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Published: Apr 30, 2023 7 min read
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Affordable, fuel-efficient and roomy, compact SUVs are ideal for families and commuters alike. These small road warriors combine the comfort and cargo space of a utility vehicle with carlike handling.

Using a step-by-step methodology, we compared the compact SUVs based on value for money, safety, features, performance and more. Below are our five top choices, with the factors we judge make them stand out most from the pack. The specs listed below each review are for the trim level we assessed, which is the one we think offers the best value for money.

You may, of course, prefer a utility vehicle in a different size or that uses electric power, at least in part (the picks below all have a conventional, gasoline powered powertrain.) For a smaller choice, see our list of the best subcompact SUVs. Larger options are our picks of the best midsized SUVs, the best 3 Row SUVs, the best large SUVs and at least some of the best 2 row SUVs. Alternate powertrains are available by buying one of the best hybrid SUVs, best plug-in hybrid SUVs or best electric SUVs.

Our Picks for the Best Compact SUVs of 2023

Kia Sportage — Best Overall and Best Value
Hyundai Tucson — Best for Features
Mazda CX-5 — Best for Handling
Subaru Forester — Best for Safety
Ford Escape — Best for Technology

Reviews of the Best Compact SUVs

Best Overall and Best Value: Kia Sportage

Courtesy of Kia
  • Affordable
  • Large touch screen
  • Worse fuel economy than many competitors

Starting at $26,290, the Kia Sportage comes well-equipped for the price. Even the popular X-Line trim starts at a low $31,090. The X-Line adds standard all-wheel drive, rain-deflecting wipers and remote engine start.

J.D. Power recognized the Sportage for retaining its value especially well. Kia also received the fewest number of owner complaints of any brand on this list, according to the latest J.D. Power Initial Quality Study.

The five-passenger cabin has more interior room and high-end features like synthetic leather and heated front seats. The Sportage boasts one of the largest cargo capacities on this list, with 39.6 cubic feet of room behind its rear seats. The X-Line comes with a sizable 12.3-inch touch screen and plenty of safety features.

Best for Features: Hyundai Tucson

Courtesy of Hyundai
  • Large cargo capacity
  • Unlocks with your smartphone
  • Ho-hum ride quality

The Hyundai Tucson comes with a variety of engine options and cabin features. Upgrade one level from the base model to the Tucson SEL. Starting just below $43,000, the SEL trim comes with heated front seats and an option for leatherette upholstery, as well as Hyundai Digital Key, which lets you use your smartphone to unlock your car and start your engine.

The Tucson has the largest cargo hold on the list, with 41.2 cubic feet of room behind the rear seats. However, its handling can feel lackluster. There is little excitement with the Tucson ride.

Best for Handling: Mazda CX-5

Courtesy of Mazda
  • Agile handling
  • Stylish interior
  • Smallest cargo capacity

The Mazda CX-5 drives more like a sporty sedan than any other model on this list. It also takes much less time to accelerate from 0 to 60 mph — just over 6 seconds — than competing compact SUVs, which means you can merge onto the highway quicker and overtake slower moving cars with ease.

Starting at $33,000, the mid-tier 2.5 S Premium trim adds leather trim and heated front seats. All models come with a 10.25-inch touch screen, which is larger than most in the category. The cabin is roomy and comfortably seats five people, but the CX-5 trails in cargo capacity with 29.1 cubic feet of room behind its second row.

Best for Safety: Subaru Forester

Courtesy of Subaru
  • Plenty of driver-assist safety features
  • Standard all-wheel drive
  • Sluggish ride

This Subaru Forester earned top marks for headlight safety and was named a Top Safety Pick by the IIHS. The Limited trim comes with Subaru’s EyeSight Driver Assist Technology. This dual-camera system scans the road for unexpected dangers, optimizes cruise control and sends alerts if you sway outside your lane.

With the Limited trim, blind-spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert, reverse automatic braking and high beam assist are standard. Compared with the 186-horsepower engine in the Mazda CX-5, the Subaru ride seems sluggish. Standard all-wheel drive adds traction when traveling over rougher terrain or through bad weather. The Limited trim feels comfortable inside with leather trimmed upholstery and optional heated front seats.

Best for Technology: Ford Escape

Courtesy of Ford
  • Large optional touch screen
  • Wide choice of engines
  • Less cargo space than rivals

The Ford Escape comes well-equipped with technology and safety features. Starting at $28,000, all models feature a Wi-Fi hotspot, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and an 8-inch screen, as well as a wide array of safety equipment such as a blind-spot information system with cross-traffic alert, pedestrian detection and forward collision warning with dynamic brake assist. The ST-Line adds a 13.2-inch touch screen, intelligent adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go and evasive steering assist for just over $30,000.

The five-passenger Escape has a clean interior design but lacks the quality materials found in competing SUVs. Passengers in the back may find the Escape’s rear seats a tight fit. Its cargo capacity is average at best, with 37.5 cubic feet of space behind its second row.

Jaclyn Trop is an award-winning journalist who road-tests and reviews vehicles, in addition to covering automotive news. Her byline has appeared in The New York Times, The New Yorker, Fortune, Consumer Reports and U.S. News & World Report, among other publications.