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 coworker, 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.
Photo Credit: Subaru
1) 2017 Subaru Forester
The refreshed 2017 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. A tighter suspension system is also on tap in the Forester XT. The Forester also provides comfortable accommodations and some of the best cargo capacity in the class. For 2017, Subaru has updated its EyeSight package of active safety features, but the Forester remains an affordable, efficient vehicle.
2) 2017 Acura RDX
The 2017 Acura RDX is a well-rounded compact SUV that might not be as well known as many of its 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. 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. The 2017 Acura RDX is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 engine that produces 279 horsepower and 252 lb-ft of torque, paired to a 9-speed automatic transmission.
3) 2017 Ford Escape
The 2017 Ford Escape is a frugal little 5-passenger SUV that has gained notoriety through its range of turbocharged 4-cylinder engines — with new options added for this year. 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 Sync interface, a comprehensive set of digital controls that touch on every possible vehicle function. Throw in 245 horsepower from its range-topping, redesigned 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder turbo, and you've got a compelling SUV option.
Photo Credit: Audi
4) 2017 Audi Q5
For best performance out of the 2017 Audi Q5, look to its range-topping 3.0-liter supercharged V6 drivetrain, which puts out 272 horsepower and 295 lb-ft of torque, and can tow up to 4,400 lbs — not bad at all, for a crossover. The Q5 is a little outdated — it’s slated to be fully redesigned next year — and prices look steep compared to competitors. However, Audi is quite generous with standard equipment in the Q5, making it a better value than it initially appears.
Photo Credit: Toyota
5) 2016 Toyota RAV4
The 2016 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, 5-passenger seating) and conservative, yet attractive styling are strong points in its favor. For the 2016 model year, Toyota has treated the RAV4 to interior and exterior styling updates, and have added a hybrid model to the lineup.
Photo Credit: Megan Green
6) 2016 GMC Terrain
The 2016 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.
7) 2016 Mazda CX-5
Remember what we said about compact SUVs and their handling skills? The 2016 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 2016 Mazda CX-5 is also notable for its 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder Skyactiv engine option, a 184-horsepower unit that returns fuel mileage of 24 MPG in city driving and 30 MPG on the highway when outfitted with optional all-wheel drive.
8) 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class
The 2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC-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 GLC-Class, which is an all-new replacement for the discontinued GLK-Class, feels better built than many of its rivals. The first version to be released, the GLC300, is powered by a 241-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder, paired to a new 9-speed automatic transmission. The 2017 model year will add a couple more engine options.
Photo Credit: Christian Wardlaw
9) 2016 Honda HR-V
The Honda HR-V, which is basic but very well-rounded, is an all-new model for 2016. This compact SUV provides plenty of space for five passengers, and also features a high roofline than can be packed to the brim with cargo. The 2016 HR-V’s cabin is decked out with a long list of standard equipment and features, making it a very competitive value in its class. Honda powers the 2016 HR-V with a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine that produces 141 horsepower and 127 lb-ft of torque, and offers a 6-speed manual transmission as well as a continuously variable automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard and all-wheel drive is optional.
10) 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque
The 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque is the only compact SUV on this list available in a two-door “coupe” body style, as well as a new convertible model for 2017. Definitely a fashion-forward choice, 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 4-wheel drive system, engine, transmission, and stability control systems to handle whatever obstacles might present themselves in front of the small SUV. The 2017 Evoque comes with a 240-horsepower, 2.0-liter turbocharged engine that's also good for 250 lb-ft of torque.