If you’re in the market for an SUV, chances are you’ve got a mid-size family with kids that play soccer and help host baking events. You may even throw in the occasional camping or skiing trip. If you have a large family you wouldn’t bother with something as small as an SUV, and you’d rather jump to a borderline truck of some kind, like a Chevrolet Suburban.
Cutting down to brass tax, the best SUV you can buy for less than $10,000 is probably a Honda Pilot from the mid-2000s, but that's if you don’t mind buying a car with 150,000 miles. The problem with Pilots is while they are a great option because they’re quick, reliable, big and comfortable, in other words, everything you want in an SUV. But they’re also quite expensive. A used Honda Pilot with low miles could end up costing way more than $10,000. So what’s the alternative?
We primarily looked at four cars from 2007:
Assuming you find each car with the average annual miles in California, each should have slightly more than 144,000 miles and cost around $9,000 according to KBB.
The Honda CR-V and Toyota Rav4 are nearly identical in almost every way. They make the same horsepower from the same size engine, get roughly the same gas mileage and are within inches of being the same size, sometimes within fractions of an inch. They're even similarly priced, both costing about $8,900.
Where these cars differ is in reliability, and the Honda CR-V is just slightly more reliable, with only four recalls against Toyota’s 11. Based on this, out of the two, the CR-V seems like the way to go.
Moving on to the choice between Ford Edge and BMW X3, however, is a different story. The BMW X3 uses a 3.0-liter V6 engine much like the Honda Pilot and produces about 260 horsepower which is no laughing matter. It’s got big 255-size tires in the back and tows more than the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 combined, a staggering 3,500 pounds.
The Ford Edge is similar, producing 265 horsepower out of a 3.5-liter V6 engine and tows the same amount as the BMW X3, but it gets the worst mileage out of all four vehicles at an abysmal 19 mpg. The Ford Edge manages all of this on two wheels instead of four, which probably makes it faster but that’s not necessarily the aim with SUVs. The power isn’t necessarily for going fast, but for getting through different kinds of terrain.
With up to 19 mpg city and 25 mpg highway for the four-cylinder Escape, you’ll get good gas mileage and ample standard safety features. According to AutoTrader, you should opt for the mid-level XLT version, which includes automatic headlights, a power driver’s seat, and other driver-friendly amenities.
Three SUVs?! Yes, three—because at their core, they’re all nearly identical trucks, powered by strong V8 engines, built on a truck-style chassis, and offering tons of towing capacity, power, and off-road ability—as well as ample room for passengers and cargo. Known for great reliability, but relatively poor gas mileage, the Tahoe, Yukon, and Suburban remain common sights on the road for their endless capability.
Filling out the midsize option among crossovers, the Highlander is rated at 19 mpg around town and 25 mpg on the highway, while offering a reliable powertrain and considerable space for people and things. You can reasonably expect to get 150,000 miles or more out of a well-maintained Highlander before a major repair or replacement is required.
While it might look a bit low and wagon-like to some eyes, the Subaru Forester is actually a surprisingly capable crossover, both on-road and off. Better still, it’s very reliable, regularly chalking up more than 200,000 miles of service. There are a handful of issues to look out for before that mark, like timing belts and catalytic converter replacements, according to Kelley Blue Book, but it’s worth spending a few hundred dollars in maintenance every now and then to prevent more catastrophic results.
This compact, efficient crossover combines good looks, strong reliability, and great features to top our list. Kelley Blue Book notes that the RAV4, unlike many SUVs or crossovers, can often reach 200,000 miles without any significant mechanical issue as long as it’s properly maintained—so even if you’re looking at a higher-mileage model, you can get a lot of value for not too much money with the RAV4.
We wanted a Honda Pilot somewhere on this list, but annoyingly we had to go all the way back to 2008 to find the highest level trim for less than $10,000. According to the Blue Book, the Honda Pilot EX-L Sport Utility is the most expensive trim level and clocks in at around $9,723. For that, you get a 3.5-liter V6 making more than 240 horsepower, 4WD, a towing capacity of 4500 pounds, and 20 MPG on the highway.
Alternatively, if you're looking for something newer, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world to get your hands on a 2010 Subaru Forester 2.5X Sport Utility. This car comes with much less horsepower than the Pilot, only 170 out of a small 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, but it gets better gas mileage and has Subaru's famous AWD system. It's also newer than the Honda. The Subaru is priced at around $9,200.
The Ford Edge is not as competitive against the other cars on our list, mainly because AWD is not available, is more expensive than the other three SUVs and doesn’t get the greatest gas mileage. Out of the two, the BMW seems like the more solid choice.
And if we have to choose between the Honda CR-V and BMW X3, we’re going to go with the used BMW X3. It’s simply the best value for the money. While interior space is lacking, it’s got 100 more horsepower with big rear tires. It tows a lot more and is actually a few hundred dollars cheaper at roughly $8,600 according to KBB.
Simply put, you get more performance for your money, and for things like roughing it in the wilderness and passing big trucks on the freeway, that kind of advantage is lacking in the CR-V. It doesn’t get much worse mileage than the Honda either, where both cars get in around the early 20s.
Of course, depending on your own personal circumstances these options may not be affordable or correct for you. However, if your budget is around $10,000, and you’re looking for an AWD SUV that is both reliable and efficient, the used BMW X3 is one of the best-used SUVs to consider.
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