Driving a “car” is going out of style. Only an estimated 30% of passenger vehicles sold this year will be traditional passenger cars. Sport utility vehicles (SUVs) have taken over as king of the road as they are expected to exceed 50% of all US auto sales in 2020.
That doesn’t mean everyone is turning toward massive, hulking SUVs. It’s the compact SUV category that has become the largest of all vehicle sales categories.
It’s easy to see why. Compact and subcompact SUVs offer better visibility with their higher seating positions and more interior space than sedans…and they’re generally more affordable, fuel efficient and carlike to drive than full-size SUVs.
Compact and subcompact SUV buyers have dozens of options to choose from this year, including all-new and newly redesigned models, as automakers battle for market share in this competitive segment. Among the very best compact and subcompact SUV models…
Even though they’re called “compact,” if your previous vehicle was a sedan or a hatchback, these SUVs are likely to seem downright roomy inside. Just don’t expect the three rows of seating or vanlike cargo volume of a full-size SUV or minivan.
Best value:The Honda CR-V is a tremendously reliable, versatile, well-executed vehicle for a very reasonable price. Its 75.8 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats folded down is impressive for a vehicle that rides and handles like a midsize sedan. Models above the entry-level LX version come with the Honda Sensing package standard, which includes lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control and more. This isn’t the sort of vehicle car buyers tend to fall in love with on a test drive—its styling and acceleration don’t stand out from the pack. It’s the sort of vehicle they grow to love over the years, as it delivers mile after mile of unfailingly competent, problem-free driving. And if they ever do decide to sell, CR-V resale values are among the best in the industry. The base 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine delivers 26 miles per gallon (mpg) city/32 highway. Prices start at $25,395 for the entry-level LX trim. Tip: Consider paying a little more for the EX version, which comes with not only the Honda Sensing safety technology package but also a 1.5-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder engine that delivers better fuel economy than the LX (28 mpg city/34 highway) and slightly more power. The EX starts at $28,295.
Best for great fuel efficiency: The Toyota RAV4 Hybrid delivers best-in-class fuel efficiency of 41 mpg city/38 highway. That’s not the only reason to like this RAV4—it nearly matches the Honda CR-V in terms of reliability, resale values and overall quality. It is well-equipped—Toyota’s Safety Sense 2.0 system, which includes adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning with steer assist and more, is standard. A 2019 re-design upgraded the RAV4’s previously forgettable handling and styling—the new exterior styling is rugged and angular, and the cabin now is attractive for the class, thanks in part to an abundance of “soft touch” surfaces that convey a sense of class and comfort above the plasticky cabins of some SUVs in this price range. And unlike many fuel-economy-focused hybrids, the RAV4 Hybrid has got some pep—219 horsepower (hp). Starting price is a very reasonable $29,035. The gas-powered RAV4, which starts at $26,835 and gets 26 mpg city/35 highway, is a fine vehicle, too, but many buyers likely will conclude that it’s worth paying a little more for the hybrid’s superior fuel economy.
Best luxury SUV experience for a reasonable price: The Lincoln Corsair (pictured above),a brand-new SUV for the 2020 model year, is sumptuous. Its ride and seats are soft and comfortable. Its cabin is quiet and refined, with abundant leather and a low, wide dash that seems to sweep around you. The base 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine provides a more-than-adequate 250 hp. The Corsair isn’t as sporty as a BMW or Audi compact luxury SUV—it isn’t trying to be. Lincoln set out to deliver a calm, luxurious driving experience, not a sporty one, and it succeeded. Driving the Lincoln Corsair is the automotive equivalent of relaxing in a peaceful sanctuary. It’s expected to reach showrooms in the fall, with fuel economy in the neighborhood of 21 mpg city/28 highway (official fuel-economy figures have not yet been released). Prices are likely to start at around $35,000.
Best driving dynamics: The Porsche Macan is a compact SUV, but it’s also every bit a Porsche, with tremendously nimble handling and impressive acceleration. With the base 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, it can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds…and with the 3.0-liter turbocharged V6, it can do so in 4.9 seconds. It’s simply fabulous to drive. Really the only time the Macan doesn’t seem like a Porsche is when you glance over your shoulder and notice that there are backseat passengers or cargo behind you—the Macan’s 52.9 cubic feet of cargo space with the backseats folded down is on the low side for a compact SUV, but it’s a ton of space for a vehicle that’s this much fun to drive. This is the best-selling Porsche for a reason—it’s not just a Porsche, it’s also a versatile daily driver. Fuel economy is 20 mpg city/25 highway with the base engine. Prices start at $51,150.
Subcompact SUVs typically are less than 165 inches in length—that’s just 13 feet, 9 inches. These often are more economy-minded vehicles than compact SUVs, and some are not offered with all-wheel drive. One automaker dominates this category—Hyundai. Everything the automaker has rolled out in the category has been well-made, attractively priced and loaded with impressive standard features. In fact, the only automaker that truly gives Hyundai a run for its money with subcompact SUVs is Kia—and Kia is partly owned by Hyundai.
Best if low price is your top priority: The Hyundai Venue, a new, pint-sized SUV expected to reach showrooms in late 2019 as part of the 2020 model year, appears poised to become the best SUV you can buy for well under $20,000. It hasn’t yet been made available for test drives, but from what we know, it soon will join other Hyundai models as best in class. It is attractively styled and comes equipped with modern safety technology such as forward-collision avoidance and lane-keep assist standard, a rarity for vehicles in this price range. Like the other Hyundais and Kias on this list, it comes with the best warranty in the industry—the powertrain is covered for 10 years or 100,000 miles. The Venue is unquestionably tiny by SUV standards—its 31.9 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats folded down is less than half that of many compact SUVs—but that’s still a lot more spacious than the sedans available in this price range. One downside: It will be offered only with front-wheel drive, not all-wheel drive. Overall fuel economy is expected to be around 33 mpg, though official figures are not yet available. Its starting price is expected to be around $17,000.
Best for interior space in a subcompact: The Kia Soul is small on the outside but big on the inside. Though less than 14 feet long, it offers impressive headroom and 24.2 cubic feet of cargo space—62.1 with the rear seats folded down. A redesign for the 2020 model year, already available, improved upon the Soul’s boxy-yet-appealing styling with distinctive, narrow headlights and a sleeker, more modern look all around. The latest Soul has a soft, quiet ride for the class, too. However, like the Venue, it’s not available with all-wheel drive. Fuel economy is 27 mpg city/33 highway. Prices start at $18,485.
Best overall value: The Hyundai Kona is a fabulous SUV with an economy-car sticker price. It is spacious inside for a subcompact—45.8 cubic feet of cargo space with rear seats folded down—though not as roomy as the Kia Soul. It’s well-equipped—modern safety features such as automatic emergency braking are included standard. The Kona’s cabin is more stylish and upscale than you would expect in this price range. And its comfortable-yet-agile ride is a joy to drive. There’s no other car in this price range that can make you feel as special behind the wheel. If acceleration is a priority, opt for the spirited 175-hp 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine over the base 2.0-liter 147-hp four-cylinder. Fuel economy is 27 mpg city/33 highway with the base engine, or 28/32 with the turbocharged option. Prices start at $21,035.
Best all-electric subcompact SUV: The Hyundai Kona Electric combines the winning qualities of the gas-powered Kona, above, with a peppy 201-hp electric motor that does away with gas bills and delivers an impressive 258 miles of range. A full battery recharge takes around 9.5 hours with a 240-volt charger. The electric Kona is not available with all-wheel drive, however, and it’s not currently being sold in all markets—initial rollout is in the West and Northeast. (If it’s not available in your area, the Kia Soul EV is the next-best electric subcompact SUV.) Prices start at $37,995, though a $7,500 federal tax credit effectively lowers that to just above $30,000, which is more affordable than most all-electric cars.
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