It’s no secret that SUVs are in high demand. A look at nearly every automaker’s vehicle lineup reveals at least one, if not several SUV models to choose from. Prices have grown as fast as the SUV’s popularity, and manufacturers have found more ways to tuck in new technologies and safety features to continue driving interest for their most in-demand vehicles. The wealth of choice, coupled with the sometimes-robust pricing, can make shopping for SUVs a real chore. Knowing that, we’ve done some of the leg work for you, and have compiled our list of the 10 best SUVs under $40,000 for the 2020 model year.
2020 Hyundai Palisade
As we said when we named the Hyundai Palisade 2020 Driving Today Best Value vehicle of the year, it can stand up against more familiar names in its very popular and hotly competitive segment in every utilitarian category, yet it also offers a new, upscale take on crossover styling inside and out. As Hyundai’s family flagship, the Palisade offers an ideal vehicle for family road trips with a 10-inch navigation display, wireless charging, seven USB outlets, second-row ventilated seats, shift-by-wire and innovative roof-based diffuser vents. The interior style is definitely luxury-class. For instance, the Palisade offers two distinct leather types, one of which is a premium, quilted Nappa leather. It rides on an all-new chassis that offers exceptional second- and third-row accessibility and space. The Palisade is also filled with new technology, including a class-exclusive Blind View Monitor that offers body-side views in the dash whenever the turn signal is activated. It complements the available Blind Spot Collision Avoidance Assist and an array of other safety technology bundled as Hyundai SmartSense. The SUV’s Atkinson-cycle 3.8-liter V-6 produces an estimated 291 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm and an estimated 262 lb.-ft. of torque @ 5,000 rpm. With a starting price of right around $32,000 the Hyundai Palisade screams value.
2020 Honda Pilot
The Honda Pilot again makes our list for 2020. The three-row SUV has been retooled to include new infotainment tech, an updated transmission, standard advanced safety features, and a sharper look that further distances it from minivan territory. The Pilot remains a reliable family hauler, placing near the best in cost of ownership rankings. The Pilot’s Top Safety Pick designation carries over as well, with Honda Sensing advanced safety tech now standard on every model. Family-pleasing technology has been a strong point for the Pilot in recent years, and the 2020 version continues carrying that torch. Previous complaints about the confusing, clunky audio controls and infotainment unit have been addressed, oddly enough by adding a volume knob back to the mix. The Pilot also picks up a nifty in-cabin communication tool from the Honda Odyssey called CabinTalk. Starting prices for the Pilot are up slightly this year, landing at right around $32,000 before destination. The EX-L trim is where things start to get interesting, with Navigation, a power sunroof, and rear-seat entertainment system included for about $39,000 before destination.
2020 Toyota Highlander
The Toyota Highlander is completely new for the 2020 model year, combining the best of the well-regarded previous generation with a bevy of new tech. Among the highlights are its 12.3-inch multimedia display, which Toyota claims is the largest in the segment, and standard Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, SiriusXM, Waze, and Amazon Alexa compatibility. All models come equipped with Toyota Safety Sense technology, which brings forward-collision warnings and lane-departure alerts along with other advanced safety features. Newly available is Dynamic Torque Vectoring All-Wheel Drive with Driveline Disconnect and Multi Terrain Select for an added feeling of control on a wide variety of surfaces. The Highlander’s first two rows offer plenty of comfort and convenience features, but the optional third-row seats should be reserved for children or overflow seating only. Unlike its long-time rival, the Honda Pilot, the Toyota Highlander is available as a hybrid, achieving some of the best fuel economy numbers in the segment at up to 36 mpg combined. Pricing is very similar to the Pilot, though, starting at just over $31,000 for the base LE trim. The Highlander’s price tag increases sharply from there, with a jump to the around $40,000 XLE trim required for the highest level of luxury.
2020 Subaru Ascent
Subaru’s vehicle lineup has been lacking a seven-seater crossover since the company put the brakes on production of its Tribeca model in 2014. The Ascent fills the hole left behind, and then some. With standard seating for seven, all-wheel drive, and a wide array of safety and convenience features, the Ascent hits a sweet spot of functionality and price. Even as Subaru’s largest vehicle to date, the Ascent is still able to achieve 27 mpg on the highway and 21 mpg around town. Even at the base trim level, the Ascent comes packed with useful tech like Apple CarPlay/Android Auto capabilities. Families will find plenty of room and convenience features, most notably the Ascent’s 19 cupholders and more cargo space than the Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander, or Ford Explorer. Pricing lands similarly to others in the segment, starting around $32,000 before destination, but the Ascent’s most compelling features aren’t available until the nearly $39,000 Limited trim is selected.
2020 Acura RDX
The Acura RDX was all-new for 2019, so it largely stands pat this year. The latest RDX is slightly bigger than the previous version and is graced with more torque, a standard panoramic sunroof, AcuraWatch active safety tech, and infotainment updates that include Apple CarPlay and other usability refinements. The RDX is considerably sleeker and sportier than many of its competitors, but front-seat passengers won’t notice any shortage of interior space as a result. The standard panoramic sunroof intrudes on rear-seat headroom, but families will still find plenty of room for two car seats and gear. With a starting price of just over $38,000, the RDX barely slides onto our list, but the roster of included features and Acura’s reputation for reliability and quality make even the cheapest model worth a long look.
2020 Volkswagen Tiguan
After the Tiguan’s redesign in 2018, Volkswagen has given the Tiguan more subtle changes over the course of the past two years. Buyers will find the same cavernous cargo area, standard three-row seating (in front-wheel-drive models), a 6.5-inch infotainment unit with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and a comfortable interior with great ergonomics. Advanced safety features like blind-spot monitors and rear cross-traffic alerts don’t find their way into the Tiguan until the SE trim is selected, which is about a $2,500 premium over the base model. Tiguan SEL models start around $32,000 and offer navigation, adaptive cruise control, and VW’s digital cockpit, which turns the gauge cluster into a second screen with room for maps and other information. It’s a significant jump from the starting price, but the mix of features and the inherent utility offered by the larger design make the Tiguan a contender on our list. A six-year, 72,000-mile warranty doesn’t hurt, either.
2020 Subaru Forester
Subaru says that every part of the 2019 Forester was updated from the version before it, so you can excuse them if the 2020 version doesn’t have drastic changes. The Forester is stiff, safe, and bigger inside than several of its competitors, making its inclusion on our list a no-brainer. The Forester comes with Subaru’s EyeSight safety technologies and an updated engine that the company says is much quieter than the one powering earlier versions. The 2020 Forester is also blessed with more overall length than some of its peers, which translates into more legroom inside. Subaru made good use of the extra space, as the Forester has a a leg up on the segment’s best sellers, the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V, in cargo room. The fully-loaded Touring trim clocks in at just over $34,000 and includes leather upholstery, a new driver alertness sensor, and navigation.
2020 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. The 2020 model receives modest changes over its predecessor which Mazda says was an intentional move. The CX-9 has always been a driver-focused, comfortable-but-capable family-hauling machine and the 2020 model only improves on that solid resume. New technology features are now included in higher trims, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but all CX-9 models receive new suspension tuning and improved sound deadening that noticeably improve comfort and everyday drivability. Pricing for the CX-9 remains in line with what we saw last year, with the base “Sport” trim starting at just over $32,000. Touring trim is $3,000 more but brings with it several convenience features like a power tailgate and includes radar cruise control, lane-keep assist, and lane departure warnings.
2020 Hyundai Santa Fe
This year’s Santa Fe is the SUV formerly known as the Santa Fe Sport. Though it took place last year it is still a confusing change. The 2019 Santa Fe out-does its predecessor (the Sport, remember) in cargo space and overall interior room, but falls short of the Honda Pilot and Chevrolet Traverse in those areas. Both engines are carried over from what was once the Santa Fe Sport: A standard 2.4-liter four-cylinder and an optional 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Things are similarly uncomplicated with standard equipment. All models get rear cross-traffic alerts and blind-spot monitors, forward collision warnings, automatic emergency braking, and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto. With a fully-loaded price that comes in under $36,000, the new Hyundai Santa Fe is a high-value choice for anyone in need of a five-passenger crossover.
2019 Chevrolet Traverse
The Traverse was completely redesigned for the 2018 model year with a modern, handsome new look and a host of technology and comfort improvements. This year’s model is a refinement of that evolution, with minor changes across the line. The Traverse’s appeal comes in the level of customization that the SUV offers and generous standard features included in every model. Buyers will find six trims, two drivetrain choices, and several options packages to get just the right mix of features and value. Starting prices for the 2020 Traverse begin around $30,000 and run all the way to nearly $60,000 for a fully-loaded High Country model with all-wheel drive. Even at the entry-level, the Traverse includes a 7-inch infotainment screen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, eight-passenger seating, tri-zone climate controls, Bluetooth connectivity, and keyless open/start.