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Best small SUVs of 2021

The Vauxhall Mokka-e represents the new face of a brand in the midst of reinvention, while the Volvo XC40 remains a firm favourite

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The small SUV sector is where the hottest action in the new car market is – a market that just a few years ago didn’t exist now sees a new model added to its ranks almost weekly.

The small SUV/crossover segment is one of the fastest-growing areas of the new car market, and is taking sales from both small and medium cars. Like the Small Cars segment, we are seeing rapid electrification in this segment, with a number of all-electric models on offer.

There were a number of new and updated models reaching UK roads in 2021, with models ranging from budget to premium.

Our awards recognise both the best new models to have been launched over the last 12 months, but also the best overall cars in each category – because newer doesn’t always mean better, as you can see below.

The best small SUVs of 2021

Best small SUVs of 2021 – Vauxhall Mokka-e

Best new model + Class champion, electric: 
Vauxhall Mokka-e

Best small SUVs of 2021 – Volvo XC40

Class champion, overall:
Volvo XC40

The Vauxhall Mokka-e was the leading new model launched in 2021, and it’s specifically the electric model that is recognised here – its Expert Rating of 73% is five points better than the conventional petrol/diesel Mokka models. It also snares the title of Class Champion for small electric SUVs.

The Volvo XC40 is quite the opposite. The petrol and plug-in hybrid version is highly regarded by motoring journalists and holds the rank of overall Class Champion for small SUVs. But the electric XC40 Recharge doesn’t rate as highly, with an Expert Rating that’s a full 11 points behind the class-leading combustion versions.

Best new model + Class champion, electric: Vauxhall Mokka-e (73%)

Vauxhall Mokka-e – Best new small SUV of 2021

TCE Expert Rating: 73%

Euro NCAP safety rating: 4 stars

The new Vauxhall Mokka range debuted the company’s sharp new family face, which it calls ‘Vizor’. That style is gradually being rolled out across the rest of the range as models are facelifted and replaced. The Mokka doesn’t have quite as much space as some of its small SUV rivals, but it certainly looks sharp and modern.

The all-electric Mokka-e is the pick of the range, according to the critics. Its Expert Rating score of 73%, based on 19 different reviews, puts it five points clear of the regular Mokka models. With a smooth electric motor and great driving dynamics, it’s a great example of how an electric family car can be better to drive and live with than a petrol one.

When it comes to the Class Champion rankings, the Mokka-e is actually outscored by two other small electric SUVs, the Kia e-Niro (84%) and Hyundai Kona Electric (79%), but those cars do not have Euro NCAP safety ratings so they are ineligible according to our criteria. It’s important to note that electric versions of petrol cars do not automatically carry the same safety rating, as they can perform quite differently in a collision. As a result, separate tests are undertaken to provide dedicated ratings.

Class champion, overall: Volvo XC40 (79%)

Volvo XC40 – Small SUV Class Champion of 2021

TCE Expert Rating: 79%

Euro NCAP safety rating: 5 stars

The Volvo XC40 has been highly praised by motoring journalists since it arrived on the scene in 2018, with that praise extending to the plug-in hybrid model that joined the range a year or two later. The all-electric version hasn’t generated quite the same love from critics, so it doesn’t get to share in the title of Class Champion. Its scores may improve, however, as lower-priced models join the range in 2022.

The XC40 condenses all of the interior style and practicality from larger Volvos into a more compact package, with plenty of clever design flourishes inside and out. It will almost certainly be Volvo’s last-ever petrol SUV (diesel has already been dropped), but it’s a very good one.

Notes on eligibility

To be eligible for our Best New Model or Class Champion titles, there are a couple of requirements in addition to having a top Expert Rating score.

Firstly, the Best New Model must have been launched in the UK between 1 December 2020 and 1 December 2021. That means cars registered and on the road, not just available to order for deliveries starting sometime in 2022.

Secondly, a car must have a current Euro NCAP safety rating of either four or five stars. If a car scores three stars or less, we can’t in good conscience give it an award for being best in class. If a new model has not been tested by Euro NCAP by December 2021, it will not be eligible but we will consider it next year if it has been tested.

The Euro NCAP requirement tripped up a couple of otherwise excellent small electric SUVs. The Kia e-Niro and Hyundai Kona both carry higher Expert Ratings than the Vauxhall Mokka-e, but don’t have valid Euro NCAP safety ratings. Like the Mokka-e, the Kia and Hyundai are based on existing petrol SUVs, which both have valid Euro NCAP ratings, but the EV versions have not been tested to verify their safety scores.

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