Best compact SUVs

Genuine mud-plugging ability meets comfort, refinement and efficiency in this fast-growing and increasingly competitive class

A great compact SUV has to do more than simply handle itself in the rough stuff. Cars in this class have become the transport of choice for many families, so classy looks, a practical and stylish cabin, composed on-road driving dynamics, and low running costs are all needed if a model wants to make it on to our podium here.

1st Gold

Range Rover Evoque 

Price range: £29,955-£38,995

The Range Rover Evoque now has a gold medal to add to its ever-increasing trophy collection. Since making its debut last year, the stylish off-roader has turned the compact SUV class on its head, scoring numerous Auto Express group test victories, as well as scooping our Car of the Year award. A large part of the Evoque’s appeal is the jaw-dropping styling, which takes its cues from the stunning LRX concept car that wowed crowds at the 2008 Geneva Motor Show. Available in three or five-door form, the head-turning body gives the car unrivalled kerb appeal.

Fortunately, the Evoque is much more than just a pretty face. It’s highly capable off-road, the cabin is slickly designed and luxuriously appointed, even on entry-level models, plus there’s enough room for five adults. But it’s on the move that the smallest Range Rover really impresses. Despite its high stance, the Evoque is remarkably agile and responsive on twisty back roads. Add the optional adaptive suspension and you’ll enjoy decent ride comfort, too. Entry-level models get a refined 2.2-litre diesel, while range-toppers have a punchy 237bhp 2.0 petrol turbo. There’s also a low-CO2 two-wheel-drive eD4 model.

2nd Silver


Price range: £31,440-£42,225

Only the outstanding quality of the Range Rover Evoque denied the BMW X3 a gold medal finish. Sharp driving dynamics, decent off-road performance and an upmarket cabin combine to deliver an excellent performance. But what marks the X3 out against the competition is its amazing efficiency. The use of stop-start technology and regenerative braking on the four-wheel-drive, 181bhp 2.0-litre diesel model results  in CO2 emissions of 149g/km and a claimed 50.4mpg.

However, as with other models in the BMW range, the X3 combines these eco-friendly credentials with engaging driving dynamics. Perfectly weighted controls and strong grip result in car-like responses on the road, while every engine provides strong performance and decent refinement. What’s more, the hi-tech four-wheel-drive system means the BMW is a confidence-inspiring companion whenever the going gets rough.

3rd Bronze

Land Rover Freelander 2

Price range: £22,245-£36,250

A two-medal haul in this class proves that Land Rover is still a 4x4 leader. Rugged looks, an upmarket image and assured on-road performance are all Freelander 2  highlights, while the roomy cabin and large boot suit family buyers. Plus, there’s now an efficient, stop-start-equipped, two-wheel-drive version that emits 158g/km of CO2 and a claimed 50mpg.

However, the four-wheel-drive Freelander is the star of the show. The combination of good ground clearance and a sophisticated electronic transmission makes the car truly unstoppable over any kind of terrain. Yet it’s also at home on-road, where a high driving position, supple ride and light controls deliver a very relaxing drive.

Runner up

Audi Q3

Prices: £24,560-£31,360

While Audi is a relative newcomer to the compact SUV class, it will be disappointed to miss out on the medals here. The quality of the competition means the new Q3 only manages a runner-up spot in this contest. Smartly styled and with a beautifully built interior, the new model delivers robustness and desirability in spades. It’s also refined and good to drive, while the 2.0-litre petrol model uses the same muscular 208bhp engine as the VW Golf GTI.

However, the smooth and frugal TDI diesel will be the pick of the bunch for most buyers. In two-wheel-drive form, it has claimed economy over 50mpg and emits only 137g/km of CO2.

Runner up

Audi Q5

Price range: £28,000-£42,140

The Q3’s bigger brother is often overlooked. The Audi Q5 isn’t as capable off-road as a Land Rover Freelander 2 or as engaging on tarmac as the BMW X3, yet still has lots to recommend it. As with other Audis, the car has plenty of kerb appeal, while the upmarket cabin is surprisingly roomy. There’s a strong engine line-up, plus the option of the slick S tronic twin-clutch auto gearbox. Yet unlike the smaller Q3, there’s no two-wheel-drive option, so emissions are higher than in rivals.

False start

SsangYong Korando

Price range: £16,995-£22,995

The SsangYong Korando falls well short of class standards in almost every area. Look past its modern looks and you’ll find a low-rent cabin, a gruff diesel engine and a lacklustre chassis. It’s also overpriced and has a heavy thirst for fuel. Still, it’s not all bad news, because the Korando is well equipped and spacious. It also has a five-year warranty and is a good tow car.

In this review

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