Just a few years ago, finding a topnotch, subcompact SUV was like looking for a needle in a haystack. They were few and far. American car manufactures had given up on their subcompact SUVs for a while.
Does the old Jimmy Suzuki or Chevy Tracker ring a bell? These vehicles centered on light-duty truck frames and have little to no resemblance to the unibody crossovers that have littered today’s market.
Now, subcompact SUVs are not only safer and nimbler but are also packed with a boatload of innovative features even competing with their bigger compact-sized cousins. These vehicles are no longer an afterthought by manufacturers.
Instead, it’s a class that has evolved into a cutthroat rivalry for budget-conscious drivers that gravitate more towards SUVs than sedans.
With that being said, we’ve ranked the top subcompact SUV models from best to worst based on various aspects such as value, driving performance, design, and standard features.
Here are our SUV rankings:
1. Ford EcoSport
With three turbocharged cylinders that deliver 123 horsepower, the Ford EcoSport is just as economical as it is sporty. It’s also available with a 144 horsepower inline-four. When it comes to fuel efficiency, this subcompact SUV ranks at 27 mpg in the city, 29 mpg on the highway, and a combined rate of 28 mpg.
Nonetheless, it’s rivaled by the Honda HR-V and Mazda CX-3 that have an average rating of 30 mpg. With tight seating, we advise against stuffing a 3rd adult in the 2nd row. At a starting price of $21, 240, the 2020 EcoSport gives way to a maximum of 21 cubic feet of cargo section at the back. But keep in mind it lacks all-wheel-drive (AWD).
2. Mitsubishi Outlander Sport
If something seems off about this subcompact SUV, it’s possibly because it still rides on the same system from 2011. A 2-liter 4-cylinder turbo engine that delivers 148 horsepower powers the base models of the 2020 Outlander Sport.
But, there’s the option to upgrade to the 2.4-liter engine that provides 168 horsepower. At a starting price of $23,790, both engines utilize a continuously variable automatic transmission.
Regarding fuel economy, the all-wheel-drive (AWD) counterpart with a 2-liter engine has a combined rating of 28 mpg whereas the 2.4-liter Outlander Sport ranks at an average of 26 mpg. In addition to rear cargo space of 21 cubic feet, the interior contains an 8-inch touch screen with Android Auto and Apple Car Play.
Moreover, Mitsubishi offers a 100,000-mile warranty on all new Outlander Sports vehicles to drum up business.
3. Chevrolet Trax
In 2019, over 116,000 Trax were sold in the U.S, making it one of the best sellers in the segment. But, keep in mind that high sales don’t always mean quality products. Even on its highest trim, the SUV is more fleet than fancy. And, it’s just as exhilarating as C-SPAN to drive.
At a starting price of $22,295, the Chevrolet’s 4-cylinder engine that delivers 138 horsepower is on the slow end of the spectrum and doesn’t offer impressive fuel economy in return. It ranks at 26 mpg when driving around the city, 31 mpg on the highway, and a combined rate of 28 mpg. The rating is lower than the Kia Soul that has a 63 horsepower advantage than the 2020 Trax.
All the magic happens in the front row. So, owners will find the standard Android Auto and Apple Car Play, an optional monthly subscription to 4G LTE WiFi, ad lots of headroom that delivers a roomy allure. The Trax has rear cargo space of up to 18 cubic feet. And, the AWD is optional.
4. Toyota C-HR
It’s riding the fence between alright and okay. Bigger than the Honda HR-V and Nissan Juke, the 2020 CH-R (Coupe High Rider) is a 4-door subcompact crossover with reduced ground clearance compared to a Toyota Sienna minivan.
Granted, it moves slower than cold peanut butter. But, the C-HR’s 4-cylinder engine that is far from peppy produces 144 horsepower. In turn, encompassing fuel efficiency, it achieves a rating of 27 mpg in the city, 31 mpg when cruising on the highway, and an average of 29 mpg. At a starting price of $22,415, the CH-R has hidden backdoor handles that create a 2-door illusion.
And, the rest of its design sets it apart from the pack. As seen in other modern Toyota models, the C-HR provides smooth and stable rides. However, its constant automatic transmission is noisy, and the lack of power deters this subcompact SUV from getting ahead of the competition.
Nonetheless, it has safety features ranging from a forward-collision warning, adaptive cruise control, and lane-keeping assist, to an automated emergency braking system, that’ll put you at ease. While all-wheel-drive is not an option, the C-HR has rear cargo space of up to 19 cubic feet.
5. Fiat 500X
With only a handful of makes left under the struggling nameplate, the 2020 Fiat 500X is an all-wheel-drive that’s armed with a 4-cylinder turbo engine and generates 177 horsepower. All models (excluding the Sport) have 17-inch aluminum wheels that are upgradable to 18 and 19-inch.
Regardless of its base price ($26,085), the 500X has fuel-efficiency ratings than larger and more powerful rivals. It has a fuel economy rating of 30 mpg on the highway, 24 mpg in the city, and a combined 26 mpg. With 14 cubic feet of space behind the back seats that stretch up to 32 cubic feet when they’re folded, the 500X’s cargo capacity is on the lower end of the spectrum.
6. Mazda CX-3
Currently available in Sport trim, the 2020 CX-3 with a starting price of $21,740 has been outdone by the bigger CX-30. It comes in FWD and AWD and is powered by a 4-cylinder engine that produces 146 horsepower.
Nonetheless, the CX-3’s rides are slower and rougher than its rivals in the segment. While there’s the option of all-wheel-drive, the 2WD has a fuel efficiency rating of 34 mpg on the highway, 29 mpg in the city, and an average of 31 mpg.
Thus, it’s in line with most of its competitors. But, the rear cargo space of 17 cubic feet is on the lower side. It can only accommodate three carry-on suitcases behind the rear seats and up to 12 when they’re neatly folded.
7. Honda HR-V
It’s a plucky subcompact SUV that tries its hardest to match up to its rivals in the segment. But, it delivers choppy rides on rough terrain and uneven roads. The HR-V is uniquely powered by a 4-cylinder engine with 141 horsepower and a consistently variable automatic transmission.
Moreover, it’s available in front-wheel-drive (FWD) and all-wheel-drive (AWD). The HR-V shines through when it comes to fuel-efficiency. It achieves 28 mpg in the city, 34 mpg in the highway, and 31 mpg on both. The subcompact SUV’s party trick is in the 2nd row Magic Seat.
When you release it, the rear seats fold flat, thus providing extra space for hauling additional items or stack luggage for a weekend trip. You can flip the bottom cushion of the backseat, thus providing a deeper well between the rear and front seatbacks for lengthier items. The rear cargo space in front-wheel-drive is 24 cubic feet whereas, in the optional all-wheel-drive, it’s 23 cubic feet. The HR-V has a base price of $21,940.
8. Jeep Renegade
If you’re on the quest for versatility, the 2020 Renegade wraps up your search. The base model begins as a more cost-effective and compact compared to its rivals. Furthermore, the pricier High Altitude top trim treats avid off-road drivers. Nevertheless, the higher price tag doesn’t elevate some of its worst features.
The 2.4-liter engine that delivers 180 horsepower is standard. Alternatively, you can opt for a cheaper but excruciatingly slow 4-cylinder turbo 1.3-liter engine that’s three horsepower less than the 2.4-liter counterpart but gains 25 pound-feet of torque.
However, the most fuel economy way to be the proud owner of the Renegade is the front-wheel-drive (FWD) and 1.3-liter engine. So, you can expect 32 mpg on the highway, 24 mpg in the city, and 28 mpg for both. With maximum rear cargo space of 18 cubic feet even with the backseats folded flat, there’s not much to brag about the SUV’s interior.
9. Buick Encore
When it comes to infotainment and ride quality, the Buick Encore is a step up from the Chevrolet Trax, its corporate twin. However, for its fairly steep starting price of $24,195, this subcompact SUV model doesn’t deliver as much fuel efficiency and cargo area as you’d expect compared to its rivals such as the Nissan Kicks and Hyundai Kona.
So, the 2020 Encore delivers 25 mpg in the city, 30 mpg on the highway, and a combination of 27.5 mpg on both. And, it has maximum rear cargo space is 18 cubic feet. The SUV comes with a 6-speed automatic transmission and 4-cylinder engine that produces 138 horsepower. For its size, the Encore delivers comfortable drives and is sufficiently cushy over bumps.
10. Nissan Rogue Sport
It hangs in balance between the mid-sized Nissan Rogue and Kicks. But, unlike the latter, the 2020 Sport has the option of all-wheel-drive even though the front-wheel-drive is standard. It comes with a 4-cylinder engine that produces 141 horsepower and a continuously variable automatic transmission that’s fairly noisy.
While the Rogue Sport’s eye-catching design makes it stand out from the rest, its real selling point is the fuel economy. So, it has a rating of 25 mpg in the city, 32 mpg on the highway, and an average rating of 28.5 mpg.
The Rogue Sport also comes with an array of standard safety features that put drivers at ease. They range from blind-spot monitoring, and automatic emergency braking to rear cross-traffic alert. You have free rein to step up the level of safety by a few notches using equipment such as adaptive cruise control that has a semi-autonomous driving mode, and lane-keeping assist.
11. The Kia Niro
If you’re conscious about your piggy bank and carbon footprint, then the 2020 Niro could be right up your alley. It comes as a plug-in hybrid, full EV, and hybrid with a 1.6-liter engine that produces 139 horsepower. When it comes to fuel economy, this subcompact SUV has an impressive rating of 52 mpg in the city, 59 mpg when cruising on the highway, and 55.5 mpg on both.
Granted, Niro may not be as exhilarating to drive as its competitors in the segment. But, it makes up for it with the firm and stable rides. Contrary to other hybrid cars, this subcompact SUV’s rear cargo space of up to 22 cubic feet is not lowered by its battery pack.
Fortunately, the backseats don’t form a flat load on the vehicle’s floor upon folding them. So, similarly-sized rivals have more cargo storage space. At a starting price of $25,710, Niro has an amazing 10-year power-train warranty or a mileage of 100,000.
12. Subaru Crosstrek
Based on the Subaru Impreza hatchback, the 2020 Crosstrek with a base price of $23,295 is aimed at those that crave the ruggedness that crossovers bring. It’s perfect for lovers of the great outdoors or those that want to seem like it.
So, it comes with a 4-cylinder 2-liter engine that generates 152 horsepower, a 3rd pedal which is a rarity in this segment of cars, and a standard 6-speed manual transmission. You have free rein to upgrade to the more powerful 4-cylinder engine with 182 horsepower.
Regarding fuel efficiency, the Crosstrek has a 33 mpg rating on the highway, 27 mpg in the city, and an average of 30 mpg on both. The plug-hybrid is the most economical variant with a combined fuel efficiency ranking of 90 mpg.
In the SUV’s interior, you’ll stumble upon an 8-inch touch screen with Tom-Tom navigation, safety features that pass the crash tests of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and a Harman sound system.
13. Hyundai Venue
Offered as a front-wheel-drive subcompact SUV, the 2020 Venue ranks highly on our list from best to worst because it delivers quality and affordability rolled into one. Its engine generates 121 horsepower and has a base price of $18,490.
Regarding fuel economy, the Venue has a rating of 30 mpg in the city, 34 mpg on the highway, and an average of 32 mpg on both, which is impressive, to say the least. The backseats split 60:40, which ushers in a maximum of 32 cubic feet of cargo space when they’re folded flat and 18 cubic feet when they’re unfolded.
The SUV’s interior comes with an 8-inch touch screen that’s compatible with Android Auto or Apple Car Play, depending on your preference and higher trims for optimum navigation. If you’re on the quest for a sporty and off-road vehicle, then you may be down on your luck with the Hyundai Venue.
Nevertheless, driving it is a breeze. And, it’s suitable for parking-space scavenger hunts in the big cities or short commutes. Keep in mind that all-wheel-drive isn’t available.
14. Nissan Kicks
The Juke may be dead, but its spirit lives on in the 2020 Kicks. Its impressively low base price of $19,965 is alluring to potential buyers. And, it comes with safety features that make this roomy subcompact SUV a worthwhile investment. They include blind-spot monitoring, automatic emergency braking, and forward-collision warning.
The Kicks doesn’t offer all-wheel-drive but comes with a continuously automatic variable transmission and a 4-cylinder engine that produces 121 horsepower. It utilizes its lightweight body by achieving 36 mpg on the highway, 31 mpg in the city, and a combination of 33.5 mpg on both, regarding fuel economy.
The Kicks has a peppy-in-town potency that makes it exciting for short drives in the city. However, it becomes fairly noisy under full throttle. While the 2nd row is roomy, the vehicle has average cargo space of up to 25 cubic feet.