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The best crossovers

Most motorists in the market for a new car are putting a crossover at the top of their list. If you’re one of them, we suggest looking at the best: The 2021 Toyota RAV4. It’s the bestselling Toyota in the United States, and it’s also one of the nation’s bestselling vehicles regardless of brand or body style. Sheer luck didn’t propel it to the top. For over two decades, it has offered a winning combination of practicality, reliability, and value. It’s now in its fifth generation, and it’s available in a wide variety of configurations ranging from basic to premium. There’s even a plug-in hybrid in the range.

Standing out in this crowded segment of the market is easier said than done, though. If the Rogue doesn’t win you over, there are other great options on the market. We’ve selected the best luxury crossover and the best high-performance crossover, among other options.

The best crossover: Toyota RAV4

2020 Toyota RAV4 TRD Off-Road

Why you should buy this: It’s all the crossover you need.

Who it’s for: Anyone with gear or people to carry.

How much it will cost: $26,050+

Why we picked the Toyota RAV4:

The Toyota RAV4 is exactly what a car-derived crossover should be. It’s reasonably big, so it can carry five adults and their gear with ease, and it offers a relatively generous amount of ground clearance, so it’s not afraid of light off-roading. There’s even a TRD-badged variant that’s better off-road than the regular model.

Yet, it’s more efficient than its footprint suggests. Front-wheel drive comes standard and helps the Toyota RAV4 return 30 mpg in a combined cycle, while all-wheel drive is offered at an extra cost. These figures are impressive, considering the RAV4’s size and weight, and they illustrate what often makes crossovers more attractive than traditional SUVs. Toyota also offers hybrid and plug-in hybrid variants for better efficiency.

Read our full Toyota RAV4 review

The best midsize crossover: Subaru Ascent

best crossovers 2019 Subaru Ascent

Why you should buy this: It’s a big vehicle that doesn’t feel big.

Who’s it for: Large families.

How much will it cost: $32,295+

Why we picked the Subaru Ascent:

The Ascent was designed primarily to keep Subaru owners who needed bigger vehicles from defecting to other brands, but it’s a solid choice even if your current ride isn’t a Forester or an Outback. In addition to plenty of space (including a headline-grabbing 19 cupholders), the seven- or eight-seat Ascent boasts a solid array of tech features and impressive driving dynamics.

Available tech features include built-in Wi-Fi that can support up to eight devices and a rearview mirror that displays streaming video. Similar to versions offered on certain General Motors and Nissan vehicles, it displays a feed from a rear-mounted camera in the mirror, giving the driver a view unobstructed by rear pillars or passengers’ heads. The Ascent comes with Subaru’s EyeSight bundle of driver-assist features, which includes adaptive cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, and lane-keep assist. A head-up display that shows safety warnings is available.

While not a sports car, the Subaru Ascent is also quite nice to drive, and Subaru makes all-wheel drive standard. It handles twisty back roads like a much smaller car and even offers a useful 5,000 pounds of towing capacity.

Our full Subaru Ascent first-drive review

The best compact crossover: Volvo XC40

2019 Volvo XC40 first drive review front angle
Ronan Glon/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: It’s practical, stylish, and high-tech.

Who it’s for: Those who want the nicest and easiest compact crossover.

How much it will cost: $33,700+

Why we picked the Volvo XC40:

The best compact crossover is the Volvo XC40. We’ve driven the Swedish firm’s smallest soft-roader, and we walked away impressed with its human-centric, driver-friendly interior. It makes time spent traveling in the XC40 less of a chore. Clever touches like a grocery bag hook integrated into the glove box door and an in-car trash bin make a big difference when you’re on the road.

The XC40 is geared more toward comfort than sport, like nearly every Volvo to date. It’s not as much of a thrill to drive as some of its rivals, but the trade-off is a level of refinement and smoothness normally found in bigger, more expensive models. The infotainment system is displayed on a big, portrait-oriented touchscreen embedded into the dashboard. It’s intuitive to use, and it responds quickly to inputs. It’s one of our favorite systems on the market.

As a bonus, you can subscribe to the Volvo XC40 by opting into Volvo’s clever Care by Volvo program. For a flat monthly fee, you get the XC40 of your choice, insurance, maintenance, plus replacement of wear-and-tear items like tires and brake pads.

Read our full Volvo XC40 first-drive review

The best subcompact crossover: Hyundai Kona

Stephen Edelstein/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: Sporty performance at a lower than average price.

Who it’s for: Those on a tight budget who don’t want to sacrifice fun or features.

How much it will cost: $20,400+

Why we picked the Hyundai Kona:

The Kona looks fun to drive — and amazingly, even at a starting price around $20,000, it is. The base 2.0-liter engine moves this crossover along just fine, but the turbocharged 1.6-liter is zippier. The turning radius is tight like a go-cart’s, and the low stance means confident cornering. No matter which engine you pick, the Kona is rated at 30 mpg combined. There’s also an electric version available with 258 miles of estimated range if you’re willing to pay for it.

The Hyundai Kona’s interior is nicer than you might expect at this price. It’s well designed, and the materials don’t feel cheap. The infotainment system comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and the upgraded system includes wireless device charging. Lane-keep assist and forward collision warning are standard, with more safety features, like adaptive cruise control, available with higher trims.

Our full Hyundai Kona review

The best performance crossover: Porsche Macan Turbo

Best crossovers Porsche Macan Turbo

Why you should buy this: It will make running errands far more exciting.

Who it’s for: Crossover shoppers who don’t want to sacrifice performance.

How much it will cost: $84,600+

Why we picked the Porsche Macan Turbo:

It may not be a 911, but the smaller of Porsche’s two crossovers stands out as one of the sportiest vehicles of its type. Like the larger Cayenne, the Macan tries hard to live up to the Porsche name, but its more compact proportions make it a much more credible canyon carver.

The Turbo is positioned at the top of the Macan family, and its performance figures rival those posted by many sports cars. Power comes from a 2.9-liter V6 engine that’s twin-turbocharged to develop 434 horsepower. It takes 4.1 seconds to reach 60mph from a stop when fitted with the optional Sport Chrono package, and it doesn’t stop accelerating until the speedometer needle indicates 167mph. It handles remarkably well, too.

Porsche’s infotainment system is one of the best in the business because it’s sharp, intuitive, and quick. And the materials found inside the Porsche Macan Turbo’s cabin feel like they belong in a luxury car; Porsche didn’t cut corners. The Macan Turbo isn’t cheap, but it’s your best option if you’re looking for a high-performance crossover.

The best fuel-efficient crossover: Kia Niro PHEV

2018 Kia Niro PHEV EX Premium review
Stephen Edelstein/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: It’s more car than crossover.

Who’s it for: Urbanites in need of a crossover.

How much will it cost: $29,490+

Why we picked the Kia Niro PHEV:

With its small footprint, its low ride height, and a complete lack of off-road pretensions, the Kia Niro is more of an enlarged hatchback than a proper crossover. That’s a good thing, though. It means buyers don’t have to sacrifice fuel economy to get a spacious interior and a higher seating position.

Kia offers several variants of the Niro, including a battery-electric model and a hybrid. We chose the plug-in hybrid model as the best of the lot because it strikes an ideal balance between efficiency, affordability, and usability. It’s powered by a gasoline-electric drivetrain made up of a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine and a small electric motor. Kia claims a 560-mile driving range or 46 mpg combined with both power sources running. You can drive for up to 26 miles on electricity alone if the battery pack is fully charged.

We spent time with the Kia Niro PHEV and concluded it drives like a regular car. It looks like one, too — nothing about it screams, “I’m a hybrid!” Unfortunately, front-wheel drive is the only configuration available, and Kia isn’t planning on adding all-wheel drive anytime soon.

How we test

The Digital Trends automotive team scrutinizes vehicles on the road through a comprehensive testing process. We examine the qualities of the exterior and interior and judge them based on our expertise and experience in the context of the vehicle’s category and price range. Entertainment technology is thoroughly tested, as well as most safety features that can be tested in controlled environments.

Test drivers spend extensive time behind the wheel of the vehicles, conducting real-world testing, driving them on highways and back roads, as well as off-road and on race tracks when applicable.

Helpful advice

Automakers tend to use the terms crossover and SUV interchangeably, but that isn’t really accurate. It’s mostly the fault of marketing departments: Brands choose to describe their vehicles based on public sentiment more than accurate descriptions.

Calling any of the vehicles we’ve listed SUVs would be incorrect. Here’s why: Crossovers are normally built on a car-like unibody architecture, meaning the body and the chassis form one part. SUVs use body-on-frame construction, meaning the body is bolted to a separate frame. The layout makes a big difference. Unibody cars are normally lighter, so they’re more efficient, more comfortable, and less truck-like to drive. Meanwhile, body-on-frame cars are more rugged, more capable, and more durable.

Now that you know the basic differences, you just need to decide how you’ll use your vehicle. Planning to do a lot of off-roading or towing? You’re looking for an SUV. Need something efficient, comfortable, and more affordable? A crossover is the right choice. With that covered, if you’ve made it to the bottom of this article and now know you need an SUV, we suggest reviewing our top SUV picks.

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