Buying Guides

The 5 Best Used Small Crossovers Under $20,000

A tall-standing family crossover is more attainable than you think

Wade Thiel, Senior Staff Writer

The crossover has risen from obscurity to prominence in a short period of time. The first small crossovers appeared in the late 1990s and have evolved and improved to become one of the best all-around vehicle types out there. They're popularity stems from their versatility. Good crossovers have the goods to do some light adventuring, have large cargo spaces (especially with the rear seats folded) and offer driving dynamics that are well-beyond acceptable. If you want something that's a good all-around vehicle, you can't go wrong with a CUV.

2014 Toyota RAV4

  • PROS: A balanced mix of comfort and sportiness, roomy and comfortable interior, proven model with years of development behind it.
  • CONS: No engine upgrade, not much for off-pavement driving, infotainment system could use an improvement.

The RAV4 is the vehicle that started the crossover craze back in the 90s, and the fact that it’s still one of the top rated models says something about it. The 2014 model specifically offers plenty you an excellent package. It’s comfy and roomy on the inside, has a car-like drive while still sitting up a little higher and benefits from Toyota’s reliability reputation. Base RAV4s come with cruise control, a backup camera, air conditioning, heated power mirrors, power door locks and one-touch power windows, USB and auxiliary inputs and a 6-speaker audio system.

2012 Honda CR-V

  • PROS: Spacious interior for all passengers, large cargo area, user-friendly controls and easy folding rear seats.
  • CONS: No engine upgrade, no manual shifting mode, bland styling inside and out, lackluster acceleration.

Another relative old timer to the crossover segment, the Honda CR-V has been an excellent choice for well-over a decade. The 2012 model year is an excellent choice for anyone who has a family and needs a easy-to-live-with crossover that can handle the rigors of family life. The CR-V is as interesting as a washing machine, but when you need something that just gets the job done, it’s hard to do better. Base CR-Vs from 2012 come with cruise control, backup camera, 12-volt outlets, power locks and one-touch windows, remote window operation, heated power mirrors, USB and auxiliary inputs, speed sensitive volume control and a 4-speaker audio system.

2013 Mazda CX-5


for the driver

  • PROS: Excellent steering and handling, manual transmission available, efficient engine, stylish inside and out, great fit and finish.
  • CONS: Only one engine choice, stereo system could be better, needs a bit more power, can be noisy when accelerating.

This is really the only CUV you should consider if you actually enjoy driving. Mazda is known for sports cars like the Miata or the RX-7 but its attention to driving dynamics extends to its crossovers and SUVs as well. The CX-5’s first model year was 2013, and that’s a fine year to hunt down a used model from. The crossover handles curvy roads like a champ and is practical enough to handle what most people need from a vehicle day to day. Base models from 2013 come with 12-volt power outlets, cruise control, air conditioning, heated mirrors, power locks and one-touch windows, choice of a manual transmission, USB and auxiliary inputs, speed sensitive volume control and a four speaker sound system.

2013 Ford Escape

  • PROS: Three engine choices, plenty of infotainment and comfort options, good gas mileage.
  • CONS: MyFord Touch is a little wonky, controls for audio and climate control aren't the easiest to use, options make the price jump a lot.

The Ford Escape has changed quite a lot over the years. Introduced in 2000, the model has slowly matured into an excellent budget-focused family crossover. The nice thing about the Escape is that it does everything well. It’s hard to point to any one thing because it’s so well rounded. It is spacious, reasonably attractive inside and out, offers a few efficient and power engine options and drives pretty well. Base model Escapes offer cruise control, 12-volt power outlets, air conditioning, one-touch power windows and doors, heated mirrors, speed sensitive volume control, an auxiliary audio input and a 6-speaker audio system.

2013 Kia Sportage

  • PROS: Sporty handling for the segment, lots of features, easy to use audio and climate controls, powerful top-of-the-line turbocharged engine.
  • CONS: Stiff ride, no second-row seat adjustment, cargo space is limited.

If you want something that feels sporty and the Mazda doesn’t quite do it for you, check out the 2013 Kia Sportage. It's the first time the Sportage actually looked good. The car company so many people still associate with poor quality products has long since moved past that and has been making excellent vehicles for years now. The Sportage has followed this evolution and become a viable alternative to the class topping crossovers out there. It comes with a variety of engine options (the most engaging of which is the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder) and packs a lot of features into one compact package. The base model includes cruise control, 12-volt power outlets, USB and auxiliary inputs, air conditioning, power locks and one-touch windows, satellite radio and a 6-speaker audio system.

Why buy a used crossover?

  • Prices are very affordable for one that's only a few years old.
  • They're perfect for small families in need of a bit more space.
  • You sit up higher, and available AWD makes them winter-friendly.
  • Their versatile nature makes them decent jack-of-all-trades.

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