Crossover SUVs are everywhere. We’re certain that as we sit here and write this, a car manufacturer is cooking up yet another SUV to tempt us. And there are ample reasons they are popular, of course. Both conventional and crossover SUVs are roomy, versatile, and offer a great vantage point from the driver’s seat. If you live with an SUV for a while, you’ll soon come to regard most sedans as stodgy and antiquated with their tiny trunks and difficult-to-get-into back seats. But while most sport-utilities are very utilitarian, some have been commoditized. They look alike, act alike and drive alike. Fine and functional, but not cool. On the other hand, there are some SUVs under $35,000 that check all the boxes for utility but also have a cool factor. We at DT have identified them for you here in our 10 Coolest SUVs under $35,000.
10. 2021 Subaru Crosstrek
The Subaru Crosstrek might not have the carrying capacity of some of the others on this list, but if you seek a great urban-environment vehicle that can get you and your gear to the funzone over the weekend, it is a hot ticket. It’s a compact crossover that can seat four comfortably and also serve capably as a commuter car. It features all-wheel drive, remote entry, 6.5-inch touchscreen, Bluetooth/USB/smartphone integration, split/folding rear seating, and parking camera system. The 152-horsepower 2.0-liter horizontally opposed 4-cylinder won’t light up the tires, but it gives the Crosstrek the required power and torque. Another piece of good news: you can option it up and still stay under $35K.
9. 2021 Toyota RAV4
Toyota has been making an extra effort to move the RAV4 from the blah-pack into a more fun and expressive place, and the results are there. A compact crossover SUV with ample room for five, the RAV4 is powered by a trustworthy 176-horsepower 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine in standard form and both hybrid and plug-in hybrid (RAV$ Prime) versions are available. And the two hybrids might be the coolest of all. The RAV4 is equipped with an impressive list of standard equipment, including roof rails, parking camera system, Bluetooth/USB integration, and 6-inch touchscreen infotainment system. And the SUV is offered in several versions from commuter special to a full-on off-road rig. Superior quality and longevity are added pluses of the 2021 Toyota RAV4.
8. 2021 Mazda CX-5
While most serious enthusiast drivers turn up their noses at most crossovers, they often get excited about the on-road capabilities of the Mazda CX-5. It is a vehicle that somehow has been able to combine the versatility of an SUV with satisfying on-road driving performance. The base engine is a 187-horsepower 2.5-liter 4-cylinder backed up by a 6-speed automatic transmission. Up-level models offer a new turbocharged version of the 2.5-liter 4-cylinder that delivers up to 250 horsepower depending upon the grade of gasoline used. In addition to the driving enjoyment, the CX-5 offers it also gets high marks for its interior, which mimics interiors of the best European crossovers.
7. 2021 Hyundai Kona
The Hyundai Kona is one of a new breed of crossovers that straddles the line between the profile of a station wagon and that of an SUV. It seats five and front-wheel-drive is standard while all-wheel-drive is available. In addition to conventional powertrains, the Kona can be had as an electric. Two engines are available (in addition to the EV model): 2.0-liter 4-cylinder that offers 147 horsepower and a direct-injection turbocharged 1.6-liter 4-cylinder that offers 175 horsepower. In the Hyundai tradition, the Kona is filled with features, and in Ultimate trim the Kona has everything that many luxury SUVs offer. Options allow you to add features like roof rails, heated and powered side mirrors, remote start, leather upholstery, and heated front seats.
7. 2021 Mercedes-Benz GLA
The base model Mercedes-Benz GLA — which is not very base in its equipment level — sneaks in right under the $35K bogie for this article. That means you can slide into the luxury and prestige of the Mercedes nameplate for the price of a more mundane vehicle — and that’s cool. We also think the shape, interior and overall performance of the GLA are so hot they’re cool. It looks every inch an M-B SUV, and that sets you apart. The turbocharged 2.0-liter in-line 4-cylinder engine offers 208 horsepower, and the transmission is a 7-speed. The multi-media display and interior seating in the 5-passenger vehicle are in keeping with the brand.
6. 2021 Jeep Cherokee
Ask any high school kid, and they tell you it’s pretty cool to have a Jeep. And among the very good choices under $35,000 is the Jeep Cherokee. While the Wrangler often gets the longing looks, it was the Cherokee that really started the SUV-as-everyday-driver trend that is with us today. The midsize Cherokee is a bit smaller than many of its competitors, but part of the reason for that is the brand’s desire to provide superior off-road performance. One powertrain to consider is the 270-horsepower 2.0-liter direct injection turbocharged 4-cylinder engine mated to a 9-speed automatic transmission. Base engine is the 180-horsepower 2.4-liter 4-cylinder, while a 271-horsepower 3.2-liter V-6 is also available.
5. 2021 Kia Sportage
The Kia Sportage has matured over the years. Early in its life, it was a small conventional SUV, but in recent years it moved to a more conventional crossover platform. Because of its reasonably compact size, the 181-horsepower 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine provides plenty of acceleration. The five-passenger crossover features a lengthy list of standards — alloy wheels, automatic headlamps, power-operated side mirrors, and heated front seats among them. You can add many more options and still stay under well under $35K. To top it off, Kia has one of the best warranties in the industry, and in recent years its product quality has also zoomed toward the top of the pack.
4. 2021 Volkswagen Tiguan
One cool thing about Volkswagen has always been its unique, European engineering, and the Tiguan offers that in a popular American body style — the crossover SUV. The Tiguan can seat up to seven passengers, and even base models are well-equipped. Ample power comes from a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine rated at 184 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque. The standards list includes heated mirrors, roof rails, split/folding rear seats, and a 6.5-inch touchscreen infotainment system. The Tiguan is available in an extremely large number of trim levels, including the performance-oriented R-Line models that are particularly cool.
3. 2020 Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross
As consumers continue to seek crossover vehicles, manufacturers are offering a wider number of variants. One of the newest offerings in the Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross, which channels some of the style and sportiness of the Eclipse sports coupe into the crossover realm. One area where this is extremely obvious is in powertrain. The Eclipse Cross is fitted with a 1.5-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine backed by a CVT that approximates eight separate speeds. The 5-passenger vehicle has a handy size that makes it particularly fun to drive, and its styling separates it from the typical box-on-box crossover. The lack of a radio volume knob is vexing, but overall the Eclipse Cross offers good value.
2. 2021 MINI Countryman
Unique MINI design, curves in all the right places, and room for five distinguish the MINI Countryman, a small SUV that handles like a coupe. The engine of choice is the 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder delivering 189 horsepower. For the full SUV treatment opt for all-wheel drive. Standard equipment is robust: alloy wheels, fog lamps, heated side mirrors, panoramic sunroof, rear parking sensors, and push-button ignition. The split-folding rear seat makes the cargo bay more accommodating. MINI had developed a reputation as a somewhat troublesome brand over the years, but the new MINIs have gotten a solid reputation. And that’s as cool as their looks.
1. 2021 Jeep Wrangler
The Jeep Wrangler offers plenty of functionality, but it is number one on our Coolest SUVs under $35,000 as much for its eye-arresting, classic look as it is for what it can do. The Wrangler is a vehicle that will get you noticed, and there is certainly something cool about that. It will accomplish everything the previous-edition Wrangler could do on- and off-road, but while the earlier-generation Wrangler often felt like each of its four wheels was going a different direction, the new Wrangler is very composed. The Wrangler will still rock-crawl with the very best of them, but it won’t beat you up when you’re picking up the kids at school. And as we’ve written before, the Jeep Wrangler is an easy vehicle to love.