Feature article

Best small SUVs of 2023 and 2024

The small SUV didn’t used to be a big thing as people were happy with their hatchbacks.

Last updated: 9 February 2024

The small SUV didn’t used to be a big thing as people were happy with their hatchbacks. But that was then and now these small SUVs have all but replaced the humble five-door car. Most of these small SUVs aren’t much more capable than a regular hatch, most of them being front-wheel drive with only a modest increase in ground clearance, but that doesn’t seem to matter. Buyers like them for their elevated ride height, which makes them easier to get in and out of. And with higher-set seats, they also manage to offer more interior space while not taking up too much room in the garage. They also tend to be styled with a sense of adventure in mind. They drive well, are specified to the nines and come with all the usual safety kit. No wonder then they make up nearly a quarter of all sales locally. Of the new small SUVs that were launched here in the past year, these are some of the best.

Subaru Crosstrek

What was once known as the Subaru XV is now the Crosstrek. This compact SUV is now better in most ways with Subaru improving lots of little things without ruining the successful recipe. The Crosstrek ranges in price from $47k to $52k, with both hybrid and conventional 2.0-litre models available.

While the Crosstrek’s 220mm of ground clearance helps it go further off-road, the main benefit for 99 per cent of buyers is a slightly easier exit and entry as it also facilitates a higher seating position. Items you’ll find inside include a wireless charge pad, USB-C connections, wireless Apple CarPlay and AA, leather trim, sat nav, sunroof and an upgraded sound system.

There’s an abundance of safety kit too, the updated Eyesight crash mitigation system coming with a long list of functions, including traffic sign recognition while there are nine airbags if things go badly.

With AWD and well sorted suspension, the Crosstrek delivers a smooth ride at all speeds and over all sorts of NZ roads. The Crosstrek has a 2.0-litre direct injection engine and in general ramblings, this goes okay with a decent launch feel via the CVT auto, it engaging positively and quickly, and it’s always smooth. There’s enough everyday torque in the 1000-3500rpm zone but don’t expect to accelerate with any real gusto. According to the Rightcar website, it’s good for 8.0L/100km, though we saw an overall figure of 10L/100km.

Being a compact SUV, it’s better suited for those whose dependents are now less dependent but they will still fit in the back when they need the occasional lift.

Read the full review on autocar: 2023 Subaru Crosstrek

View listings on Trade Me Motors: Subaru Crosstrek for sale

Ford Puma ST

The ST version of the Ford Puma is a small SUV for the drivers out there. It might not sound like much with its 1.0-litre engine, but with a turbocharger and mild hybrid attributes, it’s both surprisingly fun to drive and reasonably frugal.

It costs $46,490, so not too much more than the regular Puma models, but adds some go-fast styling and gets a slightly more powerful engine with 118kW and 200Nm. The ST is meant to run a 7.3sec sprint time while overall fuel use is a quoted 6.2L/100km (140g of CO2).

With sport additions to the suspension department, it handles sweetly, body roll minimised and the tuned steering means the turn-in is sharp. The one caveat is that it is noticeably firm over sharp bumps because of the extra starch in the suspension.

With its belt-starter generator (the mild hybrid bits) offering extra torque for enhanced performance at lower engine speeds, this little engine has the ability to work across a broad spread of revs. In town it pulls valiantly from 1500rpm, so it’s easy on gas. You’ll appreciate the abbreviated 4.2m of length and 10.5m turning circle in town environs. Visibility allround is first rate too. While room in the rear isn’t what you’d call generous, nor is it tight, with enough space for a pair of adults providing those up front aren’t giants.

Split folding gives a flattish space if the floor is mounted high, but when it’s dropped down there’s 456L of luggage space on hand, including an 80L Megabox with a drainage plug, so you can pack ice and drinks in there on a trip to the beach, and put the togs and towels there for the trip back.

So providing you don’t mind a little starch in your low speed ride, Puma ST meets its sports remit resoundingly. It’s big fun in a small package.

Read the full review on autocar: Ford Puma ST

View listings on Trade Me Motors: Ford Pumafor sale

Cupra Formentor V e-Hybrid

Cupra is one of the lesser known European brands, but has quickly become the sportiest, most dynamic division of the big VW empire. Cupra’s best selling model is the Formentor and the latest version is the V e-Hybrid, the company’s first plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV).

With drive-away pricing of $78,500, it’s a pricey compact SUV, but one that blends low emissions with decent performance.

It has a 110kW/250Nm 1.4L turbopetrol under the hood and an 85kW/330Nm motor along for the ride, powered by a 12.8kWh battery. Total system power is 180kW and 400Nm and there’s 50-odd kays of emissions-free motoring possible. It has a claimed overall fuel use figure of 1.3L/100km, that’s providing you remember to plug in regularly. An overnight charge easily resets the EV range to its 50km daily allocation. There’s oodles of grunt for easing about town in hybrid mode (should the battery be exhausted) and stop/start is seamless. In electric mode the 330Nm of power from stopped means it is just as hasty as when the 1.4T engine is in charge. And nothing much in the class can match Formentor for handling, it’s a great car to drive.

The Formentor e-Hybrid is well specified with adaptive cruise with lane keeping, and all the other safety goodies that ensure a five-star ANCAP result, along with heated seats partly finished in leather, a reasonably straightforward touchscreen operation, and a powered fifth door with almost flat split folding (1415L, up from 345 with all seats in use).

This is for those who might want the best of both petrol and electric worlds but can’t be bothered with charging on the go or long periods hooked up to a charger.

Read the full review on autocar: Cupra Formentor V e-Hybrid

View listings on Trade Me Motors: Cupra Formentor for sale

Hyundai Kona

The second-generation Hyundai Kona is bigger, better equipped and there are plenty of models to choose from. It starts at $42,990 for the Active 2.0 variant and rises up to the $65,990 Limited N Line hybrid, one of four hybrids available. The EV version is due here soon too.

The new Kona is bigger, benefitting interior space with more room in the rear and a better shaped boot as well, out to 407L. Upfront, you’re greeted by twin 12.3-inch displays for instruments and multimedia functionality. Also new and freeing up centre console space is a shift-by-wire gear selector, on the right side of the steering column.

New Kona is available with three different powertrains; a 110kW/180Nm 2.0L petrol engine with a CVT auto (7.3L/100km), a 146kW/265Nm 1.6L turbo with an eight-speed auto and AWD (8.5L/100km) and the hybrid. This uses a 1.6L petrol which is aided by a 32kW/170Nm motor fed by a 1.3kWH. With an overall output of 104kW/265Nm, its consumption is rated at 4.3L/100km, and is the pick of the engine options.

SmartSense active safety items include AEB that can detect motorcycles, cyclists and pedestrians, Parking Collision Avoidance Assist-Reverse in top models, blind spot monitoring and a surround view camera system. A front centre-side airbag is one of seven.

Kona has a quiet, refined ride and good steering characteristics too. There’s a sweet driving position, slightly elevated for ease of entry and good visibility.

View listings on Trade Me Motors: Hyundai Kona for sale


Kyle Cassidy
Kyle Cassidy
Editor NZ Autocar magazine - autocar.co.nz

Kyle has been reviewing cars since starting at NZ Autocar magazine in 2003 and has been editor since 2009. In that time he’s become an expert on what makes for a good vehicle while also gaining insights into the local automotive industry.