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September 28, 2020 5:53 pm by

The 6 Best Used SUVs Under $20,000

family driving in an SUV


The popularity of used crossovers and SUVs is gaining steam. They’re not just the choice of families anymore. Young Americans are buying them in record numbers, too. Small crossovers are now extremely popular, while sales of midsize SUVs and those with three rows of seating continue to climb.

To help you find the best used SUV for less than $20,000, we’ve created this list of six models. According to the data, these SUVs offer above-average reliability, and they’ve received exceptional safety ratings from both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). They’re also fun to drive and fuel-efficient. Our list includes two compacts, a larger five-passenger model, and three with seating for seven, so there’s something here for everyone.

The List

2018 Honda HR-V

2018-19 Honda HR-V

Honda’s smallest crossover, the HR-V was first introduced in 2016 and has proven very popular. It hasn’t changed much over the years, but for 2019 it did receive a mild facelift, with minor styling tweaks to keep it looking fresh. The update also added more safety systems, which were standard on the EX and higher trim levels. In 2018, the HR-V received a 5-star safety rating from NHTSA, and the 2019 model, with the additional safety systems, was chosen as a Top Safety Pick by IIHS.

Praised for its roomy interior and innovative cargo solutions, the HR-V is powered by a fuel-efficient 141 hp 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, which can be a bit noisy. It’s paired with a six-speed manual or a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), but few buyers chose the manual. Front-wheel drive was standard, and all-wheel drive was available with the CVT.

The HR-V isn’t exactly quick, getting to 60 mph in about 9 seconds, but acceleration is on par with many of its rivals. And it’s frisky and nimble on the road, which makes it fun to drive. Its fuel economy ratings are an impressive 28 mpg city and 34 mpg on the highway.

2018 Honda HR-V interior

Honda is known for its quality, and the HR-V’s interior is well-built with materials that are a step above those used in many competitors. There’s also plenty of interior space. The front seat is roomy, and there’s a ton of rear seat legroom. It’ll seat five if the ride is short, and it can easily accommodate you and three friends on a long road trip.

It also offers class-leading cargo space, with 24 cubic feet behind the rear seats and 59 cubic feet with them stowed away. The HR-V’s rear seat has a unique folding mechanism that maximizes luggage capacity, and its front-passenger seat reclines fully so you can haul longer items, like a surfboard.

Prices for used 2018 models start around $16,000, while 2019s are slightly more expensive.

2018 Hyundai Kona

2018 Hyundai Kona

For about the same money as the HR-V, we also recommend the Kona, which is Hyundai’s smallest crossover and the smallest vehicle on our list. First introduced in 2018, the Kona is also very popular, offering cute but rugged styling, excellent fuel efficiency, and peppy performance. It’s small, at just 164 inches long, but its driving dynamics are excellent, and it has enough people and cargo space to be comfortable and capable.

The 2018 Kona was available in four trim levels, and buyers could choose between two engines. The SE and SEL are powered by a 147 hp 2.0-liter inline four combined with a 6-speed automatic. It’s a compelling combination with enough refinement and power for most buyers most of the time, and it manages 32 mpg on the highway.

But we prefer the added muscle of the turbocharged 175 hp 1.6-liter four cylinder and seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, which is standard on the Limited and Ultimate trims. Front-wheel drive was standard, with all-wheel drive optional for both powertrains. With the turbo engine, the Kona is a little hot rod, hitting 60 mph in about 6.5 seconds, about 2 seconds quicker than it manages with the base engine. With either engine, the Kona offers lively handling and a comfortable, car-like ride.

2018 Hyundai Kona interior

Although the Kona is short for its class, its wheelbase is long, and its interior is surprisingly spacious. That said, rear seat leg room is tight for anyone over six feet tall, though there’s plenty of head and shoulder space. The seats are comfortable, and the overall design feels modern and ergonomic. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto were standard, and the Ultimate trim offers standard forward-collision avoidance with pedestrian detection and lane-keeping assist.

Hyundai didn’t skimp on safety, either. NHTSA awarded the Kona an overall safety rating of 5 stars, and it was given Top Safety Pick+ honors by IIHS. Both are the highest scores possible.

You can find a used 2018 Kona at prices starting around $16,000.

2018 Nissan Rogue

2018 Nissan Rogue

The Rogue isn’t just Nissan’s best-selling model; it’s also one of America’s most popular compact SUVs. Back in 2018, Nissan sold more Rogues than it ever had before, and the small crossover’s popularity continues to increase. That’s good news for used SUV shoppers. The Rogue’s strong sales means there are a gazillion of them out there ready for a second owner.

Don’t mistake the Rogue for Nissan’s smaller and less powerful Rogue Sport. They’re two completely different vehicles. In 2018, the larger Rogue was available in three trim levels, with a base price right around $25,000. The only engine offered was a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, backed by a CVT automatic transmission. Smooth and fuel-efficient, the engine produces a strong 170 horsepower and has a 33 mpg rating on the highway. Front-wheel drive was standard, while all-wheel drive was available for a few more shekels.

Nissan’s CVT operates smoothly in everyday driving and has a Sport mode for added responsiveness. The Rogue isn’t very quick, though, needing about 9 seconds to reach 60 mph. That’s adequate but certainly not thrilling acceleration. Still, it’s enjoyable to drive, with a solid feel, quick and responsive steering, and a family-friendly ride, even with the optional 19-inch wheels.

2018 Nissan Rogue interior

The Rogue is larger than many of its class rivals and offers more interior and cargo space. Its seats are comfortable and supportive, and its 39.3 cubic feet of cargo space is Costco capable. The infotainment system has a 7-inch touchscreen and includes both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

In 2018, Nissan also radically expanded the Rogue’s list of available safety systems, adding standard Intelligent Cruise Control, Lane Departure Warning, Intelligent Lane Intervention, and Automatic Emergency Braking with Pedestrian Detection. The optional ProPilot Assist system allows the Rogue to steer, brake, and accelerate on its own, even in stop-and-go traffic, but it does require that you keep your hands on the steering wheel. These features helped the Rogue to earn an IIHS Top Safety Pick rating as well as a 5-star overall crash test rating from NHTSA.

Prices for used 2018 Rogues start around $16,000.

2016 Mazda CX-9

2016 Mazda CX-9

In 2016, Mazda redesigned its largest SUV, the CX-9, and it quickly became one of our favorites in the segment. Stylish, fuel efficient, and comfortable, the 7-passenger CX-9 also features a high-quality interior, class-leading driving dynamics, and high safety ratings.

Mazda offered several trim levels, starting with a base model called the CX-9 Sport. A third row was standard, along with a turbocharged 2.5-liter four cylinder engine, front-wheel drive, and a 6-speed automatic transmission with a Sport mode. Mazda said the engine made up to 250 hp with premium fuel. All-wheel drive was optional. The powertrain gets the SUV to 60 mph in about 7.0 seconds and delivers solid fuel economy: 22 mpg city and 28 mpg on the highway (with front-wheel drive). The Mazda also offers a smooth ride, along with exceptional balance and handling.

Though it’s now four years old, the CX-9’s exterior design is still one of the best in the midsize class. With sharp-looking LED headlamps and taillights, an upright grille, and a wide stance, it possesses an upscale style with sporty proportions.

2016 Mazda CX-9 interior

The Mazda’s interior is also the best of its class, with high-quality materials, a sleek, modern design, and an 8-inch touchscreen. Its seats are comfortable, and there’s a ton of people space, although the third row is best for kids. There’s also ample cargo space, with 14.4 cubic feet of space behind the split-folding third row.

The 2016 CX-9 was also an IIHS Top Safety Pick, and it has a 5-star overall crash test rating from NHTSA. Safety features like Blind Spot Monitoring, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Lane Departure Warning, Lane-Keep Assist, Radar Cruise Control, and automatic emergency braking were all available.

As one of the older cars on our list, the CX-9 is a particularly good value, with prices starting right around $17,000.

2017 Toyota Highlander

2017 Toyota Highlander

We’re cheating a bit on this one. Toyota’s Highlander is so desirable and so popular that finding one from 2017 for less than $20,000 without a million miles on the odometer is difficult. They are out there, but the best examples are typically selling for a little more. Nevertheless, the Highlander, known for its reliability, is still a good value and worth considering.

In 2017, Toyota made many updates to the Highlander. It not only replaced its dated 6-speed automatic transmission with an 8-speed, it also grew the list of standard safety equipment. Pre-collision warning with automatic emergency braking was now standard, along with lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, and automatic high-beams. As a result, the SUV was named a Top Safety Pick+ by IIHS and got a 5-star safety rating from NHTSA.

Toyota also updated the SUV’s exterior design as well as its 3.5-liter V6 engine, upping output to 295 hp. The V6 was standard on all models but the base front-wheel drive Highlander LE, which got a 185 hp four cylinder instead. Trust us, you want the V6. It gets the three-row SUV to 60 mph in just 7 seconds. All-wheel drive was a popular extra. Fuel economy is average for this class, however, with ratings of 20 mpg city and 26 mpg highway.

2017 Toyota Highlander interior

The Highlander isn’t as fun to drive as the Mazda CX-9, but its road holding is enough for most SUV buyers. It also rides extremely well, and its interior is spacious and beautifully assembled, which is what you would expect from Toyota. Like the Mazda, the Highlander’s third row is best for kids, and it offers about the same amount of cargo space. XLE, SE, Limited, and Limited Platinum trims came with second-row captain’s chairs, which improves third row access but limits seating capacity to six.

Prices for used 2017 Highlanders start around $20,000 and can quickly exceed that, depending on mileage and options.

2018 Kia Sorento

2018 Kia Sorento

Kia gave the third-generation of its Sorento model a successful facelift in 2018, updating the exterior design with a fancy new grill. Under the hood, the crossover got a more powerful and refined 190 hp 2.4-liter inline four cylinder engine as standard equipment. An optional 290 hp 3.3-liter V6 was also available, offering serious acceleration, with sprints to 60 mph taking just 7 seconds. Kia offered a turbocharged four cylinder in the Sorento, too, but it was so unpopular that it was discontinued after just one year.

Comfortable, well-built and attractive, a used Sorento offers a lot of people space and features for the money. Like the other 7-seaters on our list, its third row is mainly for kids, but the rest of its cabin is quite spacious. Five trim levels were offered — L, LX, EX, SX, and SXL — and they were all available with all-wheel drive, with the exception of the base L trim. The SX was popular because it got the V6 along with a panoramic sunroof, an 8.0-inch touchscreen, navigation, the Harman/Kardon audio system, leather upholstery, and heated front seats. Buyers should also know that the four-cylinder engine is paired with a 6-speed automatic, while the V6 gets a more sophisticated 8-speed.

Like the Toyota Highlander, the Sorento isn’t as fun to drive as the Mazda CX-9, but it’s a solid performer, and it rides well. A button on its console allows you to toggle between three driving modes — Normal, Eco, and Sport — which adjust the SUV’s throttle response, steering effort, and transmission behavior.

2018 Kia Sorento interior

The Sorento offers about the same cargo space as the Highlander and the CX-9, and it was also an IIHS Top Safety Pick, with automated emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and lane-keeping assist all available. Plus it has one of the longest warranties in the business, with powertrain coverage for 10 years or 100,000 miles.

Prices for a used 2018 Sorento start at about $15,000, making it the least expensive SUV on our list.

The Bottom Line

The popularity of crossovers and SUVs shows no sign of slowing down. But that doesn’t mean you need to break the bank in order to afford one. Whether you need something that’s small and fun or a spacious family hauler, our picks all offer good driving dynamics, excellent reliability, and outstanding safety credentials for less than the price of a new Toyota Corolla.

Photos courtesy Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Mazda, Nissan, and Toyota


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