Big adventures await you in these smaller SUVs. 

10 Best Compact SUVs Ranking | CarMax

Nothing spells adventure like a weekend in your SUV. On the hunt for something a bit smaller? Consider a small SUV. It might be just the right machine for great road trips.

While the best small SUV can blend a winning mix of power, maneuverability, and efficiency, not all SUVs are created equal.

There are plenty of excellent models out there, but we've noticed that some stand out from the rest. They’re listed below as a helpful small SUV comparison list. We built this top 10 best small SUV list using CarMax sales data between January 1, 2017, and December 31, 2017.

  1. Hyundai Santa Fe Sport
  2. Kia Soul
  3. GMC Terrain
  4. Jeep Patriot
  5. Toyota RAV4
  6. Nissan Rogue
  7. Jeep Cherokee
  8. Honda CR-V
  9. Chevrolet Equinox
  10. Ford Escape


Hyundai SantaFe Sport

10 Best Compact SUVs Ranking: Hyundai Santa Fe Sport | CarMax

The Hyundai Santa Fe Sport is a small SUV that amps up the luxury for drivers and passengers. For instance, take a look at the panoramic sunroof on the 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport Ultimate. It’s big enough to bathe you and your passengers in plenty of sunlight. And the eight-inch color touchscreen on this model puts all kinds of command at your fingertips, including SiriusXM® satellite radio (available with subscription).

The best compact SUVs are both practical and sophisticated — and the Santa Fe checks both boxes with its comfy, upscale cabin. Premium cloth on the Sport trim from models dating back to 2013 appeals to parents with spill-prone kids, or dog-lovers worried about Fido's muddy paws. If you demand the ultimate in luxury, opt for leather seating surfaces and wood grain trim — standard features on the 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.0T and the Sport 2.0T Ultimate.


Kia Soul

10 Best Compact SUVs Ranking: Kia Soul | CarMax

The Kia Soul has good handling, performance, cargo space, and some pretty unique styling. Models like the 2017 Kia Soul come with a 1.6L, four-cylinder engine that delivers an adequate 130 hp. However, the Soul comes in other trims that boost tech features and engine performance. You can choose a 2.0L, four-cylinder engine with 161 hp (see the 2017 Kia Soul +) or a 1.6L, turbocharged engine (like you’ll find in the 2017 Kia Soul !) that gives you 201 hp — a substantial power tweak. Other features on some trims include keyless entry and ignition, smartphone integration, and deluxe leather upholstery.

A CarMax senior sales consultant in Richmond, Virginia, says the Soul is a best small SUV that functions more like a hatchback, which provides plenty of access to rear storage, and it’s got a lower ride height for an SUV. “But I did sell a Soul to a customer who was six-foot-one, and he had no problems getting in and out,” he says.

Our consultant also likes that some trims, like the 2017 Soul + with the Primo Package, can be had with heated back seats (not just heated fronts, which is still the standard for most vehicles) and a top-shelf Infinity® sound system.

Kia Soul passengers aren't just comfortable during road trips; they're thoroughly entertained. Apple CarPlay™ and Android™ Auto compatibility on the 2017 Kia Soul + and ! trims means your best tunes are available on demand. The + and ! models from 2017 are equipped with the UVO entertainment system and include convenient features like hands-free texting.


GMC Terrain

10 Best Compact SUVs Ranking: GMC Terrain | CarMax

The GMC Terrain doesn't look quite like any other small SUV. Its aggressive design stands out on the open road. The 2017 GMC Terrain features a distinctive charcoal grille with chrome surround. And the 2017 GMC Terrain Denali trim amps up the luxury with additional chrome touches.

Exterior appearance is far from the only element that sets the GMC Terrain apart. Data-hungry drivers and passengers will love the built-in available 4G Wi-Fi® hotspot, which, when activated with a proper data plan, keeps passengers connected to the web wherever they go. The 2017 GMC Terrain SLT model comes with a fully-programmable power liftgate, featuring the ability to set a desired opening height, which is great for smaller garages and tight parking spaces.


Jeep Patriot

10 Best Compact SUVs Ranking: Jeep Patriot | CarMax

Iconic styling and rugged features make the Jeep Patriot a good choice for drivers who adore the Jeep aesthetic. The 2017 Jeep Patriot 75th Anniversary Edition ups the ante for the best small SUV segment with a power sunroof and available bronze exterior trim.

Standard 60/40 split rear seats on all 2017 Patriot trims provide ample padding for passengers, but also fold down to accommodate bulkier cargo. Sport or Latitude Jeep Patriot models from 2017 may include the Freedom Drive II Off-Road package, which raises its height and adds skid plates.


Toyota RAV4

10 Best Compact SUVs Ranking: Toyota RAV4 | CarMax

The Toyota RAV4 combines the capability of a conventional SUV with the maneuverability of a smaller vehicle. Despite its compact designation, it gives passengers a surprising amount of head and leg room —front-seaters in the 2017 Toyota RAV4 XLE have more than 42 inches of space to stretch out their legs.

Although handling is impressive for all Toyota RAV4 models, it particularly stands out on the 2017 Toyota RAV4 SE, which features sport-tuned suspension. Drivers looking to maximize fuel efficiency can look at RAV4 hybrids like the 2017 Toyota RAV4 XLE Hybrid. With AWD, this trim delivers an estimated 34 city/30 hwy mpg.1

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Nissan Rogue

10 Best Compact SUVs Ranking: NIssan Rogue | CarMax

The Nissan Rogue is more spacious than you might assume at first glance. If you intend to pack lots of cargo, no worries — with the rear seats folded down, the 2017 Nissan Rogue gives you a roomy 70 cubic feet of storage space. This small SUV gives you plenty of room for your golf clubs and an ice chest as you prepare to hit the green.

You might add a third-row seat in the back, which is great for families. This is a feature that can be found in the 2017 Nissan Rogue SV that you won’t find in lots of compact SUVs from other manufacturers in this market. In terms of passenger and cabin comfort, the Rogue is nicely situated for its class.

Given its impressive interior space, you might not expect the Nissan Rogue to stand out in terms of fuel economy. Looks can be deceiving; with the 2.5L, four-cylinder engine, the 2017 Nissan Rogue S (with front-wheel drive and a continuously-variable transmission) delivers an estimated 26 city/33 hwy mpg.1


Jeep Cherokee

10 Best Compact SUVs Ranking: Jeep Cherokee | CarMax

If you admire the Jeep Grand Cherokee but don't need a particularly large SUV, the Jeep Cherokee is a solid alternative as a small SUV. Fully equipped for adventure, the rugged Cherokee can get you to some pretty isolated outdoor destinations.

The 2017 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk will please most adventurous drivers; it includes tow hooks, skid plates, and other unique features intended for trail-riding fun. This trim comes with a 271-hp V6 for plenty of power, whether you’re on or off the road.

Secure storage is a safe bet in the Cherokee, too; the Jeep Cargo Management System (standard on trims like the 2017 Jeep Cherokee Sport) makes it easy to tie down everything from groceries to athletic equipment.


Honda CR-V

10 Best Compact SUVs Ranking: Honda CR-V | CarMax

You can really pick up the pace with the sporty Honda CR-V. The 2017 Honda CR-V EX-L has a turbocharged engine, which gives you some kicked-up acceleration and a more thrilling ride. You’ll love revving the engine, and you’ll look cool too. Sculpted body panels and dual chrome exhaust tips help you make a statement wherever you go.

Impressive fuel economy has always been a priority for Honda, and this best small SUV is no exception. With a 1.5L, turbocharged engine and AWD, the 2017 Honda CR-V EX can deliver an estimated 27 city/33 hwy mpg.1


Chevrolet Equinox

10 Best Compact SUVs Ranking: Chevrolet Equinox | CarMax

The family-friendly Chevrolet Equinox could quickly become your go-to road trip vehicle. The AWD 2017 Chevrolet Equinox LS has a standard 2.4L engine that provides plenty of power, and also gives you an estimated 20 city/28 hwy mpg on the highway.1

Any ride in the Chevrolet Equinox is a delight due to the vehicle's interior comfort and range of audio options. Audiophiles who love taking their music on the go will want to opt for the technology package available on the 2017 Chevrolet Equinox LT, which features a premium Pioneer® eight-speaker sounder system as well as MyLink® radio.


Ford Escape

10 Best Compact SUVs Ranking: Ford Escape | CarMax

Precise handling and an undeniably athletic exterior set the Ford Escape apart in a category that’s chock full of compact vehicles. The available 1.5L EcoBoost® engine on the front-wheel drive 2017 Ford Escape SE is turbocharged and gives you 179 hp, plus a respectable estimated 23 city / 30 hwy mpg.1

Available leather trim on the 2017 Ford Escape Titanium gives a luxurious feel to everyday commutes. In 2016, the Ford Escape added SYNC® systems for all models to provide a user-friendly, touchscreen experience. With the SYNC 3 system on the 2017 Ford Escape SE and Titanium trims, you can easily pinpoint top restaurants near you and learn about local traffic conditions — all while keeping your eyes on the road and your hands on the steering wheel.

In our Ford Escape small SUV review, we called out the 2017 Escape Titanium’s powered liftgate, its Intelligent 4WD, and its ability to tow up to 3,500 lbs when properly equipped.2

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1Fuel economy figures are based on EPA estimates when vehicles sold as new. Fuel economy may vary for reasons like driving conditions and vehicle history. Unless specified, figures are for vehicles equipped with an automatic transmission. See fueleconomy.gov for details.
2Various factors may impact towing capacity, including weight of passengers, cargo, and options/accessories.
Unless otherwise noted, information relating to these featured vehicles comes from third-party sources, including manufacturer information. Product and company names may be trademarks™ or registered® trademarks of third-party entities. Use of them does not imply any affiliation with or endorsement by these entities.