The best small SUVs 2021

Best small SUV 2021

  • Parkers compares seven popular small SUVs and ranks them in order
  • We’ll tell you if there are any others worth considering…. 
  • ...and whether there are any you should avoid

While SUVs were once hulking great things that towered above everything else and gobbled up road space, you can get a raised driving position and rugged looks in a huge variety of sizes these days. That brings us to the seven small SUVs sitting at the top of your screen.

Not only are they among the most compact available, they’re also some of the most affordable. That makes them a compelling alternative to a functional but frumpy hatchback that not only tug at your heartstrings, but also prove more practical than the conventional cars on which they’re based.

We’ve brought together some of the best, newest and most popular to find out which one you should buy. And because there are just so many out there, we’ll be looking at a few other options that are worth considering if their styling takes your fancy or the dealer is on your doorstep.

Click the link below to jump straight to the car you’re most interested, or keep scrolling to see what order our competitors finished in:

Best small SUVs 2021

7. Vauxhall Mokka

Vauxhall Mokka (2021) profile view, driving

Pros:
✅ 
Punchy and efficient engines

✅  Well equipped

Cons:
Cramped rear seats

So-so driving experience

It’s all change for the Vauxhall Mokka, Luton’s little SUV having ditched its lacklustre underpinnings for those shared with the Peugeot 2008 and DS 3. That means a choice of two three-cylinder petrol engines and a single diesel along with an electric version you can read about in our Best Electric SUVs group test.

The petrol engines are peppy and frugal, with the option of an automatic gearbox on the most potent 130hp version. We’d certainly consider the punchier engine if you spend a lot of the time on the motorway and fast flowing A roads, although the automatic gearbox can be a bit juddery when manoeuvring.

Vauxhall Mokka (2021) interior

It’s firmer than the 2008 and DS 3, keeping a tighter control of body movements over undulating roads at the expense of some comfort. The handing is a mite sharper, but it’s far less tidy than the composed Kamiq or gigglesome Puma with a bit more roll and less agility. It’s adequate in both areas and a big step on from the old car, yet there are better cars to drive in the class.

Inside you’ll find a couple of digital displays in close proximity fitted to all models, with posher models getting far bigger, more imposing screens. There’s a reasonably responsive touchscreen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay with sat nav added on Elite models and up, although the digital instruments aren’t as clear and configurable as those available in the Kamiq and Q2.

The biggest issue is space. Rear passengers have a tiny door aperture to post themselves through and the least head and leg room. Small rear windows don’t help the claustrophobic feel in the back and it has one of the smallest boots in the class. That’s enough to relegate it to last place in this test.

6. Renault Captur 

Renault Captur (2021) profile view, driving

Pros:
✅  Versatile rear seats

✅  Comfortable motorway ride

Cons:
Low spec models far less plush inside

Coarse E-Tech plug-in

Unlike most of its rivals, the Renault Captur packs big SUV seating flexibility into a much smaller package. Not only can the rear seats fold to accommodate long items, they can also slide backwards and forwards to increase boot space at the expense of rear leg room. Pushed all the way back there’s enough leg room for a six footer, with head room being slightly tighter.

Stick to a regular petrol Captur and you’ll have one of the bigger boots in the class even with the seats slid all the way back. The hybrid version shrinks significantly with the plug-in’s boot proving particularly piffling.  

Renault Captur (2021) interior view

Interior ambiance depends hugely on trim level. Opt for a high trim level and you’ll get an appealing appearance with plenty of soft touch plastic and a big portrait-oriented touchscreen infotainment system that’s pretty responsive. Lower models get far more scratchy plastic and a smaller, trickier to use unit.

We’d avoid the weak TCe 90 engine and go for the muscular TCe 140 if you can stomach the hefty price jump. The plug-in hybrid has a decent electric range, low BIK tax costs and juggles power sources reasonably smoothly; unfortunately its engine is loud and sounds shockingly coarse compared to the other SUVs here. It’s comfy on the motorway but not quite as cushioned at lower speeds and it’s certainly no fun to drive.  

5. Hyundai Bayon

Hyundai Bayon (2021) profile view, driving

Pros:
✅  Comfortable and quiet

✅  Decent interior and boot room

Cons:
Disappointing engine

Some low-rent interior plastics

Unlike the SUVs here that offer a wide range of options under the bonnet, the Hyundai Bayon keeps things nice and simple. That’s because you’ll find a single mild-hybrid assisted 1.0-litre petrol engine under the bonnet with either 100 or 120hp. Both get the option of an automatic gearbox or a manual gearbox with a clever clutch pedal that’s operated by electronics.  

That means both engines are able to shut off when you come off the accelerator pedal to allow the car to coast along, saving fuel. The mild-hybrid system also boosts the engine a little when you accelerate from low revs, so while the Bayon isn’t quick it feels quite muscly when you’re pottering around. It’s quiet, too.

Hyundai Bayon (2021) interior view

It’s one of the more comfortable cars in the class, dealing with urban roads better than the 2008 and the Bayon handles pretty tidily, too. However, that clever clutch doesn’t have a biting point you can feel, while the numb steering and light gearbox don’t encourage keen drivers.

Inside you’ll find comparable rear space to the 2008 albeit a slightly smaller boot. We like the infotainment system and easy to use controls for the heater and air con, yet this isn’t a very nice place to be. The dash is a sea of hard, drab plastic that feels quite oppressive and rather cheap.

4. Peugeot 2008

Peugeot 2008 (2021) profile view, driving

Pros:
✅  Well-trimmed, interesting interior

✅  Punchy Puretech engines

Cons:
Roly poly in corners

Not particularly roomy in the rear

If there’s one thing the 2008 is good at, it’s giving you some serious wow factor inside. Interior quality challenges the Q2 and it’s far less dour, with the button-light looks and twin digital displays giving a real high-tech vibe. Some may find the steering wheel has to be set too low to view the one for instruments, but it’s otherwise comfy and has plenty of storage space.

Rear seat space is decent if not generous and while the bench doesn’t do anything clever, there’s still a little more bootspace than you’ll find in the Captur. It certainly smashes its cousin for space, thanks to the 2008 being a little longer than the Vauxhall Mokka. Cheeky Peugeot.

Peugeot 2008 (2021) interior

The engine range is unsurprisingly much the same as that found on the Vauxhall Mokka, although once again Peugeot has kept the best stuff for itself. Opt for GT Premium trim and you can pick a 155hp version of the PureTech petrol engine. Where the 100hp motor is adequate and 130 spritely, the 155 is downright brisk.
Not that you’ll be encouraged to hustle it along. The suspension is the softest here giving a comfy ride apart from the odd thud from potholes and sharp-edged bumps.

It can feel a little at sea over undulating country roads, and means there’s plenty of body roll in bends. Despite the tiny steering wheel requiring few turns to get from lock to lock – great for multistoreys – it doesn’t feel particularly keen to change direction swiftly. The 2008 isn’t much fun on a backroad, that’s for sure.

3. Audi Q2

Audi Q2 (2021) profile view, driving

Pros:
✅  Excellent handling and ride

✅  Impressive digital cockpit

Cons:
Expensive in cash terms

Especially with options

Although the Audi Q2 is knocking on a bit now, a 2020 facelift has helped cement its place near the top of the small SUV pile. It’s interior certainly isn’t the freshest design out there, yet it’s still one of the best built and is easy to use thanks to plenty of good old-fashioned physical buttons, switches and knobs that operate with precision.

It has the most configurable and clearest digital displays, an infotainment system that’s easy to use on the move and plenty of oddment storage, too. Comfy seats, decent rear space and an adequate if not outstanding boot means it’s a practical choice, too.

Audi Q2 (2021) interior view

On the road is where it really shines, with the best automatic gearbox and the option of willing yet economical petrol and diesel engines that are the smoothest and quietest here. You get the option of far more power if that’s your bag, and unlike everything else here you can even get four-wheel drive.

It also has a fine ride and handling balance, proving firmer than the 2008 and Captur yet able to round off scruffy road surfaces with aplomb and none of the float or wallow. The steering is precise and it handles very tidily, if not quite with the Puma’s grin factor. It’s one of the priciest options out there, especially once you’ve selected a couple of option packs, but well worth the extra outlay if you’re drawn to the premium badge.

2. Skoda Kamiq 

Skoda Kamiq (2021) profile view, driving

Pros:
✅  Loads of passenger space

✅  Decent ride quality and handling

Cons:
Boring and plain-looking interior

Boot space slightly disappointing

While nobody is likely to yearn for a Skoda Kamiq, it’s a thoroughly sensible Small SUV that does an awful lot very well. It shares a number of engines with the Q2, and while they aren’t quite as hushed here, even the entry-level 95hp is a lively performer. It handles in a composed manner with lots of grip and the steering is pleasingly precise as well.

Despite this the Kamiq is a comfortable companion, with a relaxed gait that makes motorway work a breeze. It’s decent around town, too, and doesn’t feel as wobbly as the Peugeot 2008 over undulating roads. It’s not the quietest car here, but it’s not bad, either.

Skoda Kamiq (2021) interior

Where the Kamiq really scores is space. It’s quite long for a car in this class, a trick Skoda plays with the Octavia and Superb as well, so rear leg room could challenge much bigger SUVs. Head room is also good, although it’s still quite a narrow car, making three across a squeeze just like everything else here.

Boot space can’t quite match the 2008 or Captur, yet it all but matches the Bayon and is certainly a useful size with a little more capacity than you’d get in a Volkswagen Golf, for instance. Quality is good, with plenty of pleasing materials and a real sense of solidity that the Captur can’t match and the infotainment system’s not bad, either. With so many strengths and no real areas of weakness, it really is the most practical, sensible choice in the class.

1. Ford Puma

Ford Puma (2021) profile view, driving

Pros:
✅  Excellent steering and handling

✅  Comfortable motorway ride

Cons:
Interior room lags behind best rivals

No diesel or full hybrids in the range

Put simply, the Ford Puma is the driver’s choice when it comes to small SUVs. It corners with tenacious grip and fine balance, feels the keenest to dart into a bend and involves you the most in the experience. No other small SUV will put as big a smile on your face, especially if you’ve opted for the hot Puma ST.

Even the regular engines feel strong, with the 125hp Ecoboost mild-hybrid proving lively enough and the 155hp version punchier. The Q2 35 TFSI and Karoq 1.5 TSI 150 are a little stronger still, but not by a huge margin. No diesels, full hybrids, plug-ins or electric versions are available, not that it matters a huge amount given the low emissions and decent economy the petrols possess.

Ford Puma (2021) interior

If you’re looking at small SUVs for a bigger boot than your hatchback, the Puma has you covered. There’s a big cavity beneath the boot floor that provides vast amounts of cargo capacity and the ability to store tall items such as a bag of golf clubs or two upright. It even has a drain plug so you can rinse it out or use it as an impromptu ice box.

You won’t find vast amounts of head and leg room in the back although there’s more than the Mokka and enough for a couple of six footers sitting behind another pair. The infotainment system is easy to use if not particularly flashy while interior quality is much better than the Bayon, if nowhere near 2008 or Q2 good. If the Kamiq is the choice you make purely with your head, your heart can get involved in the Puma, too.

Best small SUV 2021

What others to consider?

Honda HR-V

There's a new small Honda SUV due in the UK at the beginning of 2022, but we've already driven it – and came away impressed. It's well equipped for the money and drives nicely, with excellent fuel economy from its hybrid engines. It's not perfect, though, with a small boot and not enough performance out of town being big enough drawbacks to keep it from challenging the best models above.

Nissan Juke

The second-generation Juke is a big improvement on its predecessor. Unfortunately, its three-cylinder engine is rather weak and it’s not particularly comfortable especially with big alloy wheels. It’s not the duffer it used to be, yet there are better options out there.

SEAT Arona

Arguably second only to the Ford Puma, the Arona is another good choice that gets refreshed for 2021. It too is related to the Kamiq, but isn’t as spacious inside and doesn’t have the T-Cross’s flexible rear seats, either. Updates for 2021 have improved the infotainment and overall equipment levels.

Volkswagen T-Cross

We decided to omit the Volkswagen T-Cross from this test not because it’s bad – we suspect it would have done rather well – but because the closely related Kamiq does everything a little better for similar money. It’s more spacious, comfier, has a far more attractive interior and has the same range of engines. In fact, the only thing the T-Cross has over the Kamiq are its Captur-like sliding rear seats.

And one to avoid

Ford Ecosport

With the Puma in showrooms, you’d be mad to pick an Ecosport instead. It doesn’t handle anywhere near as well, has an awkward side-hinged door at the back and feels cheap inside. With tight rear space as well, only the high driving position and optional four-wheel drive count in its favour.

Ford Ecosport (2021) front view

Further reading:

>> Best SUVs 2021

>> Best SUVs for less than £300 per month

>> Best new and used family SUVs

>> Best small cars 2021