Top 10 best compact crossovers 2023

Open gallery Close News by James Disdale 11 mins read 26 May 2023 Share

It would be no understatement to suggest that the compact crossover segment is one of the most important in the UK car market. With the continued decline in sales of traditional supermini hatchback models, these high-rise alternatives are proving ever more popular with buyers seeking affordable and relatively practical transport on a budget.

In many respects, it’s not hard to see the appeal of these machines. That jacked-up suspension confers just a little extra visibility, while the tough-looking externals give them more than a smidge of active lifestyle street cred. And because many compact crossovers sit in a slightly bigger footprint than existing small car alternatives, there’s even a little more space inside for people and things. In fact, many encroach upon the class above when it comes to family friendly versatility.

As a result, there are plenty of models to choose from, with pretty much every major player offering a small five-door hatch with a distinctly SUV flavour. There’s even a wide ride of powertrains too, from old internal combustion to all-electric.

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Until recently, however, there weren’t many that would get a keen driver’s juices flowing – the combination of a higher centre of gravity and the modest margins in a small and affordable car meant that the emphasis was usually on everyday usability rather than emotional uplift. Yet as new arrivals hit showrooms this is changing, with a handful of compact crossovers proving genuinely entertainingSo, here are our ten favourites of this increasingly popular breed.

1. Ford Puma

Ford wasn’t exactly late to the compact crossover party, but its first offering, the EcoSport, felt like a half-hearted toe-in-the-water exercise. Designed and built in Brazil for emerging markets, this gawky machine felt a little cheap, featured some glaring packaging flaws and was fairly tardy to drive, despite being based on the same platform as the sharp handling sixth generation Fiesta.

So Ford took no chances with its replacement, even if using the Puma name resulted in fans of the brand’s pert late Nineties coupe getting their knickers in a twist. And while there’s no denying a compact crossover can’t tug at the heart strings like a sleek driver focussed pocket rocket, the reimagined Puma distils enough of its namesake’s dynamic sparkle to forgive Ford’s marketing department’s choice of moniker.

Once again, it shares its underpinnings with the Fiesta (the current seventh generation machine), which  means quick steering, surprising agility and faithful grip, allowing you to slice through corners with surprising accuracy and poise. Better still, on cooking versions the damping is particularly fluent and skilfully tuned, allowing for strong comfort and refinement. Power comes from a trio of 1.0-litre turbocharged petrol engines, with 48V mild-hybrid technology enabling the top-level version to produce up to 125bhp.


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Most intriguing is the flagship ST, which infuses a hot hatch spirit to the small SUV. Taking the 197bhp turbocharged 1.5-litre motor and six-speed manual from the fastest Fiesta, it’s a genuine hot to drive, provided you can live with the stiff-legged ride. Be aware that the automatic version looks the part but uses the lower powered 1.0-litre engine.

Elsewhere, the Puma gets the family transport basics right, with an interior that’s just about roomy enough and smartly designed, even if it lacks the premium appeal of others. It’s also well equipped and packed with storage solutions, including the novel Megabox that’s underneath the boot floor and is a large, easy clean compartment for wet clothes or muddy boots.

Save money with new Puma deals from What Car?

2. Volkswagen T-Cross

Volkswagen has watched and waited as its rivals have rushed to cash in on the popularity of cars like this – and the firm’s first compact crossover, the T-Cross, feels very much like the sort of car that has been judged and executed with care.

Sitting right in the middle of the class on size and price, the T-Cross rises higher than some of its rivals and has more SUV-typical styling than others. And while perceived cabin quality isn’t quite as good as you might expect from Volkswagen, the T-Cross is easily good enough to be our class-leading recommendation

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