The great thing about small SUVs is that they combine all of the good things about sedans (smooth, fun ride) and large SUVs (versatility) into an affordable and fuel efficient package.
This segment has really heated up in recent years and now nearly every automaker, from the luxury labels to the mass producers, has a small SUV in their lineup. The sheer number of choices can actually be a bit overwhelming.
To make the choice a little bit easier, we polled our editorial staff in an effort to identify the best choices for a reasonably priced small SUV or crossover. These are the best options out there for those of you looking for a car that is fun, attractive, fuel efficient, versatile and, most importantly, affordable. Click through to see what made the list.
In terms of value, I don't think there's any contest. The Mazda CX-5 is the runaway winner. Base-price wise it's among the lowest, if not the lowest price, in the crossover class. And I think they deliver a product that's pretty good. Nobody will ever accuse a crossover of being fun to drive, but the CX-5 comes closest. It's fuel economy leads the class, and in terms of safety, it does better than a lot of its competitors on crash tests – looking at you, RAV4 and Escape.
Look at the other bargain-priced cars in the segment – the awful new Tucson, for example. What you pay for is what you get. But not the case with the CX-5. You get a pretty good package at a low price point – that's the definition of a good value. - Pete Bigelow, Associate Editor
At $25,845 with destination, the base 2016 Subaru Outback 2.5i is the Goldilocks of crossovers. Subie's high-riding wagon can't fit the passengers of a larger, three-row model, but everyone in the Outback still has plenty of space to spread out. The interior is also usable, though not very luxurious, but the cargo area is easily large enough to swallow the luggage for a vehicle-load of people.
The just-right approach extends to the Outback mechanically, as well. Its 175-horsepower, boxer engine and CVT certainly don't offer neck-snapping acceleration, but the powertrain is plenty adequate for keeping up with daily traffic. For a vehicle of this size with standard all-wheel drive, the 33-mpg highway fuel economy is quite good, too. If you're searching for a value in the CUV segment, all of these elements make it hard not to at least consider the Outback. - Chris Bruce, Associate Editor
Want to talk about value? Let’s talk about a roomy, efficient, stylish, well-equipped small crossover from a wildly popular brand that can mix it up off-road with far bigger, more expensive vehicles. That is the Jeep Renegade Trailhawk. Not only does it have some serious off-road chops – the tiniest Trailhawk will easily go further off-road than its owners will ever need y– it’s a good enough ride on paved roads that it can hold its own in an increasingly competitive segment.
The nine-speed automatic and 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine return respectable mileage (you can get over 30 mpg in other Renegade models, but not the Trailhawk) and rarely feel flat-footed, while the ride/handling balance is perfectly arranged for tossability without compromising comfort. It’s a true do-everything vehicle, and despite not offering the greatest size-to-dollar ratio, it’s represents a tremendous value for those who want capability, style, and livability in a tidy package. - Brandon Turkus, Associate Editor
The Willys Wheeler Edition might be the perfect Wrangler, a just-right combination of off-road goodies and value in a relatively compact platform. The Rubicon, with all its bells and whistlers, is overkill for a vehicle that you still want to get groceries in. If the grocery store is at the end of a murderous overland trail, though, the Willys Wheeler is probably up to the task.
For roughly $5,000 less than a Rubicon (without options), the Willys Wheeler provides an upgraded Dana 44 rear axle with Trac-Lok mechanical limited slip differential, BF Goodrich KM Mud Terrain tires lifted right from the Rubicon, and rock rails. The 3.73 rear gearing is a nice compromise between crawling grunt and commuting realities, and the 2.72:1 low-range gear ratio allows for legitimate trail work. The 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 is torquey and returns 21 mpg on the highway, which isn’t bad for a vehicle with the drag coefficient of a brick. And to make it more civilized, it has some niceties the Rubicon doesn’t: a leather-wrapped wheel, tire pressure monitoring, and Connect with voice command and Bluetooth. This is a lot of old-school, solid-axle capability without some of the crudeness of spartan older Jeeps, and for $27,795 to start it’s a great deal, too. – Alex Kierstein, Senior Editor