As minivans fell out of favour, and sedans didn’t offer the usefulness buyers needed, a new market emerged, the compact SUV segment. Everyone from Audi to Chevrolet to Jeep jumped into the segment to capitalize on the growing demand. Even luxury SUVs entered the realm from upscale manufacturers like Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Lexus, and Volvo.

Today, the compact SUV market is flooded with options, making it hard to choose the right one for you. Below, we outline what to look for in a high-quality model and the six best compact SUVs in Canada for 2023 to help start your search.

What to Look for in a Compact SUV

The compact SUV segment is interesting, as these vehicles combine the size and drivability of a sedan but with certain traits found in the SUV and crossover segments. So, what types of things should buyers look for when choosing the right small SUV for them? Let’s review.

Seating and Cargo Room

Compact SUVs have smaller footprints, so they’ll never have the roominess of a midsize or full-size SUV. But this doesn’t mean they can’t have a spacious interior. Automakers will make certain compromises to their compact SUVs to help them excel in certain areas to fit buyers’ needs.

For example, some compact SUVs position the rear seats further back, allowing for ample rear legroom to accommodate adults and older teens. Typically, this results in 940 or more mm of rear legroom. This eats into the cargo room with the seats upright, but when you fold the rear seats, the overall cargo room is still plentiful for the class.

On the other hand, some people prefer a small SUV focusing more on cargo room, as they either have no plans to use the rear seats regularly or have very young children. In this case, a compact SUV with the rear seats positioned forward to open more cargo room with the rear seats upright may be in order. These compact crossovers and SUVs typically have 860 mm or less rear legroom but 550 litres or more cargo room with the rear seats upright.

Front Seating Position

One of the biggest benefits of driving an SUV is its higher seating position. This gives you a better look at the road and the traffic ahead of you. But not all SUVs are created equal in this area. When test driving, always adjust the seat to a position that gives you a high seating position without pulling your legs or hands too far from the pedals and steering wheel. This is the sign of a well-designed front seating position.

Powertrain and Capability

For many years, compact SUVs’ powertrains and capabilities were a sore spot. Today’s modern turbocharged engines have changed this significantly. New four-cylinder engines have more horsepower (hp) and low-end torque than ever before. But even non-turbocharged engines have come a long way, cresting the 200-hp mark, though they lack the lower-end torque of turbo engines.

Because of this power and new materials, like high-strength steel, towing has become a new focus for these SUVs. It’s now the norm to see them capable of towing at least 680 kg, but some have reached the 2,250-kg range.

Off-road trekking has also become popular among compact SUV buyers in Canada. Due to the snow and ice we encounter in the winter, most SUVs come standard with all-wheel drive (AWD) or four-wheel drive (4WD), so you’re covered in terms of traction. However, some compact SUVs now have optional off-road packages with higher ride heights, enhanced skid plates, off-road tires and wheels, and advanced drive modes to further enhance their abilities off the beaten path.

Fuel Economy

SUVs weren’t traditionally built for fuel economy, but the arrival of hybrid technology and eco-friendly internal combustion engines (ICE) has changed this. Add this tech to the lighter compact SUV segment, and you can see some impressive fuel economy numbers. Hybrid compact SUVs have fuel consumption rates as low as 6 L/100 km combined, while many ICE-powered compact SUVs are in the 8 L/100 km combined range.

Advanced Technology

While compact SUVs are significantly less expensive than their full-size and midsize counterparts, many still have a range of great features. Today, certain tech features should always be standard on a small SUV, including things like Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, a touchscreen infotainment system, power windows, and power door locks.

There should also be certain safety features standard on all compact SUVs. These include automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, a rearview camera, anti-lock brakes, and electronic stability control. Many may also include adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, and more advanced automatic emergency braking.

The 6 Best Compact SUVs in Canada

Now that you know some of the key things to look for when searching for the best compact SUV in Canada, let’s review some of the best small SUVs that fit the bill. Here are the 6 best compact SUVs in Canada for 2023.

2023 Toyota RAV4
Source: Toyota

1. 2023 Toyota RAV4

The Toyota RAV4 has been a best-selling compact SUV in Canada for ages, and for good reasons. It has always perfectly blended many of the attributes above, and it’s recently become even better. The 2023 Toyota RAV4 features a bold SUV-like design inside and out and combines this with a standard 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine that delivers 203 hp and a respectable 7.9 L/100 km rating combined.

The RAV4 takes this further with its hybrid and plug-in hybrid (PHEV) variants. The RAV4 Hybrid’s 2.5-litre powertrain delivers 219 hp and is fuel-efficient at 6 L/100 km combined. The RAV4 Prime PHEV delivers a stunning 302 hp, 6.0 L/100 km in hybrid mode, and 68 km of all-electric driving range. With this 302 hp, the RAV4 Prime delivers one of the more engaging driving experiences in the compact SUV market.

The RAV4 also caters to the off-road crowd with the RAV4 Trail model. This upgraded compact SUV includes dynamic torque vectoring, rear driveline disconnect, Multi-Terrain Select, a 1,588-kg towing capacity, 5mm additional ground clearance, and more for enhanced off-road capability.

Want roominess? The Toyota RAV4 has you covered with 960 mm of rear seat legroom and up to 1,807 litres of cargo room with the rear seats folded. It also delivers a spacious 1,062 litres of cargo space with the rear seats upright.

All of this is on top of the Toyota RAV4’s plethora of advanced technology and safety features.

The 2023 RAV4 is also affordable, starting at $35,874. Plus, it’s a popular model with a robust used market. You can find a used RAV4 in the 2021 model year with many of the same features as a new one starting at around $34,000. The Hybrid and Prime models will start around $47,000 and $60,500, respectively.

2023 Honda CR-V
Source: Honda

2. 2023 Honda CR-V

Right up there with the RAV4 in popularity is the Honda CR-V. This compact SUV recently went through a full redesign, giving it a more upright, SUV-like design, but it retains its standard 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine that delivers 190 hp and 179 pound-feet (lb-ft) of torque paired to a continuously variable transmission (CVT). With this engine and front-wheel drive (FWD), the CR-V delivers 7.8 L/100 km combined fuel consumption.

The 2023 CR-V also comes in a hybrid model that pairs a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine and electric motor for 204 hp and 247 lb-ft of torque. The CR-V Hybrid comes standard with AWD and delivers combined fuel consumption as low as 6.4 L/100 km.

This compact Honda SUV lacks an off-road-ready variant, but it can still tow relatively well, topping out at 680 kg. The CR-V Hybrid is a little less capable, with a 453-kg tow rating, but it makes up for this with impressive ride quality.

There’s no shortage of safety features on the 2023 CR-V, as it comes standard with automatic emergency braking, automatic high-beam headlights, forward collision warning, lane-departure warning, hill-start assist, road-departure mitigation, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, and more. There’s also lots of other tech, including a standard 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, SiriusXM, and more standard. Buyers can also upgrade to a 9-inch touchscreen, wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and others.

Like the RAV4, the CR-V strikes a solid balance of rear roominess and cargo space, offering up to 1,042 mm of rear legroom and 1,113 to 2,166 litres of cargo space.

The 2023 CR-V’s manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) starts from $39,705 for the ICE model and $51,005 for the CR-V Hybrid. If you’re willing to go back to the last-generation model, which has many of the same features as the 2023 model, just with a different design, you can get a used Honda CR-V from the 2021 model year from about $33,500.

2023 Kia Sportage
Source: Kia

3. 2023 Kia Sportage

Like the CR-V, the Kia Sportage is all-new for the 2023 model year, bringing in a bold design with eye-grabbing LED headlights and large rear wheel wells standing out the most. And like the CR-V and RAV4, the Sportage has multiple powertrain options to fit buyers’ needs, starting with the base 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine with 187 hp and 178 lb-ft of torque paired with standard AWD and eight-speed automatic transmission. This affords it a 1,134-kg towing capacity and as low as 8.4 L/100 km combined.

Moving to the Sportage Hybrid pairs a 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine with an electric motor for 227 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. The Sportage PHEV has the same engine as the Hybrid model, but the electric motor is more powerful, pushing its output to 261 hp. Combined fuel economy checks in at 6.2 L/100 km in the hybrid and 6.7 in the PHEV in hybrid mode, but the PHEV model also delivers 55 km of electric-only driving.

Wonder what your car is worth?

Technology is not in short supply in the 2023 Kia Sportage. It has an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, Drive mode Select, and more. On the safety side, it includes standard automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, lane-following assist, rear occupant alert, downhill brake control, and more. Buyers can also add more driver-assist features, like adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, and more.

Inside, the 2023 Sportage impresses with 1,050 mm of rear legroom. But it also has loads of cargo room: 1,036 litres with the rear seats up and up to 2,098 litres with them folded.

The 2023 Kia Sportage also has great value for the crossover SUV segment, as its starting MSRP of $33,466 adds to its practicality. If you are OK with an older generation with about the same features, a used Kia Sportage from the 2021 model year will start at about $21,831.

2023 Hyundai Tucson
Source: MotorTrend

4. 2023 Hyundai Tucson

The Hyundai Tucson may look nothing like the Kia Sportage, but they are actually closely related. In fact, they share the same three powertrains: ICE, hybrid, and PHEV. They also share the same towing capacity.

The Tucson also has the same 1,050 mm of rear legroom, but it has a bit more cargo room, ranging from 1,095 litres with the rear seats upright to 2,119 litres with the seat folded.

The 2023 Hyundai Tucson’s MSRP starts from $31,156, and the hybrid and PHEV models start from $42,756 and $47,206, respectively. If you are willing to go into the previous generation, you can pick up a used Hyundai Tucson from the 2021 model year starting from $24,936.

2023 Mazda CX-5
Source: Mazda

5. 2023 Mazda CX-5

The Mazda CX-5 has been around for many years and continuously lands among the best compact SUVs in Canada. The 2023 CX-5 comes standard with a capable 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine that pushed 187 hp and 186 lb-ft of torque through a standard AWD system. Buyers can upgrade to a turbocharged 2.5-litre engine with 256 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque for a more engaging driving experience. Across the board, the CX-5 tows up to 907 kg.

Inside, the CX-5 is fairly roomy, offering 1,077 mm of rear legroom, but its cargo space is tighter than some at 871 to 1,680 litres.

Standard features are plentiful on the CX-5. It includes a 10.25-inch infotainment screen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, a 7-inch digital instrument cluster, heated front seats, LED headlights, and more. Safety and driver-assist technology are also robust, including standard blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, automatic high-beam headlights, and more.

The 2023 Mazda CX-5 is a relative bargain, starting from $31,250. This model’s been around for a while and has a decent used market. You can find a used Mazda CX-5 from the 2021 model year with similar features starting at around $29,500.

2023 Ford Escape
Source: Ford

6. 2023 Ford Escape

The Ford Escape has been through lots of changes throughout its life, beginning as a compact body-on-frame SUV before becoming the crossover SUV we know today. The 2023 Escape comes standard with a 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine that delivers 180 hp and 199 lb-ft of torque through an eight-speed automatic transmission and out to the front wheels or all four wheels. Buyers looking for more pop can upgrade to the turbocharged 2.0-litre engine with 250 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque for a more engaging driving experience.

Looking for fuel efficiency? The 2023 Escape has hybrid and PHEV models too. They both pair a 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine with an electric motor. The Hybrid delivers 192 hp to the front or all four wheels, while the PHEV delivers 210 hp only to the front wheels.

Fuel economy checks in at up to 8 L/100 km with the 1.5-litre, 9.1 L/100 km with the 2.0-litre, and 6 L/100 km in the hybrid model. The PHEV rings in at 5.9 L/100 km in hybrid mode and offers up to 60 km of all-electric driving.

Towing in the Escape varies by powertrain, ranging from 680 kg in the hybrid and PHEV to 907 kg with the 1.5-litre to 1,587 kg with the 2.0-litre.

Inside, the Escape is roomy, with 1,035 mm of rear legroom, and cargo space ranging from 1,062 (974 hybrid and PHEV) to 1,852 (1,722 hybrid and PHEV) litres.

The 2023 Escape comes pretty well-equipped. It includes a standard 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, an 8-inch digital instrument cluster, LED headlights, and more. Safety and driver-assist technology are also robust, including standard blind-spot monitoring, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, automatic high-beam headlights, and more.

The 2023 Ford Escape is a good bargain, starting from $32,849. This model’s been around for a while, so there’s a well-developed used market. However, the 2023 model is all-new, so you may have to dip into the last generation to get the best deal. You can find a used Ford Escape from the 2021 model year with similar features starting at around $29,313.

Shop for your next SUV online.

Save Thousands on the Best Compact SUVs at Clutch

You have plenty of options when searching for the best compact SUV in Canada. Why not save thousands by opting for a used small SUV instead of a new model? Clutch, Canada’s premier online automotive retailer, has many small SUVs in stock and ready to roll.

Are you unsure about buying a compact SUV online? Rest assured that our high-quality pre-owned SUVs have been through a 210-point inspection and reconditioning process to ensure they are ready for the road. Plus, each SUV we sell includes a 90-day or 6,000-km warranty for good measure. 

When you order your pre-owned compact SUV online with Clutch, you can skip the dealership and haggling process. At Clutch, you always get a great price, and no negotiation is necessary. Plus, you get a 10-day or 750-km test-own period. If you don't love your new Clutch minivan during that period, you can return it for a refund or exchange it for another vehicle. 

Trading up into a newer small SUV with more features? Clutch can also handle trade-ins, and you can get your offer online. If you're satisfied with our offer, we'll pick up your trade-in vehicle and apply the trade-in value to your purchase.