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  2. Compact SUV vs. Midsize SUV: Which is the Best SUV for You?


Every car enthusiast will agree to the fact that buying an SUV is a daunting task. While you have to choose which brand to go for, you also have to consider which size of SUV will suit your driving needs and style. While there are different options for different sizes, compact and midsize SUVs are the most popular.

So if you plan on buying an SUV, you want to know the difference between the two and what benefits and drawbacks to expect from each of them. In this article, we are going to delve deep into both classes of SUV, in order to help you understand which SUV is the best for your needs, helping you make an informed decision.

How to Choose the Best Compact SUV?

A few factors, such as better gas mileage, cabin space, and handling, help the best SUVs stand out from mediocre vehicles. Here are the key factors to look out for in a good compact SUV:


A compact SUV may not have the same storage capacity as a full-sized SUV, but it should offer more storage than a regular car. The 2021 Honda CR-V has a good spot on the list of the best compact SUVs in the area of storage.

CR-V boasts 39.2 cubic feet of space, which is difficult for rivals to beat. Other compact SUVs close to this offer include Toyota RAV4 with 37.6 cubic feet and Ford Escape with a storage capacity of 37.5 cubic feet. And whenever you haul extra cargo, you can fold down the rear seats to squeeze in a few more luggage bags.

Better Gas Mileage

While a full-sized SUV comes with its advantages, one significant reason people avoid them is their high gas consumption. Considering today’s high gas prices, you would surely want something with good fuel efficiency, or even a hybrid powertrain.

A good compact SUV must have good gas mileage, and Honda seems to be the best automaker in this arena, thanks to Honda Pilot and Honda CV-R. While the Pilot earned an EPA rating of 19 and 26 mpg per city and highway, the CV-R got 25 and 31 for city and highway driving. These are the best gas mileage in the compact-SUV class.

Better View of the Road

Determining the best compact SUV involves considering how the driver views the road. A good SUV must offer a convenient view of the road ahead, as compared to a regular car. Owing to high ground clearance, compact SUV lifts the driver further from the ground, providing him with an authoritative driving position and a better grip, which comes in handy for driving on rocky roads.

A 2015 report by Automotive News stated that the higher driving position in compact SUVs is the greatest part of their appeal. The report further stated that the higher position in the vehicles enhanced drivers’ feelings and confidence.

What Is the Difference Between A Compact SUV and A Midsize SUV?

The major difference between a compact SUV and a midsize SUV stems from the size and engine. Midsize SUVs are larger and feature more powerful engines than compact SUVs. Large size means more cabin and cargo space, and a powerful engine offers higher towing capacity.

Are Midsize SUVs Bigger Than Compact SUVs?

As expected of midsize SUVs, they are smaller than standard SUVs and larger than their compact cousins. Most midsize SUVs are powered by robust engines, with the lowest being a turbo four-cylinder engine. While the engines are to support the size, they also provide enough towing and off-road capabilities.

Compact vs. Midsize SUV Comparison

Compact and midsize SUVs carry the same sports utility vein, but they are different in multiple aspects. So you should be willing to consider those differences to know which option suits your needs and lifestyle best. If you can’t get it enough in a compact SUV, a midsize SUV will provide you with enough, and vice-versa.

Seating and Cabin

When seating becomes a priority, it is best to go for a midsize SUV, as it offers more seating than a compact option. Most compact SUVs come with two rows, which can only accommodate four people comfortably. To occupy five people, the fifth person has to squeeze in the rear middle seat, which is not usually comfortable, especially if they are chubby adult passengers.

However, it is important to note that some compact SUVs still offer a third row, meaning more seating. While this might be good news, the third-row seats are usually suitable for children. For example, while the Mitsubishi Outlander, Volkswagen Tiguan, and Kia Sorento come with a third row, they compromise on cabin space, especially in the rear seats.

This means that even if your search brings you across a compact SUV with a third row, you shouldn’t expect an abundance of legroom and headroom.

Though not every midsize SUV comes with a third row, many of them guarantee the option. Also, many midsize SUVs with third-row seats are spacious enough to accommodate all categories of passengers.

Cargo Space

As expected of midsize SUVs, they have more storage than compact SUVs. Though they come with a third row, they don’t compromise on storage. Buick Enclave and Volkswagen Atlas are good examples of midsize SUVs with enough storage.

Midsize SUVs’ third row is also an advantage to them for more storage space. Folding down the third row opens up more space, which in many cases can triple the existing cargo space.

Hence, if you and your family will be traveling with bulky luggage, you can consider a midsize SUV for more cargo space.

Towing and Off-Roading

Another area where compact SUVs miss the point is in the area of towing capacity and off-road driving. Most compact SUVs don’t have enough towing capacity when compared to their midsize counterparts. Though some compact models stand out in their class, the highest they can go is 1,500 pounds, when they are properly equipped. The Buick Envision is an example of such outstanding compact SUVs.

Midsize SUVs have decent off-road capability, especially if you drive in snow-clad areas or uneven roads. The Jeep Grand Cherokee is a good reference of midsize SUVs to trust for convenient off-road figures.

As for towing, it’s quite evident that midsize SUVs offer better capability than small vehicles. However, if you’re looking for best-in-class towing, the ideal choice would be a standard SUV.

Ride and Handling

Compact SUVs and midsize SUVs are different in design. While SUVs are typically based on body-on-frame design, compact SUVs deviate from this and rather adopt the unibody design. The body-on-frame design means that the body and frame are different components. Though this enhances off-road handling, it contributes negatively to on-road handling.

The unibody design in compact SUVs makes them a better choice for convenient road handling.

Fuel Efficiency

Better fuel efficiency is one common reason most people opt for compact SUVs. This is not surprising, as smaller vehicles generally offer better gas mileage. Most compact SUVs can save up to 25% of fuel than midsize SUVs.

It is wise to consider the fuel efficiency of the vehicle you want to buy so you know what you are in for. Remember that a better mileage means less fuel consumption, saving you money in the long run. This can make a huge difference, especially if you use your vehicle for daily commute or frequent traveling.


Compact vehicles are a good fit for those on a limited budget for an SUV, as they are the cheapest in their class. Because of their limited features and small size, the price of compact SUVs is lower than their larger counterparts. However, note that you will miss out on several features, such as towing capacity, seating capacity, and off-road ability. And if budget isn’t an issue for you, and you would like to experience a little more comfort and power, you can opt for a midsize vehicle.

Main Advantages and Disadvantages

The point is that no class has it all. Both compact and midsize SUVs have their advantages and disadvantages.

Midsize SUV


More room for passengers
More cargo space
Higher towing capacity
Ideal for tricky terrains


Low fuel efficiency
Higher prices

Compact SUV


Ideal for low budgets
Better fuel efficiency
Convenient to maneuver
Suitable for city cruising


Not ideal for big families
Low cargo space
Limited off-road capability

The Bottom Line

Before making the big decision, it’s important to keep a tab of the advantages and disadvantages of both classes. Choosing between a compact SUV and a midsize SUV lies in considering what you want in your ideal SUV, what you plan to use your vehicle for, and comparing the available options. Knowing your priorities in a vehicle allows you to choose your SUV wisely. We hope this article helps you come to a concrete solution that meets your budget, requirement, and taste in vehicles.

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Compact SUVs are smaller than their midsize variants, and come with low towing capacity and little off-road ability. Economy vehicles are even smaller than compact SUVs– with a seating capacity of up to 4 people, these cars are designed to offer good fuel economy. Midsize SUVs stand between compact and full-size SUVs– they offer satisfactory cargo space, and are quite efficient for light off-roading.

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In terms of size, intermediate SUVs stand between standard sports utility vehicles and compact vehicles. Compact SUVs are smaller in size, offer greater fuel economy, and are easier to handle because they are lightweight.

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Because of their robust build and inclusion of safety and driver-assist features, midsize SUVs are often considered to be safer than compact vehicles.