NEW YORK (MainStreet) – Plummeting gas prices are making SUVs sought-after again, but smart buyers know those sub-$2-per-gallon fill-ups won't last forever.
As crossovers continue to win hearts and minds with increasing cargo space and decreasing gas station stops, total SUV sales jumped 12.7% since 2013, according to MotorIntelligence. By swapping out truck axles for car platforms, trimming fuel costs and giving drivers SUV space at a lower cost, the crossover changed the SUV market after a recession that sent a whole lot of old-school SUVs to the scrapheap.
Crossover sales alone increased 10.5% from 2013. The 3.84 million crossover vehicles sold in 2014 made it the vehicle of choice for most Americans, eclipsing the 3.6 million midsize cars sold by automakers at the same time.
Unfortunately, even crossovers can't be truthfully described as “cheap” automobiles. A $30,000 ceiling does a poor job of containing them and prices that regularly soar above it have kept even crossover sales tame.
There are still a whole lot of crossover SUVs out there that make their way under that mark. With help from Kelley Blue Book, we found five examples of quality SUVs selling for less than $25,000. Among them are vehicles that have earned so much good will for staying relatively affordable that they've found a place among the Top 10 best-selling vehicles in the country:
5. 2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek
Starting price: $21,595
Remember when Subaru used to make wagons? Not the big, high-ground-clearance crossover SUVs with the Outback and Forester names on them now, but actual wagons?
So do many Subaru buyers, which is why this mini crossover has the look and feel of one with just slightly more elevation. As with all Subarus, the all-wheel drive is standard, but the 40 inches of driver headroom, 43 inches of legroom and combined 52 cubic feet of cargo space with the seat down are all more SUV than Subaru wagon. Still, the standard multi-function display and rearview camera are nice perks for Subaru's smallest crossover and those 34 miles per gallon on the highway are better than any wagon could manage.
4. 2015 Kia Sportage
Starting price: $21,900
You can throw in all-wheel drive for $1,500 and this CUV still wouldn't break the $25,000 barrier.
Meanwhile, features including Sirius XM satellite radio and Bluetooth wireless connectivity make lovely freebies, while options including a rearview camera, UVO information and entertainment system and backup warning system also can still be had within the $25,000 price range. You kind of hate to see the scant 26 cubic feet of cargo space, but it can work for small families and those trucking a minimum of stuff.
3. 2015 Hyundai Tucson
Starting price: $21,650
The Tucson and its larger sibling, the Hyundai Santa Fe, aren't mentioned enough on lists like this one.
Long considered the frugal car buyer's answer to Ford, Honda and Subaru crossovers, they're basically more tricked-out versions of the more frequently cited Kia Sorento and Sportage. The Tucson, for example, is sized and priced similar to the Sportage — and has a combined 25 miles per gallon. But its wealth of cup holder, bottle holders, Bluetooth controls and multifunction trip computer give it a slight edge. Throw in heated front seats, a touchscreen display, rearview camera and other perks for a $2,000 upgrade and you have a far more luxe version of Kia's economical alternative.
2. 2015 Nissan Rogue
Starting price: $22,790
Under $25,000 with nearly 30 miles per gallon worth of combined fuel efficiency? Even Nissan's midrange crossover fits into this list.
Easily one of the the most fuel-efficient and cost-effective vehicle of the bunch, the five-passenger Rogue crossover with its all-wheel drive and 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine is the undercover Forester. Its interior is less plastic than its upmarket competitor and has comfortable seats, a huge center console bin and glove box, an organizer under the floor and nearly 40 cubic feet of cargo space with all seats in place.
Nissan even beefed up the features by making former options such as Bluetooth, keyless entry, folding side mirrors, cruise control, a tilt steering wheel, air-conditioning, full power accessories, a 60/40-split-folding rear seat, a trip computer and a four-speaker sound system with a CD player, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod interface standard. In a mid-market increasingly populated with go-to small SUVs such as the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and Ford Escape, the Rogue is the thrifty driver's bargain pick.
Jeep's out to make the rest of its non-Wrangler line look like different versions of the Cherokee, but that's just branding. The 30 mpg on the highway and the 62.7 cubic feet of cargo space behind the front seats are the perks it's putting out there.
The problem is that, because it's a Jeep, you're not getting much in terms of equipment or performance. It has sluggish acceleration, a wide turn radius and a whole lot of features listed as options — a year of satellite radio, a jack for mobile devices, steering wheel mounted audio controls, Bluetooth — that are standard in just about every other comparable vehicle out there.
Chrysler's new masters at Fiat haven't been shy about cutting models and sacrificed the Jeep Liberty to prove they were serious about it. The Compass is inexpensive, roomy and efficient, but a bit dated. Fiat knows this and has put the Compass on death watch, with its last model year coming in 2016. The smaller, cheaper Jeep Patriot gets the ax that year as well, but if you're going to buy a dying brand, you may as well go all-out.
— By Jason Notte for MainStreet
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