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Typically, we think of fun cars as two-door sport coupes or chunky full-size off-roaders. Compact SUVs don’t usually cross the mind as fun vehicles. Still, a few small SUVs on the market might surprise you. 

1. 2023 Mazda CX-30 is a lifted hot hatchback

A red 2023 Mazda CX-30 sits in front of a white wall. It's a fun compact SUV.
2023 Mazda CX-30 | Mazda

The Mazda CX-30 is a compact SUV with all the fun of a modern hot hatchback, a more comfortable seating position, and the reassurance of standard all-wheel drive. 

The 2023 Mazda CX-30 may have the proportions of a typical compact crossover, but get behind the wheel, and you’ll find it has the character of a performance car. 

Toss the CX-30 into a corner, and it remains as planted and flat as any hot hatchback. Its steering feel is reassuringly heavy and gives plenty of feedback. Meanwhile, the enthusiastic 2.5-liter engine puts down all 191 horsepower with help from an intuitive and responsive six-speed automatic transmission. According to Kelley Blue Book, the CX-30’s available turbocharged engine gets a boost with 227 horsepower. 

2. 2023 Ford Bronco Sport has legitimate 4×4 ability

The 2023 Ford Bronco Sport isn’t the sportiest compact SUV on the market, but it might be the best off-road crossover. Its features speak for themselves: 

  • Standard four-wheel drive on all trims
  • 8.8 inches of ground clearance
  • 23.6 inches of water fording capability 
  • Excellent approach, break-over, and departure angles 
  • Selectable terrain modes 
  • Etc. 

There’s plenty to work with to have fun on most off-road trails with the Bronco Sport. Whether approaching a camping spot or tearing up a snowy road, there’s plenty of fun to be found in this compact SUV. 

3. 2023 Subaru Crosstrek offers stick-shift fun

The 2023 Subaru Crosstrek has one fun feature that’s getting harder and harder to find in compact SUVs: a manual transmission. 

Rowing one’s own gears is a great way to instill even a traditionally boring compact SUV with some fun. In an SUV like the Crosstrek that has standard all-wheel drive and mountain goat capability, it’s even better. 

The Crosstrek’s available six-speed manual transmission can help you get more out of its admittedly underpowered base engine. But time is running out – the 2023 Crosstrek is the last model with a manual transmission option. 

Is a fun compact SUV more practical than a hatchback?

While some small crossovers are more practical than hatchbacks, others make some compromises. 

The seating position is the main benefit of choosing a small crossover over a hatchback. Many drivers prefer to sit more upright behind the wheel for general comfort and visibility’s sake. Small SUVs usually offer this more so than hatchbacks. 

On the cargo side, it really depends on the model. SUVs like the Bronco Sport usually have more cargo space than the average hatchback, but subcompact models like the CX-30 can have less cargo space. 

But at the end of the day, either can offer some fun behind the wheel.