CARS.COM — Compact SUVs are flying out of dealer showrooms. These popular, car-based utility vehicles provide a great combination of efficiency, a high seating position, passenger comfort, cargo room and versatility. And unlike their truck-based predecessors, they’re not too big or unwieldy. One thing they’re not typically good at, in contrast to their larger ancestors which were, is towing. Whether it’s a trailer full of Jet Skis, a lightweight racecar or a small camper, these SUVs aren’t quite the workhorses that their forebears were.
- The current CR-V topped seven challengers in our most recent compact-SUV comparison test, and that makes it one of the best SUVs for the money as well as one of the best SUVs for 2021—period.
- The Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport is a two-row, sexier version of the staid Atlas three-row SUV.Some practicality lurks beneath VW's mainstream take on the coupe/SUV format pioneered by luxury.
The Mazda CX-30 is sporty and sophisticated and our No. 1 pick for an extra-small SUV. It has striking style, is comfortable on the road, and offers plenty of standard features for its price.
Related: More Top 10s
And why should they be? Most of these smaller SUVs are powered by small, fuel-efficient four-cylinder engines and are front-wheel drive by nature (though some are all-wheel drive), and their chassis bits are better suited for shopping mall parking lots rather than mountain passes. But head to Europe and you’ll find these little trucklets towing an amazing array of things, from campers on up. During our recent $28,000 Compact SUV Challenge, we found ourselves wondering just how well these popular runabouts rate at actually towing things. Here’s our take on the 10 best compact SUVs to use for towing, in order of decreasing towing capacity.
1. 2015 Jeep Cherokee: 4,500 pounds
There are two powertrain options in the Jeep Cherokee, but the one you’d want for towing is the optional 271-horsepower, 3.2-liter V-6. With a nine-speed automatic and the required tow package, the 2015 Jeep Cherokee can haul up to 4,500 pounds, which is enough to cart around a boat or camper with ease.
2. 2015 Audi Q5: 4,400 pounds
Some of the better compact SUVs for towing are luxury models, given their typically more powerful engines. The Audi Q5 is one such beast. Based on the same platform as the A4 sedan, it can tow 4,400 pounds even with its small 220-hp, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Of course, being an Audi, it’ll cost you considerably more than a Cherokee.
3. 2015 Chevrolet Equinox/2015 GMC Terrain: 3,500 pounds
The SUV that came in second in our recent comparison challenge, despite its aging looks and interior, is quite capable when it comes to towing. Opt for the powerful 301-hp, 3.6-liter V-6 engine and dealer-installed trailer tow package that includes electronic trailer sway control and hill start assist, and you’ll enjoy a towing capacity of about 3,500 pounds.
4. 2015 Ford Escape: 3,500 pounds
Some small SUVs don’t have an optional V-6 engine, but that hasn’t limited their abilities. The latest Ford Escape can be equipped with a 240-hp, turbocharged 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine and a Class II Trailer Tow Package that lets it haul 3,500 pounds.
5. 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLK250/350: 3,500 pounds
The Mercedes-Benz GLK may be overshadowed lately by the new GLA-Class, but it has plenty of merits, including an optional diesel engine and the ability to tow up to 3,500 pounds. You can do that with either the GLK250 Bluetec diesel or the conventional GLK350 and its 302-hp, 3.5-liter V-6; both have the same towing capacity.
6. 2015 Mitsubishi Outlander: 3,500 pounds
Sporty Small Suvs
It may not be one of the more popular SUVs on the market, but it is one of the more capable ones for towing. The Outlander (not the Outlander Sport, the smaller sibling which is not tow-rated) has a 3,500-pound towing capacity, but you’ll need to invest in the top-trim GT V-6 model. That truck’s 3.0-liter V-6 and six-speed automatic transmission combine with its all-wheel-drive system to offer a reasonable towing package, with optional seven-passenger seating to boot.
7. 2015 Lincoln MKC: 3,000 pounds
Another luxury truck makes the list, but this one is tricky. The MKC is rated to tow 3,000 pounds when equipped with an optional Class II Trailer Tow Package, but only with the less powerful 240-hp, turbocharged 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine. If you opt for the 285-hp, turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine, you’re limited to a towing capacity of just 2,000 pounds. Go figure.
8. 2015 Volkswagen Tiguan: 2,200 pounds
Volkswagen’s compact SUV is a popular towing vehicle in Europe, hauling “caravans” (small campers) across the countryside with its stout turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine making 200 hp. It’s rated to 2,200 pounds in the U.S., but with the diesel engine available in Europe, it can tow almost 3,200 pounds there.
9. 2015 Kia Sportage: 2,000 pounds
Many compact SUVs such as the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V and Subaru Forester can tow 1,000-1,500 pounds, but the Kia Sportage is able to drag 2,000 pounds behind it with its 260-hp, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine or its less powerful 182-hp, 2.4-liter engine and a proper tow package.
10. 2015 Mazda CX-5: 2,000 pounds
With the Mazda CX-5, you get the ability to haul 2,000 pounds with a fairly small, efficient 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that makes just 184 hp. When you’re not towing, you’ll get to enjoy the Mazda’s sporty character and recently upgraded interior.
The two-door sport-utility vehicle is a rare beast on the modern market. Once plentiful throughout the '80s and '90s, the impracticality of a two-door setup in daily living finally won out over the benefits of a shorter wheelbase out on the trail and winnowed the available offerings down to one: the venerable Jeep Wrangler.
With Ford seeking to break Jeep's lock on the SUV 'coupe' segment with its upcoming Bronco (which is rumored to be available in both two-door and four-door editions), we thought we'd put together a list of the best—and the weirdest—two-door sport-utility vehicles ever built.
Let us know if we missed any of your favorites.
1. Jeep Wrangler
It's been known by several names, and ridden on many different platforms over the years—CJ, YJ, TJ, JK, JL—but Jeep's most popular two-door platform is the only SUV of its kind to have enjoyed continuous production since it first appeared on the scene in the 1940s. It has maintained its solid axles, removable doors and top, and incredible off-road prowess since the very beginning, and although recent models are far more modern in terms of drivetrain and creature comforts than their predecessors could lay claim to, the basic Wrangler formula continues to generate enormous profits for the brand.
2. Ford Bronco
The Ford Bronco was the most successful of the me-too copycats seeking to jump on the SUV bandwagon largely built on the back of Jeep's early efforts. The first-generation truck (1966-1967) was a small and capable open-air trail toy that would eventually evolve into the still-convertible Big Bronco design that reigned from 1978 to 1996. These later models were based on the same chassis as the F-150 full-size pickup, with extra brawn and size to match.
3. Land Rover Defender 90
The Land Rover Defender 90 is an almost mythical beast on this side of the Atlantic, a vehicle that was only rarely imported by off-road aficionados in the know. Named after its wheelbase, in inches, the Defender 90 represented the early '80s evolution of Land Rover's legendary Series III, gaining a number of chassis modernizations and features that made it marginally more livable on the pavement. Far from the beaten path, the Defender was an almost unstoppable 4x4, and it would live on until modern fuel, safety and pollution requirements snuffed out its production in 2016.
4. Chevrolet K5 Blazer
The Chevrolet K5 Blazer was developed in direct response to Ford's Bronco, but it went all-in on borrowing from the C/K line of pickups right from its 1969 start. It also maintained its full convertible status into its second generation, switching to the Bronco's half-cab look in 1975 (and keeping it until it moved to the GMT400 platform in 1992).
5. Isuzu Trooper
Chances are you're familiar with the four-door Isuzu Trooper, which has been sold under a bewildering number of nameplates (including Acura, Chevrolet, Opel, Holden and Subaru) over the course of its lifespan. The model we're concerned with, however, is the less-common two-door, which was primarily known as the Trooper on U.S. roads. Equipped with a surprisingly rugged low-range four-wheel drive system and a choice between stout four-cylinder and V6 engines, the Trooper has quietly carved out a niche as a cult favorite among 4x4 enthusiasts.
6. Toyota Land Cruiser
Sporty Looking Suvs
The FJ40 edition of the venerable Toyota Land Cruiser has a global reputation almost as long and distinguished as the Land Rover Series I through III. Offered between 1960 and 1984, the FJ40's upright design would inspire the sorta-two-door FJ Cruiser in the mid-2000s, but more importantly it would play an enormous role in building Toyota's image as the purveyor of incredibly reliable vehicles. Like the Wrangler that leads off our list, the Land Cruiser kept things simple, but effective, when conquering new terrain from the Serengeti to the Mojave.
…And a Few Weirdoes, Too
Not every 2-door SUV hit the mark. Over the years, there have been more than a few sport-utility vehicles that have furrowed brows and stopped conversations dead as they rolled past the general public.
That being said, just because a truck gets weird, doesn't mean it's not worth celebrating. Here are five of the strangest two-door SUVs ever built, both good and bad.
1. Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet
Undoubtedly the most bizarre modern crossover to have ever made it into a mainstream dealership, the Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet took a popular four-door family hauler, sliced off two of the doors, and then also removed the roof. The end result was a vehicle no one had asked for and few people would purchase. It's perhaps the most brazen 'we don't care, we're building it anyway' example of brand chutzpah in automotive history.
2. Land Rover Range Rover Evoque Convertible
A very close second? The Land Rover Range Rover Evoque convertible. The drop-top Evoque is a little less scandalous in its genesis than the Murano CrossCabriolet since the first-generation Evoque was available in two-door coupe form. Still, Land Rover remains the only luxury brand in recent memory to offer a fully-convertible SUV. Only a handful were sold, with even the fixed-roof Evoque reverting to a four-door-only design for 2019.
3. Isuzu VehiCROSS
Here's a perfect example of weird also being good. From 1999 to 2001, Americans were able to buy Isuzu's futuristic-looking, V6-powered, pocket-sized off-road warrior. With both low and high-range four-wheel drive and an advanced computer-controlled torque distribution system, the VehiCROSS was in many ways ahead of its time. Just over 4,000 were sold in the United States, and this unique SUV represents one of the few instances of enthusiasts being able to buy a concept vehicle that was almost unchanged in production form.
4. Toyota RAV4
The first-generation Toyota RAV4 was the vehicle that would define the 'cute ute' segment after it went on sale in the mid-1990s. The two-door version offered the briefest of wheelbases but could be had with four-wheel drive and a respectable amount of ground clearance, intriguing more than a few truck fans with its unibody construction and car-like fuel mileage. A soft top was also available, and it outlived the hardtop as a beach cruiser for those who dared to be different from the traditional Jeep crowd.
5. Suzuki X90
If the RAV4 was the zenith of cute ute design, then the much-maligned Suzuki X90 was its rock-bottom. Briefly offered as a competitor to the Toyota, the X-90's brief existence was marred by awkward proportions, middling performance, and very little in the way of on-road stability at high speeds. Hey, at least it had T-tops!