Fancy hopping on the SUV bandwagon? Well, you don’t have to buy new. Here are the best used SUVs the second-hand market has to offer.
The sport-utility vehicle (SUV) has been the best-selling type of vehicle in America for years now, and Europe seems to be heading in that direction too. The SUV, especially in its “crossover” category, has all but driven sedans out of the U.S. market. Even the venerable Ford Mustang got the SUV treatment when Ford made its first electric vehicle. Similarly, Toyota recycled the 50+ year-old Corolla nameplate onto an affordable SUV a couple years ago. Simply put, there’s nothing that the automakers won’t make into an SUV, because people buy them.
SUV vs. Crossover
One distinction that’s not always well-understood is the term “crossover” versus a traditional SUV. The difference is under the vehicle. A traditional SUV was built on a separate ladder frame, most often the frame used for a pickup truck of the same general size. Thus a Chevrolet Tahoe is built on the same frame used for the Silverado pickup, and a Toyota Sequoia is built on a Tundra frame. Other examples of body-on-frame SUVs include the Jeep Wagoneer, Ford Bronco, GMC Yukon, and the Nissan Armada, among others. Like the trucks that underly these SUVs, most of these vehicles offer a traditional dual-range part-time four-wheel drive system.
In contrast, a crossover SUV is built on a unibody chassis, most often used for passenger vehicles. That’s why they were called crossovers – because the first ones were built on the same chassis as a passenger car, and the new vehicle crossed the line between cars and trucks. Most of the compact and midsize SUVs on the market are made this way. There are good reasons for that, including better crash safety, better handling, and a quieter, smoother ride. Examples of unibody crossovers include the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Chevrolet Bolt EUV, Volvo XC60, Ford Bronco Sport, and the Kia Sportage. Crossovers typically use a single-range full-time all-wheel drive system, rather than traditional 4X4.
The thing about used SUVs is that there are so many of them now, and a full market leads to better prices, so there are many fantastic options at all sizes and price points. We picked some of the best, just for you.
- Best Used Subcompact SUVs
- Best Used Compact SUVs
- Best Used Midsize SUVs
- Best Used Full-Size SUVs
- Best Used Off-Road SUVs
Best Used Subcompact SUVs
Mazda revamped its smallest SUV for the 2020 model year, upgrading the old CX-3 to the CX-30. The new crossover is based on the Mazda3 platform, and consequently drives like a hot hatchback instead of a more traditional SUV. Engine power comes from a 2.5-liter four-cylinder with 191 horsepower, or the top Turbo 2.5 trim with 250 ponies.
Mazda’s i-ACTIV all-wheel drive is among the best in the business, and the driving experience is all Mazda. This subcompact crossover is comfortable, fast, and smooth to drive. The 2020 CX-30 base trim started in the low 20s and went up to about $30,000 for the top trims. That means you can pick up a lease return now quite affordably. Oh, one more thing – this SUV is an IIHS Top Safety Pick+.
If you want to head a little upmarket but still drive a convenient subcompact, consider the Volvo XC40. Luxury buyers know Volvo delivers a high-quality product with impeccable Scandinavian design and top safety ratings. Volvo equipped the XC40 with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, tuned to 187 or 248 horsepower and with front-wheel or all-wheel drive, respectively.
The Volvo experience is all about the interior, and that’s where you’ll find the XC40 really excels. From the most comfortable seats of any manufacturer to the high-quality upcycled materials, there’s a sense of quality in the Volvo that is missing from other premium subcompact SUVs.
Best Used Compact SUVs
The Toyota RAV4 is the best-selling SUV on the market, and it’s no wonder why. Toyota has been refining the RAV4 for 30 years, and it meets the needs and budget of most buyers. As a bonus, you can get the RAV4 with a proven hybrid drivetrain, or even as a plug-in hybrid for maximum fuel economy. As a bonus, the plug-in hybrid is faster and more luxurious than any other RAV4.
The basic gas-fueled RAV4 offers a 2.5-liter engine with adequate power, but if you can find one, do test-drive the hybrid and plug-in hybrid varieties. The savings on fuel may make these the smart budget choice. You can choose front-wheel drive in the gas-fueled models, but all the hybrids come with AWD as standard equipment.
Porsche’s Macan is generally regarded as one of the best premium luxury compact SUVs on the market, and it’s also among the sportiest. This is an SUV that can also be your track day car.
Beyond the substantial performance from the 2.0-liter turbo engine at 250 horsepower, or 349 to 434 horsepower from the turbocharged V6 upgrade engines, you get the 7-speed dual-clutch PDK gearbox driving all four wheels. Then, the Macan sits atop Porsche’s best suspension and steering package, with a comfortable and sporty interior. You may have to look for a while to find a Macan on the used market, because Porsche owners tend to hang onto these little SUVs for life.
Best Used Midsize SUVs
As the only Subaru with three rows of seating for seven passengers, the Ascent is popular with families who enjoy camping and getting off the beaten path. However, this SUV is also a great performer on the highway and easily usable in a suburban or even Urban setting. Subaru’s 2.4-liter turbocharged engine delivers plenty of power to the Lineartronic continuously variable transmission, and the standard symmetrical all-wheel drive is among the best in the industry.
Subaru owners also appreciate the advanced EyeSight driver assistance system, which includes collision mitigation and adaptive cruise control functions. Additional high points for the Ascent include a rating as the most affordable three-row midsize SUV in five-year cost of ownership by Kelley Blue Book.
BMW has been making the midsize X5 SUV for more than 20 years, and it’s become a backbone vehicle for the brand. Like most premium midsize SUVs, the X5 is a two-row, five-passenger vehicle. Not having a third row like the larger X7 allows the second row to be more spacious for adult passengers. BMW outfits the X5 s/xDrive40i with a 3.0-liter turbocharged inline 6-cylinder engine rated at 375 horsepower and 398 pound-feet of torque – and that’s for the base model. There’s also the xDrive50e plug-in hybrid at 483 horsepower, The X5 M60i 4.4-liter turbocharged V8 engine at 523 horsepower and the top X5 M Competition with the V8 engine plus a mild hybrid motor for 617 horsepower.
Choosing a driveline package for the X5 is mostly going to depend on your budget, but every trim level comes with an advanced tech package, comfortable seats, and BMW’s smooth ride and responsive handling. The base X5 sDrive40i comes with rear drive, but the xDrive40i has the AWD that you need for winter driving. Wherever your budget is today, there’s an X5 that works for you.
Best Used Full-Size SUVs
The Chevy Tahoe is the best-selling full-size body-on-frame SUV on the market. That’s because it offers plenty of space for up to eight passengers, a 5.3-liter V8 engine, and the ability to tow up to 7,900 pounds. That makes it pretty much perfect for the family that wants to tow a boat or travel trailer, or as a daily driver for someone who needs to tow equipment to a worksite.
In any model year, you can get the Tahoe in several different trim levels with varying degrees of luxury. If you want more luxury than you can get in the Tahoe, check out the more expensive GMC Yukon Denali trim, because under the skin these SUVs are almost the same. If you want power, the Tahoe RST trim level that arrived for the 2018 model year carries the larger 6.2-liter V8 engine. For best value, shoot for the middle of the trim ladder, including the LT and Premier trims.
If you want a big SUV that has all the luxury, consider the Cadillac Escalade the ride that speaks for itself. The Escalade is always a cut above the closely related GMC Yukon and Chevrolet Tahoe. An example is the 6.2-liter V8 that was available only on top-trim models for other GM brands comes as standard equipment on the Escalade. Early models in this generation came with an 8-speed automatic transmission through 2017, and then with a 10-speed from 2018-2020.
You can get the Escalade in this generation in a short wheelbase or long wheelbase ESV version. Both offer seating for up to 8 passengers, and can tow up to 8,300 pounds. Cadillac’s standard safety package was state-of-the-art in this era, and the Escalade is powerful, comfortable, and quiet on the road.
Best Used Off-Road SUVs
The Jeep Wrangler is a legend stretching back to World War II, and it is universally accepted that Jeep’s quality and drivability have never been higher than the current generation. The JL model (as it’s called) arrived for the 2018 model year with much better driving dynamics than prior generations, and fantastic off-road capability. Drivelines range from a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder to an unbelievable 392 cubic inch Hemi V8 with 470 horsepower. You can also find the Wrangler with a 2.2-liter EcoDiesel engine, or as a plug-in hybrid with the 4Xe model. However, most Wranglers come with the rock-solid 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 engine.
The Wrangler is available as a short wheelbase 2-door or a long wheelbase 4-door model, and the 4-door is much more popular and readily available. This is one of the last vehicles to be available with a 6-speed manual transmission, or an 8-speed automatic. All Wrangler models come with four-wheel drive, but there are three different systems with different capabilities. The top Rubicon trim includes extreme off-road capability with electronic locking differentials, bumper cameras, disconnecting sway bars, and more.
For decades, Jeep pretty much ruled the off-road world. That changed for 2021 when Ford revived the legendary Bronco nameplate with a lookalike to its original 1960s go-anywhere four-by-four. The new Bronco has been met with rave reviews for its off-road chops, and it’s pulling customers back to Ford.
The Bronco is available in a short-wheelbase 2-door model or a longer wheelbase 4-door, and you can choose a soft cloth top, or a top made of removable plastic panels. Ford also launched the Bronco with a range of three engines to choose from; the 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder, or the 2.7-liter and 3.0-liter EcoBoost V6 options. Those power units hook up to either a 7-speed manual or a 10-speed automatic transmission and dual-range part-time four-wheel drive. When you’re shopping for a used Bronco, the rule is that if you can find one, you’re lucky. If you want to be choosy about your engine or door count, you might be looking for a while.
Here’s a tip – if the Bronco is outside your price range, check out the smaller Ford Bronco Sport, which is also a great SUV.
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