With practicality, a high ride height and a car-like driving dynamics, it's easy to see why the bestselling car in Ireland for 2016 and 2017 has been a compact SUV, writes Geraldine Herbert
Dacia Duster - It's over five years since the Duster was launched in Ireland at a time when the country was gripped by the worst economic recession in decades.
The budget crossover proved a welcome addition and since then the company has sold more than 8,000 of them.
Outside, it is smartly styled with roof rails and splashes of Chrome. Wheel arch protectors and door kick plates complete the no-nonsense image. Inside, families with active lifestyles will relish the functional approach.
Those who don't need 4x4 capability can go for the front-wheel-drive option, ushering in even cheaper prices - with the entry-level 1.5 diesel powered Alternative model available for under €17,000, AWD versions start from €20,690. A new SE Summit trim joined the range this year has all the equipment that features on the range-topping Prestige trim level, and its SUV style is further enhanced with the addition of chunky body side and wheel arch mouldings. On the road the Duster it is not the most dynamic but it is a functional, comfortable and a rugged-looking SUV that costs thousands less than its big-money rivals.
Price starts from €16,690
Revamped only last year, Ford's mid-size crossover is now available with the option of a new smaller 1.5 litre diesel engine but with the same 120hp power output of their previous 2-litre. From the outside, it benefits from a revised front end with tweaked grille design and LED headlights and overall it is more stylish with real road presence, whether at the school gates or the supermarket car park. Changes inside are subtle but include a larger central interface screen that allows drivers to control audio and navigation functions, as well as smartphones, using simple, more conversational voice commands, with Ford's new SYNC 3 connectivity system. The ST-Line adds alloys, a body kit, unique badging a rear roof spoiler and roof rails. Two other specifications are available, Titanium and Vignale. Well priced and well equipped, the mid-spec versions are the ones to opt for as range-topping versions are pricey and don't justify the extra cost. The Kuga is not the most practical compact SUV around but choose the right version and it is a rewarding to drive and pocket- friendly one.
Price starts from €33,345
Hyundai replaced their popular ix35 compact sport utility vehicle with the Tucson in 2016 and it signalled a new emphasis by the Korean car maker in terms of styling and sales ambitions. With striking looks, good equipment levels and comfort throughout, the Tucson became Hyundai's bestselling car and the number one choice of car buyers in Ireland so far this year. Power comes from a choice of a petrol and two diesel engines with, depending on trim level, either front- or four-wheel-drive and manual or automatic transmissions. Five trim grades are on offer: Comfort, Comfort Plus, Executive, Premium and Premium Plus. Designed, built and tested in Europe, the Tucson is relaxing to drive, the steering feels satisfyingly responsive and the suspension absorbs even the worst bumps so it's no surprise it has been a hit.
Price starts from €26,245
The Sportage accounts for almost 40pc of all Kia sales and it's easy to see why. It offers practicality and kerbside appeal together with good equipment levels and, like the rest of the Kia range, a seven-year warranty. Inside, the smart interior offers plenty of space so both driver and passengers will have nothing to grumble about, particularly those in the back where the head- and leg-room is very generous. Engine options include a 1.7-litre diesel with 2WD and an all-wheel-drive (AWD) 2-litre diesel. Three trims are on offer: LX, EX and GSE. Ride comfort has improved over the previous model and while there is a little body roll, the Sportage handles well and drives smoothly and comfortably. Despite its size it is easy to manoeuvre and park as the high driving position makes all-round visibility good but it is not the most refined compact SUV. Good-looking, comfortable and practical the Sportage is a good value family car.
Price starts from €27,995
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Nissan should be positively glowing with pride. They may not have reinvented the wheel in 2007 when they launched the Qashqai but they certainly came close and it spawned a whole raft of imitators. But with more competitors then ever before for 2017, Nissan has revamped the clever crossover. Boasting a new look, yet still very recognisable, the new model retains the attributes of the old one but is now cleaner, greener and overall quality has improved. The real strength of this car lies in its practicality and versatility - it blends a hatchback and a compact 4x4 with all the flexibility and adaptability of an MPV, so it makes an ideal family car. There is more than enough room for five adults and plenty of room for heads and shoulders. There is a choice of FWD and 4WD, 1.2-litre turbo petrol and 1.5 or 1.6-litre diesel engines and XE, SV, SV Premium and SVE trim options. The new-generation Qashqai is an evolution of a winning formula; good to drive, practical and cheap to run.
Price starts from €28,995
While the previous 3008 was a functional MPV, the new one has a chiselled, fluid appearance and the overall look truly sets it apart from the class norm.
Inside, it is so well executed that you may never want to get out. Everything is smooth and logical and Peugeot's iCockpit - a digital dashboard - informs rather than confounds you. Space is good throughout with more than enough room for five adults in comfort and the boot can cope with a very useful 520 litres. There's also a great range of engines, from the French firm's latest BLUEHDI turbo-diesels to a superb new 1.2-litre, three-cylinder petrol. There's five trims: Access, Active, Allure, GT Line and GT. On the road the 3008 is good to drive, refined, handles well and is composed on all surfaces. With its very stylish looks and commanding road presence, the 3008 will appeal to family buyers wanting extra versatility, as well singletons in search of something interesting and affordable.
Price starts from €25,995
The Renault Kadjar has a proved a popular alternative for those seeking a little more space than the Captur. Inside, the cabin is spacious and Kadjar drivers will enjoy the high driving position and stylish, well laid-out interior. The boot can hold 527 litres and if you're carrying something especially large, you can always fold the back seats down. There are three engines available: 1.2 petrol 130bhp, 1.5 diesel 110bhp and 1.6 diesel 130bhp. The Kadjar is available as both two- and four-wheel-drive and in four trim levels: Expression +, Dynamique Nav, Dynamique S Nav and Signature Nav. Based on Nissan's Qashqai, Renault's version is more spacious and comes with a larger boot so it's ideal for someone who loves the practicality of a family sized crossover combined with French style and panache.
Price starts from €25,190
Launched in 2016, SEAT's first SUV has found favour with Irish buyers and accounts for 30 per cent of their sales. Outside, it is robust and handsome and inside, functional and durable. Back-seat passengers fare well with a lot of head-room and the driver and front passenger, likewise, have a lot of space and leg-room. The boot, at 510 litres, can swallow a weekly shop and more. Powering the range is a good mix of petrol, a 1.0 and 1.4, and 1.6 TDI 2.0 TDI diesel engines. On the road, the Ateca is good to drive with plenty of grip and little body roll, but the suspension is a little on the firm side and not ideal for Irish backroads.
The optional all-wheel-drive gives it an adventurous feel and the reassurance of knowing you can survive an occasional Arctic blast. Three equipment lines are offered: entry-level S, SE and XCELLENCE. SEAT's Ateca is not the most stylish SUV on offer but it's comfortable, spacious and practical enough to keep rivals at arm's length.
Price starts from €25,120
Nissan may be largely credited with popularising crossovers when it launched the Qashqai but it was a decade earlier that Toyota invented the Compact SUV category in 1994 with the introduction of the RAV4.
Offered in both front- and all-wheel-drive versions, the RAV4 is one of the few compact SUVs offered as a hybrid option. Refreshed in 2016, it is a smart looking car and now comes with LED daytime running lights while in the rear there is a restyled bumper. Inside there is a seven-inch display that controls the Toyota Touch 2 multimedia system. The cabin and the boot are very spacious, with 547 litres of boot space - opt for the Hybrid version and this decreases by 50 litres but is still better than many rivals. There are two trim options to choose from: Luna and Luna Sport. Sporting a new sleek look, the RAV4 remains a good choice for families looking for an efficient and spacious option.
Price starts from €31,950
Volkswagen's second-generation Tiguan was launched last year. With 76mm added to the wheelbase there's plenty of leg-room in the front and rear and the boot is a decent size that can be extended by folding the rear seatbacks. Engine options include a 120bhp 1.4 TSI petrol and a 2-litre 150bhp diesel version. A 115bhp diesel version is also available. Trim options include Trendline, Comfortline and Highline. If you need to tow anything heavy, the Tiguan comes with a towing capacity of 2,500 kg. All the safety essentials are standard including the first active bonnet on a Volkswagen that reduces the risk of injury to pedestrians and cyclists. The VW Tiguan is very classy inside and is a practical and comfortable family five-seater. If you need a little more space a seven-seater version called the Tiguan Allspace will be added to the range soon.
Price starts from €29,085