Drive Car Of The Year

Best Small SUV

They may be small in name, but small SUVs are tasked with packing as much practicality, space and features as possible. Here’s how the cards fell when analysing the segment at 2023 Drive Car of the Year.

The small SUV is a broad-reaching category that caters to people from all ages. Whether you’re buying a first car looking for uncompromising vehicle safety and the ultimate in tech, or winding down in life looking for a higher driving position, small SUVs have a lot to offer buyers from all walks.

It’s a fast-moving subset as well, with multiple new models coming on the scene in 2022. It also traditionally favours value, as evidenced by sales frontrunners such as the Mitsubishi ASX, MG ZS and Mazda CX-30. But with little changing on those models throughout 2022, we’ve focused our DCOTY sights on the more up-to-date options in the segment.

That means we welcome the new Nissan Qashqai, Honda HR-V, and Toyota Corolla Cross into the ring, ready to duke it out with the Skoda Kamiq reigning champion. These cars were invited because they've impressed us as we've tested them over the course of the last 12 months.

To take out top honours in the 2023 Drive Car of the Year Best Small SUV category, a contender must put forward a strong value equation, it must drive well, and it needs to pair a strong tech suite with a comfortable cabin. It’s no small feat to do well in any one of those areas, but to conquer all three is deserving of celebration, and that’s what Drive Car of the Year aims to highlight.

Winner: Nissan Qashqai




4 variants available

$ 33,890 - $ 47,390* MRLP

What we love

  • -Fresh new interior with well-integrated tech
  • -Feels premium, even with lower-specified variants
  • -Strong turbocharged engine

What we don't

  • -Feels top-heavy through quick manoeuvres
  • -Lack of storage space
  • -Second-row knee room is tight

After its predecessor overstayed its welcome, the world has been crying out for a new-generation Nissan Qashqai. It turns out the wait was worth it, because the Qashqai absolutely nails small SUV expectations.

Boasting a host of new technology and materials, a powerful yet efficient turbocharged engine, and a spacious and premium interior, the 2023 Nissan Qashqai fought off all comers to be the 2023 Drive Car of the Year Best Small SUV.

Before we get ahead of ourselves, how about a brief Nissan Qashqai recap? The Qashqai slots in above the Nissan Juke light SUV and below the X-Trail mid-size alternative. Pricing begins just under $34,000 for the entry-level ST variant, but there are four specifications to choose from overall, ending at the $47,390 (before ORCs) Qashqai Ti.

Common to all is a 1.3-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine that outputs 110kW/250Nm through the front wheels. It also only comes with a continuously variable automatic transmission.

It’s no easy feat to dethrone a two-time winner in the Skoda Kamiq, but judges were pleased with the outputs provided by the Qashqai’s 1.3-litre engine and its refinement. The ride control is very impressive over all bumps and undulations on our test routes and drivers enjoy a proper high-riding seating position.

The continuously variable transmission is relatively quiet under load and delivers smooth acceleration up to posted speed limits.

Inside the cabin, there’s a smart new infotainment screen with new Nissan software that looks sleek and is dead easy to use. The rest of the dash array is appealing and functional too. Old-school air-conditioning controls are much appreciated at a time when some rivals are opting for infotainment-based 'soft' controls.

Though it has risen in price by a substantial margin over its predecessor (it's between $3300 and $8300 more expensive than before), the 2023 Nissan Qashqai comes well equipped even from the entry-level variant. Highlight features include adaptive cruise control, a digital instrument cluster display, smartphone mirroring for the infotainment system, and front and rear parking sensors as standard.

Servicing costs are capped at $1467 over three years, while Nissan warrants the car for five years (unlimited kilometres).

Our launch testing in late 2022 highlighted a surprisingly spacious cabin that includes impressive wide-opening rear doors, a sizeable boot capacity and a smooth powertrain.

The Nissan Qashqai's performance in slalom and emergency swerve testing wasn't the best in class. The vehicle felt top-heavy and its electronic stability-control system intervened aggressively.

The small SUV category is not an easy one to conquer, but with a host of technology and safety features, plus a heap of usable space, the Nissan Qashqai redefines what buyers can expect from a small SUV.

Runner-up: Toyota Corolla Cross


Toyota Corolla Cross

Toyota Corolla Cross

8 variants available

$ 33,000 - $ 49,050* MRLP

What we love

  • -Powerful and efficient powertrain
  • -Superb air-conditioning
  • -Quiet and comfortable cabin

What we don't

  • -Minimal storage space
  • -Dull interior plastics
  • -Low-definition reverse camera

It was a close call on votes between the Nissan Qashqai victor and the Toyota Corolla Cross. However, whereas the Toyota Corolla Cross is a safe bet and ticks all the boxes, judges felt the new Nissan Qashqai stood out more.

That’s not to reduce the new Toyota Corolla Cross to an also-ran – far from it. Offering a choice of efficient hybrid powertrains and a spacious, functional cabin, the Corolla Cross is an impressive bit of kit according to our testing. It slots in as a more practical small SUV alternative to the Toyota C-HR, and sits beneath the Toyota RAV4 medium SUV. Prices start at a clear $33,000 before on-road costs before rising through multiple model grades right up to the range-topping Corolla Cross Atmos Hybrid AWD ($49,050 before ORCs).

With the Corolla Cross you get a choice of petrol or hybrid engines, the latter with a choice of front- or all-wheel drive. The petrol engine outputs 126kW/202Nm to the wheels, while the hybrid outputs a combined 146kW. Importantly, the hybrid also offers fuel savings, with official fuel consumption as low as 4.3L/100km.

Toyota has consistently earned praise for its value equation after purchase, which remains the case with this all-new model. Over the first five services, Toyota charges a uniform $250 for each visit. This is accompanied by a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty. Remember, key to a Toyota purchase is the impressive resale value you get after you're done with it.

Judges were particularly happy with the hybrid engine's power outputs, though it tended to be noisy when on the go. It’s a hugely comfortable and compliant car to drive on country roads, eating up all road imperfections and corrugations. The light steering makes it an easy car to manoeuvre in suburbia, but lacks feel and feedback overall.

Our 2023 Toyota Corolla Cross reviews have illustrated how it's a worthy newcomer to the segment with respect to its practicality and frugality on fuel. However, we've also noted it doesn't excite us all too much in design or tech, especially when you're paying more money for the upper-spec variants in the line-up. This is why we've found that smart buying is at the entry level.

The cabin might not be as eye-catching as the Nissan Qashqai’s, but the new infotainment system is a welcome upgrade over Toyota’s old rudimentary outfit. It’s simple to navigate the different menu systems, and the displays are crisp and appealing. Though its reverse camera quality could be higher quality.

Judges were happy with the amount of space on offer inside its interior, though notes mention a distinct lack of places to store loose odds and ends. In a class that’s all about packing as much space into a small SUV body, the Drive team desire larger door pockets and more storage options in the second row.

Finalist: Skoda Kamiq




3 variants available

$ 35,490 - $ 41,990* MRLP

What we love

  • -Plush cabin with soft-touch panels
  • -Compliant ride quality
  • -Huge door pockets

What we don't

  • -Engine lacks outright power on open road
  • -Thirsty petrol consumption
  • -Infotainment lacks features

While ultimately losing out on securing another 2023 Drive Car of the Year Best Small SUV crown, the Skoda Kamiq remains a great option in a popular vehicle segment.

Skoda now offers a range of different-sized SUVs. The 2023 Skoda Kamiq sits at the entry level for space and price, below the Karoq medium SUV and Kodiaq large SUV. Disappointingly, Skoda reintroduced the model midway through 2022 with no additional features or tweaks but with a price up to $7000 higher than before. This means a price tag of $34,990 (plus on-roads) for the entry-level 85TSI Style, while prices rise to $41,490 (plus on-roads) for the 110TSI Signature. There's also a sporty-leaning 110TSI Monte Carlo offering that costs $40,895 (plus on-roads).

Powering the 85TSI Style is a 1.0-litre turbocharged three-cylinder petrol engine sending 85kW/200Nm to the front wheels through a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. The 110TSI Monte Carlo and Signature gain a 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder that outputs 110kW/250Nm through the same seven-speed dual-clutch auto and front-wheel-drive layout.

Though price has risen substantially without a commensurate gain in equipment, the model is now covered by the brand's new-for-2022 seven-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.

Whereas its competitors feel like mini-SUVs in their high-riding nature, the Skoda Kamiq is closely aligned to a small car and feels great to drive. Judges praised the Skoda’s ability to deal with road imperfections and how it held its line confidently on pitted country roads. The turbocharged four-cylinder engine is a perfect pairing to its petite size, while its fuel use remained relatively frugal on test. Though the engine does run out of puff at high revs when overtaking, there is a solid mid-range punch that will prove handy around town.

Inside the cabin, Skoda has used a slew of soft-touch fabric materials to make the space feel premium. Judges were impressed with the soft, comfortable seats and the quality fit and finish of panels and instrumentation. Even beyond our time at DCOTY, whenever we've reviewed the Kamiq, it has consistently impressed our editorial team with its overall refinement and surprising spaciousness.

Skoda’s infotainment system is beginning to wear old among its newer competitors, and the lack of standard satellite navigation in the base model – even though smartphone mirroring (with Apple or Google Maps) is offered – stands out against newer systems.

Despite its diminutive body size, the Skoda’s rear seat space is large and will suit even tall passengers. Even though it’s not the latest and greatest in its class, there is still a lot to love about the Skoda Kamiq small SUV.

Finalist: Honda HR-V


Honda HR-V

Honda HR-V

2 variants available

$ 36,700 - $ 47,000* MRLP

What we love

  • -Stylish design and quality materials
  • -Cool suite of infotainment technology
  • -Excellent ride quality

What we don't

  • -Underpowered engine
  • -Small boot 
  • -Four seats

Honda’s HR-V proves that a lot can change in the space of six months in the Australian car industry. When it launched earlier this year, the Drive team found that the new and more expensive Honda HR-V was not as compelling in value-for-money terms.

Now its newer rivals have arrived at similarly inflated price points, the Honda HR-V is looking like a much better deal. Especially impressive is Honda's low-cost servicing, where each of its first five maintenance visits is capped at $199.

Honda sells a two-strong HR-V range that begins at the HR-V Vi X model grade ($36,700 drive-away) and ends with the HR-V e:HEV L ($47,000 drive-away). The more affordable HR-V Vi X variant gets a 1.5-litre non-turbo four-cylinder engine that sends 89kW/145Nm to the front wheels through a continuously variable automatic transmission.

Step up to the e:HEV L flagship to unlock a 1.5-litre engine paired with two electric motors for 96kW/253Nm combined. This hybrid system is said to offer fuel economy as low as 4.3L/100km.

Though it's a sizeable jump between the petrol and hybrid HR-V specifications, the hybrid HR-V also scores a hands-free power tailgate, leather-wrapped steering wheel, heated front seats, rear cross-traffic alert, and a six-speaker sound system.

Above all else, the Honda HR-V is a very stylish and practical small SUV. From its sleek exterior look to its crafted interior, there are many bits and pieces to get excited about with the HR-V. Specifically, the knurled switchgear of the air vents and metallic doorhandles score high praise in our books, while the spacious and adaptable cabin is like nothing else.

Honda’s Magic Seats arrangement conforms to swallow up all bulky items inside the HR-V’s boot, while there are also storage nooks and crannies. The infotainment system is minimalist in design and simple to use in practice, plus the user interaction between all the lovely, clicky switchgear feels premium.

Where the Honda falls short is its driving experience, specifically with regard to its power plant. Its engine outputs and real-world performance are not on par with its rivals. Overtakes need to be very well planned for timing – even though the transmission does its best to react quickly, the power lacks when needed.

Though there are redeemable features to get excited about with the Honda HR-V, the underpowered drivetrain remains the car’s Achilles heel.

You can read about all the other 2023 Drive Car of the Year categories and winners here:
Drive Car of the Year categories and winners

Note: All vehicle specifications pertain to variants tested as part of DCOTY assessment program.

Other Award Categories

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