Admittedly, driving around in a subcompact anything isn’t terribly appealing. For ages, subcompact cars were the bottom of the automotive barrel. They were considered econoboxes or penalty boxes or crap cans or … you get the picture. It might be hard, but it’s time to scrub those negative connotations out of your brain. The small crossover SUVs listed here might be known as “subcompact,” but that’s really just because we have nothing else better to call them. They are smaller than “compact SUVs,” but those are actually really big now. A family of 6-footers with excessive baggage needs can fit inside one of those. This collection of the best subcompact SUVs is for buyers with more modest space needs and perhaps more modest budgets.
And the great news is, these subcompact SUVs are really good! In fact, we would happily consider them alongside our top compact SUV choices (which is why we actually combine them all on one, grand small SUV list). We especially like how different they are in terms of appearance, character and the type of buyer they serve. We have sporty choices, outdoorsy choices, family-friendly choices, a fuel-efficient hybrid and something good for those mostly focused on keeping the price low. All offer surprisingly good passenger and cargo space, which speaks to their versatility and overall value.
There are some downsides to consider with these subcompact SUVs, and a big one is the availability of all-wheel drive. Three of our choices don’t offer it at all, and while we don’t think that has to be a major issue (front-wheel drive grew in popularity because it was fine for snow-going travel), we acknowledge some prefer the security of all four wheels being powered. Another thing to consider is interior quality. While most of these choices sport attractive cabin designs and are available with the same comfort, convenience and tech features of bigger SUVs, there tends to be more hard plastics strewn about. That’s a big reason they cost less, though.
The below choices are listed alphabetically by brand. Enjoy!
Best subcompact SUVs of 2024
2024 Buick Envista
Why it stands out: Compelling design; ample space for the segment; quiet and refined driving experience; punchy and efficient engine; well-equipped; low price
Could be better: All-wheel drive is unavailable; armrests are a bit hard; technically slow acceleration (even if it doesn’t feel it).
Read our full 2024 Buick Envista Review
The Buick Envista is one of the best, most competitive and most relevant cars to come out of General Motors in a long time. It is wildly impressive and truly surprising. It has a modest, fuel-efficient three-cylinder engine, yet feels perfectly potent and refined when driving around town. The ride is composed and interior noise levels low. It looks expensive, yet stickers for well south of $30,000. That price also puts it well in the heart of this subcompact segment despite exterior dimensions and a back seat that rivals compacts. The lack of all-wheel drive may be a sticking point for some, but we think anyone shopping for a small, affordable SUV would be wise to check out the Envista.
2024 Chevrolet Trax
Why it stands out: Strong value; sharp looks; surprisingly practical; engaging and even enjoyable to drive; high fuel economy
Could be better: All-wheel drive unavailable; no engine upgrade; hard armrests
Read our full 2024 Chevy Trax Review
All that stuff you just read about the Buick Envista? Yep, it pretty much applies to the mechanically related Trax. It too is one of the best, most competitive and most relevant cars to come out of General Motors in a long time. The Trax is sportier to look at and to drive, with slightly sharper handling and a tauter ride quality. Indeed, the Trax is one of the most engaging subcompact SUVs to drive, even if it’s one of the slowest in the segment on paper. In practice, it doesn’t feel slow at all, much like the Envista.
It’s also one of the most family friendly subcompact SUVs, with space in the back for full-size adults and big child seats. Cargo space is above average, too. It’s a shame that all-wheel drive isn’t available, but standard front-wheel drive should realistically be just fine for all but the most extreme winter events.
2024 Ford Bronco Sport
Why it stands out: Off-road capability; cargo space; clever storage and cargo features; distinctive style
Could be better: A lot more expensive than others; fuel economy is worse, too; some cheap interior bits
Read our 2024 Ford Bronco Sport Review
Although its exterior dimensions and back seat space falls in the subcompact segment, one of the great things about the Bronco Sport is that it actually has as much or more cargo space than models that are considerably bigger on the outside. So it can hold a lot of stuff for a weekend away, but the “Baby Bronco” does so much more for those looking for something a little more Swiss Army Knife than the typical small SUV. There are numerous clever features throughout, like zippered map pockets and campsite lighting in the liftgate, plus a vast accessory catalog.
Every version is much better than usual off-road (though the Badlands is definitely the one to get for those going further afield) with its standard all-wheel drive, ample ground clearance and “G.O.A.T. Modes” that set the vehicle for a variety of road and terrain conditions. It’s also impossible to ignore the Bronco Sport’s distinctive style inside and out, plus a driving experience that’s a bit more SUV-ish … and in this case, we do mean that in the traditional, body-on-frame truck-based SUV way.
The major hang-up is price: The Bronco Sport costs enough more than the other choices here that it doesn’t quite align in terms of apples-to-apples comparisons.
2024 Kia Seltos
Why it stands out: Loads of space; great technology; exuberant acceleration with turbo engine; clever design throughout; strong safety ratings
Could be better: Turbo engine’s subpar fuel economy; weak base engine
Read our most recent 2024 Kia Seltos Review
The surprisingly good Seltos proves you don’t have to spend a lot of money for both function and fashion. Its price and exterior dimensions fall in between the subcompact and compact SUV segments, yet it boasts more interior volume than is expected and an abundance of special design details throughout that successfully counter some of the cheaper bits applied to keep the price down. It also looks pretty good, and the available turbocharged engine produces shocking acceleration for this segment. Basically, it provides even more value beyond Kia’s usual extra-long features list and warranty.
Like the Bronco Sport and Taos, we’d actually consider the Seltos before many of the compact SUVs that didn’t make the cut in our compact SUV list.
2024 Kia Niro
Why it stands out: Slick design; three electrified engine options; surprisingly spacious; class-leading tech
Could be better: No AWD; questionable value for both the Hybrid and EV; no EV tax credit; mediocre handling
Our Kia Niro Review
The Kia Niro comes with a strong lineup of three electrified powertrains in one attractively designed package. All three, the hybrid, plug-in hybrid and full EV, take advantage of the Niro’s surprisingly spacious, tech-filled interior and snazzy exterior styling. The “aero blade” behind the rear doors gives it a distinctive look, but even without it, we love the hatchback shape and tall LED taillights.
One downside of the Niro is that it doesn’t offer all-wheel drive with any of the three electrified powertrains. That’s fine if you’re just in it for the fantastic efficiency and are happy to buy some snow tires, but many will still miss all-wheel traction. The Niro is ultimately proof that you don’t need to drive around a miserly looking car to capture top-shelf efficiency, so if you want the best green option possible in the midcompact segment, head straight here.
2024 Nissan Kicks
Why it stands out: Tons of space and features for a low price; best-in-class fuel economy; well-executed safety tech
Could be better: It’s really slow; merely average interior
Our full Nissan Kicks Review
If everything else on this list seems a bit too pricey, the Kicks is here as a low-priced pick that delivers strong value. It’s also the SUV on this list that aligns most closely with the original idea of a subcompact. It’s much smaller than the others here, at least on the outside.
Now, we wouldn’t blame you for not getting excited about the Kicks. It doesn’t have much horsepower, it’s not exactly fun to drive, and its tall hatchback body is still pretty gawky despite an attractive styling update back in 2021. That said, the Kicks does a really great job at the basics. It supplies a massive amount of space for a vehicle its size, comes with a wealth of safety features for a vehicle with its modest price, and doesn’t feel like a penalty box to sit in or drive. The interior is handsome and well-equipped with impressive materials in upper trim levels.
For those seeking an efficient, inexpensive urban runabout that can swallow enough stuff for a weekend getaway, it just makes a lot of sense.
2024 Subaru Crosstrek
Why it stands out: Standard all-wheel drive; legitimately good off-road; fuel efficient; simple interior controls
Could be better: Slow base engine; roly-poly handling; outdated tech
Read our 2024 Subaru Crosstrek review
The 2024 Subaru Crosstrek is one of our favorite small crossovers, and much of this is due to it being more of a hatchback on stilts than its more SUV-like crossover rivals, giving it car-like qualities that, if you’re like us, can be preferable. Also, unlike everything else on this list not named Bronco, the Crosstrek is legitimately good — and fun — when you go beyond paved roads. Its 8.7 inches of ground clearance, or 9.3 inches in Wilderness form, gives you lots of wiggle room, and Subaru’s standard all-wheel-drive system is smart enough to get you through some tough spots. The Crosstrek cabin is simple to use and provides lots of backseat space, a big cargo area, tons of pockets and cubbies to store things, and great visibility for the driver.
It’s not much to look at, though, and its tech is on the slow side even if we appreciate the available jumbo screen. The biggest drawback is power. Even those who normally wouldn’t give a hoot about strong acceleration have commented to us that the base Crosstrek’s engine feels weak. That makes opting for one of the trims that include the 2.5-liter engine upgrade a must, even if the resulting acceleration just gets bumped up to “sufficient” from “slow.”
2024 Volkswagen Taos
Why it stands out: Segment-leading back seat space; huge cargo area; strong power and fuel economy
Could be better: Bland to drive; looks more rugged than it is
Our full 2024 Volkswagen Taos Review
The Taos is the most family-friendly of the midcompact SUVs thanks to a back seat that’s shockingly big enough to fit rear-facing car seats without scrunching. There’s also a giant cargo area that only falls short of the Bronco Sport, which is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, the Taos has more interior space than quite a few compact SUVs that are larger on the outside. When you can get that while enjoying the benefits of a smaller vehicle (better maneuverability and fuel economy, a lower price), that’s called a win-win. We also like that the Taos isn’t as conservatively styled, inside and out, than other recent made-for-America Volkswagens and has VW’s older, more user-friendly interior controls instead of the maddening ID.4 and GTI layout. Even its “could be betters” listed above are hardly what we’d call deal breakers. This is a winner.