10 Best Used SUVs under $15,000

These used SUVs have much of the magic of current crossovers for less

One look at the vehicles around you delivers the message that crossover SUVs are more popular than ever. There is good reason, too. Their taller stance makes getting in and out easier and delivers a better feeling of control from the driver’s seat.  A big liftgate and commodious cargo area made possible by folding rear seats give crossovers useful versatility.  The major drawback for most buyers is price. New compact and midsize crossover SUVs are typically more expensive than their sedan cousins. Enter the used-SUV market, though, a you’ll find the same positives but with lower prices. Amazingly, some of the vehicles on this list might actually enable you to qualify for the new-vehicle warranty coverage, too.

As with all our Driving Today used-vehicle lists, we put special emphasis on reliability, dependability and build quality. We drew on our vast experience with evaluating, reviewing, diagnosing and repairing these vehicles as a big part of our research process, and we also consulted respected third-party sources of repair history and consumer opinion. Only one of the vehicles we recommend on this list is more than four model years old, and that should bode well for low maintenance and repair costs.

For your convenience we present these in order from number one to number 10. Each is worthy of your consideration.

#1 2014 Honda CR-V

A compact SUV with seating for five, the reliable 2014 Honda CR-V was offered in both front-drive and all-wheel-drive variants. Unless you need all-wheel-drive for local weather conditions, the front-drive is typically the more economical pick. The 2014 offers a wealth of gear, including 17-inch wheels, heated front seats, steering wheel-mounted controls, navigation that can be activated via voice, hands-free phone, and USB audio interface. Ample if not electrifying power comes from a 185-horsepower 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine paired to a five-speed automatic transmission. Vehicle stability assistance tops the list of safety equipment.

#2 2014 Subaru Forester

The five-passenger Subaru Forester was completely redesigned for 2014. As is the Subaru norm, it features standard all-wheel-drive that has significant advantages in inclement weather. Safety is another Subaru calling card, and the Forester offers vehicle dynamic control, traction control, anti-lock brakes, rollover sensor, “smart” front airbags, side-curtain airbags, and backup camera. In the powertrain department Subaru goes its own way by using a horizontally-opposed 170-horsepower 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine on most Foresters, while XT trim models use a 250-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder. Neither turn the Forester into a performance crossover, but that isn’t the point.

#3 2013 Toyota RAV4

The Toyota RAV4 has earned a reputation as one of the most durable, reliable compact crossovers on the market, which is why, on this list of mostly 2014 and 2015 models, we are citing a 2013 RAV4. Its resale value is that good, and newer model years cost more than $15K. One reason is the 176 horsepower 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine that just keeps on running. Both front-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive versions are available, so choose depending upon the weather conditions you’ll face.  Features include 17-inch alloy wheels, six-disc CD changer (remember those?), touch-screen navigation, and integrated backup camera system.  A wide variety of safety equipment is available too, led by stability control.

#4 2015 Kia Sportage

The Kia Sportage has come a long way since it helped Kia plant a beachhead in the American market two decades ago. It has evolved into a compact crossover SUV with seating for five passengers and a rich array of standard and optional features. Even the base Sportage featured 17-inch alloy wheels, reclining split-folding rear seats, privacy glass and a six-speaker audio system. A thorough search might find you a model with backup camera system, parking sensors, voice control infotainment, and dual-zone climate control — all for under $15K. You might be tempted by the 260-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter engine, but a more rational choice is the 182-horsepower 2.4-liter 4-cylinder that is more than up to the task.

#5 2015 Ford Escape

The Ford Escape is a five-passenger compact crossover that was offered with a wider than normal variety of models and features. For example, most versions are powered by a 168-horsepower 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, while a 178 horsepower turbocharged 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine was available in the SE and Titanium trims. For simplicity’s sake we recommend the non-turbo engine. As you go up the trim level ladder from S to Se to Titanium, the level of equipment gets progressively richer…and the price goes progressively higher. Things like keyless entry, remote ignition, dual-zone automatic climate control, power-operated liftgate and parking sensors are nice but could send your purchase price above $15,000.

#6 2014 Mazda CX-5

Widely acknowledged as the compact crossover SUV that provides the most sheer driving enjoyment, the 2014 Mazda CX-5 was equipped with either a 155-horsepower 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine or a 184-horsepower 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine. As befitting a “driver’s car,” the standard Sport trim level can be had with a six-speed manual transmission, while the up-level Touring and Grand Touring versions have a six-speed automatic transmission. The CX-5 also features a Euro-styled interior that is a cut above many other competitors, and it is accompanied by an entertainment/navigation system that is also European-inspired.  Dynamic stability control, traction control system and all-wheel-drive availability headline the safety list. On top of that, the CX-5 might be the best-looking vehicle of its type.

#7 2014 Chevrolet Equinox

Notably bigger than many of its competitors, the 2014 Chevrolet Equinox used that extra interior space as a competitive advantage. While matched up against compact crossovers, it offers mid-size passenger- and cargo-carrying abilities. Under the hood is a 182-horsepower 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine that provides more-than-adequate acceleration, and if you want more you can seek out models equipped with the 292-horsepower 3.6-liter V6. Even with the 6-cylinder engine, though, the Equinox is calibrated for good ride quality and towing (max 3,500 pounds) rather than performance.  The feature set is rich, including big 19-inch wheels, power liftgate, heated leather seats, power-adjustable front seats and the easy-to-use Chevrolet MyLink infotainment interface.

#8 2015 Mitsubishi Outlander

All the other vehicles on this list transport five passengers, so the seven-passenger Mitsubishi Outlander crossover SUV is a special value. And while the Outlander’s third row of seating isn’t the most accommodating, the fact it exists is a big plus. The five-passenger Outlander delivers one of the biggest cargo areas in the business in exchange for that third row, and it is a good choice too. Base Outlanders are pretty basic, but climbing the trim ladder nets alloy wheels, heated front seats, remote start/entry, automatic dual-zone climate control, backup camera system and rain-sensing windshield wipers.  Further upgrades — all-wheel-drive, power-operated liftgate, leather seats, sunroof and Rockford Fosgate nine-speaker audio — might take you beyond the  $15K limit. The 2015 Outlander is powered by either a 166-horsepower 2.4-liter 4-cylinder or a 224-horsepower 3.0-liter V6.

#9 2015 GMC Terrain

While most of the vehicles on this list offer similar styling, the GMC Terrain stands out. You might like it; you might not; but it’ll get your attention. Coming from an upscale brand, the Terrain delivers a more luxurious interior than others on the list and a lengthy list of upscale “stuff” — backup camera with collision sensors, seven-inch touchscreen infotainment interface, heated mirrors and power-adjustable front seats.  While even more luxurious trim levels are available, the base engine is fairly mundane — 182-horsepower 2.4-liter 4-cylinder. The optional engine is a 301-horsepower version of GM’s 3.6-liter V6. The Terrain is a chance to buy into an upscale brand on a budget.

#10 2014 Hyundai Tucson

Compared to the GMC Terrain, the Hyundai Tucson features under-the-radar exterior styling, though it did get a facelift for the 2014 model year. The Tucson’s true beauty is its wealth of features. Available features include panoramic sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, touchscreen navigation system, heated front seats, steering-wheel-mounted controls, rearview camera system, and hands-free phone. Topping a long list of safety items are the sophisticated airbags that include dual-front, side-impact and side-curtain airbags. Many Tucsons are front-drive but all-wheel-drive versions are also available. Two engines provide motivation — a 164-horsepower 2.0-liter 4-cylinder and a 182-horsepower 2.4-liter 4-cylinder. Keep them maintained, and they’ll do the job for you.

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About Tom Ripley 52 Articles
Born in Boston, Tom Ripley has been writing about the automotive industry and the human condition for more than a decade. He's a frequent traveller but nominally resides in Villeperce, France.