According to Kelley Blue Book, the average cost of a new car today is $33,543. But considering that a lot of people are willing to spend more for fancy tech and added utility, it's easy to see why car manufacturers are cashing in and making more and more SUVs with a highly customizable range of options.
If you're hoping to stay on the more reasonable end of the spectrum, here's a look at the 10 best American SUVs you can buy for under $35,000. In some cases, you'll be satisfied with a less-optioned but way more capable car; in others, you'll wind up with a little money left over so you can add all those extra bells and whistles.
A quick note on terminology: strictly speaking, an SUV is a larger vehicle with more in common with a truck than a car, otherwise it's considered a crossover (CUV). Most people use the term SUV as a coverall, so this list includes both.
The two-door Wrangler is a rugged American classic ideal for outdoor adventuring, but for everyday use, its the four-door Unlimited version that takes the cake. The extra passenger space means it has a longer wheelbase, and as a result, the Unlimited’s ride is way better, especially on the highway. But if you do want to get into some off-roading, the Willys Wheeler edition comes straight from the factory with most of the same parts that Jeep enthusiasts lust after anyway, and it’s still under $31,000.
2. Buick Encore
Does the Encore look a little weird? Sure. Does that matter one iota when you’re driving down the road? Nope. The Encore’s actually based on the less-expensive Chevy Trax, but after you load it up with all the tech and luxe features you want, the resemblance is out the window. It’s a bit underpowered, but for a daily grind kind of vehicle, that’s hardly an issue.
The beauty of the Equinox lies in its customizability. There's plenty of extra room in the budget to transform a rental special into a perfectly nice ride with built-in tech like 4G Wi-Fi and old fashioned luxe like leather... though, maybe you should leave that last box unchecked, eh?
As probably the least flamboyant SUV in this list, one would expect the Durango to be very well behaved on the road to justify its over-30 price tag... and it is. It can take the family on a road trip in fine comfort, and the transmission is essentially the exact same unit you’ll find in Jaguars and BMWs. Watch out for the extra options, though, or you’ll be in the mid-40s pretty quickly.
5. Ford Edge
You have some wiggle room in the Edge’s price, with two different options that will both get you to $35k. You can go for the all-wheel drive version with over 300 hp, or pick a more technically savvy set of options, including voice-activated nav and a cross-traffic warning system.
6. Ford Escape
The base price on the Escape leaves plenty of room for buyers to option up and get everything they want, including a more powerful engine, all-wheel drive, leather throughout, and tech features like semi-automatic parking and a prime sound system.
If you were trying really hard to spend money, you could get the price of a Renegade up above the $30,000 mark, but you would ruin the vehicle in the process. The entire point of the Renegade is that it’s a dirt cheap Jeep that you can go have fun with on the weekend, drive to work on Monday, and still have a factory warranty.
8. Ford Flex
If you need three rows of seats so you can take road trips with the family, but think a minivan is about as exciting as a bowl of plain oatmeal, the Flex makes an awful lot of sense. You can option it with virtually anything you want, and if you stretch your budget a little, you can have 360 hp under the hood... which will make your road trip a hell of a lot more entertaining.
The beauty of the Grand Cherokee is that it’s a perfectly fine vehicle for your daily commute, but it can still go much more adventurous places than a crowded shopping mall. There’s a new, Hellcat-powered 707 hp version coming soon, too, but you’ll definitely be shelling out juuuuust a bit extra for that.
10. Ford Explorer
There was a time when the Explorer was truly utilitarian. Today, most Explorers wind up optioned to the hilt, and their corresponding prices can run well into the mid $50,000s. But they don’t have to. You can get an Explorer with cloth seats and 4WD drivetrain, while keeping the price at a more manageable level. In the end, you’ll still have an outstanding vehicle in your garage.
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