Best Cheap SUVs: You don’t have to pay a lot to get a lot


Here’s a news flash: Everything is a lot more expensive now! And that definitely goes for new SUVs, with prices that keep nudging higher and higher. Actually “nudging” might be too soft of a description for their motion. “Skyrocketing” is probably more accurate. 

While higher prices and hefty interest rates have likely knocked a lot of people out of the new car market entirely, there are still quite a few cheap SUV choices. Better still, they’re not terrible! Far from it, in fact. While the lowest price SUVs used to be drab, sorry affairs best left to the lots of Avis and Budget, that is definitely not the case today. Not only are there legitimately appealing cheap SUV choices, they offer genuine differences in character, capability and design. It’s not just a series of anonymous boxes with different badges.

Below you won’t just find a simple list of the cheapest SUVs available. We are actually pointing out the best ones. They are listed from least expensive to most expensive, with none exceeding a starting price of $30,000. Most are subcompacts, but a few of our top choices in the compact SUV segment snuck on.

Finally, please excuse the crummy photo quality. We sought out representative trim levels of the prices in question rather than just reusing pretty carmaker-provided photos of the most expensive trim levels. This is what the cars will actually look like.

Kia Soul

Why it stands out: Ample space and abundant features for the money; unique style; strong turbo engine upgrade
Could be better:
All-wheel drive is not available

Starting Price: $21,315

Read our most recent Kia Soul Review

The Kia Soul definitely didn’t start off as a small SUV, and the term “crossover” is probably better applied to it. Still, what started life as an undefinable funky tall hatchback now finds itself in its third generation with numerous vehicles of similar shape and size that are dubbed “small SUV” or “small crossover.” If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck … Call it what you will, but the Soul delivers the goods with tons of equipment and space for its price and size, an agreeable driving demeanor, and an even more powerful engine upgrade than the Kona’s. We also think it’s pretty cool. All of the above helped it win our subcompact SUV comparison test. Now, if there’s one area where the Soul does not satisfy a typical SUV requirement, it’s the lack of available all-wheel drive. That there are more such vehicles in the segment, including our next entry, only seems to further secure the Soul’s membership into the club.

 

2021 Nissan Kicks SV in red

Nissan Kicks

Starting Price: $22,155

Why it stands out: Tons of space and features for a low price; best-in-class fuel economy; well-executed safety tech
Could be better:
It’s really slow; no all-wheel drive

Read our most recent Nissan Kicks Review

We wouldn’t blame you for not getting excited about the Kicks. It doesn’t have much horsepower, it’s not exactly fun to drive, and its tall hatchback body is still pretty gawky despite an attractive styling update for 2021. That said, the Kicks does a really great job at the basics. It supplies a massive amount of space for a vehicle its size, comes with a wealth of safety features for a vehicle with its modest price, and doesn’t feel like a penalty box to sit in or drive. The interior is handsome and well-equipped with impressive materials in upper trim levels. For those seeking an efficient, inexpensive urban runabout that can swallow enough stuff for a weekend getaway, it just makes a lot of sense.

 

Buick Envista

Why it stands out: Compelling design; huge space for the money; quiet and refined driving experience; punchy and efficient engine; well-equipped
Could be better: All-wheel drive is unavailable; armrests are a bit hard; technically slow acceleration (even if it doesn’t feel it).

Read our full 2024 Buick Envista Review

The Buick Envista is one of the best, most competitive and most relevant cars to come out of General Motors in a long time. It is wildly impressive and truly surprising. It has a modest, fuel-efficient three-cylinder engine, yet feels perfectly potent and refined when driving around town. The ride is composed and interior noise levels low. It looks expensive, yet stickers for well south of $30,000. That also price puts it well in the heart of this subcompact segment despite exterior dimensions and a back seat that rivals compacts. The lack of all-wheel drive may be a sticking point for some, but we think anyone shopping for a small, affordable SUV would be wise to check out the Envista (as well as the mechanically related and cheaper Chevrolet Trax).

Volkswagen Taos

Why it stands out: Most family friendly yet with segment-leading back seat space; huge cargo area; strong power and fuel economy
Could be better:
Bland to drive; looks more rugged than it is

Starting Price: $25,345

Our full Volkswagen Taos Review

Of the cheap SUVs on this list, the Taos is the most family-friendly thanks to a back seat that’s shockingly big enough to fit rear-facing car seats without scrunching those up front into the dash. There’s also a giant cargo area that only falls short of the Bronco Sport, which is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, the Taos has more interior space than quite a few compact SUVs that are larger on the outside. When you can get that while enjoying the benefits of a smaller vehicle (better maneuverability and fuel economy, a lower price), that’s called a win-win. We also like that the Taos isn’t as conservatively styled, inside and out, than other recent made-for-America Volkswagens and has VW’s older, more user-friendly interior controls instead of the maddening ID.4 and GTI layout. Even its “could be betters” listed above are hardly what we’d call deal breakers. This is a winner.  

 

Hyundai Kona

Why it stands out: Great tech; reasonably fun to drive; optional all-wheel drive; available electric model; more space with new generation
Could be better: No wireless smartphone connection with upgrade system; no tax credit for EV

Starting price: $25,435

Read our 2024 Hyundai Kona Review

While the Kona may be new for 2024, it hasn’t lost the key attributes that made us like the first generation so much. It’s still pleasant to drive, even fun if you spring for one of the punchier models. It’s still packed with usable, well-thought-out tech. And it’s still small — albeit a lot less so than previously. Its position at the lower end of Hyundai’s lineup also helps the value proposition stick. Put another way: It’s still a bargain. There’s also the Kona Electric, and while definitely more expensive than the base gas version, it’s still one of the most affordable EVs.

Kia Seltos

Why it stands out: Surprising space; acceleration from Turbo models; class-leading tech; distinct design details
Could be better:
Some cheap interior bits

Starting price: $25,715

Our most recent Kia Seltos Review

The surprisingly good Seltos proves you don’t have to spend a lot of money for both function and fashion. Its price and exterior dimensions fall in between the subcompact and compact SUV segments, yet it boasts more interior volume than is expected and an abundance of special design details throughout that successfully counter some of the cheaper bits applied to keep the price down. It also looks pretty good, and the available turbocharged engine produces shocking acceleration for this segment. Basically, it provides even more value beyond Kia’s usual extra-long features list and warranty. Like the Envista, we’d actually consider the Seltos before many of the compact SUVs that didn’t make the cut above. 

Subaru Crosstrek

Why it stands out: Standard all-wheel drive; best-in-class ground clearance; simple controls
Could be better:
Slow base engine; CVT transmission; roly-poly handling; no roof rails on base model

Starting price: $26,290

Our full 2024 Subaru Crosstrek Review

The Crosstrek proves just how all over the place this segment is. It’s basically just an Impreza hatchback with some styling tweaks and a massive lift (its 8.7 inches of ground clearance is way more than most crossovers), but that’s actually good enough to better many vehicles that were built from scratch to be a small SUV. Besides that ground clearance, the Crosstrek has become a darling of the outdoor adventure set for its manageable size, easy-to-use interior, sturdy and easily reached roof rails and a comfort-oriented driving experience that serves it well on longer drives. That it finally offers a more powerful engine option satisfies a long-held complaint among owners that the base engine was just too darn slow.

 

Mazda CX-30

Why it stands out: Luxurious interior; best-in-class driving dynamics; good looks
Could be better: 
Interior space is more hatchback than SUV; dopey plastic fenders; non-touchscreen tech interface

Starting price: $26,360

Our full 2024 Mazda CX-30 Review

If the Bronco Sport provides ruggedness and versatility, and the Seltos value and style, the Mazda CX-30 provides driving fun and luxury. We actually consider it a smarter buy than luxury subcompacts like the BMW X2 and Audi Q3, and not just because of its lower price. Its interior doesn’t really give up anything to them in terms of luxury or features, and it can actually be more engaging to drive, especially with the turbo engine. Despite all this luxury talk, though, the CX-30 price still starts in the low $20,000s, and crests $35,000 when fully loaded. Basically, it’s a bargain without looking or driving like one.

Kia Niro

Why it stands out: It’s a hybrid (with pricier plug-in and EV options available); slick design; surprisingly spacious; class-leading tech
Could be better: 
No AWD; a bit slow; cool colors are only on upper trim levels

Starting price: $28,165

Our Kia Niro Review

The Kia Niro comes with a strong lineup of three electrified powertrains in one attractively designed package. As we’re talking about cheap SUVs, and specifically those under $30,000, we’re going to stick with the hybrid (although know the plug-in hybrid and all-electric versions are also really good). Besides getting the best fuel economy on this list by a long shot (49-53 mpg combined depending on trim level), the Niro provides surprising interior space, exceptional infotainment and safety tech, and attractive styling. Frankly, your hybrid choices at this price range are minimal, with Toyota’s Prius (not an SUV) and Corolla Cross (not very good) really your only other options. We’d go with the Niro and be quite happy. 

All three, the hybrid, plug-in hybrid and full EV take advantage of the Niro’s surprisingly spacious, tech-filled interior and snazzy exterior styling. The distinctive “aero blade” behind the rear doors gives it a distinct look, but even without it, we love the hatchback shape and tall LED taillights. One downside of the Niro is that it doesn’t offer all-wheel drive with any of the three electrified powertrains. That’s fine if you’re just in it for the fantastic efficiency and are happy to buy some snow tires, but many will still miss all-wheel traction. The Niro is ultimately proof that you don’t need to drive around a miserly looking car to capture top-shelf efficiency, so if you want the best green option possible in the midcompact segment, head straight here.

Kia Sportage LX

Why it stands out: Enormous space for an SUV under $30,000; cheaper than its compact SUV competitors; available hybrid; class-leading infotainment and safety tech
Could be better: 
Slow and unrefined gas-only engine; you’ll get less equipment for the money than other choices here

Starting price: $28,415

Our most recent Kia Sportage Review

Most compact SUVs now start over $30,000 when you take into account the mandatory destination charge. The Kia Sportage, on the other hand, is still comfortably below that threshold despite offering comparable equipment and better space than the best-selling Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. The Sportage isn’t just one of our favorite cheap compact SUVs, it’s one of our favorites, period. The LX trim level is ultimately the one that’s under $30,000, although the second-run-up EX is just across the threshold. Happily, you also have the option of going with the exceptional hybrid instead of the rather blah gas-only engine. Of all the cars so far, this could deliver the most bang for your buck.

Hyundai Tucson

Why it stands out: Enormous space for an SUV under $30,000; cheaper than its compact SUV competitors; class-leading infotainment and safety tech
Could be better: 
Slow and unrefined gas-only engine; you’ll get less equipment for the money than other choices here

Starting price: $28,585

Our most recent Kia Sportage Review

Wait, did we accidentally copy and paste all of the Kia Sportage’s pros and cons into the Tucson’s entry? Nope, it wasn’t an accident. These mechanically related small SUVs just happen have the exact same selling points, with one exception: the Tucson Hybrid starts higher than $30,000 for 2024. That’s definitely a shame, although you should definitely consider it if you can swing the higher monthly payment. Otherwise, the Tucson’s slow gas-only engine that’s usually a con is ultimately just fine in this company given just how much more SUV you’re getting for your money. Like the Sportage, the Tucson is big, with way more passenger and cargo space than the other SUVs listed above. You also get a higher-quality interior, excellent tech and strong safety credentials. 

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