Cheap is relative. There are plenty of great new cars for under, say, $18,000, as demonstrated in CarPreview.com’s 2014 Best Cheap Cars. A new sporty-utility vehicle will cost more. How much more depends on variables such as size, brand, powertrain, luxury amenities. A $50,000 midsize crossover is shockingly easy to configure. Our job is to guide you to 10 terrific SUVs with a manufacturer’s suggested retail price under $30,000.
Thirty grand is an investment, to be sure. It also happens to be the average transaction price of a new vehicle today – give or take a few hundred bucks, depending on the fluctuations in the economy and the new-car market. Our top 10 SUVs under $30,000 is a diverse group. It addresses serious off-roading, seven-passenger family duty, luxury aspirations, and lots in between. (The base prices we list include the manufacturer’s destination fees, which average about $800.)
Nine of our choices are crossovers, essentially SUVs with body and understructure engineered as an integrated unit. Crossovers dominate today’s SUV market, with good reason. They handle, ride, and consume less gas than old-school, truck-like body-on-frame SUVs. We’ve chosen only versions with all-wheel drive. AWD crossovers are designed primarily to assure traction on snowy or slippery pavement, with some dirt-trail capability thrown in. If you don’t need that, may we suggest a hatchback, station wagon, or a minivan? Thought not.
Here are our Top 10 SUVs under $30,000
The premium-compact-crossover class is a burgeoning niche and Encore is your entre under $30K. Taking up about as much room on the road as a Volkswagen Beetle, this Buick is diminutive, to be sure. But you sit comfortably upright, for better passenger space than you’d anticipate, although cargo volume is on par with that of a compact hatchback car. Encore’s only engine is a turbocharged 138-horsepower four-cylinder, so drag racing is out, but freeway merging is no hassle. We’re happy to report handling is responsive, even fun. And a rating of 26 mpg city/highway combined is easy to live with. The real lure here is unexpected refinement, thanks to Buick’s success with sound deadening and suspension tuning. Base prices with AWD begin at $26,585, but the “Leather” AWD model, with its hide upholstery, heated power front seats with driver memory, automatic climate control and other amenities is a taste of the good life for $29,910. If you’d prefer a navigation system to leather, consider the “Convenience” AWD model, which starts at $29,005.