5 Best SUVs Under $25,000

PORTLAND, Ore. ( TheStreet) -- With as much white-hot hate as U.S. drivers grew to hold for hulking sport utility vehicles and their ridiculously poor mileage, it's surprising to see the current incarnation of the SUV getting so much love.

Total SUV sales are up 12.4% this year, according to MotorIntelligence, as the era of the crossover takes hold. By ditching the truck axles for car platforms, trimming fuel costs and giving U.S. drivers all of their space without all the added cost, the crossover won over a buyer base that the recession finally sent running from oversized SUVs.

Crossover sales alone are up 14% this year from last year, while small SUV sales have jumped 8.8%. The crossover's 2.5 million sales in the U.S. through September are even starting to challenge those of the venerable midsize sedan, which still holds the lead among vehicle categories with 2.8 million sold.

The problem is that SUVs still, largely, are not cheap automobiles. That $30,000 ceiling does a poor job of containing them, and prices that regularly soar above it have kept even crossover sales at bay.

However, there are a host of crossover SUVs out the that fall just below 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 Kia Sorento
MSRP: $24,100

It's one of the pricier vehicles on this list and, at a combined 23 miles per gallon, the least efficient. But the Sorento has the largest passenger cabin of its similarly sized competitors at 141 cubic feet. Its 37 cubic foot cargo volume is cavernous for a midsize SUV, and its 72 cubic feet with the seats down is nothing to scoff at, either. It's big enough for a family of seven, features including a 290-horsepower V6 engine, leather steering wheel, 10-speaker sound system and rear camera display only sweeten the deal.

4. 2013 Toyota (TM) RAV4
MSRP: $23,300

A longtime favorite of the grocery-getting and soccer-shuttling classes, the RAV4 finally got a facelift to make it look less like its competitors. That exterior should be the least of a driver's concerns, though.

There are 38 cubic feet of cargo space -- 74 with the rear seats folded flat -0 that's now accessible through a power liftgate that replaces the RAV4's longtime, swingout side-hinged cargo door. Other add-ons including a backup camera, blind-spot warning system, dual-zone climate control and reclining rear seats make an already popular crossover an even more formidable opponent.

3. 2014 Ford (F) Escape
MSRP: $22,700

The Escape isn't just Detroit's big foray into the small crossover market. It's among the Top 10 best-selling cars in the country.

Ford brought in a redesigned Escape for 2013 with a 1.6-liter engine with 28-miles-per-gallon mileage similar to the 2012's hybrid version and the MyFord Touch entertainment and communications system. Combined with 34 cubic feet of space in the back, 68 cubic feet with the seats down, available intelligent four-wheel drive and tech thrown-ins such as a foot-activated liftgate, parking assist, blind-spot sensors and other perks, the Escape offers a lot of peace of mind before families hit the open road. That sub-$25,000 price brings some comfort all its own.

2. 2014 Mazda CX-5

Starting price: $21,195

It's way sportier than its compact-crossover cousins, but the Mazda CX-5's more practical features are the big draw here.

Let the driver play with the 155-horsepower engine and available Bluetooth hands-free phone and audio streaming, HD radio, Pandora ( P) Internet radio and TomTom navigation system. It's the ample rear seating and up to 65.4 cubic feet of cargo space that are going to get you and your family through this trip. That and maybe the optional blind-spot warning system or the combined 28 miles per gallon that jumps up to 31 mpg if you can handle a manual transmission.

1. 2013 Honda (HMC) CR-V
MSRP: $22,945

This has become the go-to family crossover in the United States and a perennial Top 10 best-seller not only for its price, but what that price affords.

After the popular crossover's 2012 overhaul, it's only made that transition easier by adding a leather interior, heated seats and rearview windows and navigation system with controls mounted on the steering wheel. It's also trimmed fuel efficiency to a combined 27 miles per gallon while leaving all 70 cubic feet of cargo space untouched.

There's a reason it's ubiquitous in front of schools, soccer matches and your friends' buildings in the city just before they opt to move to the suburbs: It just screams family the way station wagons, minivans and bigger SUVs did. Don't worry: Future generations of parent drivers in denial will grow to resent it, too.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.

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