1. Buick Enclave
Buick Enclave is one of the best SUVs in this price range, as the $20,000 can get you a late first-generation model from 2016. The gas mileage might not be the greatest at 15 mpg city and 22 mpg highway, but the 3.6L V6 engine packs quite a punch with its 288 horsepower.
It’s very spacious and comfortably accommodates seven passengers, which is a huge plus. The feature list includes a full infotainment system, LED headlights, and the 2016 version comes with a Wi-Fi hotspot as standard. Enclave is mechanically reliable and has great safety scores, which made it easy to select it for the top of the list.
2. Hyundai Santa Fe
When Hyundai introduced Santa Fe in 2000, it became an instant success and has retained its position at the top of SUV sales charts for two decades. Named after the capital of New Mexico, Santa Fe has a starting price of $36,000.
However, models that are just 4 years old fall within our budget, the last and most polished models from the third generation. Santa Fe has highly economical 4-cylinder engines and a powerful V6. The first and second rows are comfortable, but the optional third-row seating isn’t great for adults.
Packed with advanced safety systems, modern connectivity features, and a refreshed design, Santa Fe has a lot to offer despite being a more budget-oriented SUV.
3. Toyota Highlander
Every SUV list needs to include at least one Toyota. In the case of the sub $20,000 category, Highlander makes the cut as Toyota’s affordable midsize SUV.
Affordable may not be the right word, as Highlander has an average new price of $42,000, and only the 2014-2015 models fall below $20,000. Toyota’s high reliability and build quality keep the price from significant depreciation.
The positive side is that even if you buy a 7-year-old Highlander, it’s going to retain most of its value, making your losses minimal. With a high-end interior, seven or eight seats, and a great fuel economy that does not come at the expense of power, Toyota Highlander easily keeps up with the younger SUVs.
4. Mazda CX-9
Mazda CX-9 started out as a plain SUV for budget-conscious families. It doesn’t do anything wrong but doesn’t stand out in any way either - except for one.
What makes the Mazda CX-9 special is its price. At $21,000, you can get the current, second-generation model from its first production year - 2016. However, the final model year of the first generation will cost you just $13,000!
With two facelifts and numerous minor updates, the 2015 model really delivers a lot for a price that’s very easy on your budget. It doesn’t have the best interior but can still seat seven passengers. The brisk V6 engine delivers 273 horsepower to the AWD system for a fun, but also economical drive.
5. Chevrolet Tahoe
An odd addition to the list of budget SUVs, Tahoe carves its spot with a great value proposition. While Chevrolet’s popular SUV starts at $66,000, the 2014 model averages $20,000 exactly. At that point, the price almost settles, and it will only devalue $1,000 - 2,000 annually, which is better than most SUVs can do.
It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to get a fourth-generation Tahoe for this price, but if you can, grab it. The final model year for the third generation is still a great choice, as Tahoe delivers uncompromising space, comfort, and reliability, regardless of age.
6. Subaru Forester
Last but not the least, we’ve got the Subaru Forester, one of the cheapest SUVs on the market, and one of the youngest models you can get for under $20,000. With a starting price of $30,000, Foresters within your budget can be just 3 to 4 years old if you find a good deal.
You can set your sights on the late fourth-generation models, or the first, 2018 model year of the fifth generation. Getting such a young SUV does come with some drawbacks, mainly in the power and luxury departments.
Subaru Forester is the only option on the list that cannot seat more than five passengers, the interior build quality leaves much to be desired and the four-cylinder engines, while potent, simply do not match the larger V6 engines. However, Subaru does offer a roomy interior with a spacious cargo area, excellent gas mileage, and AWD.
Buying a used SUV will always be a tradeoff between class & luxury and model year. Remember to stick with your budget, not only in terms of buying but also maintaining and insuring your new SUV.
Just because a high-class SUV falls within your $20,000 budget, it doesn’t mean that replacement parts and maintenance are any cheaper. However, if you take your time to factor in all the expenses and pick one of the six SUVs from this list, you’ll be more than satisfied with your purchase for several years!