Best SUVs under $20,000

As crossovers and SUVs continue to gain market share, carmakers are replacing their entry-level hatchbacks and sedans with high-riding models. Ford no longer sells the Focus in the United States, for example, but the Escape is filling its void. That’s good news for motorists seeking the space of an SUV while keeping their budget in check.

Several city-friendly SUVs are priced below $20,000, and some are packed with comfort and technology features, but keep in mind that many do not offer all-wheel drive, and most can’t be used to tow. You’ll need to step up to a larger, more expensive model if you need to pull something heavy or if you want to venture far off the beaten path. If you don’t, we’ve put together a list of the five best SUVs priced below $20,000 (excluding destination and other fees), plus two good options that start right above $20,000.

2020 Kia Soul

Best overall

2020 Kia Soul GT-Line Turbo

Why you should buy this: It’s the largest of the group and has a lot to offer for the money.

Who’s it for: People who want the best combination of tech, practicality, and affordability.

What it’ll cost: $17,490

Why we picked the Kia Soul:

If you don’t mind the quirky looks of the Kia Soul, then this is the best SUV that starts under $20,000. It has the most room, the best tech, and loads of driver-assistance features at an affordable price. The base LX trim doesn’t offer much in the way of tech, but the S and sporty GT-Line trims come with plenty. The Soul is the only vehicle on this list that is available with a large, 10.25-inch touchscreen and lots of interior illumination, including nightclub-like reactive speaker lights. Many other neat features are available, like a head-up display and adaptive cruise control. If you can stretch your budget, a more powerful turbocharged model is available.

Unfortunately for some, the Soul doesn’t have all-wheel drive as an option, and towing isn’t recommended. But, you can stuff up to 62.1 cubic feet of cargo in the back with the rear seats down, a figure that makes it the most spacious model on our list. Also, safety-minded individuals will like the Soul’s Top Safety Pick award from the IIHS.

Engine(s) and MPG: 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque, 27/33 mpg city/highway (CVT); turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder with 201 hp and 195 lb-ft. of torque, 27/32 mpg.

Standard tech and driver-assistance features: 7.0-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto. (The S and GT-Line trims — right above the base LX trim — come with several driver-assistance features.)

Available features: 10.25-inch touchscreen, Harman Kardon audio system, SiriusXM satellite radio, heated front seats, heated steering wheel, illuminated interior accents, wireless device charging, two-tone exterior paint, forward collision alert, automatic emergency front braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, lane-keeping assist, lane-change assist, driver attention warning, adaptive cruise control, head-up display, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert.

2020 Nissan Kicks

Best for driver-assistance features

Why you should buy this: It offers lots of standard driver-assistance features at a low starting price. 

Who’s it for: Safety tech lovers. 

What it’ll cost: $19,070

Why we picked the Nissan Kicks: 

Nissan’s second-most-affordable car (after the Versa) is loaded to the gills with standard driver-assistance features that help motorists avoid accidents. In addition to front and rear automatic braking (most of its rivals don’t offer the latter), the Kicks is the only car on this list that comes standard with blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. It’s also available with an optional surround-view camera system, which comes in handy when maneuvering in tight spaces, and which is difficult to find on this side of $20,000. The IIHS gave the Kicks its highest rating on all six crash tests, but the model didn’t qualify for any of the institute’s awards.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto aren’t standard on the base S trim, but they are on the mid-level SV model that’s a pinch above $20,000. Another neat option is the Color Studio that allows buyers to customize exterior and interior color combinations. Finally, like others on this list, the Kicks is front-wheel drive only, and towing isn’t recommended.

Engine(s) and MPG: 1.6-liter four-cylinder with 122 hp and 114 lb-ft. of torque, 31/36 mpg city/highway.

Standard tech and driver-assistance features: 7.0-inch touchscreen, Siri voice command, forward collision alert, automatic emergency front braking with pedestrian detection, rear automatic emergency braking, rear parking sensors, lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and high-beam assist.

Available features: Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bose audio system, SiriusXM satellite radio, surround-view camera system, driver attention warning, heated front seats, two-tone exterior paint, and the Color Studio.  

2020 Hyundai Venue

Best value

Why you should buy this: It’s the most affordable SUV on the list but still comes with plenty of features.

Who’s it for: The most frugal individuals that still expect lots of features. 

What it’ll cost: $17,350 (SE trim)

Why we picked the Hyundai Venue: 

If you’re looking for the cheapest SUV on the market, the Hyundai Venue is for you. It doesn’t feel like a penalty box, though. The entry-level SE trim comes loaded with lots of tech and driver-assistance features, like Apple CarPlay and automatic emergency braking. Like the Kicks, the Venue is powered by a 1.6-liter engine, and both are tied for the fuel efficiency crown. It’s also the smallest model in this group, yet it can carry 31.9 cubic feet of cargo with the rear seats folded down. Here again, all-wheel drive isn’t available, and towing isn’t recommended.

Engine(s) and MPG: 1.6-liter four-cylinder with 121 hp and 113 lb-ft. of torque, 30/34 mpg city/highway (CVT).

Standard tech and driver-assistance features: 8.0-inch touchscreen, AppleCarPlay, Android Auto, forward collision alert, automatic emergency front braking with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist, and driver attention warning.

Available features: SiriusXM satellite radio, heated front seats, two-tone exterior paint, a special Denim trim, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert.  

2020 Ford EcoSport

Best for towing

Ford EcoSport

Why you should buy this: It’s available with all-wheel drive, and it can tow.

Who’s it for: Those willing to sacrifice driving aids for capability.

What it’ll cost: $19,995

Why we picked the Ford EcoSport: 

Ford’s EcoSport is unique in its segment. What it lacks in driver-assistance features, it makes up for in capability, thanks to available all-wheel drive and a maximum towing capacity of 2,000 pounds when it’s fitted with the 2.0-liter engine. Even the entry-level 1.0-liter triple has a 1,400-pound towing capacity. Ford’s smallest SUV can tow more than the Chevrolet Trailblazer, the only other SUV whose manufacturer lists a towing capacity. It’s also the most expensive model on our list, however, and its list of standard features is relatively short.

Engine(s) and MPG: Turbocharged 1.0-liter three-cylinder with 123 hp and 125 lb-ft. of torque, 27/29 mpg city/highway (front-wheel drive); 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 166 hp and 149 lb-ft. of torque, 23/29 mpg (AWD).

Standard tech and driver-assistance features: 4.2-inch LCD screen and a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot. (The SE trim — above the base S trim — comes with several driver-assistance and more tech.)

Available features: 8.0-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bang and Olufsen audio system, SiriusXM satellite radio, heated front seats, heated steering wheel, rear parking sensors, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert.  

2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer

Best for tech

Why you should buy this: It offers all-wheel drive and loads of tech.

Who’s it for: Tech-minded drivers who like to venture off the beaten path. 

What it’ll cost: $19,995

Why we picked the Chevrolet Trailblazer: 

Priced right under $20,000, Chevrolet’s Trailblazer is packed with tech and driver-assistance features, though some are inevitably found on the list of extra-cost options. It notably offers wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. And, it can trek off-road when it’s fitted with the optional all-wheel-drive system, plus it can tow up to 1,000 pounds when properly equipped. It’s not the most affordable model in the group, but its long list of standard equipment sweetens the deal. The upmarket Activ trim gives it a rugged look, while the RS variant highlights the model’s sporty side.

Engine(s) and MPG: Turbocharged 1.2-liter three-cylinder with 137 hp and 162 lb-ft. of torque, 28/31 mpg city/highway (FWD); turbocharged 1.3-liter three-cylinder with 155 hp and 174 lb-ft. of torque, 29/33 mpg (FWD), 26/30 mpg (AWD).

Standard tech and driver-assistance features: 7.0-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot, OnStar, forward collision alert, automatic emergency front braking with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, and automatic high beams. 

Available features: 8.0-inch touchscreen, Bose audio system, SiriusXM satellite radio, heated front seats, wireless smartphone charging, wireless Apple CarPlay, wireless Android Auto, two-tone exterior paint, adaptive cruise control, rear parking sensors, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert.  

SUVs starting at $20,000

The SUVs listed below start slightly above $20,000, but they’re good options if you’re willing to pay a little bit more. Keep in mind that their base price is about on par with upmarket variants of the five trucklets we’ve just highlighted. However, because they start above $20,000, they’re not ranked with or compared to the aforementioned models.

2020 Hyundai Kona

Hyundai Kona

Why you should buy this: It’s bigger and more powerful than the Venue.

Who’s it for: Someone who needs a well-rounded SUV or a more powerful turbo engine. 

What it’ll cost: $20,400

Why we picked the Hyundai Kona: 

The Hyundai Kona is a good choice for those who don’t want a bigger SUV like the Tucson or the Kia Sportage. This tweener packs lots of standard and available tech and driver-assistance features. It’s also considered a Top Safety Pick by the IIHS. And, unlike the Trailblazer and the EcoSport, AWD is available with either engine option.

Engine(s) and MPG: 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 147 hp and 132 lb-ft. of torque, 27/33 mpg city/highway (FWD), 25/30 mpg (AWD); turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder with 175 hp and 195 lb-ft. of torque, 28/32 mpg (FWD), 26/29 mpg (AWD).

Standard tech and driver-assistance features: 7.0-inch touchscreen, AppleCarPlay, Android Auto, forward collision alert, automatic emergency front braking, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, and driver attention warning. 

Available features: 8.0-inch touchscreen, SiriusXM satellite radio, Infinity audio system, heated front seats, head-up display, wireless device charger, automatic emergency front braking with pedestrian detection, high-beam assist, adaptive cruise control, rear parking sensors, lane-change assist, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert.  

2020 Mazda CX-3

Why you should buy this: It has a sleek-looking design, and it’s engaging to drive. 

Who’s it for: Someone who enjoys having an SUV that is also fun to drive. 

What it’ll cost: $20,640

Why we picked the Mazda CX-3: 

Mazda’s most affordable model starts under $21,000, but adding all-wheel drive bumps its price to $22,040. In either configuration, the CX-3 does a good job of blending fun handling, a responsive powertrain, stylish looks, and generous amounts of tech and driver-assistance features. It’s only offered in one well-equipped trim named Sport for the 2020 model year. And with the new, bigger CX-30 out, the CX-3 could be on its way out.

Engine(s) and MPG: 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 148 hp and 146 lb-ft. of torque, 29/34 mpg city/highway (FWD), 27/32 mpg (AWD).

Standard tech and driver-assistance features: 7.0-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, forward collision alert, automatic emergency front braking with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning, adaptive cruise control, adaptive headlights, automatic high beams, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert.

Available features: Rear parking sensors. 

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