Top 10 Small SUVs in 2017
From the Nissan Rogue to the Mercedes GLC, a ranking of the best small SUVs on America’s roads this year.
The market for small SUVs has grown at an astronomical pace in the past 10 years. As the sales of sedans and compact cars have declined, small SUVs—along with midsize and full size SUVS and trucks—now account for an astonishing 63% of all new car sales in the United States.
Until 2017, the best selling small SUV in the world was the Honda CR-V, a rock-steady money-maker for Honda since its introduction in 1995. With its everyman design and styling that strives to offend few, and just enough ride height to make the driver feel safer in an impact than they would in a sedan (the secret sauce behind small SUV's growing market share), the Honda CR-V does a great job of making its owners feel like all their needs are being met.
This year, the Nissan Rogue went a step further: its owners feel like they don't have any needs at all. The Nissan Rogue sold more than 40,000 units last year, clutching the top-selling small SUV spot from the mighty Honda CR-V. It did it through aggressive incentive programs, improved build quality and design, and solid reliability stats. The Rogue now dominates the small SUV segment crowded with dominant middle-class players such as the Jeep Cherokee, the Subaru Forester and the Toyota RAV4, as well as new or newly-refreshed luxury SUVS like the Mercedes GLC and the Audi Q5.
Which ones are the best to buy right now?
10. 2017 Nissan Rogue - $23,820
It's tempting to take a swing at the workaday Nissan Rogue, a small SUV stalwart. It's not all that agile or stylish, and doesn't have a particularly compelling utility narrative. However, the American purchasing public cares not a whit about whatever we think of the Rogue's shortcomings. Nissan has been the beneficiary of the Rogue's solid-and-growing sales of 40,000 units a month, making it the best-selling SUV in the US and supplanting the mighty Honda CR-V from the top small SUV spot.
So what's under the hood of the reining champ Rogue? It comes in both front- and rear-wheel drive setups. The gas version has a competent 170-hp four-cylinder engine with Nissan's CVT automatic transmission that walks steplessly through the gears. There's also a hybrid version powered by a 2.0-liter four paired with an electric motor. You're not going to do any serious offroading in the Rogue, and you won't turn many heads at the valet stand. But it will probably give you—and most other Americans—everything you need.
8. Ford Escape - $24,645
It's not easy to find a small SUV that actually packs an athletic punch. But the Ford Escape has suffered from a certain type of overexposure—it is a staple in rental and taxi fleets across America, and it lives in the shadow of its big brother, the ground-breaking Ford Explorer.
You don't buy the Ford Escape for the handling, but you'll be pleasantly surprised to find it accurate and predictable, though the steering feels a little foreign. Inside the base model of the Ford Escape, you'll find a 168-hp four-cylinder engine. If you want just a little more juice to make your escape, opt for the 179-hp turbo four or the 245-hp turbo four. Each of these entries is equipped with front-wheel drive, and an AWD system is an option on the turbo models. The infotainment system built into the dash is Ford’s improved Sync 3, which the driver controls with an 8.0-inch touchscreen and serviceable voice recognition. Sync has been down a long and troubled road, and it's finally somewhat dialed in.
7. Audi Q5 - $40,900
The Audi Q5 is the single most important new car Audi has launched in a long time. Ever the second-runner up in the German luxury sales race, Audi needs a huge victory with this US volume entry to remain in the small SUV race at all. What they've come up with easily passes the BMW X5 in design and build.
Audi has been working hard to step out from under VW's Dieselgate scandal, so the new Q5 coming to America won't have an optional 3.0-liter diesel. Instead, it'll be equipped with two versions: a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four that will produce 252 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque—a modest increase in power and twist from the previous generation Q5. It will have a new seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic—one fewer gear than its predecessor. Quattro Ultra, the all-new all-wheel-drive system, is standard equipment in every Q5.
Look for a modest boost in performance: according to Audi, the crossover will get to 60 mph in just 5.9 seconds, about 1.1 seconds quicker than the 2017 Q5.
7. Jeep Cherokee - $24,790
The Jeep Cherokee is a modern American classic. A core product and crucial to the survival of struggling parent company, Fiat Chrysler, the Jeep Cherokee must always have the ambition of being more than just another crossover. It's job is to bring durability to a table where most of the competition is little more than a station wagon on stilts. Does the Cherokee still succeed at that? Equipped with a standard 184-hp 2.4-liter four or optional 271-hp 3.2-liter V6 a stock FCA nine-speed automatic transmission, sometimes it struggles.
Front-wheel drive is standard; four-wheel drive is optional. Like most small SUVs, the cargo capacity in the Cherokee is just ok, but the interior is a step above what the base price calls for. The Trailhawk—tailormade for outdoorsy types—is durable, and the Grand Cherokee sets the standard for merging capability, refinement and a tremendous amount of leather.
6. Honda CR-V - $24,045
How can you argue against the (until very recently) top-selling small SUV in the United States? This mild-mannered juggernaut combines every element your average American driver needs: the Honda CR-V is affordable, sits up higher than a sedan, and is, well, fantastically good in almost every way.
The base Honda CR-V LX is not htat powerful, but then it doesn't need to be. It's outfitted with a 184-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, though the higher trim levels—the EX, EX-L, and Touring—sport a 1.5-liter turbo engine with 190 glorious horses. The real difference between the two powerplants is the low-end punch, which makes the pricier versions feel more powerful. The engines are mated to a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that smoothly transfers the power to the tires.
The interior is cleanly arrayed, with a well-considered infotainment screen and a rear-view camera that comes standard in all models. The EPA-rated 30 MPG impressive, owing in part to standard active grille shutters, which improve aerodynamics at higher speeds. You're not going to discover a new,improved version of yourself in the CR-V, but it'll never make you sad.
5. Subaru Forester - $22,595
We give points to the 2017 Subaru Forester for remaining completely indifferent to modern design or aesthetic appeal. Like many small SUVs, the Subaru Forester is a box of sheetmetal and plastic that places function well above form in the pecking order. Nevertheless, the Forester is one of the roomiest and casually capable small SUVs on the road. With a teetering tall greenhouse and voluminous and durable way-back, it has generous sight-lines and seats that, while not the most comfortable, can certainly take a beating. Under the hood of the standard Forester is a 170-hp, 2.5-liter flat-four, linked to either a six-speed manual or continuously variable automatic transmission. If you want to upgrade to one of the XT models, you'll get a meatier 250-hp 2.0-liter turbo flat-four.
The interior isn't winning any major design awards, but matches the Forester's utility: it works. There's either a 6.2-inch or upgraded 7.0-inch touchscreen used to control the workmanlike infotainment system. A notable recent innovation is Subaru’s optional EyeSight system, which includes a hardware and software suite including lane-departure warning, automated emergency braking, adaptive cruise control.
4. Toyota RAV4 - $24,910
The 2017 Toyota RAV4 is an unassailably safe staple on the steam table buffet that serves up small SUVs. Placed at the bottom of Toyota’s SUV lineup (below the recently redesigned Toyota 4Runner), it is not a picante selection, but if you're not looking to quicken the pulse of parking valets, you can't go wrong. The RAV4 seats five including the driver, and ranges from the front-wheel drive LE to the top of the line Platinum grade. If you want a hydrid, the RAV4 has one.
Under the hood: a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine that produces 176 horsepower and a 6-speed transmission that can be configured in AWD.
The latest model comes with a nice set of standard safety features, including a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, steering assist, and adaptive cruise control. If you elect the Platinum upgrade, yu can luxuriate in such amenities as premium audio, serviceable built-in nav, heated steering wheel, and birds-eye view camera.
3. 2017 Mazda CX-5 - $24,045
In the world of small SUVs, it's good luck to root for the underdog. The Mazda CX-5 is a volume underdog, with sales far behind Toyota. But the new Mazda makes up for its sales delta in the segment with exceptional steering, balance and performance. It is a small SUV with Italian styling and the driving characteristics of a sports car.
The 2017 model is beautifully refreshed, with a refined and sparsely drawn interior, complete with flashes of wood paneling, it evokes the Scandinavian crispness of the fantastic full size SUV, the 2017 Volvo XC90. Under the hood, 155-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and front-wheel drive are standard, though you can upgrade to a 184-hp 2.5-liter four with a six-speed automatic transmission and exquisitely-balanced all-wheel drive. The infotainment panel is intuitive and simple, and all of the optional safety technology—from automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control—are the icing on the small SUV cake.
2. Range Rover Evoque - $41,800
When Land Rover announced it was unveiling a small SUV version of its luxury Range Rover line—and that one of them would be a convertible—the car enthusiast world was prepared to hate. By the time the Range Rover Evoque hit the streets for the initial test drives, there were few complaints. Athletic, roomy, luxurious, powerful? Yes. A convertible? Hell yes.
In the world of small SUVs, the Range Rover Evoque make have less room than the BMW X1—perhaps the Evoque's closest competitor—but it's a superior off-roader. Four-wheel drive comes standard in the Evoque, while the X1 is front-wheel drive (with an AWD option). But the real reason you want the Evoque is its unparalleled interior: inside, the Evoque is beautiful—resplendent in soft leather, aluminum and wood trim pieces placed throughout the cabin with delicacy. The dashboard and console are understated, framed in crisp lines. Inside, the Evoque has no competition.
1. Mercedes-Benz GLC300 - $42,075
Great design is the rarest quality in the awkward small SUV segment. With the Mercedes GLC300, Mercedes has managed the impossible: they've drawn a balanced, nearly beautiful car. From the moment of its debut in 2016, the GLC stood apart from the crowd with an elegant interior, luxurious ride, and exquisite exterior lines.
The latest iteration of the Mercedes-Benz GLC300 shares most of its parts with the C-Class sedan, and while its on-road performance characteristics aren't as sharp as the C, the GLC compensates for its somewhat splashy handling with the sort of styling that will age well.
Under the hood, the GLC300 base holds a turbocharged 2.0-liter, four-banger that produces 241 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. A perfectly geared nine-speed automatic transmission sends power to the rear wheels (the 4Matic option is AWD). The base 300 also comes with 18-inch alloy wheels, flashy LED daytime running lights, adaptive suspension damping, a power liftgate, power-folding mirrors, automatic wipers and roof rails. You'll also get forward collision warning and a drowsy driver warning system.