For many, the best SUVs come in small packages.

For most of the people most of the time, it's not the size of an SUV that delivers the goods, it's the shape. It's about sitting above the traffic, lifting the tailgate and, sometimes, folding the rear seats for even more cargo room. So why pay more up front, pay more at the pump and have a more difficult time negotiating parking lots than you need to? The smallest SUVs are often the smartest SUVs.

And the compact SUV segment has grown into one of the largest, best-selling categories out there. Whether you're focused on efficiency, fun, roominess or even off-roading, there's a small SUV designed just for you. We drove six of them from Southern California to Lake Las Vegas, Nevada as part of our most recent Compact SUV Comparison Test, but here are all 13 of your compact SUV choices in alphabetical order. 

2018 Chevrolet Equinox

Starting Price: $24,525

The all-new Chevrolet Equinox is comfortable, stylish, roomy and loaded with tech. Read More

 

2018 Ford Escape

Starting Price: $24,935

A well-focused revamp made this mainstay of the segment even more attractive on every level. Read More

 

2018 GMC Terrain

Starting Price: $25,990

Like its Chevy Equinox sibling, the Terrain has been completely rethought for 2018. Read More

 

2018 Honda CR-V

Starting Price: $25,125

How does Honda improve this practical, well-rounded, refined utility vehicle? Redesign it, with a bigger interior and more safety and tech features. Read More

 

2018 Hyundai Tucson

Starting Price: $23,530

The recently redesigned Tucson offers more room, increased refinement, improved driving manners and even more attractive styling. Read More

 

2018 Jeep Cherokee

Starting Price: $25,490

The Jeep Cherokee combines off-road capability with the practicality of the segment's best-sellers. Read More

 

2018 Kia Sportage

Starting Price: $24,590

In a category dominated by me-too metal, the totally redesigned Sportage stands out for both its bold styling and the available 240-horsepower turbocharged engine. Read More

 

2018 Mazda CX-5

Starting Price: $25,125

Like so many of the cars Mazda makes, the CX-5 is arguably the most stylish, most fun-to-drive entry in its segment. Read More

 

2018 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport

Starting Price: $22,725 (w/auto)

The segment's lowest starting price and one of its best warranties are two of the Outlander Sport's main selling points. Read More

 

2018 Nissan Rogue

Starting Price: $25,775

Nissan's Rogue is among the most sophisticated and substantial compact SUVs on the road. Read More

 

2018 Subaru Forester

Starting Price: $24,710 (w/auto)

The Forester's superior all-wheel-drive system -- included as standard equipment -- makes it especially appealing to those who experience traction deficiencies on a seasonal basis. Read More

 

2018 Toyota RAV4

Starting Price: $25,370

The roomy, refined, refreshed RAV4 offers plenty of benefits, and still gets points for originality. Read More

 

2018 Volkswagen Tiguan

Starting Price: $25,495

While big names like Honda CR-V and Ford Escape carve up the compact SUV segment from a sales perspective, the all-new Tiguan is there to carve up canyons with style. Read More

 

50-State Appeal

In the snowier parts of the country, compact SUVs are popular for their available all-wheel drive and added ground clearance. At lower elevations and further south, the elevated seating position and cargo versatility are a larger part of the appeal.

10 Best Winners

The compact SUV segment is represented by its best and brightest on our most recent list of the 10 Best SUVs Under $25,000.

Compact SUV or Midsize Sedan?

It's an intriguing dilemma worth contemplating because the average prices paid for each are within about $1,000 of each other.

A compact SUV buyer might point to his car's superior cargo capacity — fold down the rear seats in a compact SUV and it turns into a small moving van — the increased visibility afforded by the higher seating position, added ground clearance and maybe all-wheel drive (a couple midsize sedans do offer AWD, but it's available on every compact SUV).

A midsize sedan buyer, on the other hand, might have come to her decision based on her car's superior fuel efficiency, better ride and handling, and roomier back seat. And generally speaking, you get a few more features for your money in a midsize sedan. If it sounds like you might lean the same way, check out our Midsize Sedan Buyer's Guide.

Powertrain Choices

Compact SUV shoppers looking for hybrid power now have two options in the segment, with the arrival of the new Toyota RAV4 and Nissan Rogue hybrids. Diesel devotees have two choices: both the Chevrolet Equinox and its GMC Terrain cousin are available with a 1.6-liter turbodiesel 4-cylinder. The 187-horsepower Mazda CX-5 offers the most standard horsepower in the class, while the Jeep Cherokee is the only compact SUV available with a V6 engine, which is good for a segment-leading 271 horsepower. The diesel-powered Equinox and Terrain offer the best fuel economy in the segment -- 39 mpg on the highway -- and with 34 highway mpg, the Honda CR-V offers the best fuel economy of a gas-powered compact SUV. The hybrid Toyota RAV4 offers an excellent 34 mpg in the city, and the Nissan Rogue hybrid's fuel economy strength is 35 mpg on the highway.

What's New/Next

The Chevrolet Equinox, GMC Terrain and Volkswagen Tiguan were all completely redesigned for the 2018 model year, all of which are pictured here:   

Alternatives

If none of the core compact SUVs above are doing it for you, you might want to check out the extremely off-road-capable Jeep Wrangler or the Subaru Outback tall wagon, a same-but-different compact SUV alternative. And the subcompact SUV segment continues its rapid expansion with the top-selling Honda HR-V being joined by three more all-new nameplates for 2018: Ford EcoSportHyundai Kona and Nissan Kicks.

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