In 2018, around one in three registrations in the UK and Europe will be SUVs. It's a segment that has been growing steadily for years but has only now started to pick up real pace, prompting manufacturers to build entire ranges of high-riders.
These are just below average on the size chart but are the most popular, with the segment housing several brands' best-selling SUVs. Customers expect Tardis-like space on the inside and a commanding driving position, combined with the compactness of an average family hatchback to keep palms unsweaty in town and on narrow lanes.
Volvo’s first attempt at a compact SUV sibling for its established XC60 and -90 models is a real success, and in the XC40 has given us a car of the sort of instant kerbside appeal you’d expect of a class-leading act.
With a design sufficiently charismatic and alluring to bring younger family buyers into Volvo showrooms, the XC40 backs up its funky exterior with a cabin of laudable richness and quality. While this isn’t the most practical car in the compact SUV class, it certainly has plenty of luxury-car ambience, not to mention all the in-car technology you’d hope for.
The XC40’s ride and handling represents Volvo at its best, and the small family 4x4 at its most relaxing. Rather than chasing other premium brands for driver appeal, the Volvo is happy to play the comfortable, refined, convenient and easy-to-use option – and it’s an effective one. If an SUV’s mission is to lift its driver above the hustle and bustle and filter out the pain from the daily grind, none does it better.
This is arguably the best-looking SUV on the market and objectively much more refined than its predecessor, with respectable fuel economy and an unusual level of handling verve for the class.
The CX-5 interior is both solid and quietly stylish and offers plenty of cabin and boot space. CO2 emissions are a little on the high side, while the engine pumping it out is torquey if you opt for the diesel - but no world-beater. Prices start a little higher than for some SUV rivals, but equipment is more generous.
The CX-5 offers a healthy mix of fun, frugality and family-friendly space, and deserves serious consideration for buyers who want a car that does a little bit of everything.
The Tiguan is Volkswagen's third-best-selling model after the Golf and Polo hatchbacks. It's flexible, spacious, solidly built, comfortable and refined. With just a little more driver engagement, it would be a formidable package.
It's a pricey option and its interior isn't a particularly interesting, but what it lacks in visual drama it more than makes up for in solidity. The car's driving experience is a little bit spec-sensitive: with the better, more powerful engines and adaptive suspension, the car performs and handles very well, and rides with all the sophistication you'll want - but the more basic versions are more ordinary.
A premium offering? Perhaps not in every sense, but it's a cut above most cars in the growing compact SUV pile.
BMW's SUV range is growing all the time, but its smallest such model is one of our top picks. It sits on the cusp of the SUV and crossover classes, having a lower driving position and a more hatchback-like driving experience than many of its opponents here. But BMW certainly makes a dynamic virtue out of the car's positioning, with more powerful petrol and diesel versions of the car being remarkably agile and grippy.
It's among the firmer-riding SUVs in this bracket, it could certainly be more refined and, rather disappointingly, isn't among the class' most fuel-efficient offerings. It's more practical than the pricier Audi Q3, though, and feels more premium inside than the Mercedes-Benz GLA.
On price, the X1 is far cheaper than the Range Rover Evoque, although it's still several thousand up on the more mass-market offerings in this list. It's a choice for those who want a bit of SUV practicality in their lives - but not enough to stop them enjoying their daily commute.
Land Rover's 'baby Range' has been a sales phenomenon, but anything with that Range Rover badge commands a heavy premium.
That's the case here: the Evoque is one of the more expensive cars in this class - and isn't among the largest. However, it has got buckets of desirability, it handles well and it looks as good as it did the day it was revealed. You'll pay more in price, fuel and tax, though, because it's a little thirstier than its rivals. A slightly softer suspension set-up would make a notable difference in ride quality, too, which isn't as comfortable as you might expect.
The Evoque isn't a class leader, but it's a compelling choice and a car that proved how far design appeal could go in this segment for buyers who are clearly willing to overlook its shortcomings.
The CR-V has been around longer than most others on this list, yet it remains something of a safe choice, thanks to its fantastic practicality, reliability, economy and ease of use.
It's not the most exciting compact SUV, but it has a flexible interior and is well-built and frugal. That said, the dashboard could benefit from being simplified, and automatic models are considerably thirstier than their manual counterparts.
The C-RV is a little long in the tooth compared with the rest of the segment, so when its replacement arrives at the end of summer, it'll have some catching up to do.
In the hotly contested SUV market, the 3008's sharp looks help it to stand out from the crowd - even if its engine refinement, handling and interior space don't. What it lacks in handling verve, though, it makes up for with generous standard equipment, and with a smattering of rich, high-quality materials inside.
It'll take many drivers some time to get used to the car's downsized steering wheel, which seems even more incongruous on an SUV than it does on smaller models; and while Peugeot's i-Cockpit layout is eye-catching, it's also more widely ergonomically flawed.
The 3008 is fairly competitively priced, but doesn't offer as much interior space as rivals.
Several of the cars in this class offer an intriguing leftfield take on downsized, highrise motoring luxury – but none do it quite like the DS7 Crossback. This new SUV flagship has ornate though derivative exterior styling, is upholstered in lavishly upmarket materials, and has the imaginative flourish of a car built to stand out.
To drive, the car stands out for as many of the wrong reasons as the right ones. Its digital instruments are unusual but hard to read, its perceived quality isn’t as high as it might be across the board, and while it rides softly and can be comfortable and refined at times, at other times it can be brittle-riding, remote-handling and a little bit imprecise to place.
With closer attention-to-detail to the finer points of the driving experience, the DS7 could have ranked up there with the XC40 – a car of a similar type, but executed much more successfully. As it stands, it’s a car of untapped potential.
The Q3 is a car of two halves. It's expensive and feels finely crafted inside - though admittedly it also feels old by Audi's standards. Its engines are respectable, but the steering is disappointingly numb. And while refinement is a strength, the ride is sensitive, transmitting every imperfection in the road right to the driver.
Like many, the Q3 could be seen as more of a raised hatchback than a small SUV, meaning that rear head room isn't adult-friendly. The way the Q3 drives is its biggest sin, though - the sterile handling is becoming increasingly less forgivable with ever more exciting-to-drive SUVs arriving.
Ford's reputation for decent handling isn't sullied by the prospect of an SUV; the Kuga is one of the keen driver's go-to choices in this segment, although the rest of the package isn't quite so tempting. It's cheaper than key rivals such as the CX-5 and Tiguan, though it doesn't ride as comfortably as key rivals and isn't as mechanically refined.
Likewise, the car's twin-clutch automatic gearbox isn't much cop, and you can get more room for your money elsewhere. Since its facelift, standard equipment has taken a boost, too - although exterior styling that's been made unusually fussy doesn't do much to promote the car above also-ran status.