These are the best small SUVs you can buy in 2021
Y’know, if hatchbacks and estates just make too much sense, or something
If you’re old (and English) enough, you’ll remember the old Ford Puma was a Fiesta-based coupe, adding some style and flair to the more straitlaced hatchback. The new Puma’s roughly the same formula, just updated for today’s tastes, i.e. small SUVs. It has handy storage, good tech and the not-insignificant benefit of being based on the modern Fiesta, a brilliant-handling little hatch.Advertisement - Page continues below
Yeah, like Cougar, except that Ford already had one of those and didn’t want to recycle the name. And yet they were perfectly happy to do it for the Puma... Anywho, you’re getting a small SUV based on the Ford Focus, which is never a bad place to start. Add in a huge choice of engines, a whole raft of tech and big interior space and it’s not hard to see why Ford’s sold more than a million of them.
Never heard of the Bayon? It’s forgivable; small SUVs seem to multiply like the mops in Disney’s Fantasia. That said, much like Disney, you’ll likely see the Bayon everywhere, given that it’s a properly small SUV (based on the i20 hatch, to give you an idea of size) that does a remarkable job of being unremarkable, but utterly dependable.Advertisement - Page continues below
The Kona’s opening salvo is its styling, and it’ll likely jump to the front or the back of your list based purely on that. Underneath the stylistic flourishes lies a refined powertrain, a bevy of toys... and handling that’s just not up to Ford’s small SUVs. That said, there’s a full EV version, which one-ups Ford.
For those non-Arizonans in the room, it’s pronounced ‘too-sonn’, and, when combined with Hyundai (hyun-day, for the non-Koreans in the room), you get a small SUV that’s a trap to pronounce but definitely not to own. It shares the boldness of its styling with the Kona, but not the style itself – this isn’t Audi-itis, where there’s just one design, scaled to fit whichever segment the car’s going in. As a bigger... um, small SUV, there’s almost a surfeit of space; there’s also an abundance of tech and the engineering nous of a whole heap of ex-BMW employees...
You might have noticed by now that this list is unranked. That’s because it’d be arbitrary to pick a lot of these small SUVs over the others, as it’d be down to personal preference, which tends to be, y’know, personal. But the Dacia is different; among the subjective, it’s objectively cheaper, more spacious and uses proven mechanicals. Every car here is a winner in the small SUV class; the Duster is just a bit more of a winner than the others.
It’s a common conceit for something to be described as ‘new and improved’, but if anything earns it, it’s the new Mokka. The old one actually made you less happy the more you drove it – ask us how we know – where the new one is sharply styled, has proper Peugeot underpinnings (a good thing at the moment) and does what you need without making you miserable in the process. Progress.Advertisement - Page continues below
The Qashqai, as we’ve probably said to death by now, basically invented the small SUV thing, almost by fluke. To ensure it’s not a one-hit wonder, Nissan’s spent the subsequent years refining the formula and making sure its little Cashcow keeps being what people want, as well as everything they need. And if you’re a Brit, you can get your warm and fuzzies knowing that you’re supporting local industry – it’s built up in Sunderland.
A supremely strong contender in the small SUV class, the CX-5 is more practical than a bank manager’s to-do list but manages to avoid the stigma that so often follows in practicality’s wake. That’s likely down to the supremely sharp styling (a Mazda mainstay) and feeling of affordable luxury. Like upgrading to Premium Economy on an overseas flight. Remember them?Advertisement - Page continues below
This little SUV slots between the larger CX-5 and smaller CX-3, but isn’t called the CX-4 because... reasons. It hardly matters; the CX-30 handles well, offers what must be the most advanced engine of any small SUV, and has a gorgeous interior – which, unless your driving style differs vastly from ours, is what you’ll be looking at most of the time.
We hardly have to describe this one for you, do we? Chances are you or someone you know owns one – it’s Volkswagen’s best-selling car worldwide. Strange as it may seem around here, Britain’s preference for the Golf isn’t shared by the world at large. But that makes more sense than you’d think; the Tiguan is based on the Golf, and it pulls a very similar trick to the Golf – being all things to all people, and doing it with a certain reserved refinement.
You have to hand it to whoever’s in charge of the crayons over at Peugeot; even in a field that’s increasingly dominated by bold, modern designs, the 3008 knocks it out of the park with an interior that’s almost architectural, overshadowing an exterior that’s hardly difficult to look at. Helpfully, Peugeot’s also seen fit to make the 3008 measurably more useful than the 308 hatch it’s based on, rather than just taller and bigger, and similarly good to drive.
Peugeot’s on serious form at the moment, which is handy for the 2008, considering how competitive the small SUV market is. As you might expect, the 2008’s a smaller 3008, based on the 208 hatchback, as opposed to the 308. Glad we got through that. The 2008 offers a range of great petrol engines as well as an EV option, which still manages to weigh about 1.5 tonnes – a featherweight by EV standards.
If the Tiguan takes a reserved tack in its daily business, the Ateca – essentially the Tigger’s mechanical twin – does so a bit more overtly. That’s likely intentional, given that Seat’s positioned as the sporty, passionate, Spanish part of the vast Volkswagen hydra. You get VW Group engineering, just with a bit more visual flair. Pity, then, that Peugeot’s moved the goalposts on that score...
Like the Renault Clio, but feel that it’s just not spacious or expensive enough? In the past, that’d most likely mean a Megane would be on the cards, but the Captur’s here to... um, capture the buyer who also wants to sit up a bit higher, too. Like the Vauxhall Mokka, it’s vastly better than the old one, and gets all the tech and safety of the new Clio that underpins it.
After basically inventing the small SUV with the Qashqai, Nissan managed to catch lightning in a bottle a second time with the Juke. Like the original Juke, the looks are about as polarising as a set of arctic-spec sunglasses, but unlike the original Juke, there’s a broadly practical small SUV under the stylistic Marmite. Built in Sunderland too, just in case that’s something that matters to you.
The old Skoda Yeti was an oddly lovable thing – unique, idiosyncratic and personable. So for Skoda to replace it with a small SUV that offered none of the above put the Karoq on the back foot immediately. So imagine how good it must be for us to forgive it for replacing the Yeti. It rides better, drives better and comes with the VW Group’s excellent 1.5-litre engine. If we weren’t such suckers for the unusual and eccentric, we’d be able to admit all of this without gritting our teeth.
Cupra, if you’re not familiar, is Seat’s sporting sub-brand, which, by rights, makes it the sporty version of the sporty part of the VW Group. And the Formentor is Cupra’s first standalone car. It shares much with the Seat Ateca (and, by extension, a large chunk of Volkswagens, Audis, Skodas and so on), but that’s hardly a bad thing. And it’s sleek and sharp enough to make the Ateca look staid, let alone the Tiguan.
Citroen C5 Aircross
Really, the world does work better when things make sense. Music should be played loud, burger buns should be toasted and Citroens should be soft and serene, leaving all that gauche performance stuff to race cars or Germans or something. Where other small SUVs in this list either promise or produce performance, the C5 Aircross is a gentle headrub by a loved one at the end of a long day. And when the world outside is as rough as it is, isn’t there a lot to be said for something gentle?
The C4’s a bit of a weird one. It’s kind of a hatch, like the old C4s were, but now it’s somehow also a jacked-up fastback SUV with a face like an aggrieved arachnid. And we’d just gotten through saying how life’s better when things make sense. Luckily, the C4 is every bit as comfy and cosseting as its bigger, colouring-within-the-lines brother, and just as welcome a salve in these particularly stressful times.