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The Top Subcompact SUVs for 2021

The Top Subcompact SUVs for 2021

Subcompact or extra-small SUVs are rapidly gaining in popularity among shoppers and it makes perfect sense. Most drivers aren't willing to give up the elevated ride height and greater view of the road once they've experienced driving an SUV, but not everyone needs something as big as a Suburban or even a CR-V.

The newer class of pint-sized SUVs benefits from a sedan-sized footprint that makes them easy to maneuver and park while returning better fuel economy than what you commonly get from larger SUVs. They also provide a much bigger and more flexible cargo area than the typical sedan. They're not the best choice for growing families, but they're great for almost everyone else, from first-time drivers to empty nesters.

Here are the best subcompact crossover SUVs that have made it through Edmunds' exhaustive evaluations that include track testing and real-world driving. Whether you're looking for something basic or luxurious, we've got you covered.

Mainstream subcompact SUVs

Chevrolet Trailblazer
We're starting with the best here. The Trailblazer is easy to drive and comes well stocked with features. The Trailblazer further distinguishes itself with sharp styling and positively spacious rear seats. It's not particularly quick, even with the more powerful 1.3-liter engine upgrade. But the Trailblazer's performance is certainly adequate for most extra-small SUV shoppers.

Elsewhere, this new Trailblazer easily exceeded our expectations, and we're confident you'll be just as pleasantly surprised by how good it is.

Mazda CX-30
In a very close second place is the Mazda CX-30. It stands out from the rest with its sleek style and upscale interior. What's better: It's fun to drive. The base engine gets the CX-30 to 60 mph in 9 seconds, which is a little quicker than average, while the turbocharged option gets you there in only 6.4 seconds. That makes it the quickest in the class. It's also a Mazda, which means it handles curves better than rivals, yet the ride quality remains calm and comfortable.

Drawbacks are few but include some big blind spots and below-average fuel economy.

Buick Encore GX
It's been a while since Buick has been on an Edmunds best-of list, but it's good to see it back with the Encore GX. Don't confuse it with the regular Encore; this Encore GX is newer and mechanically related to the Chevy Trailblazer. That means it also comes with lots of advanced driver aids and an above-average amount of interior space. We also like the Encore GX's smooth ride quality.

The Encore GX has the same lackluster acceleration as the Trailblazer, and it can be more expensive than others in the class. But overall there's a lot to like here.

Hyundai Kona
The Hyundai Kona has an impressive Edmunds rating score and is right in the mix with the Mazda and Buick. The Kona's advantages include a punchy turbo engine option and nimble handling. As with most Hyundais, the Kona also earns more points for value — you get a lot of features for the money as well as a great warranty.

The main drawbacks to the Kona are an underpowered base engine, an abundance of hard plastics inside the cabin, and less cargo space than what's available from some of the other SUVs on our list.

Subaru Crosstrek
Defining the Subaru Crosstrek isn't easy. Is it a wagon, a hatchback or a subcompact crossover? Whatever you call it, the Crosstrek distinguishes itself from the rest of the class with taller ground clearance and standard all-wheel drive. This combination gives the Crosstrek greater abilities off-road or in nasty weather. We also like it for its spacious rear seats and comfortable ride.

What's not to like? Well, the base engine is pretty weak, but a newly available 182-horsepower engine in the top trims should solve the need for more oomph. There's also quite a bit of body roll when you're taking turns, and the cargo capacity is on the small side.

Top Subcompact SUVs

Top Subcompact SUVs

Luxury subcompact SUVs

Let's say you're looking for something classier than the models listed above. That's where subcompact luxury SUVs come in. They offer all the same driving and convenience advantages as the previous picks but step it up with more refined interiors, newer tech, more power and added prestige. All for a price, of course.

Mercedes GLB
The GLB may be a little Mercedes SUV but it's made a big impact since its debut for 2020. It earns its top spot in the subcompact luxury SUV class with a spacious interior, decent performance and high levels of comfort. It's also packed with tech, including Mercedes' praiseworthy MBUX infotainment system.

We also like the GLB for its rugged boxy shape that reminds us of the big G-Class that resides on the other side of Mercedes' pricing scale. In some ways, though, being a Mercedes can be a negative. How's that? Well, the price can easily spiral out of control when you start adding options.

The BMW X1 is the least expensive BMW SUV you can buy. Thankfully, many of the attributes you get from those bigger BMWs are present in the little X1. Notably, its sporty handling and turbocharged engine give the X1 an engaging character whether you're running errands around town or navigating a twisty mountain road.

Other highlights for the X1 include high-quality cabin materials and a roomy back seat. But the X1 does come up a little short on comfort. In particular, it has a stiffer ride than many other extra-small SUVs, and it can get a little noisy on the highway.

Mercedes GLA
Searching for a luxury SUV with a sporty look? Check out the GLA. It's related to the Mercedes GLB but has a sloped roofline instead of the GLB's boxy profile. That shape results in reduced rear headroom and quite a bit less cargo space. About a third less than the GLB, actually.

Otherwise, the GLA delivers the same experience as the GLB with decent performance, high scores for comfort, a great infotainment system and a powerful AMG version. If boxy isn't your thing, the GLA might be a good compromise.

Audi Q3
Rounding out the field from Germany is the Audi Q3. Like the GLB, X1 and GLA, it's loaded with all the latest tech and features a refined interior. The quiet cabin and comfortable ride also make the Q3 a good pick if you do a lot of highway driving. But on the downside, the Q3 can feel a little slow to accelerate at times and its fuel economy is near the bottom of the class.

Responsive steering and composed handling allow the Q3 to handle curves with confidence, but if you're hoping for something sporty, best stick with the BMW X1.

Volvo XC40
Closing out the luxury subcompacts is the Volvo XC40. It has a stylish design that doesn't compromise on utility. For example, check out the storage solutions the designers built into the XC40. There's a hook that flips out from the glovebox to hold bags, a handy waste bin in the center console, and one of the most versatile cargo areas around. And since it's a Volvo, safety plays a key role in its appeal.

It could use some suspension tweaks to improve handling, however, and the infotainment system isn't as intuitive as the ones found in its German rivals.

Top Subcompact SUVs

Top Subcompact SUVs

Off-road subcompact SUVs

And now for something completely different. If you're looking to get away from it all, there are a few smaller off-road-capable choices too. Some may not fit perfectly into the subcompact box, but in the spirit of the class, we thought we'd give them a quick shoutout.

Jeep Wrangler 2-door
The two-door Jeep Wrangler can pretty much get anywhere you want to go. It's also got that classic Jeep look and a removable roof. But there's a price for the Wrangler's all-terrain supremacy. It's not very good to drive on the road and there's excessive road and wind noise.

Ford Bronco 2-door
The two-door Ford Bronco is the new hotness. It's so new that we haven't been able to give it a full evaluation, but our initial impressions left us impressed. It can go everywhere, just like the Wrangler, but it has better driving manners on pavement. As an added bonus, the modular construction allows you to easily modify your Bronco to your heart's content.

Land Rover Range Rover Evoque
The Range Rover Evoque may not get you to as extreme locales as the Bronco or Wrangler — it's more glamping than roughing it — but it'll get you farther out than you probably expect. A classy interior is another draw. But it can't match the BMW X1 or Mercedes GLB for overall refinement and utility.

Top Subcompact SUVs

Top Subcompact SUVs

Edmunds says

That's it for our current list of the best subcompact SUVs. During the course of the year, these rankings may change with the introduction of newer models, so remember to check out our SUV rankings for all the latest developments.