It’s easy to see the appeal of compact crossovers and SUVs—they offer excellent passenger/cargo versatility and all-weather capability in a relatively affordable, economical package. Their not-too-big dimensions make most compact crossovers/SUVs ideal for small families and urban dwellers who still like to get off the beaten path once in a while.

Generally speaking, these vehicles are not nearly as “compact” as they used to be. Most have ample seating room for four—five in a pinch—and two offer a third-row seat for 7-passenger capacity (though that last row is quite cramped). Cargo space varies, but many can hold a surprising amount of stuff.

For many buyers, a compact crossover or SUV is all they really need; moving up to one of the 5-passenger midsize models really doesn’t gain them much room. However, compact crossovers have relatively low towing limits (usually around 1500 pounds) whereas the norm for the midsize class is closer to 3500 pounds. Those midsize crossovers that offer a third-row seat usually also have more cargo space, but they’re decidedly larger overall.

Almost all compact crossovers have a 4-cylinder engine—probably one reason towing limits are generally low—though some are turbocharged. Ford’s Escape and Bronco Sport come standard with a turbocharged 3-cylinder engine. The Ford Bronco, Jeep Cherokee, Jeep Wrangler, and Mitsubishi Outlander are available with a V6.

HIGHLIGHTS FOR 2021

The compact SUV class gains two hotly anticipated all-new entrants for 2021: the Ford Bronco and Ford Bronco Sport. The Bronco is engineered for rugged off-roading and has boxy styling inspired by the original 1966 Bronco. Two- and four-door versions are available, each with removable doors and a modular roof that can be removed in sections. The four-door-only Bronco Sport is essentially a “junior” Bronco in size, off-road capability, and price: it’s based on the basic platform of the Ford Escape and is about 17 inches shorter than the four-door Bronco.

The Nissan Rogue is completely redesigned, gaining a top-line Platinum trim level and a host of new technology and convenience features. The Jeep Wrangler lineup adds a ”4xe” plug-in-hybrid model with a 4-cylinder/electric powertrain that makes 375 hp and is capable of up to 21 miles of pure-electric operation. The Mazda CX-30 adds a 250-hp turbo 2.5-liter engine, the Subaru Crosstrek adds a 182-horsepower 2.5-liter four, and the Toyota RAV4 gets a 302-hp Prime plug-in-hybrid model. The Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross skips the 2021 model year, but a restyled version is slated to debut as a 2022 model. Redesigned versions of the Hyundai Tucson and Mitsubishi Outlander are also scheduled to debut as 2022 models.

MODELS THAT OFFER SOMETHING UNUSUAL

The Ford Escape, Kia Niro, and Subaru Crosstrek are more carlike than the rest of the segment—the Niro is not available with all-wheel drive, and the Crosstrek is essentially a beefed-up version of the Subaru Impreza compact car. There are only two members of this class that have bodies long enough to offer a third-row seat: the Mitsubishi Outlander and Volkswagen Tiguan. These third rows are cramped, but are still useful for children and short trips. The Kia Niro is the only entry in this class that is available as a pure EV.

The Ford Bronco and Jeep Wrangler stand out as the class’s most off-road-ready entrants. Both include standard 4-wheel drive, and are available in 2- and 4-door versions with removable doors and roof.