Ranking the Best SUVs and Crossovers for Under $30,000

May 04, 2018 by Jack Nerad

The Top 10 SUVs and crossovers under $30,000 for 2018 confront shopper with a tyranny of choice. So many are so good.

Automakers are building many SUV offerings because they are popular for their passenger- and cargo-hauling flexibility and raised driving position. Older generation SUVs were built on truck chassis and gave occupants a harsher ride experience, but car-based SUVs, also called crossovers, deliver ride and handling — and even fuel economy — that better matches sedans.

Trucks.com developed this list of the best SUVs under $30,000 by focusing on the key attributes that SUV buyers seek. Quality, reliability, versatility and ease of use led the list. Safety and fuel economy also figured importantly in the consideration.

  1. Honda CR-V
2018 Honda CR-V.

2018 Honda CR-V. (Photo: Honda)

The Honda CR-V is among the nation’s top-selling vehicles because it hits the segment’s sweet spot with excellent ride quality, laudable fuel economy and an intelligently designed interior. The current version, Honda’s best-selling vehicle, was last redesigned in 2017.

The newest-generation CR-V offers 105.9 cubic feet of passenger cabin volume and 39.2 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats. When those seats are folded flat, that grows to 75.8 cubic feet. There’s comfortable seating for four adults, and five can squeeze in when needed.

Engine choices include a 184-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and a 190-horsepower 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. The fuel economy rating is 28 mpg in combined city and highway driving for the base engine.

The 2018 CR-V earned a Top Safety Pick rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, or IIHS. The knocks were its headlights and the ease of use of its child seat anchor latch. Consumer Reports recommends the CR-V and gives it its highest reliability rating. The CR-V starts at $25,125 and rises to $35,025, depending on the trim level and engine choice.

  1. Subaru Forester
2018 Subaru Forrester.

2018 Subaru Forrester. (Photo: Subaru)

The all-wheel drive Forester is Subaru’s bestselling U.S. vehicle and epitomizes the brand’s all-weather performance. The Forester incorporates Subaru’s impressive EyeSight automated driver assistance suite of safety features.

Taller than the CR-V, the Forester offers 108.3 cubic feet of passenger cabin volume. Seating is available for five passengers. Cargo space behind the rear bench seat is 34.4 cubic feet. When the split seat back is folded flat, that space totals 74.7 cubic feet.

A 170-horsepower 2.5-liter horizontally opposed four cylinder is the base engine. The optional 250-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine is one of the most powerful in the class. The base engine delivers 28 mpg in combined driving.

Consumer Reports recommends the Forester. IIHS gave it a Top Safety Pick award. Although you can’t buy a Forester equipped with the highly praised EyeSight system for less than $30,000, the base Forester 2.5i offers niceties like rear-vision camera system, incline start assist and security system with engine immobilizer.

Forester pricing begins at $23,710 and rises to $37,005 depending on the trim level and engine choice. A redesigned 2019 will arrive in showrooms later this year.

  1. Toyota RAV4
2018 Toyota RAV4.

2018 Toyota RAV4. (Photo: Toyota)

The Toyota RAV4 was the best-selling vehicle in the U.S. last year that is not a pickup truck. It offers excellent resale value. It holds Consumer Reports’ highest reliability rating and CR recommends it.

The five-passenger RAV4 has a relatively small passenger area. It offers 101.9 cubic feet of passenger cabin volume. But it has 38.4 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats that grows to 73.4 cubic feet of space when the rear seats are folded.

  • rav4 gallery2

The 2018 RAV4 is powered by a 176-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. It gets 26 mpg in combined city and highway driving. Hybrid versions use a 150-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine in combination with a 141 horsepower 105Kw electric motor. Hybrid fuel economy is 32 mpg.

IIHS rated the RAV4 as a Top Safety Pick. Toyota RAV4 pricing begins at $25,505 and rises to $36,000, depending on the trim level.

  1. Kia Sorento
2018 Kia Sorento.

2018 Kia Sorento. (Photo: Kia)

The Kia Sorento is among the largest vehicles on this list, and that is a big reason why it ranks so highly. Total passenger volume is a substantial 142.9 cubic feet. Maximum cargo capacity with both second- and third-row seats folded maxes out at 73 cubic feet. The Sorento is a seven-passenger vehicle.

Noted for its easy-to-understand controls, the Sorento gets high satisfaction marks from consumers in both J.D. Power and Consumer Reports studies. IIHS labels it a Top Safety Pick for 2018. The Sorento is a Consumer Reports “Recommended” vehicle.

The base 185-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine makes acceleration a leisurely affair, but it does deliver 24 mpg combined fuel economy. The optional 3.3-liter V6 engine offers 290horsepower and 21 mpg combined fuel economy.

Sorento has a $26,980 starting price. Higher trim levels can reach $46,000.

  1. Mazda CX-5
2018 Mazda CX-5.

2018 Mazda CX-5. (Photo: Mazda)

Considered the driver’s car among the compact crossovers, the Mazda CX-5 features innovative engineering. Most notable is the 187-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine equipped with cylinder de-activation technology. Front-wheel drive CX-5s deliver 28 mpg in combined driving.

The CX-5 has spirited performance and handling. The price for that comes in cargo space. At 103.6 cubic feet, passenger volume is ample. But cargo volume behind the rear seats, 30.9 cubic feet, and with the rear seats folded, 59.6 cubic feet, is less than in comparable vehicles. Seating is comfortable for four, a squeeze for five.

The Mazda has an upscale interior that calls to mind high-priced European crossovers.  The CX-5 achieves top marks from consumers for overall satisfaction in both J.D. Power and Consumer Reports measures. It earned IIHS Top Safety Pick status. It is a Consumer Reports “Recommended” vehicle.

Mazda CX-5 pricing begins at $25,125 and rises to $31,920, depending on the trim level.

  1. Hyundai Santa Fe

2018 Hyundai Santa Fe. (Photo: Hyundai)

Similar to its corporate sibling Kia Sorento, the Hyundai Santa Fe is a seven-passenger, three-row vehicle. While the sticker price is just over $30,000, the Santa Fe routinely sells at a discount. We included the Santa Fe for its high consumer satisfaction and safety ratings. The Hyundai Santa Fe is the only IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus among the SUVs in this class. Consumer Reports recommends the Santa Fe.

  • s.fe xl gallery5
  • s.fe sport gallery1

Size for the price is another positive attribute. It offers 146.6 cubic feet of passenger cabin volume and 80.0 cubic feet of cargo space with second and third rows folded. The lone engine is a 290-horsepower 3.3-liter V6 engine. The front-wheel drive model gets 21 mpg in combined driving.

Comfort and convenience features include dual-zone automatic climate control, steering wheel-mounted audio controls and keyless entry. Another plus is Hyundai’s lengthy warranty coverage.

Santa Fe pricing can reach $42,250, depending on the trim level. A significantly revised 2019 Hyundai Santa Fe is waiting in the wings.

  1. Nissan Rogue

2018 Nissan Rogue. (Photo: Nissan)

The five-passenger Rogue has supplanted the RAV4 as the best-selling vehicle that’s not a pickup truck so far this year.

Overall passenger cabin size is a Rogue advantage. Seating is comfortable for four, and the rear bench seat can accommodate three without difficulty. It offers 105.8 cubic feet of passenger cabin volume. Its 39.3 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats is virtually identical to the benchmark Honda CR-V. The Rogue offers 70.0 cubic feet of space with the rear seat folded.

The 2018 Rogue is powered by a 170-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine. The top fuel economy rating of 29 mpg in combined city and highway driving is tops among the standard engines on this list. The Rogue’s CVT transmission enables class-leading fuel economy, but its unusual sounds are bothersome.  While the Rogue is a Consumer Reports “Recommended” vehicle, it ranks low in the publication’s “expected satisfaction” measure.

IIHS awarded the Rogue a Top Safety Pick rating for 2018. For 2018, Rogue offers a new ProPILOT Assist that takes over some tedious driver chores, including acceleration, steering and braking in certain conditions. Nissan Rogue pricing starts at $25,775 and rises to $33,505 depending upon trim level. 

  1. Ford Edge

2018 Ford Edge. (Photo: Ford)

Powered in low-priced SE trim by a 245-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, the stylish Ford Edge is among the most fun-to-drive SUVs under $30,000.

Its interior easily handles five occupants. Passenger volume is 113.9 cubic feet. The rear seat back is split 60/40, folds flat and reclines, enabling access to 73.4 cubic feet of overall cargo space.

It missed out on IIHS Top Safety Pick status. IIHS rated it “Good” in most measures but only acceptable in the small overlap front crash test that simulates a front-end collision. It received a “Poor” rating for headlights.

  • 2018 Ford Edge

The Edge is a Consumer Reports “Recommended” vehicle.

Three engine choices are offered, but only the 245-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder will keep you under $30,000. A 280-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 and 315-horsepower 2.7-liter twin-turbocharged V6 are also available. The four cylinder delivers 24 mpg in combined driving.

The 2018 Ford Edge starts at $29,315 but is routinely discounted. A highly optioned Edge with the twin-turbo engine could top $38,000.

  1. Volkswagen Tiguan
2018 Volkswagen Tiguan.

2018 Volkswagen Tiguan. (Photo: Volkswagen)

Volkswagen has completely re-worked its Tiguan SUV for 2018. The new version is 10.6 inches longer than the previous model. VW also sells a smaller, stripped-down version of the 2017 Tiguan called the Tiguan Limited, but the new Tiguan is our recommendation.

The added length allows for an optional third row of seats and transforms the vehicle. The interior passenger space reaches 123.9 cubic feet. Three-row Tiguans offer 12 cubic feet of cargo space with all rows in place, 33 cubic feet of cargo space with the third row folded and 65.7 cubic feet of cargo space with second and third rows folded. Two-row Tiguans offer 37.6 cubic feet of space behind the rear seat and 73.5 cubic feet with the seat folded down.

The single engine offered is a 184-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged four cylinder coupled with an eight-speed conventional automatic transmission. This combination offers 24 mpg. IIHS gave the 2018 Tiguan a Top Safety Pick rating. The price starts at $25,495 for front-wheel drive and climbs to $38,450 for the all-wheel drive version.

  1. Chevrolet Equinox
2018 Chevrolet Equinox

2018 Chevrolet Equinox. (Photo: Chevrolet)

Redesigned for 2018, the Chevrolet Equinox SUV hopes to build on the previous model’s reputation for reliability. Three different engine choices are available for the five-passenger SUV, including the segment’s only diesel, which comes later this year. Opt for the 170-horsepower, 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine version to keep the price under $30,000. It delivers 28 mpg. Standard active aero shutters enhance fuel economy on the highway. Standard noise cancellation keeps the cabin quiet.

Size is the Chevy’s big advantage. Passenger volume in the Equinox is 103.2 cubic feet. With the rear seat folded cargo space is 63.5 cubic feet, and even with the rear seat back in place cargo space is an ample 29.9 cubic feet.

  • 2018 Chevrolet Equinox

The new Equinox features optional electronic safety aids, including low-speed automatic braking and lane-keep assist with lane-departure warning. That package is available only on the highest trim level. However, opting for a package that includes blind-spot alert with lane-change alert, rear cross-traffic alert and rear park assist still keeps the price under $30K.

Equinox failed to be awarded IIHS Top Safety Pick status. It was rated “Good” for crashworthiness but had “Marginal” headlights. The 2018 Equinox starts at $24,575 and climbs to $35,000.

Read Next: Quick Facts to Know — 2019 Toyota RAV4

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