The compact crossover SUV segment is extremely competitive, particularly with automakers moving away from small hatchbacks and sedans. With such a crowded field, there are many excellent options available for 2021. This list points out ten of the best, including the features and specs that make them great.
With a delayed refresh, now slated for 2022, the 2021 Chevy Equinox is largely unchanged from the 2020 model. The Equinox enjoys good driving dynamics, with a stable and comfortable suspension. The lone engine option available for 2021 lacks power, and the six-speed transmission is clunky at times. The interior is average in build quality, and with so many competitors pushing things upscale, the Equinox has fallen behind. Base trims are very spartan but deliver value at their low price, while higher trims lack the luxury of other segment choices.
Pricing for the Equinox starts at $24,995 in base L trim, with top-end Premier beginning at $32,595. The Equinox offers two engine options; the base engine is a turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder making 170 horsepower backed by a six-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard, with all-wheel drive available at all trim levels. A punchier 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder combined with an eight-speed automatic is unavailable for 2021 but slated to return with the 2022 redesign. The impending model redesign will inevitably bring a drop in prices for the current Equinox, making it a compact SUV bargain.
Ford Bronco Sport
A brand-new model for 2021, the Bronco Sport is based on the Ford Escape platform but has been given muscular looks of its upcoming sibling, the 2021 Ford Bronco. Ford has also gifted the Bronco Sport with a surprising amount of off-road capability. Reviewers have been testing the littler Bronco on the trails, and most have found it to be an excellent on- and off-road SUV. The interior is well thought out, and the slight roof bump makes room for taller cargo, like a mountain bike. The most common complaints are poor visibility due to the chunky c-pillar and square nose and a cheap-feeling material on the steering wheel.
MSRP for the Bronco Sport starts at $28,305 for the Base model up to $34,315 for the luxurious Outer Banks. In standard trim, power comes from a turbocharged 1.5-liter three-cylinder making 181 horsepower. The optional 245 horsepower 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder is likely the engine you want. All Bronco Sports come standard with an eight-speed automatic transmission paired with all-wheel drive. The all-terrain Badlands trim includes an improved ride height and upgraded suspension for better capability, giving the Bronco Sport an edge over the Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk and other top compact SUVs for off-roading.
The Honda CR-V is one of the best options in the compact crossover SUV segment. It has a high-quality, well-thought-out interior, with plenty of space and storage for five passengers and their stuff. The driving dynamics are composed and comfortable, just shy of sporty. The engine and CVT work well together, a rarity for CVTs. The only drawbacks to Honda's compact SUV are a low tow capacity and somewhat noisy cabin. A hybrid trim is available, which uses active noise canceling to quiet the cockpit. Still, even with more power, the tow rating stays a measly 1500 pounds. The CR-V packs a suite of safety features like forward-collision warning and automated emergency braking as standard.
Pricing for the CR-V starts at $26,525 in base LX trim, and stretches to $37,525 in Touring Hybrid trim. Two powertrains are available for the base 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine making 190 horsepower, which is paired with a well-regarded CVT. The hybrid model uses a 2.0-liter four-cylinder and two electric motors, making a combined 212 horsepower. Gas-powered CR-Vs come with front-wheel drive as standard with all-wheel drive optional, while the CR-V Hybrid includes AWD. Fuel economy for either is excellent for the class with FWD gas models getting 28 mpg city and 34 highway and the hybrid netting 40 mpg city and 35 highway.
The Hyundai Tucson is an excellent value proposition with attractive styling. It isn't best in class in any area, but it offers high build quality and is packed with standard features. A 7.0-inch touchscreen with both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto comes in even the base model, as well as Hyundai's active safety tech. Handling is typical for the small SUV segment -- solid, stable, but a bit unexciting. An all-new Tucson is coming for 2022, so it may be worth waiting for the refreshed model.
Pricing for the Tucson starts at $24,885 in base SE trim, and the luxurious Ultimate begins at $33,235. Middle-tier models offer plenty of features without getting too pricey. The base engine is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder making 164 horsepower, with a 2.4-liter making 181 horsepower optional. Both engines are paired with a six-speed automatic and available with optional all-wheel drive. The non-turbo engines fail to deliver the punch or economy of turbocharged competition, with EPA ratings of 25 mpg combined driving for both engines in FWD trim and 23 for AWD-equipped Tucsons.
Maybe the most off-road-worthy option in the segment is the Jeep Cherokee, which brings real street cred and all-terrain strength. In Trailhawk trim, the Cherokee goes toe-to-toe with Ford's new Bronco Sport. In a recent comparison, off-roading tests reviewers have found the little Jeep may be losing its edge. It is still a competent off-road option, not just riding the coattails of the Jeep Wrangler. The Jeep also lags behind the competition in interior design and cargo area, only slightly edging smaller competitors in the subcompact class. With a towing capacity of up to 4500 pounds, the Cherokee still shines as a weekend getaway vehicle where some mild off-roading or trailer towing may be required to find that perfect campsite.
Starting price for the base Cherokee Latitude is $28,005, with top-trim High Altitude models starting at $38,435. Three engine options are available. A base engine, a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder make 180 horsepower. The middle-tier engine is a 3.2-liter V6 that makes 271 horsepower, providing effortless power. The pinnacle of the lineup is the 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder making 270 horsepower. All motors are paired with a nine-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard, with four-wheel drive available. Though the turbocharged engine offers more torque, the V6 allows for the maximum tow rating. Reviewers found the V6's throttle response and overall character to be better. The Trailhawk is the one to get for adventurous types, though it is expensive at $37,045. Still, that price includes four-wheel drive and the venerable V6 engine.
Kia is known as a bargain brand, and it delivers again with the Sportage. Outside, the Sportage is interesting, but not unattractive. The interior is well thought out and offers ample space for passengers in both front and rear seats. Cargo space is a little short of the competition but still average for the class. Handling is precise, and the ride is plush. The Sportage includes an 8.0-inch touchscreen to run the infotainment system, and an impressive set of safety tech is also standard.
In base LX trim, the Sportage starts at $25,265, and the sporty SX Turbo tops the trim levels at $34,925. A 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine making 181 horsepower motivates all but the SX Turbo trim, which gets a 2.0-liter turbocharges 4-cylinder making 240 horsepower. Both engines are paired with a six-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard, with all-wheel drive optional across the trim levels. The LX Turbo is downright quick for the segment, taking under 7 seconds to accelerate from zero to freeway speeds.
For driving excitement and interior luxury, the Mazda CX-5 is the best in class. Steering is as exciting and direct as some sports sedans and nearly comparable to SUV offerings from Porsche. When equipped with the optional turbocharged engine, there is plenty of power to match. Interior trim is in a class above the competition, more in-line with luxury SUVs like those offered by Audi. Safety ratings and tech are also as good as anything else in the segment, making the CX-5 the small crossover to beat in handsome styling, carlike driving, and overall practicality in 2021.
Pricing for the CX-5 starts at $26,545 fin base Sport trim, and top trim Signature models start at $38,680. The base engine is a 187 horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder, and a turbocharged 2.5-liter making 250 horsepower is available. The base engine is peppy and will satisfy most drivers, while enthusiastic driving fans will love the turbo engine. The engines share a quick-shifting six-speed automatic. Front-wheel drive is standard, with all-wheel drive available.
The Nissan Rogue is all-new for 2021 and is better in every way than its predecessor. Handsome exterior styling has replaced the bland egg-shaped Rogue of the past—the interior benefits from improved ergonomics, superior materials, and better build quality. Driving dynamics have also been greatly improved with better handling and a more comfortable ride. Tech has also been upgraded with a standard 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Included safety tech is better, but adaptive cruise control is optional where others have made it standard.
Pricing for the Nissan Rogue starts at $26,800 in base S trim, more luxurious Platinum trim begins at $36,580. A 2.5-liter four-cylinder is the sole engine option making 181 horsepower. The continuously variable transmission is improved in both function and interior noise. Front-wheel drive is standard, with all-wheel drive available on all trim levels. Fuel economy is respectable, with FWD Rogues scoring 26 mpg city and 34 highway. AWD drops fuel mileage by one mpg in both categories.
The Subaru Forester is another practical option in the segment, not a winner in any category but delivering excellent marks across the board. The interior is simple, spacious, and functional. The boxy shape lends itself to ideal storage space and ample room for both rows of passengers. That upright shape and large windows give the Forester the best visibility available in the compact SUV segment and possibly in the entire industry. Driving dynamics are unexciting but smooth and predictable. Subaru has made its EyeSight suite of safety tech standard and earned 5 stars in crash tests.
All Foresters are powered by a 2.5-liter boxer four-cylinder making 182 horsepower. That engine is paired with a CVT and Subaru's famous all-wheel drive. The Forester is an excellent adventure rig with 8.7 inches of ground clearance. Fuel economy is decent at 26 mpg city and 33 mpg highway.
The Toyota RAV4 offers basic, luxury, eco-friendly, and off-road variants, making it a broadly appealing option. The interior is well designed, with durable materials even in base models. Base models get a 7.0-inch touchscreen that grows to 8.0-inches in higher trims. The infotainment system includes the necessities like Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. The RAV4 earns a Top Safety Pick+ from the IIHS, thanks to Toyota's included safety tech.
The RAV4 starts at $27,325 in base LE trim and non-hybrid options peak at $37,055 for the TRD Off-Road version. RAV4 Hybrids start at $29,675, and the difficult-to-find plug-in hybrid RAV4 Prime starts at $39,275. All gas-powered RAV4s are powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine making 203 horsepower. Front-wheel drive is standard with two all-wheel-drive systems offered based on trim level. Even the EPA's worst-rated RAV4, the TRD Off-Road, gets a decent 32 mpg highway and 27 in the city.
Bonus Pick: Volkswagen Tiguan
The Volkswagen Tiguan is an excellent compact SUV, the best compact SUV with a third-row of seating (the only competition being the lackluster Mitsubishi Outlander). The optional third-row is minuscule and should be considered a child-only zone, but it is handy when needed. The Tiguan also sports a beautiful exterior and the excellent driving characteristics expected from the German automaker. The interior is subdued, practical, and refined. Middle row seating is a little tight to leave room for the additional rear seat, and cargo space is minimal when so optioned. Standard safety features are useful, but adaptive cruise control is not included, a glaring omission.
Pricing starts at $26,440 in base S trim, with top-tier SEL Premium R-Line trim starting at a hefty $40,290. The Tiguan is offered with just a single powertrain, a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder which makes 184 horsepower paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard with all-wheel drive available. Fuel economy is excellent for a seven-seater at up to 29 mpg highway and 23 city.