Welcome to the Crossover Era! Where big truck-based SUVs were the hot vehicle class of the Nineties, the first two decades of this millennium have seen the inexorable rise of the crossover — a tall vehicle resembling a classic sport-utility vehicle but based on a car chassis. If you wonder if a vehicle is a crossover, one tipoff is that if it offers a two-wheel-drive version, it is front-drive rather than rear-drive. In any case, crossovers offer versatile seating and cargo space and a driving position that puts you “above the traffic.” For those good reasons and more Americans are turning to these New Age SUVs in increasing numbers.
Those who can’t afford brand-new SUVs still covet that versatility, so used SUVs are increasingly popular. With a properly maintained used SUV, you can get more vehicle for your money, but you also expose yourself to more risk. Because of that our Driving Today list of the 10 Best SUVs under $25,000 is skewed heavily toward vehicles that deliver excellent reliability and dependability. Most of these vehicles are 2015 and 2016 models, but with some judicious shopping, you might find more recent models under the $25K mark. For your benefit, we present them in descending order from number one to number 10. Each could be a worthy addition to your family’s auto fleet.
1. 2016 Toyota RAV4
Uncommon reliability and unmatched resale value are a couple items that set the Toyota RAV4 apart from its competition. Even as a used vehicle it is “premium-priced” versus others in its segment, and that’s because its sterling reputation is well-known. It seats five and even in base trim, it offers a wealth of features. Base-level RAV4s include power-operated side mirrors, rear parking camera system, 6.1-inch touchscreen-operated infotainment and automatic headlamps. Under the hood is an outstandingly robust 176-horsepower 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine. Upgrades include leather upholstery, dual-zone climate control, smartphone integration and a collision mitigation system.
2. 2017 Honda CR-V
One of the most popular crossover SUVs of all time, the Honda CR-V delivers economy, practicality and a degree of fun-to-drive in its five-passenger package. Even the base version offers upscale touches like alloy wheels, LED running lights, automatic climate control, and an electronic parking brake. The lone engine is a 184-horsepower 2.4-liter 4-cylinder that adds zip to the CR-V’s acceleration. Climbing the trim levels enables you to add a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system, heated front seats, LED exterior lighting, powered liftgate, sunroof, and remote entry/start, but if you add too much you’ll zoom past the $25,000 mark.
3. 2015 Chevrolet Traverse
The previous two vehicles on the list are five-passenger compacts. In contrast, the Chevy Traverse is a larger, eight-passenger vehicle that will simply hold more stuff. For the 2015 model year the Traverse was offered in three trim levels — LS, LT and LTZ. The base LS offers niceties like dual-zone air conditioning, backup camera system and six-speaker audio with USB and iPod inputs. We like the Chevy MyLink infotainment’s ease of operation and the general eight-inch touchscreen. Ample power emanates from the 281-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 engine teamed with a six-speed automatic transmission. Other standard features include roof rails and keyless entry.
4. 2015 Honda Pilot
The Honda Pilot proves that adding size to an SUV has positive effects on its overall abilities. The pilot’s substantial proportions mean it is virtually the equivalent of a minivan in interior space, and its ride quality benefits from its ample length. does have much to offer. Sizable width means the third row is more than adequate for adults, and therefore the Pilot can claim to transport eight passengers. Highlights on the base LX model include triple-zone climate control, eight-inch display, backup camera system, Bluetooth and seven-speaker audio system. A 250-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 engine gives the Pilot its motive force, and though you won’t mistake it for a sports car, the Pilot offers sure handling.
5. 2016 Ford Explorer
The Ford Explorer sells in large numbers, so it is not surprising that in 2016 it was offered in five trims, enabling you to get what you need and avoid paying for things you don’t. You should also know that even the base Explorer is quite well-equipped: alloy wheels, split-folding third-row seat, power-operated front seats, power-operated side mirrors, power-operated rear lift gate and multi-speaker audio. Higher trim levels offer added niceties like 180-degree backup camera system, panoramic sunroof and collision mitigation. To keep the cost in the $25,000 range, pick the 290-horsepower V6 engine or the 270-horsepower 2.3-liter EcoBoost 4-cylinder over the 365-horsepower twin-turbo V6.
6. 2015 Subaru Outback
Some might say the Subaru Outback is not a genuine SUV, but in the age of crossovers this cross between a station wagon and an SUV hits a lot of the right notes to be a terrific family vehicle. The Outback was completely re-done for the 2015 model year and, of course it features Subaru’s trademark Symmetrical All-Wheel-Drive, and its two sturdy “boxer”engines offer you a choice between four- and six-cylinder power. Also in the Outback’s favor is the fact it rides and handles much more like a car than a truck, a boon for day-to-day use. As you would guess from Subaru, safety is a big deal — EyeSight driver-assist system with collision warning and lane departure warning and a sophisticated backup camera system are two of the important safety features.
7. 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee
You can consider the Jeep Grand Cherokee a big midsize or a small full-size SUV. That’s up to you, but there is no doubt the 2014 version of the model offers off-road capabilities superior to just about every competitor out there. One new wrinkle for the 2014 model year was the availability of a 240-horsepower 3.0-liter turbocharged diesel engine, but for price reasons you are probably well-advised to consider the 290-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 or the 360-horsepower 5.7-liter V8. Both are backed by an eight-speed automatic transmission new that year. Most Grand Cherokees are very well finished with plenty of upscale touches, and the 2014 safety suite includes “smart” airbags, anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, collision warning, blind-spot monitor, and trailer sway control.
8. 2015 Buick Enclave
The Buick Enclave has been a brand mainstay for years because of its combination of good looks, luxurious interior accommodations, comfortable ride and significant value. With three rows of seating it will transport seven passengers with ease, eight in a pinch, and as an upscale brand vehicle it delivers plenty of zoot for your loot. For example there is triple-zone climate control, eight-way power driver’s seat, and power-operated liftgate. Available in front- or all-wheel-drive configurations, the Enclave is powered by a 288-horsepower 3.6-liter V-6 paired to a six-speed automatic transmission. With suspension skewed toward comfort and quiet, there is a reason the Enclave graces many suburban driveways.
9. 2015 Toyota Highlander
High quality and superior resale value mark the Toyota Highlander, a midsize crossover SUV that offers substantial interior space. Properly configured its three-row versatility enables seating for up to eight, though a couple of them should be small children. For 2015 the Highlander was nicely decked out even in base trim — alloy wheels, automated headlamps, heated/power-operated front seats, 60/40-split/reclining second row, and 60/40-split third-row. Among the cool upgrade features you might be able to bag are remote entry/start, leather seating, 110-volt power outlet, nine-inch touchscreen, rear-passenger communication system, parking sensors and backup camera system and rear seat entertainment. The 2.7-liter 4-cylinder engine is adequate, but you might prefer the 270-horsepower 3.5-liter V6.
10. 2016 Dodge Durango
Okay, it’s a truck, but there is something appealing about the big value of the big Dodge Durango SUV. The Durango won’t handle with the best of the crossover SUVs, but for sheer hauling and towing it is a good choice thanks to its 290-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 engine. With three rows it will seat for up to seven passengers, and standard amenities include alloy wheels, automatic headlamps, heated/power-operated side mirrors, and three-zone climate control complete with rear vents. A nice touch is the fold-flat front passenger seat that enables you to carry long lumber without difficulty. With a bit of shopping around you might also land LED daytime running lights, 115-volt power outlet, remote start, power-operated liftgate, and 10-speaker Beats by Dre sound system.