What SUV should I buy for under $30,000?

Which SUVs do you recommend that have good fuel economy, a smooth and quiet ride, and excellent reliability? I am looking in the price range of $23,000 to $30,000. Thanks!

Kathleen N., Jacksonville, Fla.

There are plenty of good SUVs in this price range. With your requirements of a smooth and quiet ride, we’d point you in the direction of small or midsize SUVs, including the Honda CR-V and Hyundai Santa Fe. We’re not pitting the CR-V against the Santa Fe — they’re both good choices for under $30,000 — but if you require more interior and cargo room, check out the Santa Fe.

The Santa Fe is larger than the CR-V — classified as a midsize SUV — and offers an optional third row for two additional passengers — small ones, anyways. Fuel economy for the Santa Fe ranges from 17-18 mpg in the city and 23-24 mpg on the highway depending on which of the Santa Fe’s engine, transmission and drive type (front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive) you choose. The Santa Fe scores an average reliability rating from Consumer Reports.

The CR-V has an especially quiet and refined interior that blocks out almost all road and wind noise. There’s only one engine and transmission available, giving an estimated 20/23 mpg city/highway in the front-wheel drive version and 20/27 mpg in all-wheel-drive models. Consumer Reports ranks the CR-V “Excellent” in reliability, its highest rating.

For larger SUVs than these two, the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander have base prices in the high $20,000s and do everything you require, but you’ll quickly surpass the $30-grand mark with taxes, destination charges and simple options.

We’ve accumulated many hours of driving time in the CR-V and Santa Fe. You can find expert reviews and staff driving impressions below.

Learn more

Answered by Joe Bruzek on January 24, 2008 in What Car Should I Buy? | Permalink

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