SUVs accounted for nearly half of all vehicles purchased in Australia during 2021. Of that number, a significant proportion were small SUVs.
Designed to seat five, but with less room in the back and limited luggage space compared with their medium-sized cousins, smaller SUVs have most of the advantages of a larger car but tend to be more fuel-efficient to run and cheaper to buy.
The small SUV market is extremely competitive, so it's little surprise that the differences between the various models in this category are fairly minor. There's arguably no such thing as a bad small SUV, but there are some that definitely lead the pack. Others have niche strengths such as tech or interior design, that specifically appeal to a particular audience.
Here we take a look at seven of the very best small SUVs in Australia, considering their strengths and weaknesses as well as indicating what type of driver is most likely to prefer each type of vehicle.
1. Mazda CX-30
The Mazda CX-30 has long been one of the top-selling vehicles in Australia's compact SUV market. Benefiting from a swathe of fresh engine tech and both interior and exterior makeovers, the 2022 CX-30 looks stunning and is a pleasure to drive. Larger than the CX-3, but a step below the CX-5, the CX-30 showcases Mazda's iconic blend of sporting performance, high-end styling and the use of premium materials that add an appealing touch of luxury.
- Fresh ignition technology (Sky Activ X) that combines a 2.5l petrol engine with a 24V battery to give a mild hybrid. Reviewers are extremely positive about the driving performance of the CX-30.
- A stylish interior that incorporates stunning colour accents.
- Reviewers are impressed by the quiet driving experience the CX-30 provides.
- A stiff suspension causes some reviewers to question the comfort of the CX-30.
- A small boot.
- Reviewers indicate that the on-the-road fuel efficiency is significantly less than the 5.3l/100km quoted by Mazda.
Who Should Drive the CX-30?
If you tend to only occasionally have back seat passengers and don't need a large amount of boot space, the CX-30 could be ideal. Perfect for drivers who enjoy their driving, the CX-30 accelerates and handles well.
2. Toyota CHR
Toyota sells more vehicles in Australia than any other manufacturer, so it's little surprise the CH-R is a popular small SUV option. It's also highly rated by reviewers. Which Magazine gave it a respectable 8.5/10 in its "Best Small SUV" list, for example, which put it right at the top of the pile. Although it's not the cheapest, it's certainly one of the best.
- Solid performance and handling. A choice of hybrid or turbo-petrol engines.
- Chic styling inside and out. The cabin is beautifully constructed.
- Good use of space means it's a reasonable size inside for its class.
- Toyota suggest the petrol engine is fuelled using premium unleaded, which adds to the running costs.
- It's one of the more expensive small SUVs.
- Visibility through the back and rear passenger windows is poor.
Who Should Drive the CH-R?
This is a versatile SUV that's a great family car as well as great fun to drive. It's not the most powerful car in its class, which means rougher terrain may be a challenge. Reviewers praised its comfort, so if longer trips are a regular feature of your driving, the CH-R would work well.
3. Mazda CX-3
As you would expect from an SUV that was awarded the 2020 World Car Design of The Year, the CX-3 is a popular choice. A model that's sold well consistently also rates highly in several "best of" surveys.
- Powerful drivetrain.
- Stylish interior and exterior.
- Excellent acceleration, handling and overall performance.
- Very small rear seats.
- Small boot.
- Some reviewers complain about driving noise.
Who Should Buy the CX-3?
The CX-3 does tick all the SUV boxes, but its compact size means it's not ideal for larger families, those with teen children or drivers who regularly take adult passengers. Perfect for families with younger children, it's also great for commuting and the occasional longer trip.
4. Hyundai Kona
Freshly restyled and sporting a brand new engine, if tech is your passion, the Hyundai Kona is well worth a second look.
- Impressive suite of safety features.
- High-grade infotainment tech and driver features.
- N-line series provides an impressive sports option.
- Many of the tech add-ons come at a premium.
- Small boot.
- Space saver spare tire.
Who Should Drive the Kona?
If you're on a budget, the Kona offers excellent value. It's great for families, and luxurious enough to be an attractive option for couples. The second row is surprisingly spacious for the class, so the Kona works well for families with older teens or more than two adults.
Buyers who regularly complete longer trips should take note that the space-saver spare means that if you get a flat somewhere remote and need to use it, you could face hours of driving at a reduced speed.
5. Skoda Kamiq
Refreshingly spacious for a small SUV, in many ways the Kamiq is typical of what Skoda does well - creating a surprisingly high-spec car for an attractively low price. If you're looking for excellent value, the Kamiq is a good option.
- Plenty of space in the cabin and boot.
- Reviewers describe the Kamiq as extremely comfortable.
- Strong handling.
- Tech is satisfactory, but not exceptional.
- Not as many added extras as similar SUVs.
Who Should Buy the Kamiq?
If you need space, comfort and a decent driving experience, the Kamiq ticks all the right boxes. It's also safe, has all the tech you're going to need and plenty of luggage space. Drivers who love power and road presence probably won't be drawn to the Skoda, but as an all-around family vehicle for a competitive price, it's difficult to fault.
6. Honda HR-V
The HR-V was first launched way back in 2014. It's due a major revamp for 2022, so some buyers may choose to hold off until next year and see what the new model has to offer. That said, if you pass over the 2021 model, you could be missing out. This year's HR-V offers a solid fusion of performance, space, comfort, and safety.
- Plenty of storage.
- Very safe.
- Responsive engine that offers competitive fuel economy.
- Some reviewers aren't impressed by the Honda's handling.
- It doesn't offer the level of tech you can get elsewhere (the higher-spec Kona, for example, has a much bigger array of features).
Who should buy the HR-V?
The strengths of the HR-V lie in its space and versatility. It's one of the most spacious models in the class - if you need to carry lots of kit, or seat two adults in second-row comfort for a few hundred kilometres, the HR-V is up to the job. It's not the fastest or the most fun on the road, but if you want solid, fuel-efficient transport that carries passengers in comfort, it's worth every cent.
7. Mitsubishi ASX
Having been Australia's best-selling small SUV for several years, it's time to take a look at what the ASX has to offer potential drivers.
- One of the cheapest SUVs on the market.
- Reasonably fuel-efficient.
- Powerful engine.
- Reviewers are not impressed by the handling or acceleration.
- Comfort can be an issue on anything but tarmac.
- Safety is adequate, but not exceptional.
Who Should Buy the ASX?
For buyers on a budget who want the versatility an SUV can bring, the ASX is a great choice. It may not shine in any particular area, but it's certainly adequate on all fronts. There isn't as much choice for add-ons and upgrades as you might find elsewhere, but if you're looking for an economy drive anyway, that's not really a major issue.
8. MG ZS
The MG ZS is the car responsible for putting the MG brand back on the map. This compact SUV has proven to be a solid competitor to established models from Toyota, Mazda and Ford, and last year, it appeared in the top 10 best-selling cars in Australia for the first time. So what is all the fuss about? Well, it looks great, comes highly equipped, has a spacious interior and offers incredible value for money.
-Good value for money
-Well equipped interior
-Cheap to run
-4-Star ANCAP rating
-Some interior plastics feel cheap
Who should drive the MG ZS?
This is a compact SUV for families on a budget. Despite this, buyers won’t feel short-changed. The little MG comes well equipped and the smart styling will look great on your driveway. The ZS also handles well and is backed by a strong ownership program. All that makes this one of the best value cars in the small SUV segment.
9. Kia Seltos
Launched in 2021, the Kia Seltos is a close relative of the Hyundai Kona. However, while the two cars share the same platform. The Seltos is significantly larger on the outside, which translates to more space inside.
And the Seltos is cheaper too, despite having similar levels of equipment. Buyers also have a choice of front-wheel and all-wheel drive for power delivery. So there really is a Seltos for everyone.
-Lots of safety tech
-Smart safety features
-5-year unlimited kilometre warranty
-The standard cabin is basic and options are pricey
-Base models are missing important safety kit
-No plug-in hybrid option is available
Who should drive the Kia Seltos?
The Kia Seltos is the ideal choice for growing families thanks to its roomy interior and good standard of equipment. Budget-conscious buyers will also love the low running costs and bulletproof reliability. But buyers looking for a dynamic drive would be better off with the BMW X1 or Mazda CX-3.
10. BMW X1
The latest generation BMW X1 raises the bar for luxury compact SUVs. As you would expect from BMW, the X1 handles twisty roads well. Power is delivered from a punchy 2.0L turbo engine that gives the X1 surprisingly sprightly performance, and it comes well equipped for a BMW.
All SDrive20i models come with automatic LED headlights, rain-sensing wipers, parking sensors and dual-zone climate control fitted as standard.
-Powerful 2.0L turbo engines
-Quiet and refined cabin
-Lots of space for passengers
-The sporty ride may be too hard for some
-Expensive even for a German brand
-Poor quality sound system
Who should drive the BMW X1?
The BMW X1 competes with other compact luxury SUVs like the Audi Q3, Mercedes-Benz GLA and Volvo XC-40. In this company, it stacks up pretty well. The X1 is well equipped and has very accomplished handling combined with good performance. So it’s the perfect SUV for buyers looking for a spacious family car that handles like a hot hatch.
11. Volvo XC-40
The 2022 Volvo XC-40 is available with a choice of petrol, diesel, plug-in hybrid and fully electric drivetrains. That gives buyers more powertrain options than either the BMW X1 or Audi Q3.
Buyers of the XC-40 will also be impressed by the smart interior. And being a Volvo, it comes equipped with the latest safety tech. Standard equipment includes oncoming lane mitigation, driver alert, road sign information, rearview camera and parking sensors.
-Great ride quality
-Excellent safety features
-Choice of powertrain options
-Road noise at speed
-Touchscreen difficult to use
Who should drive the Volvo XC-40?
The Volvo XC-40 offers great value for money compared to the BMW X1 and Audi Q3. While the minimalist styling makes the Volvo stand out against its German rivals, the availability of plug-in hybrid and electric powertrains will also make it appealing to buyers looking to reduce their carbon footprint.