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, compact crossovers and SUVs 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. Only the Jeep Cherokee, Jeep Wrangler, and Mitsubishi Outlander offer a V6.

WHAT’S NEW FOR 2020

The compact SUV class is slated to gain one new entrant for 2020: the Mazda CX-30 is a sleekly styled crossover that is based on the Mazda 3 compact car. The CX-30 slots between the subcompact CX-3 and the compact CX-5 in Mazda’s lineup. The Ford Escape is completely redesigned, gaining sleeker, more carlike styling; a host of new technology and safety features; and four new available powertrains, including hybrid and plug-in-hybrid models. Ford has also announced it will introduce an off-road-focused “baby Bronco” SUV, but that vehicle likely won’t arrive until 2021 at the earliest.

The Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain lose their previously available diesel engine. The Kia Sportage undergoes a subtle refresh that includes revised styling, a driver-attention warning system, and adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability. After its redesign for 2019, the Toyota RAV4 gains a TRD Off-Road model with a beefed-up suspension, TRD wheels, all-terrain tires, and unique trim elements.

MODELS THAT OFFER SOMETHING UNUSUAL

Along with the redesigned Ford Escape, the 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 a few hybrid models available in the class—the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 offer traditional hybrid versions; the Ford Escape and Kia Niro are available as regular or plug-in hybrids (and the Niro comes as a pure EV as well); and Mitsubishi Outlander and Subaru Crosstrek both offer plug-in-hybrid models. The Jeep Wrangler currently offers a mild-hybrid system, and is slated to add a plug-in-hybrid model for 2020. The Jeep Wrangler is also scheduled to get a diesel engine in the near future. The Wrangler also stands out as the class’s lone convertible. It comes only with 4-wheel drive and is available in 2- and 4-door versions, both offered with a convertible soft top or removable hard top.

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 quite cramped, not surprisingly, but are still useful for children and short trips.

Vehicles in the Compact Crossover/SUV class:

Chevrolet Equinox
Ford Escape
GMC Terrain
Honda CR-V
Hyundai Tucson
Jeep Cherokee
Jeep Compass
Jeep Wrangler
Kia Niro
Kia Sportage
Mazda CX-30
Mazda CX-5
Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross
Mitsubishi Outlander
Nissan Rogue
Subaru Crosstrek
Subaru Forester
Toyota RAV4
Volkswagen Tiguan