Top 10 Best Small SUVs on the Market

In the last decade the SUV has taken over. No longer are they just intended for those seeking adventure and off-roading experiences, but they have become safe options for drivers who must navigate weatherworn roads or are conscious about fuel economy and affordability.

In particular, the small SUVs are dominating the market as people search for upgrades from their sedans with the power and functionality of a full-size SUV. But which is the best bet when buyers are perusing the small SUVs on the market?

With help from various research and testing sites this list will breakdown the top small SUVs from 2018-2019 while also offering some insight into the weaknesses of each vehicle so readers can make a choice based on what works for them.

10. Ford Escape

The Positives

For a small SUV, the Ford Escape certainly straddles the line and comes close to being a mid-size with the amount of space it offers. The cabin is impressive and comfortable and with the 2019 being the 3rd generation of the Escape, Ford has integrated the Sync infotainment 3 system which is intuitive and easy to use. The handling of the Escape makes the transition from sedan-driver to SUV-driver seamless as it is extremely responsive in all types of conditions. According to Edmunds.com the acceleration from the Titanium trim level’s 2.0L turbocharged engine certainly a strength.

The Negatives

Just as the strength of the Titanium trim’s engine was doted on, it must be noted that the acceleration and overall power that the turbocharged engine offers significantly hinders the fuel economy on the Escape. Alternatively, but also negatively, the 1.5L offers impressive fuel economy but lacks any punch at all. Finally, the Ford dashboard seems dated and bland since making very little changes since 2013 and the Escape lags competitors who have been consistently reaching for a modern and stylish interior.

9. Hyundai Tucson

The Positives

The new and improved Tucson made it back on to the Cars.com top SUV listings in 2019, and rightfully so. As one of the most affordable small SUVs on this list, the Tucson offers a wealth of tech and features. The Tucson’s interior is really where it stands apart. The materials used in the cabin and the style of the dashboard is outstanding and significantly better than its rivals. The comfortable, and quiet, ride on every road as well as the infotainment system makes the Tucson an affordable, feature-laden option for buyers.

The Negatives

While the base price of the Tucson is impressive, buyers will have to be conscious of the money they are losing at the pumps as the Tucson’s fuel economy does not quite keep up with competitors. Additionally, the acceleration is rather sluggish which, coupled with the poor fuel economy, makes it a bit of an anomaly. Finally, while we are talking small SUVs, they still need to have ample cargo and storage space, another area that the Tucson falls short in comparison with rivals.

8. Nissan Rouge

The Positives

While the Rogue doesn’t often lead its class in any categories, it is almost always found in the top three. What makes the Rogue stand apart are the impressive and continually improving safety features which are a necessity for many drivers – especially those with families. Additionally, many of these safety aides come standard with all models. The ride quality and comfort in the cabin and the cargo room offered in the Rogue ranked it second in this category just behind the Tiguan. Overall, the Rouge is an extremely safe and smooth choice for a small SUV.

The Negatives

On the downside, the modestly powered four-cylinder engine and sluggish continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) struggle affect the acceleration of the Rogue in a big way. Also, the Rogue fails to offer the same kind of handling capabilities that you’ll find in its competitors. The dated-looking infotainment system lowers the Rogue’s score as well, but standard smartphone integration does alleviate the issue somewhat.

7. Subaru Forester

The Positives

Subaru owners have been fiercely loyal to their brand for years and the Forester has rewarded them with excellent durability and reliability over that time. The 2019 Forester walks the delicate line of offering a brand new version of the Forester in every way without leaving the loyal fans missing a piece of the past. The 2.5L four-cylinder engine is much more powerful than its predecessor and the increased ground-clearance has made the off-roading capabilities much better. Consistent with the Forester look, the lengthy cabin offers large amounts of cargo space. In terms of awards, the 2019 Forester was chosen as one of Edmunds top small SUVs.

The Negatives

The Forester loses points for its interior design that has an excessive number of knobs and dials that seem unnecessary. While the infotainment system is quite intuitive according to Cars.com, the mess of extra buttons is confusing. The lackluster towing abilities reduces the Forester’s maximum utility due in part to the fact that although the new engine is more powerful than the previous Forester, it still lacks in comparison to competitors.

6. GMC Terrain

The Positives

The GMC Terrain is an excellent option in the compact SUV class with its impressive fuel economy, luxurious interior design and premium materials. The price point of the Terrain ensures the buyer is getting plenty of amenities and features for what they pay. GMC’s touchscreen interface is well beyond many of their competitors as the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto technology is very impressive. The 2019 Terrain optional, and suggested, 2.0L Engine expertly offers a powerful engine without sacrificing any efficiency. Low base price and money saved at the pumps give the Terrain an edge on competitors.

The Negatives

The Terrain lacks the cargo capabilities in the Terrain are somewhat lackluster, particularly behind the backseat. While the Terrain does offer top of the line safety amenities and aides, they are not offered at every level and the higher trim levels start to get quite pricey. Additionally, the ride quality is mediocre in that it is quit rough and noisy. GMC is known for offering luxury vehicles and the Terrain holds a unique spot as a compact SUV that can come fully-loaded and stylish. However, this requires the high trim level and pushes it towards the upper echelon of cost amongst rivals.

5. Honda CR-V

The Positives

Year after year the CR-V is one of, if not the, highest selling small SUVs on the market not because it is cheap but because it is truly one of the absolute best options for buyers. Edmunds awarded the 2019 CR-V with awards in the Best Family Cars, Best Family SUVs and Best Small SUVs categories, which is not something to ignore. The CR-V checks nearly every box – ample cargo space, impressive and top of the line safety features, best-in-class fuel economy and acceleration. There is a reason that the CR-V tops a lot of lists as the best small SUV and its because it excels in nearly every category – it is safe, reliable, efficient and innovative.

The Negatives

The list of cons for the CR-V is short but it does have a few. The touchscreen used for the infotainment system is difficult to use the design of the dashboard and screen is clunky and slightly awkward. On the road, the CR-V lost points a dismal effort in acceleration and once the vehicle got going, the ride could get quite rough at times with unsophisticated suspension. While the CR-V is very affordable, some amenities like the moonroof and others are only found in the higher trim levels, significantly affecting the price.

4. Toyota RAV4

The Positives

The RAV4 has been a staple on small SUV lists for nearly a decade now – almost always occupying a spot in the top 5. The brand new, fifth generation of the RAV4 came out in 2019 and the retooling was impressive. The quiet interior and ride quality is top of it’s class and although Toyota has not always been a leader in safety features, the fifth gen RAV4 makes up for lost time and more with adaptive cruise control and lane departure technology. The RAV4 scores exceptionally well in fuel economy as it leads the small SUV class in both Cars.com and Edmunds rankings.

The Negatives

One of the downfalls of a complete redesign is that sometimes the changes are not always positive. For example, the new rear seating in the RAV4 – previously a strength – now rates lowest in its class according to Cars.com. Another downfall comes from the fact that the RAV4 was one of the only vehicles on this list to offer Apple CarPlay but not Android Auto which is a huge negative for a large part of the population. Finally, the single option engine lacks power and there are no other options to choose from.

3. Chevrolet Equinox

The Positives

The research and testing shows that an upgrade from the 1.5L Equinox to the 2.0L engine provides an impressive power to efficiency ratio and handles extremely well on winding and complex roads. In particular, the handling and steering is balanced and leaves the driver with a sense of control and safety. The Equinox offers a feel that is akin to the compact class in that it is fun and responsive to drive while not sacrificing a sense of security. Also, Chevrolet routinely gets high grades for in-cabin infotainment and technology options and have largely mastered the seamless integration of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Overall, Chevrolet does the SUV thing right.

The Negatives

Considering the price of the Equinox, the material used in the interior are not particularly impressive. Also, when looking at its competitors, there is a lack of cargo space in Equinox that may make buys shy away. While the handling of the vehicle is precise, stable and smooth, it is not the most powerful small SUV on the market – it certainly is not at the bottom of the power scale, but it is not at the top either.

2. Mazda CX-5

The Positives

For over half a decade now the CX-5 has been routinely one of the absolute best choices for a small SUV. The common Mazda handling makes it extremely fun to drive and oft makes you forget that you are not actually in a Miata. In the cabin the stylish and futuristic choices are outstanding and upscale and with the 2019 version of the CX-5 Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration have been added. Another addition comes in the form of the optional turbocharged engine which provides plenty of power while the sound insulation in the cabin makes it feel like you’re not even moving.

The Negatives

The few complaints there are about the CX-5 a minuscule at best. There is slightly less leg room in the rear seat when compared with competitors for one which is because the cargo area behind the rear seat is expansive and cavernous. Despite the ride being extremely quiet, the vehicle can ride a bit bumpy and rough at times if the conditions are poor. Finally, the base level engine does not offer as much power as the other trim levels which leaves some drivers wanting more.

1. Volkswagen Tiguan

The Positives

Volkswagen has taken an exceptional and huge step forward with the second generation of the Tiguan. Not only have they improved the exterior look – which is now flashy and exciting without sacrificing class – they have topped the class in almost every category. According to Cars.com, the Tiguan topped or tied in a staggering nine out of 16 categories: front seats, rear seats, multimedia and controls, interior quality, powertrain, handling, noise, cargo storage and child-seat fitment. There is tons of seating space and it is the quietest cabin with the newest tech. It is an impressive vehicle and certainly the best small SUV on the market.

The Negatives

The only area where the Tiguan actually lagged was in the fuel economy testing and while it did finish last in this category it was also tied with 4 of its competitors so it certainly is not a significant failure. Moreover, the Tiguan came in the middle of the pack when considering cargo space. While there is plenty of seating space for passengers, the ability to haul goods is slightly reduced.

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