Cars come in every shape and size, but not every style is ideal for city living. Ideally, you want something that has the power to handle the highway but which is nimble enough to maneuver around town, too, while also offering enough practicality for daily living. Only one category ticks all these boxes, and that is SUVs such as these. Originally designed to be true to their name as sport utility vehicles, these high-riders have evolved over the years to meet just about every need. If you want to go off-road, there are still plenty of nameplates that offer this capability, but if you want a comfortable, safe, and reliable city runabout, there are even more options to choose from.
Of course, there are plenty of large configurations out there, with seating for up to seven, enormous trunks, and more features than you could ever actually use, but it’s the small and subcompact crossovers that have really revolutionized the market in the USA. These affordable, highly practical little motors have all but replaced the traditional sedan and hatchbacks that used to crowd the streets. With demand being so high and the industry so lucrative, there has been a virtual flood of new models released over the past decade.
Bearing this in mind, it can be a little daunting to find the right car to suit your specific needs. You need to account for your budget, the size of your family, the environment in which you live, and myriad other concerns like comfort and safety. So to make your journey towards owning your next family hauler a little easier, here is a quick list of some of the top city-centric small SUVs currently on sale in the States.
1. Kia Seltos
Starting things off in the subcompact segment is the Kia Seltos. Remarkably affordable, with a starting MSRP of just $22,000, this Korean crossover offers amazing value for money. Positioned slightly above the Kia Soul in both price and size, the Seltos draws a lot of inspiration from the highly successful Telluride, which is basically the supersized version.
Buyers can choose from the slightly lackluster standard 2.0-liter engine, or the spunkier turbocharged four-pot, which develops 175 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque. This is definitely the route to go if you want to get around town in a hurry or just have a little fun with your tiny ute. Sadly the automatic CVT doesn’t do either powertrain any favors.
Far more impressive, though, is the interior. It really is quite hard to believe that Kia asks for a mere $22k when this is how much you get in return. Passenger space is impressive considering the size of the crossover, and the trunk is absolutely enormous, easily accommodating 26.6 cubic feet of cargo.
Although there is quite a bit of hard plastic around the cabin, it doesn’t feel cheap, and the leather-wrapped wheel and shifter are a nice touch. The infotainment suite starts off relatively basic but quickly evolves into a lot more, but if you want a decent number of driver-assistance features you will have to aim a bit higher on the trim levels and dish out about another three grand.
2. Mazda CX-30
A latecomer to the Mazda stable, the CX-30 is a very niche offering that slots in between the CX-3 and CX-5 – why it isn’t simply called the CX-4 is anybody’s guess. The base model will set you back by around the same amount as a Seltos, but it gets a bit pricier when you start looking at the higher-spec offerings, which cost around $30,000
For your money, you get a very handsome crossover with LED headlamps and an available moonroof. Doing the work of moving the vehicle is a 186-hp four-cylinder, which does a pretty good job of keeping up with some of its turbocharged competitors. A choice of front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive is available to all models, so you can save a few bucks if you live in an area with excellent road maintenance and mild weather.
The inside of the crossover is more premium than you’d expect at this price point, but you may want to avoid the entry-level model if you don’t like the feeling of urethane under your hands. A 20.2-cubic-foot trunk means that the CX-30 can handle just about any day-to-day errands, while a comprehensive list of tech and gadgets will keep everyone happy and safe.
3. Volvo XC40
Though not quite as affordable as the aforementioned subcompacts, the Volvo XC40 deserves a mention. For a luxury vehicle, it isn’t overly expensive at $34k, but you need to keep in mind that it relies on premium fuel and doesn’t offer the same mileage figures in comparison to its more budget rivals, returning 23/32/26 mpg city/highway/combined in its most efficient gas-fed guise.
This is all considering you choose the T4 engine, but those that can afford will unlikely be able to resist the optional T5, which develops a lively 248 hp and 258 lb-ft. This means that the small Volvo can keep up with some of the larger, sportier cars on the road with its quick acceleration of 6.1 seconds. But it is still a luxury town car and should not be treated like something from the M-Performance or AMG range from BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
The interior is as immaculate as you’d expect from the Swedish automaker, with high-quality materials utilized throughout the cabin. And, while there may be oodles of tech on offer, the controls are surprisingly simple to manage, with only a few screens and buttons placed around the driving position. Still, if you are looking in this price range, there are better options in the compact SUV segment.
4. Honda CR-V
And, if we are going to talk about the compact category, it is basically a given that the Honda CR-V will come up. With America’s love for the crossover body growing by the day, it has quickly become the Japanese brand’s best seller Stateside. One reason for this may be because it’s pretty accessible with a slow starting MSRP of just $25,350, but a much larger contributing factor is the incredible value proposition of the vehicle.
It’s among the safest cars on American roads too, proudly boasting an IIHS Top Safety Pick award courtesy of the Honda Sensing suite that comes standard on just about every model. The most basic features included within the package are collision mitigation and lane management systems. However, as you move through the trim tiers, you get more advanced assists.
But, the true test of a vehicle within this segment is practicality, and the CR-V certainly doesn’t disappoint. Even with all the seats in place, it presents shoppers with a whopping 39.2 cubic feet of cargo space, easily matching or even besting some of its larger competitors. And this doesn’t even encroach on passenger space, as both rows supply more than enough for even taller adults to comfortably fit.
5. Toyota RAV4
Last, but most definitely not least, the Toyota RAV4 is a fan favorite in America. It was recently redesigned to meet evolving market expectations, adding a hybrid and plug-in variant to the already beloved lineup. Of course, the electrically assisted versions will cost you quite a bit more upfront, such as the $38k RAV4 Prime, but they recoup this cost over the course of ownership with better fuel economy, as seen by the Prime getting an extra eight miles per gallon over the standard RAV4.
Inside, the RAV4 is pretty spacious, but taller passengers should definitely be seated up front since legroom is a little restrictive in the rear. However, it’s extremely competitive when it comes to trunk space. A total of 37.6 cubic feet is offered when all the seats are in use. While this may fall short of the highly popular Honda CR-V, it’s still quite a bit more than what other similar rivals like the Mazda CX-5 offer. The Prime sacrifices some of this room to make space for its battery pack, reducing total capacity to 33.5 cubic feet, which is on par with the CR-V Hybrid.
As for the quality of the interior, it’s truly top-notch. All trims come with Toyota Safety Sense 2.0, comprising pre-collision warning with auto braking, and adaptive cruise control. For optimal comfort, though, you should probably skip over the entry-level trim and its more budget interior; instead, consider the higher-end trims, such as the XSE, which adds a few desirable features as well as presenting a plusher faux-leather appointed cabin.