Top-Rated 2021 Small SUVs in Appeal According to Consumers

Jack R. Nerad | Sep 15, 2021

The small SUV segment is one of the fastest-growing in the American car market. Over the past several years, thousands of car buyers have walked away from sedans, coupes, and hatchbacks in favor of small SUVs. 

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You might be ready to join them. But which of the many small SUVs really gets their owners' juices flowing? We have the answers for you right here in this list of the 10 most appealing small SUVs, as identified by the consumers who own them.

Every year J.D. Power asks thousands of verified small SUV owners about their experiences with their vehicles. A key goal of the exercise is not simply to identify problems but instead to discover "things gone right." In other words, to discover which of the vehicles are the most appealing to their owners. 

In the annual Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, J.D. Power compiles all this information, analyzes consumer responses, and creates an overall APEAL index score for each model using a 1,000-point scale. The higher the index score, the more appealing the model is according to the consumers who own them.

This article identifies and describes the 10 highest-rated 2021 model-year small SUVs in terms of appeal. It is drawn from the analysis of small and compact SUVs, and the vehicles are listed in ascending order so the most appealing small SUV will be found at the end of the list. 

10. 2021 GMC Terrain - Find the best GMC deals!

2021 GMC Terrain Black Front Quarter View

The 2021 GMC Terrain is a 5-passenger compact crossover with a comfortable interior with plenty of cargo space. Its touchscreen infotainment system offers the convenience of wireless Apple CarPlay and wireless Android Auto. For 2021, GMC Pro Safety is standard, giving every Terrain a basic package of advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS).

The Terrain is powered by a 170-horsepower 1.5-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine matched to a 9-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard on the SLE and SLT. All-wheel drive is optional on those trims and is standard on the off-road-oriented AT4 and the top-of-the-line Denali. 

The index score for the 2021 GMC Terrain is 845. It ties with the Toyota C-HR on this list, but not in the APEAL Study because they are in different vehicle segments. 

9. 2021 Toyota C-HR - Find the best Toyota deals!

2021 Toyota C-HR White Front Quarter View

The Toyota C-HR is a highly styled vehicle that also serves as the brand's entry-level SUV. The C-HR mixes hatchback and sports coupe themes with a versatile crossover SUV body. It's powered by a 144-horsepower 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, and unlike most SUVs it is only available with front-wheel drive.

For the 2021 model year, Toyota made its Toyota Safety Sense 2.5 array of driver-assist features standard on the C-HR. A Nightshade Edition of the C-HR joined the lineup for 2021 as well. The small SUV is offered in LE, XLE, Nightshade, and Limited trim levels. 

The index score for the 2021 Toyota C-HR is 845. It ties with the GMC Terrain on this list, but not in the APEAL Study because they are in different vehicle segments. 

8. 2021 Toyota RAV4 - Find the best Toyota deals!

2021 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Front Quarter View

One of the bestselling vehicles in the United States, the Toyota RAV4 is a compact SUV that slots into the Toyota lineup above the C-HR and below the midsize Highlander. The 5-seater is available with a conventional 4-cylinder engine and with hybrid and plug-in hybrid powertrains. The plug-in RAV4 Prime is new for the 2021 model year.

Unlike the front-drive only C-HR, the RAV4 is offered in both front-drive and all-wheel-drive versions. It also offers two off-road-oriented trim levels — Adventure and TRD Off Road. Other trim levels are LE, XLE, XLE Premium, XSE, and Limited. 

The index score for the 2021 Toyota RAV4 is 846.

7. 2021 Buick Envision - Find the best Buick deals!

2021 Buick Envision Front Quarter View

Redesigned for 2021, the Buick Envision is a 5-passenger compact SUV that offers more than a hint of luxury. One of the most noticeable changes in the interior is the addition of a 10.2-inch infotainment display. The infotainment system now features available wireless Apple CarPlay, wireless Android Auto, and Amazon Alexa integration. 

The Buick Envision is powered by a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine mated to a 9-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive is available and the up-level AWD system has an electronically controlled twin-clutch operation. The Envision is offered in three trims: Preferred, Essence, and Avenir. 

The index score for the 2021 Buick Envision is 854.

6. 2021 Mazda CX-5 - Find the best Mazda deals!

2021 Mazda CX-5 Front Quarter View

With comfortable 5-passenger seating and a handsome interior, the Mazda CX-5 stands out among the thick field of compact SUVs. It comes standard with front-wheel drive, but all-wheel drive is available across the model line. The most obvious addition to the SUV for 2021 is the standard 10.25-inch infotainment display. Following the black-out trend, a new Carbon Edition trim level is also available for the first time.

The CX-5 offers a choice between two engines: a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder or a turbocharged version of the same engine. The base 2.5-liter delivers 187 horsepower while the turbo produces 227 horsepower. Trim levels for the CX-5 include Sport, Touring, Carbon Edition, Grand Touring, Grand Touring Reserve, and Signature.

The index score for the 2021 Mazda CX-5 is 855.

5. 2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer - Find the best Chevrolet deals!

2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer RS Blue Front Quarter View

All-new for 2021, the Chevrolet Trailblazer gives the brand another entry in the small SUV segment. The 5-passenger SUV supplements the smaller Chevrolet Trax that sits at the lower end of the segment. Front-wheel drive is the basic configuration but all-wheel-drive is available.

The Trailblazer offers two engine choices — a 137-horsepower turbocharged 1.2-liter 3-cylinder and a 155-horsepower turbocharged 1.3-liter 3-cylinder. In front-drive form, the engines are teamed with a continuously variable transmission while the larger and more powerful engine is paired with a 9-speed automatic with all-wheel drive. The Trailblazer is available in L, LS, LT, ACTIV, and RS trims.

The index score for the 2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer is 856.

4. 2021 Mini Countryman - Find the best Mini deals!

2021 Mini Countryman White Front Quarter

The Mini Countryman is an interesting cross between the iconic Mini and an SUV. The result is a somewhat larger 4-door vehicle that sits higher than the contemporary Mini Cooper Hardtop and features all-wheel-drive. Like other Minis, the Countryman offers an imaginative interior, and its raised seating position results in better interior comfort.

The 2021 Mini Countryman is offered in a somewhat dazzling array of trims and submodels. The submodels include Cooper, Cooper S, Cooper SE ALL4, and John Cooper Works, and the trims are Classic, Signature, and Iconic. Powertrains are just as varied with a 3-cylinder, a pair of turbocharged 4-cylinders, and a plug-in hybrid.

The index score for the 2021 Mini Countryman is 861.

3. 2021 Ford Bronco Sport - Find the best Ford deals!

2021 Ford Bronco Sport Yellow Front Quarter View

The 2021 Ford Bronco Sport is the revival of one of the brand's most storied nameplates. It's a 5-passenger compact crossover that is the smaller sibling of the 2021 Ford Bronco. Similar in size to the Ford Escape, the Bronco Sport is that vehicle's off-road doppelgänger. 

While the vast majority of small SUVs offer a front-drive version, the Bronco Sport is all-wheel-drive all the time. It does offer a pair of engine choices, however — a turbocharged 1.5-liter 3-cylinder that delivers 181 horsepower and a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that produces 250 horsepower. The Bronco Sport is available in Base, Big Bend, Badlands, Outer Banks, and First Edition trims.

The index score for the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport is 864. It receives a J.D.Power award in the Small SUV segment.

2. 2021 Nissan Rogue - Find the best Nissan deals!

2021 Nissan Rogue Blue Front Quarter View

Completely redesigned for the 2021 model year, the Nissan Rogue is a 5-passenger compact SUV that is designed for on-road use with almost no off-road aspirations. The interior is comfortable, well-designed, and features 8- or 9-inch infotainment displays, depending upon the trim level. 

The Rogue's power comes from a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine that produces 181 horsepower. The engine is teamed with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that contributes to the model's fuel economy. The Rogue is available in S, SV, SL, and Platinum trims.

The index score for the 2021 Nissan Rogue is 869.

1. 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E - Find the best Ford deals!

2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E Red Front Quarter View

The Ford Mustang Mach-E bears the name of a legendary sports coupe, but it is a 4-door 5-passenger compact SUV that, unlike the other vehicles on this list, features battery-electric power. Thrust into the most popular segment in the American market, the Mach-E is designed to be a mainstream alternative to gasoline models rather than a niche model with limited appeal.

The Mach-E offers an array of horsepower numbers depending upon trim and configuration. The rear-drive versions are equipped with a single electric drive motor while the all-wheel-drive Mach-Es have a drive motor for each axle. Depending upon the configuration, the driving range on a full charge can be as high as 300 miles. There are four trim levels: Select, Premium, California Route 1, and GT. 

The index score for the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E is 880. The Mach-E receives a J.D. Power award in the Compact SUV segment.

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