leading act that this car very recently still was.

With a design sufficiently charismatic and alluring to bring younger family buyers into Volvo showrooms, the XC40 backs up its funky exterior with a cabin of laudable richness, comfort, usability and quality. While this isn’t the most practical car in the compact SUV class, it certainly has plenty of luxury-car ambience, not to mention all the in-car technology you’d hope for.

The XC40’s ride and handling represents Volvo at its best and the small family 4×4 at its most relaxing. Rather than chasing other premium brands for driver appeal, the Volvo is happy to play the comfortable, refined, convenient and easy-to-use option – and it’s an effective one. If an SUV’s mission is to lift its driver above the hustle and bustle and filter out the pain from the daily grind, few do it better.

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3. Mazda CX-5

This is arguably the best-looking SUV on the market and objectively much more refined than its predecessor, with respectable fuel economy and an unusual level of handling verve for this class.

The CX-5’s interior is both solid and quietly stylish, and offers plenty of cabin and boot space. CO2 emissions are a little on the high side, while the engine pumping it out is torquey if you opt for the diesel but no world-beater. Prices start a little higher than for some SUV rivals, but standard equipment is generous.

The CX-5 offers a healthy mix of fun, frugality and family-friendly space, and deserves serious consideration from buyers who want a car that does a little bit of everything.

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4. Volkswagen Tiguan

The Tiguan is Volkswagen’s third-bestselling model after the Golf and Polo hatchbacks. It’s flexible, spacious, solidly built, comfortable and refined. With just a little more driver engagement, it would be an even more formidable package – but even as it is, it takes some beating. It’s a slightly pricey option and its interior isn’t particularly interesting, but what it lacks in visual drama it more than makes up for in solidity. 

The car’s driving experience is a little bit spec-sensitive: with the better, more powerful engines and adaptive suspension, the Tiguan performs and handles very well, and rides with all the sophistication you’ll want – but the more basic versions are more dynamically ordinary.

A premium offering? Perhaps not in every sense, but it’s a cut above most cars in the growing compact SUV segment.

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5. BMW X1

BMW’s SUV range is growing all the time, but its smallest remains one of our top picks for those who want a practical small family car with a bit of dynamic bite. Among all the premium crossovers, it’s relatively practical, handles well and is plush inside.

It’s far less pricey than the Range Rover Evoque, despite being several thousand pounds up on the more mass-market offerings in this list. It’s also among the firmer-riding SUVs in this bracket, and rather disappointingly is one of the less fuel efficient in the real world. 

It’s practical, however, and being part-SUV and part-crossover hatchback, comes with an appealing blend of space and compactness than drivers of more sporting tastes will appreciate.

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6. Audi Q3

If the second-generation Q3 looks familiar, that’s because the design is heavily influenced by the aggression of Audi’s sloping-roof Q8 flagship. And along with a growth spurt for the wheelbase – freeing up much-needed space for rear-seat passengers – even the base 1.5-litre 35 TFSI Sport now comes generously equipped, with LED lights, MMI Navigation Plus, a 10.2in Virtual Cockpit and rear parking sensors as standard.

But for all its clean-cut sophistication and cabin integrity, early impressions suggest this chassis doesn’t ride with quite the same suppleness as that of the class-leading Volvo XC40 – while diesel-engined versions are uncharacteristically short on mechanical refinement. 

Neither does the Q3’s precise though remote handling particularly impress. Though unflappable and incisive enough, it doesn’t match up to the involvement you’ll enjoy in Mazda’s CX-5. 

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7. Jaguar E-Pace

Jaguar’s follow-up act for the successful F-Pace SUV will certainly catch your eye when you first see it. As you’ll likely guess from the look of its curvaceous bodywork, it’s not the most practical compact SUV in the segment, but the richness of its interior for the most part convinces you that it feels like the luxury prospect you took it for.

Some underwhelming four-cylinder diesel engines and a slow-shifting nine-speed automatic gearbox are foremost among the reasons why some versions of the car fail to deliver the sporting driving experience you expect of a Jaguar – although both perform smoothly, and more than adequately, most of the time.

The E-Pace’s handling, too, is less distinguished than it might be. Although top-of-the-line turbocharged petrol versions of the car are certainly athletic and exciting enough to drive, there’s less to praise mid-range versions of the car for – so much so that, if you covered up the emblem on the steering wheel, you’d be hard pushed to identify that you were driving a Jaguar at all with many of them.

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8. Peugeot 3008

In the hotly contested SUV market, the 3008’s sharp looks help it to stand out from the crowd – even if its engine refinement, handling and interior space don’t. What it lacks in handling verve, though, it makes up for with generous standard equipment, and with a smattering of rich, high-quality materials inside.

It’ll take many drivers some time to get used to the car’s downsized steering wheel, which seems even more incongruous in an SUV than it does in smaller models, and while Peugeot’s i-Cockpit layout is eye-catching, it’s also more widely ergonomically flawed.

The 3008 is fairly competitively priced, but doesn’t offer as much interior space as rivals.

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9. DS 7 Crossback

Several of the cars in this class offer an intriguing leftfield take on downsized, high-rise motoring luxury, but none do it quite like the DS 7 Crossback. This new SUV flagship has ornate (though derivative) exterior styling, is upholstered in lavishly upmarket materials and has the imaginative flourish of a car built to stand out.

To drive, the car stands out for as many of the wrong reasons as the right ones. Its digital instruments are unusual but hard to read, its perceived quality isn’t as high as it might be across the board, and while it rides softly and can be comfortable and refined at times, at other times it can be brittle-riding, remote-handling and imprecise to place.

With closer attention to detail to the finer points of the driving experience, the DS 7 could have ranked up there with the XC40, which is a car of a similar type but executed much more successfully. As it stands, it’s a car of untapped potential.

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10. Citroen C5 Aircross

It’s taken a while for Citroen to launch what we’d recognise as a bonafide family SUV, but with the new C5 Aircross it’s finally plugged that gap in its model line-up. 

This striking French SUV is all about comfort, and its soft-edged ride quality is intended to hark back to those wonderfully wafty Citroens of yesteryear. Trick new Progressive Hydraulic Cushion suspension – first seen on the refreshed C4 Cactus – is key to helping it achieve its aim; as are its Advanced Comfort seats.

While there is an undoubtedly pliant and absorbant edge to its ride quality, it’s execution isn’t quite as successful as Citroen likely hoped it would be. It doesn’t handle with quite the same levels of conviction as those models towards the top of this list, either. There’s a good amount of space in its cabin, though; and material fit and finish is to a decent enough quality. Had Citroen pulled off its comfort-biased focus with a deal more conviction, chances are the C5 Aircross would place higher up this list.

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