Choosing the best compact SUVs isn't as open-and-shut as you would think. As with any automotive purchase, 'best' is a term that is tied directly to your specific needs. What you are looking for in a compact SUV might diverge drastically from the attributes valued by your neighbor, sibling, or co-worker, and so instead of making a blanket statement about the latest and greatest, we've instead decided to highlight what we like the most about some of the strongest options on the market.
Let's take a look at 10 of our favorite things about the 10 best compact SUVs money can buy.
10 Best Compact SUVs - 01 - 2014 Subaru Forester
The 2014 Subaru Forester pulls in a lot of northern buyers thanks to its standard all-wheel drive, but what catches our eye is the compact SUV's available XT high performance trim level. The Subaru Forester XT boasts a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that pushes out 250 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque. A continuously-variable automatic transmission is the only available gearbox with this mill, and it offers the choice of either Sport or Sport # modes. These deliver six and eight 'virtual' gear ratios, respectively, and are accessible through steering wheel-mounted paddles. A tighter suspension system is also on tap in the Forester XT.
10 Best Compact SUVs - 02 - 2014 Acura RDX
A recent redesign has taken the 2014 Acura RDX from sporty family hauler to more well-rounded compact SUV. The Acura RDX might not be as well known as many of it premium competitors, but where it stands out is in the standard features department, as the vehicle comes with items like genuine leather seating, a sunroof, power seats, and internet radio. You typically have to pay more to sample this kind of living in other premium rides. If you want to go the options route, then we like the RDX's space-age climate control system that comes with the Technology package, a feature that actually uses GPS satellites to track the position of the sun relative to the SUV and adjusts the heating and cooling of the vehicle accordingly.
10 Best Compact SUVs - 03 - 2014 Ford Escape
The 2014 Ford Escape is a frugal little SUV that has gained notoriety through its range of turbocharged four-cylinder engines. What we like about the Ford Escape is its all-around performance: it's exceptionally compliant to drive, it offers good amounts of interior room for its compact size (almost 70 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear row folded forward), and it can be had with the MyFord Touch interface, a comprehensive set of digital controls that touch on every possible vehicle function. Throw in 240 horsepower from its range-topping 2.0-liter, four-cylinder turbo, and you've got a compelling SUV option.
10 Best Compact SUVs - 05 - 2014 Audi Q5
The 2014 Audi Q5 provides compact luxury SUV shoppers with one of the few turbodiesel drivetrain options out there. The Audi Q5 3.0 TDI Premium Plus trim level delivers a 3.0-liter, turbocharged six-cylinder diesel motor that generates 240 horsepower and 428 lb-ft of torque. That's a massive amount of power for its class, but not only is the Q5 turbodiesel quick (hitting 60-mph from a standing start in 6.5 seconds), it's also frugal. An EPA rating of 24-mpg in stop and go driving and 30-mpg during highway cruising has us choosing the diesel Audi over its gas-powered lineup-mates.
10 Best Compact SUVs - 05 - 2014 Toyota RAV4
The 2014 Toyota RAV4 is the dependable friend that absolute everyone needs to have in their life, someone who can baby-sit from time to time, help you move, and never lets you down in a moment of crisis. Sure, the Toyota might not be exciting, but we like that about the RAV4. Its stodgy reliability, immense practicality (73.3 cubic feet of total cargo room, five passenger seating) and conservative, yet attractive styling are strong points in its favor. The RAV4 won't get your pulse racing during the commute home from work, but it's also never going to embarrass you by showing up at your wedding in a tuxedo t-shirt.
10 Best Compact SUVs - 06 - 2014 GMC Terrain
The 2014 GMC Terrain stands out as one of the few compact luxury SUVs that focuses more on coddling than it does on sporting pretensions. Recognizing that it's very difficult to produce an SUV that handles like a sport sedan (although some have come very close, as we'll discover below), GMC has instead imbued with the Terrain with a solidity and presence that translates well amongst the premium set. This is particularly true of the Terrain Denali, a trim level that offers a higher standard of interior materials as well as additional active safety features such as a blind spot warning system.
10 Best Compact SUVs - 07 - 2014 Mazda CX-5
Remember what we said about compact SUVs and their handling skills? The 2014 Mazda CX-5 is the exception that proves the rule, providing great feedback through its steering and suspension, and confidently tackling corners that would have other sport-utility vehicles respectfully declining via their stability control systems. The 2014 Mazda CX-5 is also notable for its 2.5-liter, four-cylinder Skyactiv engine option, a 184 horsepower unit that returns fuel mileage of 25-mpg in city driving and 32- mpg on the highway. This is nearly the match, from an efficiency perspective, of its less robust entry-level motor.
10 Best Compact SUVs - 08 - 2014 Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class is another compact luxury ride that doesn't try to master the slalom but rather focuses the considerable engineering skills of its German manufacturer on producing a composed and car-like ride. The Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class feels better built than many of its rivals, and it comes in both gasoline and a new-for-2014 turbodiesel editions. The latter can be counted on to return fuel mileage of 24-mpg around town and 33-mpg on the highway, which is particularly impressive when matched up with the 200 horsepower and 369 lb-ft of torque produced by its 2.1-liters of four-cylinder fury.
10 Best Compact SUVs - 09 - 2014 Honda CR-V
The 2014 Honda CR-V is a third compact SUV that we like for doing almost everything well. Nothing has been left to chance in the design of the Honda CR-V, as the vehicle leads with strong fuel economy (23-mpg city / 31-mpg highway), excellent practicality (five passenger seating along with 70.9 cubic feet of total storage space), and a suspension system that is comfortable in daily use. Some might lament the CR-V's lack of an engine upgrade, but the 185 horsepower produced by its 2.4-liter mill are more than enough for most driving situations - particularly when matched with the traction-adding option of all-wheel drive.
10 Best Compact SUVs - 10 - 2014 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque
The 2014 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque is the only compact SUV on this list available in a two-door 'coupe' body style. Definitely a fashion-forward choice, regardless of whether found in two or four-door trim, the Land Rover Range Rover Evoque stands out from the luxury crowd immediately upon making its first impression. Slip behind the wheel and the Evoque continues to impress with the brand's trademark unstoppability, due in large part to the careful work of its Terrain Response feature. Terrain Response tailors the Land Rover's four-wheel drive system, engine, transmission, and stability control systems to handle whatever obstacles might present themselves in front of the small SUV.