If the last several years worth of automotive sales data has proven anything, it’s that lots of buyers want to park a shiny new crossover or SUV in their driveways. But not everyone can afford to pay over $40,000 for the ‘ute of their dreams. Thankfully, the popularity of utility vehicles means there are plenty of good choices on the used vehicle market.
We’ve assembled a list of solid used SUV and crossover options for a budget of $15,000. As you’ll see, buyers looking for vehicles at this price point will have to be willing to buy a vehicle that’s a few years old that will likely have 50,000 or more miles on the odometer. We’ve only chosen vehicles that have at least average reliability ratings from available online sources like Consumer Reports and dashboard-light.com.
Our used vehicle listings can be helpful to find a good deal near you. Set the range of model years you are shopping for, narrow the offerings down by a radius around your ZIP code, and pay attention to the deal rating on each listing to see how a vehicle compares with others in a similar area.
Best subcompact SUV for $15,000: 2018-2020 Hyundai Kona
Our top pick for the smallest class of crossovers and sport utility vehicles is the Hyundai Kona. The little cute ute first hit the marketplace for the 2018 model year and was immediately one of the best vehicles in its segment. We recommend looking for a Kona with all-wheel drive — even if you don’t really think you’ll need it — in order to reap the ride and handling benefits of the AWD model’s multi-link rear suspension setup. The Kona’s base engine is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that makes an adequate 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque, but the available 1.6-liter turbocharged engine’s 175 ponies and 195 lb-ft is an attractive option if it falls into the buyer’s price range.
The Kona’s extroverted exterior styling stands out against some of its more staid competitors, but the Hyundai’s well-executed interior design is appreciated. The Kona is a bit on the small side, even judged against some of its popular rivals in the subcompact segment like the Honda HR-V and Subaru Crosstrek. If you need a bit more rear-seat and cargo space, we recommend taking a look at the Crosstrek, though you’ll have to pick one a few years older than a comparably priced Kona (likely the previous-generation model).
Alternative pick: 2015 Subaru Crosstrek
Best compact SUV for $15,000: 2014-2016 Mazda CX-5
Compact SUVs have pretty much taken over from the midsize sedan as the vehicle of choice for the majority of American families. That means they have to offer all things to all people, but that doesn’t mean they have to be boring. The Mazda CX-5 has long been considered the driver’s choice in the compact crossover segment. The fact that it’s generally reliable, well assembled and draped in attractive bodywork is icing on the cake.
As much as we’d love to recommend Mazda’s latest CX-5, which was introduced for the 2017 model year, it’s just a wee bit outside our $15,000 budget. Fortunately, the previous CX-5 was also one of the best vehicles in the segment. The base 2.0-liter engine makes 155 horsepower; the larger 2.5-liter’s 184 horses and 185 lb-ft is a worthwhile upgrade. Either way, the CX-5’s emphasis on dynamic handling is its best quality.
Another compact crossover worth considering on the used market is the Honda CR-V, although its popularity will make it harder to find a good one at the right price. As is the case with the CX-5, it’s not really possible to score the latest generation of Honda’s best-seller, but the previous version is still plenty likable. It’s also tops in projected reliability.
Alternative pick: 2015-2016 Honda CR-V
Best two-row SUV for $15,000: 2013-2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee
While most vehicles that fall into the broadly defined “utility” category are very much based on cars, the Jeep Grand Cherokee is instead a dedicated SUV with a proper four-wheel-drive system designed to attack legitimate off-road conditions. But that doesn’t mean Jeep’s flagship is a punishment to drive on paved roads. In fact, quite the opposite is true, especially compared to other off-road-oriented SUVs like Jeep’s own Wrangler or the Toyota 4Runner.
Jeep refreshed the Grand Cherokee for the 2014 model year, and all models gained a desirable eight-speed automatic transmission. The standard 3.6-liter V6 engine that powers the Jeep Grand Cherokee provides adequate power with ratings of 290 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. An optional Hemi V8 delivers 360 hp and 390 lb-ft, which is much more than adequate and pushes the tow rating from the base model’s 5,000 lbs to a class-leading 7,400 lbs. A diesel engine was optional but not particularly popular — we’d stick with the known-quantity gasoline burners.
While the Grand Cherokee is comfortable on the road and highly capable off of it, buyers looking for something a bit different and sportier may want to take a look at the 2013 Infiniti FX 37. It offers a 325-horsepower V6 engine that loves to rev, distinctive swoopy styling and athleticism geared toward enthusiast drivers. It does 0-60 in a little over 6 seconds.
Alternative pick: 2013 Infiniti FX 37
Best three-row SUV for $15,000: 2016-2017 Kia Sorento
The Kia Sorento is one of the smaller vehicles to offer a third row of seating, falling somewhere in between compact crossovers like the Mazda CX-5 and midsizers like the popular Toyota Highlander. But it grew enough when it was updated for the 2016 model year that we think its in-betweener size works in its advantage for a lot of families who only need to make occasional use of its third row of seats.
Kia offered three engine options in this generation of the Sorento, starting with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder with 185 horsepower and 178 pound-feet of torque. The turbocharged 2.0-liter offers a worthwhile improvement to 240 hp and 260 lb-ft and the range-topping and desirable 3.3-liter V6 spins out 290 ponies and 252 lb-ft. If you’re looking to tow, the base engine offers 2,000 lbs, the turbo ups that to 3,500 lbs and the V6 with all-wheel drive hits a very respectable 5,000 lbs.
If you do need a bit more space, the Dodge Durango and Ford Flex are also good options on the used market. Depending on its powertrain, the Durango, which is based on the same platform as the Jeep Grand Cherokee, can tow as much as 7,400 lbs and feels more confident than smaller options with similar maximum ratings. The Ford Flex offers unique boxy styling, lots of useful interior space and an optional EcoBoost V6 engine with 365 horsepower and all-wheel drive.
Alternative picks: 2013-2015 Dodge Durango and 2014-2016 Ford Flex
Best full-size SUV for $15,000: 2009-2014 Ford Expedition
It’s not easy to find a nice, recent full-size SUV with low mileage for $15,000. Top choices like the Toyota Sequoia hold their value pretty well, and since this type of vehicle is popular with large families who like to travel or tow long distances, they can quickly rack up high mileage. But there are a couple of good options that offer good expected reliability and lots of interior space, starting with the Ford Expedition.
Ford’s big SUV is based on the guts of the popular F-150 pickup truck. Unlike the Chevrolet Tahoe that just got independent rear suspension in its most recent generation, Ford has employed IRS in the Expedition since 2003. This design improves the vehicle’s ride while also allowing for a third row that folds flat into the floor and that provides sufficient space for passengers. Those are strong reasons to choose Ford’s big SUV over its popular rivals from General Motors.
Plus, while some older versions of Ford’s 5.4-liter V8 engine are saddled with reliability problems, later versions like the ones used in the Expedition (up until 2014, when it was replaced by a turbocharged EcoBoost V6) and six-speed automatic offer reasonably reliable performance and can tow up to 9,200 pounds when properly equipped.
Another option to consider is the Nissan Armada. The first generation of Nissan’s largest SUV was based on the Titan pickup truck and offered a strong 5.6-liter V8 engine with 317 horsepower hooked to a five-speed automatic transmission. Reliability is an Armada strong suit, and since this generation was built for many years without significant changes, it’s easier to find a solid deal on the used market.