Every 2021 Compact Crossover SUV Ranked from Worst to Best

best compact crossovers and suvs

Car and Driver

Don’t automatically assume that compact SUVs are too entry level or too small for your wants and needs. The latest entries in this booming segment offer surprisingly spacious interiors with many of the same amenities found in the mid-size segment. Pricing for compact SUVs ranges from the low $20,000 level to more than $40K. If that exceeds your budget, it’s worth considering subcompact crossovers, which are slightly smaller and more affordable. For all-around utility, however, compact crossovers have a great blend of size, capability, comfort, and utility, not to mention carlike refinement that makes them easy to drive every day.

The sheer number of choices in this category can feel overwhelming, so we’ve made it easy by ranking every compact SUV in the class from worst to first. Each entry includes the vehicle’s starting price along with fuel-economy information to help guide your search. To see how each vehicle fared, just click through.

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16. Mitsubishi Outlander

The Mitsubishi Outlander is one of the few vehicles in this class that offers a third row of seats. That third row is a tight fit for just about any size passenger, but it could be useful in a pinch. The Outlander is also offered as a plug-in hybrid that delivers around 15 miles of all-electric range before the gas engine starts to help out. In all other aspects, this is a pretty average compact SUV. The interior is unremarkable thanks to basic materials and dated electronics, while the performance from the non-hybrid engine is underwhelming. A limited number of options means there isn’t much room for improving upon the Outlander’s basic package. It edges out Mitsubishi’s other offering in this segment, the Eclipse Cross, purely because of its more spacious cabin.

16. Mitsubishi Outlander

  • Base price: $26,090
  • EPA combined: 22–27 mpg
  • All-wheel drive? Optional

15. Hyundai Nexo

If you’re thinking to yourself, “Gee, that Hyundai Nexo looks a little funny,” your instincts are correct. It is a little funny. It’s a technological powerhouse and the only hydrogen fuel-cell–powered car on this list. (And it’s one of only a few available in the United States on any list.) Its last-place finish has more to do with its limited availability, limited refueling infrastructure, and high price than its general execution, which is quite good. The Nexo is refueled with hydrogen at the few filling stations in U.S., which are found mostly in California, which is then fed into the onboard fuel-cell stacks to generate electricity. Thus, the pricey, high-tech Hyundai drives like the electric car that it is, with smooth power delivery and generally quiet operation.

15. Hyundai Nexo

  • Base price: $59,910
  • EPA combined: 56 miles/kg (56 MPGe)
  • All-wheel drive? Not available

14. Jeep Compass

One of the best things the Jeep Compass has going for it is that it resembles the larger, mid-size Grand Cherokee SUV. The Compass even has a few handsome flourishes that its bigger sibling lacks, such as a “floating” roof design and a sleeker nose. But the modern design cues don’t make up for this SUV’s lack of refinement everywhere else. The standard four-cylinder engine is weak, and the nine-speed automatic transmission that you’ll find in most Compass models (a manual is available) does little to help make up for the engine’s lack of punch. The handling is actually better than the tall, boxy profile would suggest, and the Jeep Compass can be outfitted in Trailhawk guise for off-road duty. The interior is comfortable but only average in terms of materials and refinement.

14. Jeep Compass

  • Base price: $25,390
  • EPA combined: 25–26 mpg
  • All-wheel drive? Optional

13. Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross

The Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross borrows its name from one of the brand’s legendary (and discontinued) sports cars, but it doesn’t provide driving satisfaction worthy of the title. Instead, the Eclipse Cross is a wildly styled but otherwise entirely average crossover. The standard four-cylinder engine delivers solid acceleration and a refined feel that is marred only slightly by the continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). The suspension tuning is on the soft side, so it favors comfort over performance. A nice selection of materials makes this Mitsubishi’s interior feel more expensive than you might expect, and the general layout of the controls is simple and easy to use. Passenger and cargo space is about average with reasonably comfortable seats that fold down in back for handy additional storage.

13. Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross

  • Base price: $24,190
  • EPA combined: 25–27 mpg
  • All-wheel drive? Optional

12. Jeep Cherokee

Confused by Jeep’s crowded small SUV lineup? The automaker sells three crossovers with at least some size and price overlap. The subcompact Renegade (on the large end of its one-size-smaller class), the compact Compass (found elsewhere in this roundup), and finally the slightly-larger-outside-but-no-bigger-inside Jeep Cherokee you see here. In fact, the smaller, cheaper Compass boasts more interior and cargo space than does this Cherokee, but it lacks the Cherokee’s nicer interior and six-cylinder and turbocharged four-cylinder engine options. Similar to the Compass, the Cherokee can be outfitted for serious off-road excursions, but some of the higher trim levels (including the off-road-ready Trailhawk) are considerably more expensive. Recent updates added cargo room, but the Jeep Cherokee still lags behind the class leaders by a wide margin.

12. Jeep Cherokee

  • Base price: $27,785
  • EPA combined: 21–26 mpg
  • All-wheel drive? Optional

11. GMC Terrain

Love or hate the GMC Terrain’s blocky looks, there’s no question the SUV’s mechanicals aim to please. Lighter and more refined than its predecessor, the latest Terrain offers a choice of two turbocharged four-cylinder engines: a 170-hp 1.5-liter and a punchy 2.0-liter with 252 horsepower. The ride is on the firm side, however, and like its Chevrolet-badged Equinox sibling, the build quality inside leaves much to be desired given the GMC’s price point. While we appreciate the standard touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, including a 4G LTE data connection with a Wi-Fi hotspot, the GMC Terrain’s push/pull-button transmission controls buried low on the center console are weird and take some getting used to.

11. GMC Terrain

  • Base price: $26,195
  • EPA combined: 23–32 mpg
  • All-wheel drive? Optional

10. Chevrolet Equinox

What places the Chevrolet Equinox ahead of its mechanical sibling, the GMC Terrain? Other than its cleaner, less rambunctious looks, the Equinox’s more adventurous interior styling hides its mediocre build quality better than the GMC’s blockier, more rectilinear cabin. Plus, the Chevy lacks the Terrain’s odd button-operated transmission controls. Exterior styling (and conventional shifter) aside, the Chevy offers the same turbocharged engine lineup, consisting of 1.5- and 2.0-liter gas four-cylinders. We would avoid the base engine, if possible; its lackluster performance is a big step down from the gutsy 2.0-liter. All Chevy Equinox trim levels deliver solid handling and ride quality, but you might think twice about the optional 19-inch wheels, which make the ride overly stiff. A refreshed Equinox will go on sale sometime in 2021.

10. Chevrolet Equinox

  • Base price: $24,995
  • EPA combined: 24–32 mpg
  • All-wheel drive? Optional

9. Ford Escape

The new Ford Escape compact SUV looks far more carlike than its predecessor. Not a surprise, really, as the latest Escape has to help fill the void left by several discontinued Ford models, including the Focus, Fusion, and Taurus sedans. To give the Escape a wide range of abilities, it’s available with two gas engines, a gas-electric hybrid, and a plug-in hybrid. The base 181-hp 1.5-liter gas engine delivers adequate performance, while the optional 252-hp 2.0-liter engine makes the Escape quite zippy. The hybrid version pairs a 2.5-liter gas engine with two electric motors and delivers an EPA rating of 41 mpg combined. We like the refined ride quality of the Ford Escape as well as its spacious cabin and modern features. Aside from a few cheap-looking cabin materials, it’s a well-executed vehicle that competes competently in the class.

9. Ford Escape

  • Base price: $26,130
  • EPA combined: 26–41 mpg
  • All-wheel drive? Optional

8. Kia Sportage

If you can get past the Kia Sportage’s different-looking face and into the driver’s seat, you’ll find a tasteful interior that’s almost Audi-like in its detail. A long list of standard features makes it pleasantly inviting, even in the lower trim levels. The driving experience similarly exceeds expectations, with good handling and reassuring brakes. Kia offers two engines: a base 2.4-liter four-cylinder that is pretty weak and an optional turbocharged 2.0-liter four that makes it one of the quicker vehicles in the segment. The downside is mediocre mileage with a combined rating of 23 mpg for the turbocharged front-wheel-drive Sportage. Today’s must-haves, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as well as active-safety features such as automated emergency braking, are available on the Kia Sportage.

8. Kia Sportage

  • Base price: $25,110
  • EPA combined: 21–26 mpg
  • All-wheel drive? Optional

7. Hyundai Tucson

Even though Hyundai’s Tucson doesn’t do any one thing really well, it’s still competent at most of the things buyers in the category expect. Shoppers will find a nicely built interior with easy-to-use controls. Passenger and cargo room is about average, but we like the fact that all models come standard with a 7.0-inch touchscreen as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The chassis tuning delivers a comfortable, controlled ride, although the base 164-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine was lethargic during our testing. We suggest investigating the optional 181-hp 2.4-liter if you want more satisfying performance from this vehicle. Standard safety features like forward-collision warning and lane-keep assist add to the Hyundai Tucson crossover’s already strong value equation.

7. Hyundai Tucson

  • Base price: $24,875
  • EPA combined: 23–25 mpg
  • All-wheel drive? Optional

6. Subaru Forester

The Subaru Forester has done little to mess with this winning formula, and the Forester again offers standard all-wheel drive, excellent visibility, a roomy interior, and a capacious cargo hold. Subaru now also throws in several active-safety features such as automatic emergency braking, lane centering, and lane-departure warning as well as a rear-seat reminder system. We’re a little disappointed that the previously optional turbocharged engine is gone, along with the available manual transmission. That said, the 182-hp naturally aspirated boxer-four standard across the lineup pairs well with Subaru’s continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) to deliver smooth, reasonably peppy acceleration. It’s certainly not the quickest in the class, but the Subaru Forester is still one of the best all-around compact crossovers.

6. Subaru Forester

  • Base price: $25,845
  • EPA combined: 29 mpg
  • All-wheel drive? Standard

5. Nissan Rogue

The all-new Nissan Rogue is vastly improved over the crossover it replaces. Nissan has brought detail and refinement the last Rogue lacked, with a much better seating position and a larger package that offers more cargo room. The sole powertrain is a 181-hp 2.5-liter four-cylinder, which is not only quicker than the older model, but was also more fuel efficient during our highway fuel economy test after reaching 32 mpg with our all-wheel-drive test car. Another major improvement is the well dampened engine and CVT, which are two parts of this segment not worth listening to.

5. Nissan Rogue

  • Base price: $28,145
  • EPA combined: 28–30 mpg
  • All-wheel drive? Optional

4. Toyota RAV4

The Toyota RAV4 reverses this popular crossover’s slide into anonymity with distinctive styling, a much-improved interior that is as practical as ever, and sharper driving dynamics. It is also one of the few compact SUVs to offer a hybrid variant that provides slightly more power and considerably better fuel economy. A plug-in hybrid model with up to 40 miles of all-electric range is also available. A 302-hp RAV4 Prime is also another plug-in-hybrid option that’s quicker to 60 mph than a Toyota Supra. Android Auto is now standard along with Apple CarPlay. Our only major complaints center on the Toyota RAV4’s relatively loud four-cylinder engine. Some might enjoy the zesty engine note, but we think too much noise enters the cabin.

4. Toyota RAV4

  • Base price: $27,125
  • EPA combined: 27–40 mpg
  • All-wheel drive? Optional

3. Honda CR-V

Honda’s CR-V isn’t the sportiest or sexiest compact crossover around—that’d be the Mazda CX-5, which is next on this list—but it is well rounded. Tidy driving manners combine with a versatile, well-packaged interior to deliver just what most crossover buyers seek. For 2020, Honda made the previously optional turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine standard across the board. Similar to the Toyota RAV4, the CR-V has a noise problem; its cabin lets in a decent amount of road, wind, and engine noise at speed. But the Honda’s packaging for humans and cargo is so good that it outweighs its acoustics. It’s also worth noting that Honda added a hybrid version of the CR-V combining better fuel efficiency with all-wheel-drive control.

3. Honda CR-V

  • Base price: $26,270
  • EPA combined: 29–30 mpg
  • All-wheel drive? Optional

2. Volkswagen Tiguan

The Volkswagen Tiguan is one of the biggest offerings in the segment—large enough to squeeze in a tiny third row—and it uses that size to deliver a refined driving experience. Its only available engine is a 184-hp turbocharged four cylinder that often feels overmatched by the Tiguan’s mass, but it’s also smooth and (particularly on the freeway) quite fuel efficient. The VW’s ride is comfortable but not sporty. Like most Volkswagens, the interior is business-like with minimal style and hard materials. For 2020, the Tiguan received standard Wi-Fi connectivity to the Car-Net system and optional wireless phone charging. Don’t expect to have much cargo room when the VW Tiguan’s third-row seats are in use, but not many players in this segment even offer a third row, so it’s not a bad trade-off.

2. Volkswagen Tiguan

  • Base price: $26,440
  • EPA combined: 23–25 mpg
  • All-wheel drive? Optional

1. Mazda CX-5

Mazda’s CX-5, already lauded for its class-above interior appointments, adds a full suite of active safety features as standard equipment on all models for 2020. Lined up alongside the other crossovers on this list, the Mazda makes a convincing argument that it belongs in the fancier compact luxury crossover segment. But luxury isn’t its only game. The CX-5 also endears itself to us with steering and handling that are uncharacteristically responsive for the segment, and Mazda has further enhanced that ability with the addition of its G-Vectoring Control Plus technology. It doesn’t have the most advanced technology or the most cargo room, but the Mazda CX-5 is good at just about everything else, which is why it has been recognized again as one of our 10 Best Trucks and SUVs.

1. Mazda CX-5

  • Base price: $26,370
  • EPA combined: 24–28 mpg
  • All-wheel drive? Optional

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