Best affordable SUVs

Small SUVs and crossovers combine a sporty demeanor with a practical nature and are enjoying wide appeal. Here’s a look at some of the top values in the segment.

By Jim Gorzelany
CTW Features

 TOYOTA RAV 4 TOYOTA RAV 4 Small sport-utility vehicles are among the biggest sellers in the auto industry these days. Countless people are finding them to be engaging alternatives to compact or small midsize sedans, offering additional attitude along with passenger and cargo room at still-affordable prices.

“Small SUVs are being sought after by those that are downsizing from midsize sport utilities such as the previous generation Ford Explorer, Chevrolet Trailblazer and Dodge Durango, as well as young families and retiring baby boomers,” says Alec Gutierrez, senior market analyst for Kelley Blue Book in Irvine, Calif. “Small SUVs also are cross-shopped by those considering mid-size sedans due to their similar price point and added utility.” According to, five out of the top 20 selling vehicles are currently compact SUVs.

But which models give buyers the most bang for the buck? The experts at KBB recently compiled a list of what they feel are the best SUVs priced under $25,000, based on a variety of tangible and intangible factors including affordability, versatility, quality, operating costs and overall likability. Here’s a look at the 10 top-rated models with our own commentary.

1. Honda CR-V. The ready and reliable CR-V has long been one of the more sensible vehicle choices for both young buyers and empty nesters alike. It performs well, is comfortable and versatile, returns solid resale value and features the lowest five-year cost of ownership among the top 10 models presented here. MSRP: $22,795.

2. Mazda CX-5. We think Mazda hit one out of the park with the all-around engaging CX-5. An early 2014 release offers a more powerful engine alternative that only adds to the enjoyment, and a low entry price seals the deal. MSRP: $21,195.

3. Ford Escape. Ford took a major risk by replacing the boxy and beloved compact Escape crossover with a swoopy new design for 2013 with myriad creases and curves. Fortunately for the automaker it continues to be a strong seller. MSRP: $22,470. 4. Toyota RAV4. Redesigned for 2013, Toyota shocked the automotive world by giving the compact RAV4 its first-ever conventional tailgate instead of its traditional refrigerator door-like hatch with attached spare tire. Maybe that’s an overstatement, but this is otherwise one of the easiest to recommend models among small crossovers. MSRP: $23,300.

5. Kia Sorento. Nicely updated for an early-2014 release, the midsize Sorento crossover is one of the top five-passenger crossovers for the money, with a peppy and fuel-efficient engine, attractive styling and a long warranty. MSRP: $24,100.

6. Hyundai Santa Fe

Sport. This is the smaller showroom sibling to the three-row Santa Fe, and it’s pleasingly stylish, versatile and amenable to live with on a daily basis. MSRP: $24,700.

7. Subaru Forester. Redesigned as an early 2014 entry, we’d be tempted to pick the Subaru as our No. 1 choice among this group for its winning combination of comfort, capability and value. MSRP: $21,995.

8. Jeep Wrangler. While the modernday descendent of the famed World War II veteran has its faults, a rough and noisy ride being paramount among them, we have to give the Wrangler its props for sheer endurance in an increasingly demanding marketplace, not to mention its stellar off-road abilities. MSRP: $22,295.

9. Volkswagen Tiguan. We’ve long found the compact Tiguan to be one of the more entertaining-to-drive small crossovers, especially with VW’s excellent 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine under the hood. MSRP: $22,995.

10. Buick Encore. This subcompact luxury crossover SUV is new for 2014 and competes in a fledgling market segment among models like the BMW X1, MINI Countryman and the new Fiat 500L. We think the Encore might be an odd fit at Buick showrooms, but it remains comfortable, well finished and is a decent performer. MSRP: $24,200.

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