If you’ve been shopping for a new SUV lately, you may be experiencing sticker shock. But don’t worry, it’s not you, it’s the car market: The average price of a new SUV listed on Cars.com was $48,818 in September 2023. That’s a lot of coin for most car shoppers to work into their budget, and it’s also 4.5% higher than it was the same time a year previously.
2023 Affordable SUV Challenge
Results | Winner
With prices also higher for other daily essentials like food and housing, it’s no wonder many families are keeping a close eye on their bottom line. If you’re shopping for a new car and are interested in an SUV, there are a number of smaller alternatives for around $30,000 you may want to consider to help keep a lid on your transportation expenses.
For this comparison test, we gathered six affordable SUVs, many of which are all-new or recently redesigned. Most of them were priced around $30,000, with one around $3,000 less than that mark and another around $3,000 more. Two had front-wheel drive (one of which is front-drive only), while the rest had all-wheel drive. We also had one gas-electric hybrid in a field otherwise filled with gas-only models.
Judges for this comparison were Managing Editor Joe Bruzek, Road Test Editor Brian Normile and News Editor Jennifer Geiger. To test these SUVs, our judges drove each of them back to back on the same drive loop and assessed overall driving performance, comfort, usability, interior quality and more. We also took the SUVs on a 200-mile drive route to measure real-world gas mileage and, separately, timed their acceleration (our goal in testing acceleration was not to find the sportiest SUV, but to quantify the huge spread in acceleration times between the quickest and slowest because the slow SUVs in this test were notably poky). We also measured each one’s cargo area, rated child-safety seat fitment, and scored safety features and value. Here’s how they finished after all the categories were added together:
1. 2024 Kia Seltos SX Turbo
2. 2024 Subaru Crosstrek Premium
3. 2024 Chevrolet Trax Activ
4. 2023 Honda HR-V EX-L
5. 2023 Volkswagen Taos SE
6. 2023 Toyota Corolla Cross Hybrid S
The following chart shows how the SUVs finished in the judged categories; for more details on each SUV’s standout qualities — as well as its shortcomings — check out the vehicle-specific sections below to see how they performed in the areas that matter most to you.
All of the categories were worth 30 points, except for driver-assist tech (15 points), real-world fuel economy (120) and value (180), with the latter two significantly higher in recognition of their importance to shoppers concerned with affordability both today and during their ownership of a vehicle. Each SUV’s subjective scores were also doubled to give greater weight in the overall tally to our judges’ impressions.
6. 2023 Toyota Corolla Cross Hybrid S, 585 points (out of a possible 1,095)
The verdict: Impressive gas mileage and quickness are the Corolla Cross Hybrid’s calling cards, but it feels like most of the money was spent on the drivetrain — to the detriment of other areas like ride comfort, seating comfort and cabin niceness.
Our Test Vehicle
As-tested price: $29,305
Powertrain: 196-horsepower gas-electric hybrid; continuously variable automatic transmission; AWD
Observed fuel economy: 47.4 mpg
Measured cargo space: 14.85 cubic feet
0-60 mph: 7.83 seconds
Category wins: Real-world fuel economy, measured acceleration, driver-assist tech (tie)
Featuring a new gas-electric hybrid drivetrain with more power and significantly better gas mileage than the gas-only Corolla Cross, the Corolla Cross Hybrid excelled in both of these testing areas; its 47.4-mpg rating was far and away the best (it was the only hybrid in this test), and its performance in our 0-30 and 0-60 mph testing gave it the most points in our measured acceleration category. That was enough to give it the highest overall score in our objective tests, but it got the lowest score in our subjective tests, with our judges scoring it worst in seven of 11 categories.