Buying Guides

The 6 Best Used SUVs Under $25,000

You can get all the sport and utility you need for a reasonable price

Wade Thiel, Senior Staff Writer

If you need the capabilities that a SUV can offer, but can't really afford to buy a new car, don't fret because there are plenty of gently used SUVs out there within your budget. Finding a SUV that's under $25,000 is easy, what's difficult is finding one that's really good. We've rounded up six of the best SUV models out there that you should consider when shopping for a used SUV. While not every single one of the following models is worth your coin, if you find one in good condition with few miles on it, you may have just found an excellent deal.

2011 Toyota Highlander

Best

for reliability

  • PROS: Good fuel economy for a vehicle this size, hybrid powertrain option, and practical as all get out.
  • CONS: Four-cylinder engine can feel underpowered, not very happy off pavement, feels bigger than it is.

The Toyota Highlander is a spacious family SUV that you shouldn’t pass up if you find a used one in good condition. If you look around the web you’ll notice customers raving about how much they love their Highlander. It’s safe to say the satisfaction rate for these vehicles is high. Powered by either a four-cylinder, V6 or a hybrid mill, the Highlander offers you plenty of options. Pair that with its spacious interior and attractive exterior and you have a really winner. The main downside to the Highlander is that it’s not much for off-roading or towing. Still, its available AWD system can handle snow like a boss, and it comes with some good standard features even in the base model, including halogen headlights, Bluetooth connectivity, an MP3 and CD playing six-speaker audio system and 17-inch alloy wheels.

2013 Kia Sorento

 
  • PROS: Optional third-row seat, infotainment system is simple and easy to use, handsome interior, generous cargo space.
  • CONS: Interior materials are poor, handling isn’t great, and third-row seats don’t offer much room.

The Kia Sorento is another vehicle that is no off-road king. However, it makes up for that by being extremely family friendly. In an age where more and more people are using SUVs to cart around the kiddos, the Kia Sorento checks all the right boxes. It offers a decent balance between power and efficiency, looks good and has an available third row seat, though it is a bit cramped, and available AWD. It features Bluetooth connectivity, USB and auxiliary inputs as well as Sirius XM radio as standard equipment. It’s not much for carving up a mountain road, but then that’s not what this thing’s built for. If you use it as intended, you’ll be a happy owner.

2012 Dodge Durango

Best

for towing ability

  • PROS: Strong engine performance, feels sophisticated and refined on the road, stylish exterior looks, respectable towing abilities.
  • CONS: Third row isn't the easiest to access, mediocre fuel economy, could use more cargo space.

The Durango takes the idea of a family SUV and spices it up a little. If you want something that’s a little more interesting, the Durango won’t disappoint. It can be powered by a V6 or a HEMI V8. Neither engine are very efficient but they offer good power and the Durango can tow your boat when needed. With available AWD, you’ll be good in the snow too. The three rows mean you have room for the whole family, but you may have to invest in a pod carrier should you need to take a lot of gear with you. The Durango’s storage area is decently sized but not exceptionally large. A 2011 Durango is still well equipped besides being several years old. Standard equipment includes things like automatic headlights, Bluetooth connectivity, tri-zone climate control, a 12-volt power outlet, Sirius XM Radio and an auxiliary input.

2013 Ford Explorer

 
  • PROS: High safety marks, good balance of comfort and sportiness, fuel efficient four-cylinder engine option.
  • CONS: Smaller inside than it actually seems, MyFord Touch infotainment system can be difficult to use, cramped third-row of seating.

The Ford Explorer has been a go-to SUV choice for many people since the model first hit roads in the late 1990s. Modern used models offer an up-to-date experience. The Explorer stays true to its name offering four-wheel drive, a four-cylinder or V6 engine and a reasonable amount of off pavement capability. It’s no Jeep Grand Cherokee, but it does a good job off the beaten path. It also does well on road, offering a nice balance of sportiness and comfort. That paired with its fairly upscale interior and comfy seating (except for the cramped third-row) the Explorer stands out and should be included on your list. It comes with a good amount of standard equipment too, including dual-zone climate control, four 12-volt power outlets, Bluetooth connectivity and a 6-speaker audio system.

2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee

Best

for off-road prowess

  • PROS: Upscale interior, off-road capability, good infotainment system, extremely powerful engine options, comfy on-road ride.
  • CONS: Low fuel economy numbers, no third-row seating, higher trim levels may be out of price range.

The Jeep Grand Cherokee has been a hit basically since it graced the road with its presence. In many ways it’s a luxurious off-roader that is also comfortable on the street. It lives up to its Jeep heritage but offers a whole lot more comfort and technology than the Wrangler that defines the brand. It can tow up to 5,000 lbs when properly equipped and has an infotainment system that’s so easy to use a chimp could figure it out. Also, if you get lucky, you might be able to find the 470 hp SRT8 near your price point. Otherwise, you should have no trouble finding a used V6 or standard V8 model under $25k. With there being so many different trim levels of the Grand Cherokee, you shouldn’t have trouble finding the features you want. Even the base model comes well-equipped with an eight-way power driver’s seat, automatic headlights, Sirius XM radio and a six-speaker audio system as standard equipment.

2013 Mazda CX-9

Best

for driving thrills

  • PROS: Excellent handling, good cargo space, powerful V6, good ergonomics.
  • CONS: Long rear doors make tight parking lots problematic, third row is only suitable for kids, infotainment system feels outdated, actual gas mileage is lackluster.

If you’re more interested in how your vehicle drives than how good the infotainment system is, you should look no further than the Mazda CX-9. The company known for making good little sports cars is also good at making three-row SUVs. The CX-9 isn’t the most comfy or the most technologically advanced used SUV you can buy, but it is the most engaging to drive and with available AWD it can take on a snow covered road with ease. While the interior of a used CX-9 isn’t going to beat out something like a Ford Explorer or a Jeep Grand Cherokee in terms of high quality materials, its cabin is still pretty well-appointed with features like tri-zone climate control, Bluetooth connectivity, and a 5.8-inch touchscreen infotainment system as standard equipment.

What to look for in a used sub-$25K SUV

  • Ample room for cargo and passengers
  • Fairly modern tech like Bluetooth phone pairing and a backup camera
  • Good storage and cubbies for all occupants
  • AWD or 4x4 available
  • Reasonably powerful and efficient engines
  • Comfortable on-road ride and good seats

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