The modern crossover SUV is here to stay, and the compact crossover segment is the fastest-growing part of the segment, with almost every manufacturer either competing in the class or planning to.
On the whole, it’s not a class made up of interesting or dynamically alluring cars, but rather high-rise superminis with added space and convenience – and, if you’re willing to pay for it, a premium badge to match. Even some of the best examples of the breed have slightly iffy rides and stodgy handling stemming from the extra weight and raised centres of gravity associated with the breed.
These, nonetheless, are the ten best compact crossovers money can buy, should you find yourself in the market. And right now, plenty of people are.
1. Volkswagen T-Cross
Volkswagen has watched and waited as its rivals have rushed to cash in on the popularity of cars like this – and the firm’s first compact crossover, the T-Cross, feels very much like the sort of car that’s been judged and executed with care.
Sitting right in the middle of the class on size and price, the T-Cross rises higher than some of its rivals, and has more SUV-typical styling than others. The engine range is limited, for now, to a pair of 1.0-litre turbocharged three-pot petrols, with a 1.6-litre diesel likely to be added later in 2019.
We’ve driven both 94- and 113bhp tunes of the 1.0-litre TSI and, while the latter is a little bit faster and more drivable (thanks in no small part to having an extra cog in its manual gearbox than the former), neither version feels slow. Refinement is good, economy likewise (both cars are well capable of 50mpg on a longer out-of-town trip) and ride and handling are nicely resolved with a sense of pragmatic compliance and low-speed cushioning to the ride that should endear the car to owners.
Practicality is very good for such a compact car, a standard-fit sliding rear bench adding versatility when you need to carry bulkier items. So overall, while perceived cabin quality isn’t quite as good as you might expect from Volkswagen, the T-Cross is easily good enough to be our class-leading recommendation.
2. Seat Arona
The Seat Arona beat the related T-Cross to the UK market by a year, and was our top pick of the class for a while. Now, albeit only in comparison to the T-Cross, its interior doesn’t seem quite as accommodating as it once did, and its driving experience isn’t quite as well-rounded.
The Arona’s interior is a little bit staid and its handling more bland than that of Seat’s other sportier-than-the-norm models, but the car has strong refinement and drivability and a broader range of engines than is offered in the VW.
In a class pitched for style, convenience and practicality, the Arona offers more than most of its rivals, with slightly higher pricing than the class average offset by top-notch infotainment and solidity of tactile feel.
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3. Renault Captur
This has been the best-selling supermini SUV in Europe for a good few years of late, although dynamically it doesn’t match up to Renaults past. Being based on the Clio is a good starting point, though, and the Captur has usurped its supermini sister’s success, even if it has a slight body control problem that makes it considerably less settled to drive over bumpy roads: a common segment failing. Otherwise the relatively supple and fluid handling of the Captur remains a good advert for it.
As with the Seat Arona, the Captur packs style with funky two-tone paint options, with a little bit of the interior versatility of an MPV. Style-wise, it’s far more supermini than rugged off-roader. Price-wise, it’s bang in the middle of the segment.
4. Mazda CX-3
Mazda’s compact crossover is one of the best-handling out there, but it’s got a bit less space – in both the boot and the back row – than the class norm, and a high price compared with more practically-oriented competitors. It’s good looking, too, with a handsome exterior and well-appointed interior.
Diesels aren’t nearly as tidy-handling and -riding as petrols, even though they’re punchy and frugal; although most in this class by a petrol engine in any case.
That leaves this Mazda as a bit of a hard sell when considering the four-figure relative savings on similar, and better, rivals – but it’s still a car we like for good reasons.
5. Audi Q2
Audi has become the first of the German premium brand triumverate to throw its cap into the compact crossover ring – and it has done that far more convincingly with the Q2 than Mercedes-Benz or BMW has, over the years, when attempting to miniaturise a premium SUV.
Don’t expect off-road prowess – not least because it’s not expected of cars like this, with few even offering four-wheel drive. Still, you won’t be disappointed with the Q2’s plush interior, its alternative styling or its surprisingly keen handling.
Mini’s Countryman might beat it on fashion appeal for some buyers, but it’s a far less polished package than Audi’s jacked-up hatch. Far pricier than the usual supermini-SUV suspects, but cheaper than key premium rivals, the Q2 squeezes into our class top five.
6. Citroen C3 Aircross
The C3 Aircross replaces the C3 Picasso in the Citroën range, as SUVs pulverise the MPV segment in Europe. It’s one of the better-value cars in this class, as well as one of the most comfortable, with a typically-Citroën level of quirkiness on the interior, despite the lack of quality feel.
It’s a pity that the handling is quite so bland, and that neither refinement nor responsive, easily drivable performance particularly recommend the car. Details like good gearshift quality and assured steering feel are dynamic details that Citroen often fails to attend to, and they’ve been a bit neglected here, too.
Practicality is, at least, on par with the best cars in the class, while the C3 Aircross’ style sets it apart from rivals.
7. Nissan Juke
The car that set the B-SUV segment alight a decade ago, Nissan’s genre-defining Juke is a little long in the tooth now. That aside, it’s decent value and handles better than some in the class thanks to it relatively modest size and weight and its lowish centre of gravity.
A price point near the bottom of the pack is helping to continue to shift the Juke in large numbers, despite the cramped rear and plasticky interior having fallen behind the best-in-class a long while ago.
Still the daddy when it comes to sales volume in the UK, though.
8. DS 3 Crossback
The latest premium brand addition to the class is also the first to use PSA-Peugeot-Citroen’s ‘CMP’ supermini platform – and will be the first to bring an electric powertrain to the class also. The DS3 Crossback is roughly mid-sized, although high prices do limit its appeal a bit.
It’s styled on the theme of designer luxury goods, like so many of DS Automobiles’ models, with richer materials helping to lift the cabin ambience – at least until you happen across the cheaper-feeling elements. Practicality is competitive without being outstanding, with a high shoulder line giving the rear quarters a particularly claustrophic feel.
PSA’s 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol engine makes up the majority of the engine range, which extends from 99bhp up to 153-, with a 99bhp 1.5-litre diesel also included. The car’s driving experience is generally pleasing enough: the car is pliant-riding without feeling soft, it’s generally refined, and its intuitive and predictable in its handling.
9. Suzuki Vitara
The Vitara is a little more robust and rugged than many in this class; but with that badge on its hatchback, it’d have to be.
It’d be a mistake to call it a genuine offroader, but there are at least a couple of four-wheel drive versions which make use of Suzuki’s ‘Allgrip’ clutch-based four-wheel drive system – and with which you can partner either manual or automatic gearboxes. The diesel engine that was once offered on the car has recently been removed from sale, so it’s strictly a choice between 1.0-litre and 1.4-litre turbo petrols of 109- and 138bhp respectively.
The car is nimbler than it looks, better appointed on the interior than the pictures would suggest, and handles more neatly than you’d expect. Rival-undercutting prices make it a tempting buy, although it’s not quite as practical as other names in this list. But if Suzuki sharpens the steering, improves the interior quality and carves out a bit more second-row occupant space, it could leap higher on this list.
10. Dacia Duster
Nothing more or less than the cheapest small SUV you can buy. In full – a pretty capable off-roader, and a spacious and frugal family car, albeit with dynamic shortcomings and a crash safety rating a rung or two below competitors.
Sure, the diesel is more expensive than the entry-level petrol, and it’s a noisy old thing at that, but for the money, only secondhand comes close. Strictly for the space and capability it affords for the money, it’s in a class all of its own.