The SUV has replaced the sedan as the family car of choice with the SUV segment now deadlocked with sedans for total sales by volume… here’s our pick of the tiddler SUVs.

NOT SO LONG AGO, SUVs weren’t even a thing… not outside of the US, anyway. And the US got onto the SUV train a long time ago with the Ford Bronco establishing the idea of a comfortable, off-road capable vehicle. Land Rover took the concept beyond the US with the Range Rover, and the rest is history.

But, these days, SUVs aren’t just about capability when the going gets rough. Indeed, when you look at sales, it’s generally the front-drive vehicles that win the sales race against their all-wheel drive siblings or competitors. It seems, that people aren’t buying these things to go rambling on weekends, they’re buying them because of a perception that they’re roomier than their small car relatives (which is not always true), because they offer a better view of the road ahead, and because they’re easier to climb into for older buyers, or those loading and unloading kids into seats.

A great many of the small SUVs on the list below share a great many parts with their small car siblings, like the CX-3, for instance, which is based on the Mazda2’s platform and not the Mazda3; it lends its platform to the CX-5… And the Kona shares its platform with the Hyundai i30, and so on.

If you’ve seen our Top 5s of late, they’ve focussed on off-road vehicles, well, now we’re starting to catch up and delve into the other segments of the market. And we’re starting at the tiddler end of the SUV segment. It’s crowded, but not as crowded as the other segments. Here we’ve focussed on the value end of the small SUV segment, we’ll follow up with a ranking of vehicles at the premium end of the small SUV category. The aim here is to focus on vehicles that fall in the $20,000-$40,000 range, within that we’ve tried to pick those that offer strong reasons to purchase, be that in their equipment levels, active safety features, or the way they drive, or a combination of all three.

Read on for our list of the Top 5 small SUVs. We’d love to hear your suggestions on how you would have ranked the vehicles or whether you would have added different ones entirely.

  1. Subaru XV

Prices for the Subaru XV swing from $27,990-$35,240+ORC. All variants offer all-wheel drive, run the same engine in the same output of 115kW and 196Nm of torque, get a clever CVT that makes the most of the power and torque available. Based off Subaru’s Global Platform, which will see service under everything from this XV through to next-generation Outback, Forester and more.

Of all the vehicles on this page, the XV is easily the most capable when the bitumen runs out; getting a clever all-wheel drive system and now X-Mode too for improved performance off the bitumen, plenty of ground clearance (220mm) and much more. Once activated, X-Mode is operational below 40km/h and tweaks the stability, traction and throttle mapping. The hill descent works at up to 20km/h with the speed set via the brake; meaning whatever speed you enter the descent is the speed the vehicle will maintain and it’ll work down to 1km/h.

The XV gets Subaru’s latest-generation EyeSight (only the entry-level model misses out) active safety system which is excellent and in the top-spec 2.0i-S adds rear cross traffic alert and automatic braking. In terms of interior quality, the XV is the best yet and its infotainment system (8.0-inches in top-spec variants) also offers smartphone connectivity.

The boot space of 310 litres or 765 litres when the rear seats are folded isn’t the roomiest of boots in the segment, but it’s big enough for a family of four. The XV gets tweaks to the suspension and steering to suit Australian driving desires, indeed Subaru Australia provides feedback to HQ on all the vehicles before they arrive here to ensure the steering, ride and handling is up to scratch. Indeed, the XV is a whole lot of fun to drive on or off the bitumen. Read more.

  1. Hyundai Kona

One of the newest entrants onto the market, the Kona kicks off from $24,500+ORC for the Active 2WD (2.0L); and $26,000+ORC with SmartSense; $28,500+ORC for the Elite; and $33,000+ORC for the Highlander. The AWD variants with the 1.6L turbocharged motor start at $28,000+ORC for the Elite; $29,500+ORC with SmartSense; $32,000+ORC for the Elite; and $36,000+ORC for the Highlander. Premium paint adds $595 across the line-up and the two-tone roof on Elite and Highlander costs $295.

Like some of the other cars on this list, the Kona shares it platform with a passenger car, in this case, it’s the i30, although while the Kona is slightly shorter than the i30, it boasts more boot space and both two-wheel drive and all-wheel drive variants as well as customisable colour patterns and two-tone roof options for mid- and top-spec variants.


Like the i30, there’s a tablet-style infotainment screen mounted on top of the dashboard and, just like in that car it doesn’t look like it’s been tacked onto the dashboard. Below that are the climate controls (only single-zone climate control is available on Kona) with all the major controls within easy reach. The materials used in the Kona Highlander’s cabin don’t feel quite as premium, for lack of a better word, as the i30 SR Premium.

There’s plenty of room in the front and the back of the Kona and the boot offers 361L of storage space. There are two engines and transmission on offer for Kona in Australia, including a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol making 110kW and 180Nm of torque mated to a six-speed automatic and a 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder making 130kW and 265Nm of torque, mated to a seven-speed DCT. Kona can be had in either two- or all-wheel drive configuration. Fuel consumption ranges from 6.7-7.2L/100km depending on the variant.

The Kona’s good to drive on and off the road, although it doesn’t have a permanent all-wheel drive system, rather it’s an on-demand system, but it’s quick to act and the traction and stability controls have been tuned to keep you on the right path, rather than slap you on the wrist and try and kill progress completely.

The Kona gets a five-star ANCAP rating, reversing camera, airbags, autonomous emergency braking, blind spot monitoring and more.

  1. Mazda CX-3

The Mazda CX-3 is one of the best-selling small SUVs on the market and while it was updated last year, it’s still essentially the same vehicle that launched here in 2015. Indeed, when Mazda launched the ‘refreshed’ model last year it said it had avoided ‘change for change’s sake’. But changes were made to the bits beneath the sheet metal. Mazda’s G-vectoring control was made standard across the range and it promises to improve dynamic ability and stability. GVC works by reducing engine power, when required, so that the vehicle shifts more weight over the front of the vehicle and is better balanced when turning into a corner.

Other changes include a redesigned bushing control arm (decreasing resistance by 40%), tuning of dampers and tweaks to the rear multi-link bushing. All models are available with either a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol producing 109kW/192Nm or a 1.5-litre diesel turbo producing 77kW/270Nm. Both are available in a variety of front-wheel drive, all-wheel drive and manual or automatic transmissions.

The headline grabber is that Mazda made its active safety suite standard across the entire range, this includes autonomous emergency braking that works in forwards and reverse, blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert are standard from the middle of the range up.

Pricing kicks off from $20,490+ORC for front-wheel drive models and runs to $33,490+ORC, while the all-wheel drive variants are only available in Maxx and up, and that pricing starts at $30,990 through to $37,890+ORC. The CX-3 even in all-wheel drive variants lacks the capability of competitors like the XV and, while it’s very good to drive, it’s not quite as dynamic as the XV.

  1. Nissan Qashqai

The Nissan Qashqai is bigger than the vehicles we’ve listed here but it’s still considered a compact SUV, and with more than 3 million units sold since 2007 it’s popular. The Qashqai was launched in Australia as the Dualis in 2008 but the name changed to its global name in 2014; since then more than 38,000 have been sold in Australia.

The 2018 Qashqai was launched late last year and features around 25 new bits and pieces, some of which include a new front bumper and grille, rear bumper, tweaked suspension, NVH improvements, around view monitor, advanced safety suite and a ‘plusher’ interior.

One of the roomiest compact crossovers in the segment, there’s no all-wheel drive variant and no diesel engine either. Pricing has either dropped or risen slightly, but Nissan claims the enhanced features list more than makes up for any pricing changes. The line-up includes the entry-level ST, mid-spec ST-L and the top-spec Ti.

The Qashqai is built on the brand’s, and take a breath, Renault-Nissan Alliance Common Moduel Family (CMF) platform. The updated Qashqai is 17mm longer than its predecessor but retains the same width and height measurements. And, for the first time, wheels run from 17- to 19-inches in diameter.

Pricing kicks off at $26,490+ORC for the entry-level ST with manual transmission, climbs to $28,990+ORC for the same variant with a CVT, while the ST-L (pictured in this review) lists from $32,990+ORC, the N-TEC from $36,490+ORC and the Ti from $37,990+ORC.

The refreshed interior is clearly a step ahead of the old car but it’s still a long way off the segment leaders. The infotainment system is new but doesn’t get Apple CarPlay or Android Auto connectivity and, I think, in this segment that feature is fast becoming an expected offer.

The seats are all-new and they feel good whether you’re tootling around town, running on the highway, around corners or across dirt roads. There are no rear air vents or power outlets in the back, regardless of the variant, but head, leg and shoulder room is good. There’s good visibility for those sat in the back; the new front seats are tapered slightly to improve forwards vision when you’re in the back seat. The boot is a whopper for the class offering 430 litres which expands to 1598 litres when you fold down the rear seats.

The updated Qashqai is only now available with a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine making 106kW at 6000rpm and 200Nm of torque at 4000rpm. The entry-level only is available with a six-speed manual while the rest of the range gets a CVT. The petrol engine doesn’t seem overly endowed with oomph but there’s a smoothness to the power delivery that makes for unfussed progress, although it’s only when you get to an overtaking situation that you realise the engine is puffing at its limit.

The updated Qashqai carries on with the old car’s five-star ANCAP rating as well as front to rear side curtain airbags, front side impact airbags and driver and passenger airbags. There’s also usual suspects, like traction and stability controls, ISOFIX, lane departure warning and intelligent emergency braking with forward collision warning as standard.

  1. Mitsubishi ASX

The ASX is the grand old dame of the small SUV segment and is one of the best-sellers in the segment. Despite its age, the ASX isn’t the cheapest in the segment with pricing starting at $25,000+ORC for the entry-level front-drive variant and topping out at $37,500+ORC for the top-spec all-wheel drive XLS turbo-diesel variant. Lightly updated in 2017, all models come with 18-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, halogen headlamps and infotainment (6.1-inch for LS, 7.0-inch for XLS). The XLS gets some extras like leather-appointed seats and keyless entry.

While the ASX still looks good on the outside, it’s failing to provide much against key rivals in the value stake. the petrol-powered ASX is middle of the road compared to its rivals. That engine is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol producing 110kW/197Nm and achieves a combined fuel consumption of 6.4L/100km. The diesel offers better spec (and driveability in the real world) from its 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine (sourced from its big brother, the Outlander) which produces 110kW/360Nm and combined fuel consumption is a little lower at 5.3L/100km.

The ASX has a roomy cabin, but not a particularly pretty one and its infotainment system might be on-par with the Pajero Sport (same system) but it feels a generation or two behind the rest of the segment now. That said, you can fit three adults across the back seat if needed, and the boot offers 393L which is bigger than the CX-3 (264L) and Subaru XV (310L).

In terms of safety, the ASX hasn’t really been held to scrutiny recently (its ANCAP rating dates back to 2010), and as it lacks safety features such as active radar cruise, AEB, lane keep assist, cross traffic in any model grade, it falls behind nearly all of its rivals. It’s a solid performer and continues to sell very well, but it’s a definite back marker in the segment.


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