According to the people who pay attention to these things, the compact SUV or crossover segment is one of the car industry’s fastest growers.
While names like Qashqai, Karoq and Kuga are hugely popular, it’s their smaller stablemates that are making a march, gobbling up sales all over the place with buyers who want their looks but not the running costs.
By and large, these smaller SUVs do away with the four-wheel-drive and big diesel engines of larger cars, settling for the rugged styling and raised ride height but underpinned by the sort of chassis and engines you’d find in most superminis.
Doing so lets owners enjoy chunky crossover styling but with running costs closer to a supermini than a “proper” SUV.
Here’s our pick of some of the best on sale right now
Sharing platform with the VW T-Roc and upcoming Skoda Kamiq, the Arona is the “fun” member of the family. It’s also cheaper than the VW while sharing most of the important parts.
Starting at £17,145 it’s offered with a couple of sensible petrols – 1.0-litre with 94bhp or 114bhp – and the 148bhp 1.5 from the larger Ateca. A 94bhp diesel is also available but there’s no four-wheel-drive option.
The Arona’s driving experience is sharper than many in the class and it’s also got decent interior and boot space.
For the money, it’s well equipped, with Seat putting an emphasis on technology such as keyless entry, cruise control and decent infotainment, as well as offering metallic paint and two-tone finishes as no-cost options.
By far the wildest looking Hyundai and possibly the wildest looking compact crossover, the Kona is all about grabbing a younger market for the Korean brand.
Priced from £17,000 to £25,000, the Kona comes with a choice of petrol and diesel engines and, unlike some in the class can be ordered with all-wheel-drive. The 1.0-litre petrol is the entry level engine but feels right for the car – the 175bhp one is simply overkill.
The driving experience is secure rather than thrilling and it’s not as refined as some rivals but the Kona is generously equipped and comes with Hyundai’s five-year, 100,000-mile warranty.
It is is also available as a pure-electric model, which has been hailed as groundbreaking for offering real world range of 250 miles in an affordable family car.
The definition of cheap and cheerful.
The most basic Duster models really are basic, with steel wheels, no air con and not even a stereo, but they do start at less than £10,000, making them far and away the cheapest way into a new SUV.
More expensive models add most of the bells and whistles of rivals but even the most expensive 4×4 version is still less than £17,000.
Engines and gearboxes are from Renault and while they won’t win awards for refinement, they are tried and tested units.
The Duster’s focus on value is evident in some of the interior finishes and the lack of the very latest technology but in terms of low-cost crossover ownership, it’s hard to beat.
At the opposite end of the spectrum from the Duster, the Q2 is Audi’s usual high-end look and feel shrunk into a tiny package.
You pay handsomely for the privilege of having the four rings on the radiator grille, especially as it shares its underpinnings with Seats and Skodas, but the Audi rewards with a far more premium look and feel, especially in the cabin.
The Q2 also offers only the higher-end engines from the VW Group, starting with a 115bhp petrol and going up to a 187bhp version.
With a starting price of £22,000 just be careful you don’t get carried away on the options list or you’ll end up better off buying a Q3.
Another premium offering that is priced above the mainstream but makes it clear where your money is being spent.
The XC40 condenses everything praise-worthy of recent larger Volvos in a compact SUV shape. It’s sharply styled inside and out, with an unrivalled elegance and plenty of modern technology. Typically for Volvo, safety is paramount but the XC40 is also a pleasure to drive.
Only some lacklustre diesel engines let it down.
The CX-3 blends really sharp styling with equally sharp handling thanks to its Mazda 2 underpinnings.
It sits at the pricier end of the B-SUV segment but acts as a useful halfway house between the cheaper mainstream models and the overtly premium ones from Volvo and Audi thanks to a high-quality feel and high-end equipment.
The CX-3’s impressive looks are matched by a neatly styled and well-made interior but the it feels cramped inside compared with some rivals.
Engines run from a 113bhp diesel to 121bhp and 148bhp versions of a 2.0-litre non-turbo petrol. Only the more powerful, more expensive petrol comes with four-wheel drive.
A cousin to the Hyundai Kona, the Stonic is built on the same underpinnings as the Kia Rio and feels a lot like a slightly jacked up version of that hatchback.
It’s one of the better driving cars in its class, feeling very hatchback-like on the road and the 1.0-litre petrol engine is the one to go for thanks to lively performance and decent refinement.
Without the optional colour packs it’s a touch dull looking inside and out but offers decent space for four adults. As with most Kias, the standard equipment list is strong, with a seven-inch touchscreen, smartphone connectivity, cruise control and 17-inch alloys as standard but AEB and lane keep assist are paid-for options.
More expensive than the Arona, the T-Roc straddles the awkward ground between the lower-priced cars in the class and more expensive models from Audi and Volvo.
It’s a bit bigger inside and out than the Arona, Stonic et al but not quite as big as the Ateca or Qashqai. Even entry-level models also includes some “big car” kit as standard that go some way to justifying its higher price and it comes with the usual high-quality fit and finish you associate with the VW badge.
The engine and gearbox follows the same pattern as other VW Group models and it balances a comfortable, composed ride with more driver involvement than you might expect.
Citroen C3 Aircross
Another model vying for the “most eye-catching” in class, the C3 Aircross takes a different path from some rivals.
The bubbly, curved shape reflects Citroen’s emphasis on comfort rather than sportiness. If you want sharp handling, look elsewhere, the C3 Aircross is all about squishy ride and easy-going cornering.
The interior quality can’t come close to the best in class and the styling will divide buyers but it’s full of practical touches, including lots of storage spaces and a sliding rear bench.
It’s also one of the cheaper models in class – ranging from £15,500 to just under £19,000, with award-winning 82bhp, 110bhp and 130bhp petrols and a lone 99bhp diesel. However, it lacks certain safety features found on many other cars, such as autonomous emergency braking.
Unlike some rivals, the Vitara can back up its tough off-roader styling thanks to a capable optional four-wheel-drive system from a brand with plenty of experience, which will increase/lessen its appeal depending on your needs.
The Vitara was updated in late 2018 with new engines – the flexible and capable 1.0-litre Boosterjet with 110bhp and the lively 138bhp 1.4-litre. There is no diesel option but a six-speed automatic transmission is available.
The update also brought much-needed improvements the interior quality but the Vitara still feels cheaper than many of the other cars on this list, despite costing between £17,000 and £25,500.
The payoff for that is Suzuki’s regular appearance at the top of reliability surveys.