Best Small Luxury SUVs
In the market for a small luxury SUV? Search no more…by Tudor Rus, on
Small luxury SUVs haven’t been around that long. In a way, they represent a niche within a niche (the broader pool of SUVs and crossovers), created by carmakers such as Audi, Mercedes-Benz, and BMW, in their hunt for more income. The purpose of a small luxury SUV is to offer the plush comfort and technological bells and whistles of their larger peers, in a package that’s less expensive yet doesn’t compromise too much on the overall driving experience, assembly, and the quality of the materials used inside the cabin.
So, what exactly defines a luxury SUV? Even more, what are the traits of a luxury SUV? In all fairness, the definitions are many as it depends a lot on who you ask. Some associate a luxury car with a high price tag, which is usually the case. Some believe the concept of luxury in a car, hence in a luxury SUV, regardless of its size, has to do with the quality of leather, the cabin build as a whole, and the ambiance created by the interior. For some, luxury is synonymous with a powerful engine and an ultra-quiet cabin soaked in plush materials, superior soundproofing, and a silky-smooth ride. Others might say there is luxury in a car’s design as well as in the sort of materials it uses (think wood, for example), thick carpeting, and even superior crash protection.
For the purpose of this article as well as to make ranking a tad easier and manageable, we’ll consider the following traits as essential to a small luxury SUV. Therefore, each make and model listed below will be judged according to these criteria. So, here’s what we’ll be judging each car on:
- Cabin Comfort
- Material Quality
2020 Acura RDX - $38,595
The RDX is Acura’s first stab at the small luxury SUV segment and the 2020 model is a major step up compared to the previous two generations. That said, the RDX still needs to improve in some key aspects if it wants to pose a threat to its rivals. Those aspects are material quality inside the cabin and the tech package. Comfort levels are OK, and for a small SUV, the 2.0-liter turbocharged VTEC gasoline engine delivers more than sufficient performance: 272 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque routed through a 10-speed gearbox. All that said, Acura deserves praise based on how nicely the RDX has evolved from generation to generation, but there’s definitely room for growth. The infotainment system could do with more usability and intuitive menus, but customers do get Apple CarPlay, a Wi-Fi hotspot and safety nannies such as Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Keeping Assist, and Blind Spot Awareness.
|Engine||2.0-liter, turbocharged, inline-four|
|Cargo volume||29.5 cu ft|
Read our full review on the 2020 Acura RDX
2020 Volvo XC40 - $34,695
Volvo’s XC90 flagship helped the Swedish carmaker spawn an entire army of good-looking SUVs and crossovers, and the 2020 XC40 is one of them. Very similar in design to its larger brother, the XC40 also retains the XC90’s comfort credentials albeit offered in a less practical package in terms of space. At the same time, the XC40 doesn’t compromise too much on material plushness inside the cabin, although a slight drop in quality is noticeable. The XC40 can be had with a 2.0-liter turbo’ed engine offered in two flavors: 187 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque or 248 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. The latter is, however, more worthy of the luxury status, as the former tends to show its limits and at times might seem underpowered. The leather upholstery and the power-folding rear seats are no longer standard for the 2020 model year, which is a big downside, while the infotainment’s quirkiness might take some time getting used to.
|Engine||2.0-liter, inline-four, turbo|
|Power||187 hp T4 / 248 hp T5|
|Torque||221 lb-ft T4 / 258 lb-ft T5|
|Cargo volume||20.7 cu ft|
Read our full review on the 2020 Volvo XC40
2020 Mercedes-Benz GLA- $35,245
We once heard someone say that you only get the genuine Mercedes-Benz treatment from the E-Class upwards. Which is half true when it comes to the 2020 GLA. The small SUV retains the comfort and smooth riding of its larger siblings, although some materials aren’t exactly what you’d expect from a Mercedes-Benz model these days. We do like the infotainment, however, and its straightforwardness, yet the crisp user interface isn’t enough to compensate for the lack of space - cargo- and cabin-wise. On the powertrain front, the 2020 GLA relies on a 2.0-liter turbo four-pot making 208 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of twist, but if that’s a bore to you, then Mercedes-AMG can step in with a retuned version of the engine cranking up 375 horsepower sent to all four wheels via the 4Matic all-wheel-drive setup. The Mercedes-AMG GLA 45 sprints from 0 to 60 miles per hour in 4.3 seconds.
|Engine||2.0-liter, turbo, inline-four|
|Cargo volume||17.2 cu ft|
Read our full review on the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLA
2020 Lexus NX - $37,745
The Lexus NX is much more than a fancy Toyota and the first thing that supports that is the choice of cabin materials. Lexus did a good job in baking in a lot of comfort in the NX, but that comes at a cost: the NX is less fun to drive than its counterparts, although on paper, the two versions offer enough oomph in relation to the SUV’s ethos. What’s more, the NX impresses with its smooth and quiet ride, spacious cabin, and a sense of togetherness. Cargo capacity could have been much better and we’d really love to see Lexus coming up with logical multimedia menus and less (or zero) glitches. In the U.S., the 2020 Lexus NX can be bought with a 2.0-liter turbo packing 235 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque or in hybrid guise, where a 2.5-liter gasoline unit marries to an electric motor placed on the rear axle. For the hybrid NX, the overall system output is 194 horsepower, and you’re sometimes left with wanting more, especially during those moments when you really need a heftier power reserve. The CVT doesn’t do much to help that cause, either.
|Engine||2.0-liter, turbo, inline-four / 2.5-liter + e-motor (hybrid)|
|Power||235 hp / 194 hp (hybrid)|
|Torque||258 lb-ft / 152 lb-ft (hybrid)|
|Gearbox||6-speed auto / CVT (hybrid)|
|Cargo volume||17.7 cu ft|
Read our full review on the 2020 Lexus NX
2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio - $41,840
Together with the Giulia, Stelvio is an important pillar in Alfa Romeo’s attempt to come back with a back as one of the industry’s top carmakers. Sure, there’s a long way to go until that status is reached, but the Stelvio impresses first and foremost with the way it handles on a curvy road. Materials leave something to desire and that quality only goes down as you move towards the lower areas of the cabin, yet comfort is right up there with the segment’s best, regardless of what row of seats you’re sitting in. Space is also an ace up the Stelvio’s sleeve. For the 2019 model year, Alfa introduced Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility and standard rear-wheel drive. Still, the Stelvio’s biggest selling point relates to performance: even the 2.0-liter straight-four turbo churns out 280 horsepower and 443 pound-feet of torque, and we haven’t even mentioned the Quadrifoglio, which draws its strength from a 2.9-liter V-6 powerhouse good for 505 horsepower and 443 pound-feet of torque.
|Engine||2.0-liter, turbocharged, inline-four / 2.9-liter, bi-turbo, V-6 (Quadrifoglio)|
|Power||280 hp / 505 hp (Quadrifoglio)|
|Torque||306 lb-ft / 443 lb-ft (Quadrifoglio)|
|Cargo volume||18.5 cu ft|
Read our full review on the 2019 Alfa Romeo Stelvio
2019 Jaguar I-Pace - $70,525
The I-Pace is the priciest entry on our list but that’s not due to outstanding comfort levels or top-notch materials. In all fairness, the I-Pace’s cabin is a really nice place to sit it as it mixes very well the modern and the traditional with loads of quality materials. However, it’s the technology behind the I-Pace that makes it so expensive. Jaguar’s first-ever EV is powered by a pair of permanent-magnet synchronous electric motors that generate 394 horsepower and 512 pound-feet of torque - clearly, the performance box was ticked successfully by Jaguar, as the I-Pace takes just 4.5 seconds to dispatch the 0-60 miles per hour interval en route to a top speed of 124 miles per hour. Range-wise, you’re looking at up to 234 miles on a single full charge, but also keep in mind that the 90-kWh battery pack won’t be able to keep up for too long with your sporty driving. Speaking of which, the I-Pace is also fun to drive, its interior is spacious, but the infotainment setup needs a little more tweaking and polishing.
|Engine||2 e-motors, permanent-magnet, synchronous|
|Cargo volume||25.3 cu ft|
Read our full review on the 2019 Jaguar I-Pace
2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC - $43,495
Definitely a step up from the GLA, the Mercedes-Benz GLC is first and foremost a comfortable SUV to be in. The ride is smooth and material quality sees a boost from its smaller sibling, although doesn’t quite match the GLE’s or the GLS’ level. Comfort is top-notch, though, while performance levels are comparable to the GLC’s rivals in this segment. The nine-speed gearbox is milk and honey for your trip, but it only equips the gasoline version, with the hybrid getting a seven-speed unit. Speaking of which, the GLC can be had with either a 2.0-liter turbo mill good for 255 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque or in hybrid guise, where the same powerplant gets a helping hand from an electric motor rated at 85 kilowatts, for 315 horsepower and 413 pound-feet of torque. There’s also the option of heading straight for the top of the food chain, where Mercedes-AMG offers the GLC 43 (V-6, 362 horsepower) and the GLC 63 (bi-turbo V-8, 469 horsepower).
|Engine||2.0-liter, turbo, inline-four /2.0-liter + 1 e-motor (hybrid)|
|Power||255 hp / 315 hp (hybrid)|
|Torque||273 lb-ft / 413 lb-ft (hybrid)|
|Cargo volume||17.7 cu ft|
Read our full review on the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC
2020 Volvo XC60 - $41,145
The Volvo XC60 is the gap that bridges the XC40 and the XC90. Just like its siblings, it adopts the same by-now-trademark exterior design and offers a comfort/plushness package that’s above what you get from the XC40, really close to what you get from the XC90 flagship. The seats in particular are extremely comfortable, space is rather generous, you get a plethora of assist features, and, last but not least, a comfortable ride. Sure, that comes at the expense of any sort of driving excitement, but there are a lot of customers who prefer silky-smooth road composure instead of corner-carving abilities. Performance is not a problem for the XC60, as it gets a 2.0-liter turbo four-pot derived into two versions - 250 horsepower/258 pound-feet of torque and 316 horsepower/295 pound-feet of torque - as well as a hybrid variant that mixes the said 2.0-liter mill (which is also supercharged in this case) with an e-motor that makes 87 horsepower for a total system rating of 400 horsepower and 472 pound-feet of twist. The estimated all-electric range is 17 miles.
|Engine||2.0-liter, inline-four, turbo / 2.0-liter + e-motor (T8)|
|Power||250 hp T5 / 316 hp T6 / 400 hp T8|
|Torque||258 lb-ft T5 / 316 lb-ft T6 / 472 lb-ft T8|
|Cargo volume||30.8 cu ft|
Read our full review on the 2020 Volvo XC60
2019 Audi SQ5 - $53,395
The Audi SQ5 is one of the all-rounders in our rankings. For starters, it packs 3.0-liter turbo’ed TFSI gasoline-fed V-6 that carries 349 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque, enough to sustain a naught-to-60 sprint completed in 5.1 seconds. Top speed is a 155 miles per hour, while the SQ5’s towing capacity rises to 4,400 pounds. You can also have the optional Sport adaptive air suspension and a Quattro rear diff. The hefty performance package is mirrored by the high-tech-y, top-shelf cabin. It’s hard to find better quality interiors than those Audi is having on its higher-echelon vehicles, and the SQ5 is a good illustration of that. Everything you touch breathes quality and the minimalistic design Audi has been doing just went from strength to strength. Surprisingly, the ride is still comfortable and the eight-speed Tiptronic gearbox combs through gears with utter smoothness. Vector in the attractive Audi virtual cockpit and its fully-digital 12.3-inch instrument cluster screen and you get one of the most complete packages on the market. Price is on the high end, but it’s entirely justified by the package you’re getting.
|Engine||3.0-liter, turbocharged, V-6|
|Cargo volume||25.1 cu ft|
Read our full review on the 2019 Audi SQ5
2020 Porsche Macan - $52,250
The Porsche Macan still has to work on its button management skills. Porsche sure likes its knobs on sight an in large numbers, otherwise the Macan’s cabin is impeccably joined together and outfitted with one of the best materials you’ll see in this segment. There’s also a lot more room inside the Macan, yet not as much a we’d like in the rear. The cargo area could have been more generous, that’s true, but nothing beats the Macan when it comes to handling, cabin feel, ride smoothness, and infotainment crispness. Plus, the seven-speed PDK gearbox is one, if not THE best in the business, period. There are also plenty of performance levels to pick from. The entry-level Macan has a 2.0-liter turbo unit making 248 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque, while the Macan S will spoil your ego with a 3.0-liter V-6 good for 348 horsepower and 354 pound-feet of torque. If that won’t cut it still, the Macan Turbo awaits with a twin-turbocharged V-6 pumping out 434 horsepower and 406 pound-feet of torque. Like it’s the case with the SQ5, the starting sticker is spicy, but again, you’ll get your bang for the buck.
|Engine||2.0-liter turbo / 3.0-liter V-6, turbo / 2.9-liter V-6, twin-turbo|
|Power||248 hp / 348 hp / 434 hp|
|Torque||273 lb-ft / 354 lb-ft / 406 lb-ft|
|Gearbox||7-speed PDK, dual-clutch|
|Cargo volume||17.6 cu ft|
Read our full review on the 2020 Porsche Macan