Best Used Small SUV & Compact Crossovers: 8 Models to Consider

Value, design & reliability

The bulk of new vehicle launches these days are SUVs and crossovers, as car makers bolster their lineups with these popular and practical vehicles. You can see some of the more notable upcoming examples in our recent rundown of 2021 and 2022 SUV models worth waiting for.

This time, however, we’ve compiled a list of the best used compact SUV models, based on characteristics like value, design, and reliability. The compact SUV class is a broad one that spans the gap between entry level and luxury demographics, so we’ve attempted to cover all the bases. No matter your means or desires, you should find something to suit you in our list of the eight best used compact SUVs.

Nissan Rogue Sport / Qashqai

The Nissan Rogue Sport (Nissan Qashqai in Canada) is a key part of the brand’s deep dive into the crossover and SUV marketplace. It’s Nissan’s second-from-smallest utility model, slotting between the tiny Kicks and the larger Rogue.

As is Nissan’s way, the Rogue Sport / Qashqai is a strong value compared to many of the other Japanese models in the subcompact class. That value is best measured in terms of features, interior space and the Qashqai’s level of refinement for the price.

Performance is not exciting, but the continuously variable transmission deserves a mention for its smooth performance and the impressive way it keeps engine noise down during acceleration. 

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Likewise, the it’s not a sporty handler, but the ride is smooth and the suspension does a decent job of keeping the cabin quiet.

Why we like it:

Roomy for its size

Straightforward powertrain

Good refinement for the price

Mazda CX-5

Mazda has been seized with a singular purpose over the last few years: to build cars that people can afford to buy and enjoy driving. A case in point is the CX-5 compact crossover, which we would argue is the most engaging driver in its popular class, with a feel more German than Japanese. Its handling is the highlight, with a nimble feel that belies the CX-5’s ground clearance and overall height.

You’re treated to a cabin that looks and feels a class above with high quality materials and well-done secondary controls, especially in upscale trims like GT and Signature. The latter features real wood dash and door trim. We also like Mazda’s dial-based infotainment system, which is easier to use than the touchscreens in most competitors.

If the standard engine isn’t enough, an optional turbocharged motor provides generous torque through a smooth-shifting six-speed transmission and AWD.

Why we like it:

Upscale driving feel

Attractive styling

Luxury features

Acura RDX

The Acura RDX brings an appealing combination of performance and value to the upscale compact SUV class, which continues to steal market share from small luxury cars. A smooth, strong powertrain provides entertaining performance along with plenty of refinement. All-wheel drive is standard too, providing winter traction and good handling in models with the SH-AWD system.

A busy-looking dash boasts generous storage space, and uplevel models get a classy two-tone interior treatment.

While only the pricier versions get real leather, the RDX’s interior looks and feels the part of an upscale vehicle regardless of trim level. The A-Spec package brings a sportier look, including sharp grey alloy wheels.

Why we like it:

Great value for money

Strong reliability

Long list of standard safety features

Lexus NX

Lexus embraces the popularity of small luxury crossovers with the NX. While we wouldn’t describe it as handsome, its appearance stands out in a class not known for adventurous styling. Lexus also differentiates the NX from its many competitors with a relaxed driving feel: handling is competent but not sporty, and there’s a focus on refinement instead of performance. If you do want an NX with sportier intentions, Lexus offers F Sport packages with a firmer suspension and a body kit.

Above all, however, the Lexus NX’s primary appeal is its reliability, which benefits from Toyota’s obsession with building long-lasting vehicles.

Why we like it:

Quiet ride

Available hybrid

Distinctive styling

Chevrolet Equinox 

Although it competes in the compact SUV class price-wise, the Chevrolet Equinox is notable for interior space that challenges some mid-size models. That’s partly due to its practical shape, which helps maximize cargo space.

A choice of engines means you can buy with a focus on fuel economy or performance, and in certain models, the available AWD system has an on/off button for when the driver deems it unnecessary.

The Equinox caters to a mainstream audience, so its designers built in an impressively quiet, comfortable ride. It also handles surprisingly well, however, making models with the more powerful engine engaging to drive.

Why we like it:

Driver-selectable all-wheel drive

Drives like a more expensive vehicle

Good infotainment system

Mitsubishi Outlander

Mitsubishi is a perpetual underdog in the marketplace as a small company lacking the resources to compete head-on with larger, better-known brands. Unfortunately, that means that shoppers overlook many of its vehicles. While the Mitsubishi Outlander is not the newest design among compact SUVs, that doesn’t mean it’s not worth your attention. 

Among the Outlander’s notable features is its available seven-seat interior, a rarity among small utilities. While the third row is small, it expands the car’s utility, if you’ll pardon the pun, with a pair of seats well-suited to kids.

Mitsu’s relatively low visibility in a segment dominated by Honda and Toyota means there’s more value to be had in lower resale prices.

Finally, used vehicle shoppers who skip Mitsubishi miss out on the brand’s build quality and generous warranty coverage, which transfers to owners of pre-owned Outlander models.

Why we like it:

Good value in used market

Underrated quality

Available third-row seat

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Subaru Crosstrek

Subaru has made a habit of creating SUVs out of its car models. First came with the Legacy-based Outback, which the brand followed with the compact Crosstrek, which shares its underpinnings with the Impreza car.

Introduced in 2013 as the XV Crosstrek, this little utility was among the first players in the subcompact crossover segment that has since grown rapidly. Key among the Crosstrek’s calling cards is its well-sorted AWD system, which remains engaged at all times for a traction advantage compared to systems that only kick in once the going gets slippery.

There are genetic links between the Crosstrek and the WRX sport sedan, but this is not a performance vehicle. Rather, it’s a reasonably refined vehicle sized for city driving but capable of taking on surprisingly rough terrain.

If you’re keen on active safety and driver assist features, look for a model with the Eyesight suite. It’s a well-done system and was one of the first of its kind in this vehicle class.

Why we like it:

Generous ground clearance

Cool styling, cool colours

Practical size

Hyundai Kona

Hyundai’s Kona wears quirky front-end styling that is remarkably cohesive. The overall look may appeal to buyers who appreciate a crossover’s extra ground clearance without the bulk of a traditional SUV. Despite its compact size, the Kona offers useful interior space.

A choice of engines also makes the Kona desirable in a class where few brands give the buyer an option under the hood. An optional turbocharged engine is the fun choice, but the base engine provides suitable performance while keeping purchase costs down.

Hyundai also offers the Kona in wide range of trims without excluding bargain hunters from the car’s more advanced safety features.

Why we like it:

Fun styling

Great value

Optional turbo engine

Chris Chase
Chris has been writing professionally about cars since 2004, in print and online. He lives in Ottawa with his wife and two feline tyrants. In rare quiet moments, he can be found travelling or playing one of his way-too-many guitars. Chris is also a journalist member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).