The SUV and crossover market has become the largest segment of US automotive purchases. As it continues to grow, the options available for car buyers grows with it. For families, SUV’s have become the go-to vehicle. The cabin space is larger than a sedan but not as cavernous as a minivan, and the exteriors feel sporty without feeling stodgy. Younger car buyers like the versatility of a small to mid-sized SUV. And as both safety features and fuel economy have improved, they’ve increasingly become the sensible choice for people on a modest budget. Of course, with such a large share of the market, prices for SUV’s can vary wildly. This is par for the finishes that make some models feel more like luxe mobile living rooms than actual cars on the road.
If you’re in the market for something practical but still fun to drive, there are plenty of crossovers, and SUV’s that fit the bill.
What’s Nissan offering?
The Nissan Murano took the top pick for 2017 SUV’s in both the mid-sized, 2 row, and crossover categories: that’s proof positive that Nissan is doing something right, and it reflects in their sales. It received a complete reboot in 2015, and it’s 3.5 liters V-6 pumps out 260 hp and 240 lb-ft of torque, making it a reliable workhorse with plenty of user-friendly finishes. It also received the IIHS Top Safety Pick, and the hybrid version delivers a refreshing 31 mpg combined, which gives drivers a lot to consider in their purchase. Nissan has improved on the look for 2018, giving it a distinctive appearance and smoother lines. Inside, there’s improved cabin and cargo space, an updated Nissan Connect Infotainment system and features like valet parking. Models start at just under $30k, and while higher trims bring higher prices, you could get along just fine with the entry-level model if your budget is tight.
How about Kia?
Kia has long been the go-to car maker for affordability with flair, and the Sorento is a great example of how technology doesn’t have to be intimidating, and how a sensible ride can also be a fun one. Kia has consistently punched above its weight, and the Sorento feels like an SUV that is way beyond its budget, much to the satisfaction of potential buyers. The interior is awash with soft touch plastics, leather, and cool tech, and infotainment features are grouped logically, making them intuitive and very user-friendly. Kia tends to make cars that seem so self-evident, it makes you wonder why all car makers don’t think like them. It’s got a number of engine and powertrain options, and while they might not be speed demons, they’re fun and peppy with a bit of punch off the line and a smooth, quiet ride. Cabin and passenger space is excellent, and it hits that not too big, not too small sweet spot that is often problematic for SUVs. Best of all, the Sorento starts at just over $25,000, which means that you might even be able to upgrade to that sweet sound system and all leather trim.
Is there any way I could afford a Ford?
There is! The Ford Escape is one of those rare birds that comes from a pedigree of trucks yet has the feel of a hatchback, all in SUV form. It’s a streamlined and extremely well thought out vehicle that combines the iconic mechanics for which Ford is known with an impressive array of features and finishes that will make you feel every bit of the bargain you’ve got. There’s the option of a 168 hp inline-4, 179 hp turbo-4, or 245 hp turbo-4 engine, and the last one will satisfy anyone looking for a powerful driving experience that takes tight corners and large roadways with the same confident power and control. The interior is bigger than it seems with head and legroom to fit most adult passengers, and the firm seats keep drivers and passengers from too much daydreaming. Fuel economy is on par with industry standards, and all Escape models have active grille shutters to smooth airflow
Shouldn’t we talk about Honda?
No conversation about the State of the SUV would be complete without mentioning the Honda CR-V. It’s the people pleaser in a crowded bunch and manages to do everything right in a whole bunch of different ways. It scores high marks across the board for cabin and cargo space, infotainment options and trim, as well as engine and transmission performance. 2017 saw the introduction of a turbocharged engine that’s a 1.5 inline-four with 190 hp and 179 lb-ft of torque and is ideal for a busy life with lots of tooling around town. It’s also one of the most fuel-efficient SUVs around, with 27/29/33 mpg which will deliver around 450 miles on a full tank. Its crash test ratings score among the highest in the market, and it’s got some of the most advanced safety and driver-assistance technology available. The fact is that most people looking for a car want something reliable, comfortable, and economic and when you look at the CR-V, you can’t get much better. Best of all, a fully loaded version will keep you under $30,000.
Is there room in the group for Mazda?
There’s always room for Mazda. The CX-5 adds a sporty touch to the SUV market while still offering a well-balanced car with some luxury touches. Importantly, Mazda is offering a diesel version of the CX-5 for 2018 which adds some real power under the hood, sharpens performance and brings its fuel economy into near hybrid levels. Of course, it may be some time before the diesel CX-5 is available in the US market as the Volkswagen emissions scandal has made diesel regulations much more stringent, and what once passed muster is now subject to intense and perhaps unrealistic scrutiny. Even if you can’t get your hands on the diesel model, there’s a 2.0 liter or 2.5 liters 4 cylinder engine with very decent numbers and a smooth as silk ride, which is enhanced by the Mercedes-like quiet of the interior cabin. Add to that a top of the line infotainment system and class-leading safety tech, all for a starting price a hair below $25,000, and you’ve got a real contender.
Did you forget about Toyota?
Listen, nobody puts Toyota in the corner. The RAV4 is the benchmark for SUVs and crossovers, and it’s fair to say that without it, there might not even be the market that there is today. All versions of the 2018 RAV4 come with a 2.5 liter 4 cylinder engine mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission, and hybrid models are available that send power to each wheel and make for a smooth and confident ride. The RAV4 is also the only hybrid crossover on the market, and it stands up admirably to anyone in its class for ride quality and performance. Most importantly, Toyota has decided to equip all of its models with a suite of safety features that normally come as expensive options in other models, like adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning and automatic high beam headlights. A battery of trim options are available that pack infotainment and tech features into the still-pretty-roomy cabin, and while it might not feel as luxurious as other models, the RAV4 has heart and soul. It’s that friend that you may not have seen in 15 years but you know you can still call anytime you need them, and with starting prices below $25,000, you’ll be glad you’ve still got their number.