Every 2021 Compact SUV Ranked from Best to Worst

a black 2021 mazda cx-5 in the snow

Compact SUVs are some of the best-selling vehicles in the United States. In fact, they occupy three of the top ten spots on the list. SUV sales are booming as American consumers trade in their sedans for these higher-riding models. As such the compact SUV segment is a crowded and competitive one. But competition is healthy and has resulted in some great offerings for consumers. We’ll help you cut through the crowded pack to determine which one is best for you.

We ranked 16 compact SUVs from best to worst by combining their ratings on driving performance, standard features, design, and value.

16. 2021 Jeep Compass

a red 2019 jeep compass

(image via Facebook)

We do like the exterior styling of the Jeep Compass, and the interior is just as straightforward and appealing. However, it has below-average reliability ratings, so even the affordable price point may turn into a more expensive investment in the long term. It also features underpowered engines, humdrum handling, and tight cargo space.

15. 2021 Mitsubishi Outlander

a red 2019 mitsubishi outlander

(image via Facebook)

The Outlander does have 3 rows, something the majority of these competitors don’t. That makes it affordable for a 3-row SUV. But since it has a dull engine, low-quality interior materials, and doesn’t rank very well for reliability, buyers’ money is best spent elsewhere. As it undergoes a complete redesign for the 2022 model year, the only Outlander model available for 2021 is the plug-in hybrid version.

14. 2021 Nissan Rogue Sport

(image via Facebook)

One great thing about the 2021 Nissan Rogue Sport is that the Safety Shield 360 driver assistance suite of features now comes standard as of last year. And that long list of standard tech and safety features at this price point is something buyers shouldn’t overlook. What they won’t be impressed by, however, is the underpowered engine options and below-average cabin material quality.

13. 2021 GMC Terrain

a black 2019 gmc terrain

(image via Facebook)

We are fans of the exterior look, and it’s getting an even better mini-refresh in 2022. However, the tricky space between the C- and D-pillars offers an essentially unusable window which makes rear visibility troublesome. The GMC Terrain’s cabin is comfy, and the ride is smooth. Yet, there aren’t enough upgrades from the mechanically identical Chevrolet Equinox to justify the higher price tag.

12. 2021 Jeep Cherokee

a blue 2019 jeep cherokee

(image via Facebook)

Like its other Jeep siblings, the Cherokee has a well laid out, if not simple, infotainment dash. It also truly holds its own off-road. Maybe that off-road focus contributed somewhat to the lowest fuel economy ratings in the class. Acceleration also suffers from a poor base engine, though a new optional 2.0L is available.

11. 2021 Chevrolet Equinox

a red 2019 chevrolet equinox

(image via Facebook)

The Chevrolet Equinox fell just behind its corporate cousin. It’s affordable and has good reliability ratings. The cabin is comfortable and roomy, and the infotainment dash is intuitive. The build quality materials could be amped up a bit, but it does have a diesel model that offers stellar fuel economy. At least that’s a differentiator from competitors.

10. 2021 Volkswagen Tiguan

a black 2019 volkswagen tiguan

(image via Facebook)

Sure the Tiguan has a funny name, but there’s nothing funny about the driving experience. It floats down the road with the sure-footedness of a mid-size luxury sedan. It also has a great warranty and good reliability ratings, which means that it’s a safe investment for the long haul. The rear cargo area is also particularly spacious.

9. 2021 Kia Sportage

a silver gray 2019 kia sportage

(image via Facebook)

The Kia Sportage offers the typical South Korean value proposition. Tons of standard features at lower prices than rivals. The Sportage is also smooth-riding with taut handling. It doesn’t have the most cargo space behind the rear seats, however. Nonetheless, it’s still a solid choice.

8. 2021 Ford Escape

a white 2020 ford escape

(image via Facebook)

The 2021 Ford Escape was newly redesigned last year. This new version comes with the addition of hybrid and plug-in hybrid models. We aren’t the biggest fans of this new car-like design. Things are a little bland on the outside and the inside. On the plus, the dash is laid out in an intuitive and clean way. If you prize cargo space, the Ford Escape is one of the class leaders.

7. 2021 Hyundai Tucson

a silver 2019 hyundai tucson

(image via Facebook)

The Hyundai Tucson is related to the Kia Sportage and has, essentially, the same pros and cons. Its smooth ride is counterbalanced by middling fuel economy ratings and smaller cargo capacity than some rivals in this class. It’s due for a complete overhaul in 2022, and Hyundai has promised some radical styling. It might be worth your while to wait a few months to see what Hyundai has in store if your heart is set on a Tucson.

6. 2021 Nissan Rogue

a gray 2021 nissan rogue in a field

(image via Facebook)

Even though the Nissan Rogue comes near the bottom of the pack in our rankings, it’s one of the best-selling vehicles in the country. It’s affordable and comes loaded with a large array of standard features. It’s also surprisingly roomy for a compact SUV. The underpowered engine, however, tends to whine and struggle when picking up speed. It’s noticeable enough to hear it in the cabin. The interior is also beginning to show its age.

5. 2021 Ford Bronco Sport

a red and black ford bronco sport

(image via Facebook)

Ford is bringing back its celebrated Bronco nameplate. While a true body-on-frame off-roading SUV is on the horizon, the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport is a smaller unibody crossover version that appeals more to urban dwellers. We are fans of the design and the clean interior (although the C-pillar is a bit strange). The driving dynamics are promising, but it is a bit more expensive than competitors.

4. 2021 Subaru Forester

a green 2019 subaru forester

(image via Facebook)

The venerable Forester (a lifted station wagon “disguised” like an SUV) has been selling like gangbusters for Subaru. It’s easy to see why. The Japanese automaker’s cars typically have great safety scores and solid handling with a comfortable ride. All of that applies to the Forester, plus it comes standard with all-wheel-drive. Not many other competitors in this class can say that.

3. 2021 Toyota RAV4

a black 2019 toyota rav4

(image via Facebook)

Toyota’s top seller was completely redesigned in 2019, and we are fans of the more aggressive styling (at least compared to something like Ford’s Escape). The RAV4 has spacious dimensions throughout the interior, and it comes with an array of standard driver assistance features. Plus, the very fuel-efficient hybrid model is only slightly more expensive and comes standard with AWD. There really isn’t a reason not to opt for it. New for 2021 is a plug-in hybrid version (the RAV4 Prime) that can travel 42 miles on electricity alone.

2. 2021 Honda CR-V

a red 2019 honda cr-v

(image via Facebook)

While the CR-V may not have won us over on the looks depart from the outside, once you sit in the cockpit you can’t help but appreciate the obvious care and precision with which Honda appointed its vehicle. It has the most space in the class, great fuel economy, an upscale interior, and a smooth-as-can-be ride. No wonder it’s a perennial best-seller.

1. 2021 Mazda CX-5

a black 2021 mazda cx-5 in the snow

(image via Facebook)

Mazda’s CX-5 outsells the rest of Mazda’s lineup combined. It’s easy to see why. Both the exterior and interior are gorgeous. The sheet metal shines in classy waves, and the minimalist interior looks like it was pulled straight out of the luxury class. The powerful engines provide a pleasant and engaging driving experience, and it doesn’t come at the expense of fuel economy. What is there not to like?