Currently reading: Top 10 best compact crossovers 2020
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Jacked up small superminis seem to be all the rage among buyers at the moment, so which compact crossover takes the throne in our top ten?
Autocar
News
8 mins read
2 March 2020

The compact crossover hatchback segment is now one of the most strategically important in the whole car market. It has steadily grown over the last decade as other more traditional market segments have contracted, and as a great many customers have realised that a big, high-rise supermini has all of the space and versatility they really need, bound up in a compact and affordable package. Some offer a good deal more comfort, convenience and design appeal than a traditional family hatchback, too.

The relative youth of the class may helps to explain why it hasn’t been populated by very many cars that a keen driver would seek out; that, and the fact that developing a high-riding car at a pretty modest price, using pretty basic technology – and making it interesting to drive – is something of a challenge. Even so, some of the very latest comers to the scene show signs that may be about to change.

These are the ten best compact crossovers money can buy, then, should you find yourself in the market. And right now, plenty of people are.

1. Volkswagen T-Cross

Volkswagen has watched and waited as its rivals have rushed to cash in on the popularity of cars like this – and the firm’s first compact crossover, the T-Cross, feels very much like the sort of car that’s been judged and executed with care.

Sitting right in the middle of the class on size and price, the T-Cross rises higher than some of its rivals, and has more SUV-typical styling than others. The engine range is comprised of a pair of 1.0-litre turbocharged three-pot petrols and a 1.6-litre diesel.

We’ve driven both 94- and 113bhp tunes of the 1.0-litre TSI and, while the latter is a little bit faster and more drivable (thanks in no small part to having an extra cog in its manual gearbox than the former), neither version feels slow. Refinement is good, economy likewise (both cars are well capable of 50mpg on a longer out-of-town trip) and ride and handling are nicely resolved with a sense of pragmatic compliance and low-speed cushioning to the ride that should endear the car to owners.

Practicality is very good for such a compact car, a standard-fit sliding rear bench adding versatility when you need to carry bulkier items. So overall, while perceived cabin quality isn’t quite as good as you might expect from Volkswagen, the T-Cross is easily good enough to be our class-leading recommendation.

Save money with new T-Cross deals from What Car?

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2. Ford Puma

Ford has been slow to hop into the warm and inviting water of the compact crossover class, having so far only ventured the disappointing Ecosport (which didn’t make much of a dent, for reasons that will have been apparent to anyone who drove one). The Puma certainly raises the temperature of that water now, however, since it brings plenty of the driver appeal for which its maker is known to a part of the market that badly needed some.

The Puma is offered with a trio of 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol engines, with 48-volt hybrid technology enabling the top-level one to produce up to 152bhp. It shares its model platform with the current Fiesta supermini – and shares plenty of its vital, engaging dynamic character with that sibling model also. Corners are taken with surprising handling accuracy and poise, while the car’s damping is particularly fluent and skilfully tuned if you avoid the sportiest trims.

Although cabin space and perceived quality are hardly class-leading, the car comes with some neat storage solutions, the cleverest of which is a hosable underfloor storage area of dirty boots and wet clothes called the mega box.

Save money with new Puma deals from What Car?

3. Seat Arona

The Seat Arona beat the related T-Cross to the UK market by a year, and was our top pick of the class for a while. Now, albeit only in comparison to the T-Cross, its interior doesn’t seem quite as accommodating as it once did, and its driving experience isn’t quite as well-rounded.

The Arona’s interior is a little bit staid and its handling more bland than that of Seat’s other sportier-than-the-norm models, although it’s better than some rivals. The car has strong refinement and drivability and a broader range of engines than is offered in the VW.

In a class pitched for style, convenience and practicality, the Arona offers more than most of its rivals, with slightly higher pricing than the class average offset by top-notch infotainment and solidity of tactile feel.

Save money with new Arona deals from What Car?

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4. Renault Captur

The second-generation Renault Captur edges out its alliance partner sibling the Nissan Juke here for several reasons. It has a more flexible and slightly roomier interior with sliding back seats; it has a surprisingly classy level of perceived quality also, with plenty of ritzy in-car tech to drive up the richness of the ambience; and it has a much broader engine range, which increases your chances of finding just the right car to suit your needs.

Fine styling and great value have been Captur strong suits since the first-gen car, of course, as they remain now. The car’s entry-level 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine has strong torque and is pretty drivable and reasonably refined, although it doesn’t raise eyebrows for outright performance. The mid-range 1.3-litre TCE petrol is smoother but not a great deal quicker. We’ve yet to try either of the diesels, or the forthcoming 1.6-litre plug-in hybrid.

Save money with new Captur deals from What Car?

5. Nissan Juke

The original Nissan Juke was the reason we’ve got a compact crossover class at all. Its late noughties market success proved there was a market for jumped-up superminis with SUV-themed styling, and it managed to remain an unconventional choice throughout its life even though it had so many imitators.

The second-generation version corrected the biggest flaws of the first, and retained most of its funky, off-beat styling appeal – although it’s not quite good enough to challenge for the top ranks here. Interior space is now pretty class-competitive, with room in the back seats for adults as well as kids and a good-sized boot now present and correct.

The Juke is more firmly sprung and sporty-feeling to drive than the average crossover, with tidy and composed handling and a ride that can sometimes feel a little bit busy and restive, but is settled enough for the most part. The car’s engine range is currently limited to a 115bhp 1.0-litre petrol which feels a little bit weedy for the car at times, but other options – among them a hybrid – are coming later.

Save money with new Juke deals from What Car?

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6. Mazda CX-3

Mazda's compact crossover is one of the best-handling out there, but it's got a bit less space – in both the boot and the back row – than the class norm, and a high price compared with more practically-oriented competitors. It's good looking, too, with a handsome exterior and well-appointed interior.

Diesels aren't nearly as tidy-handling and -riding as petrols, even though they're punchy and frugal; although most in this class by a petrol engine in any case.

That leaves this Mazda as a bit of a hard sell when considering the four-figure relative savings on similar, and better, rivals – but it’s still a car we like for good reasons.

Save money with new CX-3 deals from What Car?

7. Audi Q2

Audi has become the first of the German premium brand triumverate to throw its cap into the compact crossover ring – and it has done that far more convincingly with the Q2 than Mercedes-Benz or BMW has, over the years, when attempting to miniaturise a premium SUV.

Don't expect off-road prowess – not least because it’s not expected of cars like this, with few even offering four-wheel drive. Still, you won't be disappointed with the Q2’s plush interior, its alternative styling or its surprisingly keen handling.

Mini's Countryman might beat it on fashion appeal for some buyers, but it's a far less polished package than Audi's jacked-up hatch. Far pricier than the usual supermini-SUV suspects, but cheaper than key premium rivals, the Q2 is our favoured premium-brand contender.

Save money with new Q2 deals from What Car?

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8. Citroen C3 Aircross

The C3 Aircross replaces the C3 Picasso in the Citroën range, as SUVs pulverise the MPV segment in Europe. It’s one of the better-value cars in this class, as well as one of the most comfortable, with a typically-Citroën level of quirkiness on the interior, despite the lack of quality feel.

It's a pity that the handling is quite so bland, and that neither refinement nor responsive, easily drivable performance particularly recommend the car. Details like good gearshift quality and assured steering feel are dynamic details that Citroen often fails to attend to, and they’ve been a bit neglected here, too.

Practicality is, at least, on par with the best cars in the class, while the C3 Aircross’ style sets it apart from rivals.

Save money with new C3 Aircross deals from What Car?

9. DS 3 Crossback

The latest premium brand addition to the class is also the first to use PSA-Peugeot-Citroen’s ‘CMP’ supermini platform – and will be the first to bring an electric powertrain to the class also. The DS3 Crossback is roughly mid-sized, although high prices do limit its appeal a bit.

It’s styled on the theme of designer luxury goods, like so many of DS Automobiles’ models, with richer materials helping to lift the cabin ambience – at least until you happen across the cheaper-feeling elements. Practicality is competitive without being outstanding, with a high shoulder line giving the rear quarters a particularly claustrophic feel.

PSA’s 1.2-litre turbocharged petrol engine makes up the majority of the engine range, which extends from 99bhp up to 153-, with a 99bhp 1.5-litre diesel also included. The car’s driving experience is generally pleasing enough: the car is pliant-riding without feeling soft, it’s generally refined, and its intuitive and predictable in its handling.

Save money with new DS3 Crossback deals from What Car?

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10. Dacia Duster

Nothing more or less than the cheapest small SUV you can buy. In full - a pretty capable off-roader, and a spacious and frugal family car, albeit with dynamic shortcomings and a crash safety rating a rung or two below competitors.

Sure, the diesel is more expensive than the entry-level petrol, and it's a noisy old thing at that, but for the money, only secondhand comes close. Strictly for the space and capability it affords for the money, it's in a class all of its own.

Save money with new Duster deals from What Car?

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