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10 Best Inexpensive -- OK, Cheap -- SUVs and Crossovers

A list of the ten best SUVs under $25,000

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You've got your heart set on a new SUV, but you're not comfortable shelling out $50,000 or more for your dream vehicle. Well, right now, you're in luck, because loan and lease rates have never been lower, and there are some very good SUVs and crossovers on the market with base prices below $25,000.

In order to make this list, a vehicle must have genuine utility, including ample cargo space, decent ground clearance and a commanding view of the road. It must also have intangible properties, like good build quality, attractive design and it must be fun to drive.

Because of the price point, most of the best inexpensive SUVs and crossovers are compact in size. That doesn't change the fact that they're still SUVs.

Choosing a higher trim level will get you more standard features, and adding options can make a new SUV more luxurious, but will raise the final purchase price. We've selected SUVs at trim levels that we'd want to own, and still within the price parameters that we've set (no higher than $25,000, not including destination, tax, license and dealer fees, if any).

1. Honda CR-V

Photo © Jason Fogelson

The 2012 Honda CR-V is the debut of the fourth generation. CR-V has been a leading crossover vehicle since 1997. Loaded CR-V examples can top $30,000, but a base model can still be had for under our limit.

2012 Honda CR-V LX base price: $22,495

Major Standard Features:

  • Automatic Transmission
  • Front-Wheel Drive
  • 2.4-liter in-line 4-cylinder engine
  • 185 hp/163 lb-ft of torque

2. Toyota RAV4

Photo © Jason Fogelson

RAV4 is Toyota's smallest SUV, but it still packs a lot of punch. It has been on the market since 1994, with the most recent refresh in 2009. Available with a 4-cylinder engine or a 3.5-liter V6, if you go easy on the options RAV4 easily comes in below $25,000. Load it down with a V6, third row seat and Limited trim level, and RAV4 can get into the $30,000s very quickly.

2012 Toyota RAV4 Base base price: $23,460

Major Standard Features:

  • Automatic Transmission
  • Front-Wheel Drive
  • 2.5-liter in-line 4-cylinder engine
  • 179 hp/172 lb-ft of torque

3. Kia Sportage

Photo © Jason Fogelson

Kia is on a roll, and Sportage is a big part of its success. Sportage was Kia's first SUV (in 1996), and the current generation is the third in the line, debuting in 2011. Like all Kia models, Sportage arrives nicely equipped even in base trim level. An available turbocharged 2.0-liter powertrain is out of the running for this list, but the base engine is still pretty good.

2012 Kia Sportage Base base price: $18,500

Major Standard Features:

  • Five-Speed Manual Transmission
  • Front-Wheel Drive
  • 2.4-liter in-line 4-cylinder engine
  • 176 hp/168 lb-ft of torque

4. Kia Sorento

Photo © Jason Fogelson

Sorento is a surprise. Built in Kia's brand new factory in West Point, Georgia, the second-generation Sorento ditches the body-on-frame construction of the 2003 - 2009 vehicle for a lighter, more sophisticated unibody that matches up better with the competition.

2012 Kia Sorento LX base price: $23,150

Major Standard Features:

  • Automatic Transmission
  • Front-Wheel Drive
  • 2.4-liter in-line 4-cylinder engine
  • 175 hp/169 lb-ft of torque

5. Hyundai Tucson

Photo © Jason Fogelson

Hyundai's smallest SUV is its best after a reworking for the 2010 model year. Rather than overwhelm the buyer with choices, Hyundai offers two different 4-cylinder engines and three trim levels, each of which would make it under our $25,000 limit.

2012 Hyundai Tucson GL base price: $19,145

Major Standard Features:

  • Five-Speed Manual Transmission
  • Front-Wheel Drive
  • 2.0-liter in-line 4-cylinder engine
  • 165 hp/146 lb-ft of torque

6. Nissan Rogue

Photo © Jason Fogelson

Nissan has a wide range of SUVs, and the Rogue shares a lot of characteristics with the best of them. It narrowly edges out the Nissan Juke for a spot on this list by virtue of greater utility and more of a command driving position.

2012 Nissan Rogue S base price: $22,070

Major Standard Features:

  • Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT)
  • Front-Wheel Drive
  • 2.5-liter in-line 4-cylinder engine
  • 170 hp/175 lb-ft of torque

7. Subaru Forester

Image © Subaru

The current Subaru Forester has been mostly unchanged since 2008, and it's still one of the quirkiest, most unique SUVs on the market. Subaru is known for its all-wheel drive system, and great off-road chops. Add a nice dose of luxury, even at the base trim level, and you've got a cheap ride worth considering.

2012 Subaru Forester 2.5X base price: $20,595

Major Standard Features:

  • Five-Speed Manual Transmission
  • Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive
  • 2.5-liter in-line 4-cylinder engine
  • 170 hp/174 lb-ft of torque

8. Ford Escape

Photo © Jason Fogelson

Ford's Escape has undergone a radical transformation for the 2013 model year, emerging as a sleeker, more modern SUV with some very sophisticated features. Base models don't get all the bells and whistles, but they do get a very solid architecture, and a high degree of fun-to-drive.

2013 Ford Escape S base price: $22,470

Major Standard Features:

  • Automatic Transmission
  • Front-Wheel Drive
  • 2.5-liter in-line 4-cylinder engine
  • 168 hp/170 lb-ft of torque

9. Mazda CX-5

Photo © Jason Fogelson

The first vehicle to fully execute Mazda's "Skyactiv" engineering philosophy, the 2013 Mazda CX-5 is a brand new vehicle from the Zoom-Zoom company. Supplanting the lineup space abandoned by the outgoing Tribute and soon-to-depart CX-7, the CX-5 brings great handling to the table in a class not noted for the characteristic.

2013 Mazda CX-5 Sport base price: $20,695

Major Standard Features:

  • Six-Speed Manual Transmission
  • Front-Wheel Drive
  • 2.0-liter in-line 4-cylinder engine
  • 155 hp/150 lb-ft of torque

10. Jeep Patriot

Photo © Jason Fogelson

You're forgiven in advance if you haven't noticed the Jeep Patriot on the road. You might have mistaken it for the old Jeep Cherokee (1984 - 2001), which it resembles quite strongly. And that's a good thing for fans of retro design (I'm one of them). Surprisingly capable on and off-road, the Patriot is classy, timeless, and -- best of all -- cheap.

2012 Jeep Patriot Sport base price: $15,995

Major Standard Features:

  • Five-Speed Manual Transmission
  • Front-Wheel Drive
  • 2.0-liter in-line 4-cylinder engine
  • 158 hp/141 lb-ft of torque
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