SUVs and crossovers are among the most popular vehicles sold today, outselling cars and showing no signs of slowing down. Automakers are taking advantage of the trend by adding more and more SUVs to their product offerings. To help you navigate this now mind-boggling array of choices, we at Driving Today have compiled this list of the 10 Best New SUVs under $40,000. Our top 10 choices made the list by rating highly in consumer satisfaction, safety, fuel economy, price, and average cost of ownership. As with all our Driving Today lists, we put special emphasis on reliability, dependability and build quality. But we also went beyond that to identify crossovers and SUVs offering surprise-and-delight features that help them stand out from the norm. The way we see it, $40,000 is a lot of money, so when you purchase a vehicle in that class, you should expect to love it, not just like it.
In addition to our vast experience with evaluating, reviewing, diagnosing and repairing vehicles, our research process also included consultation with respected third-party sources of repair history and consumer opinion. With all that research done for you, we’ve collected some of the best SUVs and crossovers that 2018 has to offer. If you have $40,000 to spend, very nice choices await you.
1. 2018 Honda Pilot
With one of the lowest costs of ownership and room to spare, the Honda Pilot is a must-see for anyone in the market for a family SUV. It is obvious that Honda engineers and product planners have done a great deal of research on how families use crossover SUVs, because the Pilot hits all the marks squarely. All 2018 Pilots come with Honda’s well-reviewed 3.5-liter V-6 engine and are rated at 21 mpg combined. Other vehicles on the list turn in higher numbers, but they typically lack the interior space and versatility that the Pilot brings to the party. One payoff is eight-person seating and a starting price just under $31,000. We think the Pilot’s interior might be the best interior of any Honda ever. The Pilot earned Top Safety Pick designation from IIHS, though Honda’s active safety technology is only available in EX trims and above. Entertainment and connectivity are a strong point for the Pilot with enough ports to keep everyone charged and happy for the long haul. The 2018 Pilot is a dependable family workhorse that is the closest you can get to minivan functionality without buying a minivan. Starting at $30,900; popularly-equipped EX-L at $36,760 with leather, active safety tech, and sunroof.
2. 2018 Toyota Highlander
Even well under our $40k price ceiling, the Highlander comes packed with comfort and technology features to keep its occupants happy. Now in its fourth model year, the current generation Highlander’s exterior styling features sharp lines and large grille up front. Inside, the Highlander offers comfortable seating and plenty of space in the first two rows. The optional third-row seats are convenient when needed but are only large enough to be comfortable for children. A 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine is standard in base model Highlanders, as is front-wheel drive with all-wheel drive (AWD) an option. Toyota’s strong-pulling V-6 is also optional and brings not only more power, but better fuel economy than its smaller cousin. Best fuel economy, of course, comes from the hybrid version. All Highlander models are equipped with Toyota’s “Safety Sense”, which brings a slew of driver safety aids like radar cruise control and a pre-collision system. The 2018 Highlander is good choice for anyone in the market for a mid-sized SUV under $40k. The current generation is now in its fourth year of production, which means a new model is just over the horizon. Starting at $31,030; popularly equipped LE Plus at $36,920 with V-6 engine, all-wheel drive and navigation.
3. 2018 Lexus NX 300
With a new name and updated appearance for 2018, the NX 300 offers plenty of performance and luxury in a pint-sized package. The NX’s small stature may be its biggest downfall in the eyes of many buyers, but several others will find the compact SUV easy to maneuver and right-sized for most tasks. Lexus has equipped the NX with a refined four-cylinder engine that produces 235 hp and achieves a noteworthy 24 combined mpg. The NX 300 earned IIHS Top Safety Pick designation, thanks in part to its suite of standard active safety technologies: lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, and automatic emergency braking. The NX’s styling has always gathered mixed reviews, and things haven’t changed much with the recently-updated model. Lexus’ large spindle-shaped grille and sharply-creased headlight fairings remain, but spiced with new wheel designs, new tail lights, and reshaped bumper that further streamline the silhouette. The 2018 Lexus NX 300’s exterior and small size might prompt some buyers’ questions, but the mix of luxury and reliability make it a strong all-around package. Starting at $38,355; popularly equipped at $39,510 with cold-weather package and all-wheel drive.
4. 2018 Acura RDX
Even with an all-new 2019 model looming, the RDX has earned its spot on our list with an excellent roster of standard features, affordable active safety systems and low cost of ownership. Acura’s smaller SUV brings a host of available safety and technology features, but its size may put it off limits for buyers with kids or a need for lots of cargo space. The RDX earned IIHS Top Safety Pick honors for 2018. The addition of AcuraWatch in some trim levels adds a host of active safety tech. Every RDX comes equipped with Acura’s 3.5-liter V-6, offering plenty of acceleration and torque. The base model RDX includes a wealth of audio connectivity and technology, but things don’t really get interesting until the SUV is upgraded to the Technology package, pushing the price right up to $40k and beyond, in some cases. The 2018 RDX is a reliable, solid choice for an entry-level luxury SUV. With an all-new 2019 model coming any day, 2018 models should be available at a steep discount. Starting at $36,000; popularly equipped AcuraWatch Plus at $37,300 with enhanced safety features.
5. 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan
The 2018 Tiguan is a comfortable family SUV capable of nearly anything – for a price. This year’s model made our list for its good fuel economy and incredibly low cost of ownership, thanks in part to its stellar 6-year/72,000-mile warranty. Starting around $25,000, the Tiguan can be very affordable, but many buyers will find the base-trim SUV sparsely equipped. Comfort, tech, and all-wheel-drive packages quickly drive up the price, but they’re worth it. With the right options, the 2018 Tiguan has seating for up to seven people and can carry nearly anything short of a blimp when the seats are folded down. All models come with VW’s 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, making the Tiguan as responsive and fun to drive as past models were, even with the SUV’s increased size. On the other hand, the Tiguan is noticeably missing some of the active driver assist and safety options that its competitors include as standard. No lane assist, forward collision warning or other driver aids can be added at any trim level. The latest Tiguan is VW’s most capable compact SUV yet. We’d like more available safety features, but the new Tiguan is definitely worthy of consideration. Starting at $24,595; popularly equipped SEL Premium with 4Motion at $37,550.
6. 2018 Subaru Outback
The elder statesman Outback is now in its fifth generation, and Subaru’s experience making rugged wagons is very apparent. The aging-but-refined standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine paired with Subaru’s legendary AWD system gives the Outback a level of agility and composure not usually seen in a vehicle of its size. A 3.6-liter six-cylinder producing 256 horsepower is available as well. The Outback is one vehicle that successfully bridges the gap between station wagon and SUV. While not a true off-roader, it will take you places you didn’t think you could go. It earned an IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus designation for 2018, making it one of the highest rated vehicles on our list. Base models are missing Subaru’s active safety equipment but do include a host of entertainment tech and smartphone connectivity like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The 2018 Subaru Outback is well-equipped in all trim levels and offers a safe, confident driving experience. Starting at $25,895; popularly equipped 3.6R Limited with active safety and navigation at $35,395.
7. 2018 Mazda CX-9
Even the base model of Mazda’s flagship CX-9 crossover is well equipped, sporting robust entertainment and comfort features, and third-row seats make it a family-hauling winner. Among all the mid- and full-size crossovers, the CX-9 is the most driver-oriented. Its steering, brakes and overall handling set it apart from others in the segment. At the same time its noticeably smaller size limits some of its cargo-hauling capabilities. All CX-9s come equipped with Mazda’s 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and a 6-speed automatic transmission, capable of a 24 mpg combined rating. With up to 250 horsepower, the combination is both efficient and powerful. The interior is among the best-in-class with an infotainment system interface that mimics more expensive European models. The CX-9’s standard safety equipment is good enough to earn it IIHS Top Safety Pick honors for 2018, and active safety tech is available in several trim levels. The 2018 Mazda CX-9 is a capable family-hauler with excellent safety tech and upscale interior. Starting at $32,130; popularly equipped Touring with AWD and active safety features at $36,670.
8. 2018 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport
The Santa Fe Sport climbs onto our list with its tiny five-year cost of ownership, excellent safety scores, and long list of standard equipment. Despite being the smaller, more athletic brother to Hyundai’s standard Santa Fe, the Sport will comfortably haul five people and their gear. The Santa Fe Sport earned an IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus rating for 2018, but active safety technologies like forward collision warning and rear cross-traffic alert are locked away in the Limited Ultimate trim. This year’s Sport is available with a 2.4- or 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, the latter of which is turbocharged. Both engines are paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission, making for a potent powertrain in any configuration. Hyundai’s 10-year 100,000-mile warranty is on board as well, making the Santa Fe Sport one of the least expensive vehicles to own on our list. The Santa Fe Sport offers big features in a more compact form, but buyers with large families or need for more cargo space should opt for the standard Santa Fe. Starting at $30,850; popularly equipped Limited Ultimate at $36,550 with panoramic sunroof, leather and navigation.
9. 2018 Kia Sorento
The Kia Sorento has one of the lowest costs of ownership and highest consumer ratings on our list. With the ability to seat up to seven people in an SUV not much larger than a standard five-seater, the Sorento is one of the most well-packaged vehicles in its class. Its size improves handling and maneuverability, but does not increase fuel economy: Most configurations of the Sorento are barely able to eke out a 20 to 22 mpg combined rating. A strong positive is the Sorento’s interior, which has an upscale look and features an easy-to-use infotainment system. Kia’s exceptional 10-year/100,000-mile warranty helps keep overall costs of ownership very low, and the Sorento’s starting price is in the high-$20,000 range. In most cases, this would be a winning combination, even though the packages that add advanced safety tech and other goodies add $10K to that price. When you add it all up the Sorento still comes out a bargain. Starting at $25,990; popularly-equipped EX V-6 with leather and AWD at $38,775.
10. 2018 Nissan Murano
The design of the current generation Murano is polarizing to say the least, but Nissan has packed the 2018 model with a class-leading amount of standard safety, convenience, and entertainment tech. Forward-collision mitigation, navigation, and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto are included even on the base model. The Murano comes standard with an efficient 3.5-liter V-6 paired to a CVT, good for 24 mpg in EPA testing. The continuously variable transmission has its detractors with some complaining that it “sounds funny.” But the CVT is a key ingredient in the Murano’s laudable fuel economy. The model line is still missing a hybrid for this year. Most buyers will find that the Murano delivers more than enough acceleration and handles most road conditions admirably. Like the Highlander also on our list, the Murano is aging in its current generation. It also lacks interior space compared to others in the segment. To cure these minor ills look for a new model not far in the future. But in at its current price the Murano is a bargain. Starting at $30,800; popularly equipped SV at $36,900 with panoramic sunroof, remote start and upgraded safety systems.