Several years ago, cars, SUVs, and trucks were divided into clear and concise categories. You had your small sedans, medium sedans, and larges sedans; big SUVs and smaller SUVs; wagons and pickups. However, the market doesn’t necessarily work out to be so black and white, and there are often opportunities for automakers between the gaps. Above all, the crossover segment — a blend of SUVs and station wagons with the comparable fuel economy of a sedan — has proven to be among the most popular result of the blurring of segment lines. People — families, even — can enjoy commendable cargo and passenger space on a footprint that’s manageable for city and urban driving; its less painful to fill up than larger SUVs, as well.
The last couple of years has seen the crossover segment explode, and it now covers everything from cars under $20,000 to vehicles that breach the $50,000 mark, and sometimes well beyond (a well stocked Audi SQ5 will start at a hair under $60,000). That’s quite out of reach for most new-car buyers, so iseecars.com contributor James Hamel was nice enough to compile a list of some top crossover picks hanging around for 2014, all of which run under $30,000. Here they are, ranked in no particular order.
1. Kia Sorento
A kid-friendly third-row seat and a frugal four-cylinder option make the Kia Sorento a smart pick for families who aren’t looking to drop a large sum on a new car, as it starts at $24,100. If the base package doesn’t seem all that exciting, the Kia can be optioned with a 3.3 liter V6 and all-wheel drive if the buyer so chooses.
2. Honda CR-V
“This little Honda leads in cargo space, ease of rear cargo space access, the lowest step-in and ride height in the class as well as a whole lot of fun to drive gusto when you are shuttling the kids around town,” Hamel says of the Honda (NYSE:HMC) CR-V, which is consistently ranked among the best-selling vehicles in America each month.
3. Mazda CX-5
Mazda’s CX-5 is a relative newcomer to the crossover scene, but has already made a significant splash. In the right trim, it can manage a class-leading 35 miles per gallon on the highway, and 26 on the highway. “Although the base Sport model’s 2.0 liter engine is out powered by most motors in this SUV class, in 2013 Mazda was generous enough to add its 2.4 liter 4-cylinder to higher trim models,” Hamel says. “But then the Sport does do perfectly fine keeping up with traffic if you get it with the manual gearbox — rarely do SUV’s offer such fun and light to use self shifter.”
4. GMC Terrain
While the GMC (NYSE:GM) Terrain Denali was favored by Hamel, its $34,000 excluded it from this list — however, the basic trim starts at just over $26,000 and can buy “a well optioned Terrain with the very smooth 2.4 liter 182 horsepower 4-cylinder that can offer infinitely adjustable cargo space, with the rear seat MultiFlex System,” Hamel notes.
5. Kia Sportage SX Turbo
Kia’s Sportage starts at $19K, but for $26K, buyers can choose the version with Kia’s perky 2.0 liter turbo, which will lay down 260 horsepower (over 176 from the base). The $1,500 all-wheel drive version will still remain under $30,000, allowing buyers to walk away with a very well equipped, fun, practical crossover for under thirty grand.
6. Volkswagen Tiguan
The VW Tiguan starts at $22,995, but “we recommend that you budget an extra $1,100 for your 2014 VW Tiguan because you are going to want to order it in SE trim with the navigation unit and a full length panoramic sunroof which really brightens the otherwise somber looking cabin,” Hamel says. “Trust us, this little SUV with the 2.0 liter 207 horsepower turbo motor is worth breaking your budget a bit. Truly, the closest an SUV comes to hot hatch thrills.”
7. Chevrolet Equinox
While its underpinnings are nearly identical to the Terrain, the Equinox offers much of the same — but for a lower price. Buyers can get a well-equipped, all-wheel drive model of the Equinox complete with fog lamps, remote start, a fancy stereo, heated front seats, and more for under $30,000.
8. Jeep Patriot
Jeep’s Patriot has taken a lot of heat for not being a “true” Jeep, given its diminutive size, but according to Hamel, he was quite surprised by the Patriot’s on and off-road capabilities. “Yes, Jeep allowed us to take the baby Liberty on some serious off-road trails and it proved itself truly worthy of wearing the hallowed badges of this esteemed four-wheel drive SUV brand,” he said.
9. Hyundai Tucson
Though closely related to the Kia Sportage, the Hyundai Tucson doesn’t offer a turbo like the Kia does. What it does offer, though, is a fully loaded crossover with heated seats, 18-inch rims, push-button start, 8-way power driver seat with lumbar support, leather all around, a retractable cargo cover, chrome trim on the exterior, and a lot more — all for about $26,000.
10. Toyota RAV4
“Newly introduced a year ago, the latest RAV4 is now much more stylish, has a more upscale interior but lags a bit behind the competition when it comes to engine technology,” Hamel notes. Despite its dated powertrains, the RAV4 can still break 30 miles per gallon on the highway, and can come well-equipped in its top-spec Limited trim for just over $27,000.