There are really no right or wrong answers here, especially when you factor in how much a person is willing to spend

One of the most difficult questions to answer in the auto industry these days doesn’t involve supercars, luxury cars, or even premium cars. It involves crossovers and SUVs, specifically the question of which is the best of its kind among those priced at a certain cost point. In this case, our cost point is $20,000, which means that a lot of today’s compact crossovers are involved in this difficult, if not impossible, discussion. And like every question posed in this business, answers vary depending on who you ask. In our case, ask us which are the best SUVs under $20,000, and these are our answers.

Kia Soul

2014 Kia Soul Exterior
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The Kia Soul is a plucky little crossover. It’s not the most appealing crossover in the world — the design is hit or miss — but where it lacks in service-level musings, it makes up for it in the areas that matter.

The Soul, for example, boasts one of the best-looking cabins in its segment. There’s something inherently fresh and cool about its interior design, a characteristic that few in its class can compete with. Interior space also isn’t an issue for the Soul. The crossover has 24.2 cubic feet of space with the seats upright and 61.3 cubic feet when the seats are folded. The volume isn’t going to wow you, but it has more total cargo room than models like the Mazda CX-3 and Honda HR-V. That counts for a lot when you’re buying a car for less than $20,000. On the performance front, the Soul comes with two engine options: a 1.6-liter engine with 130 horsepower and 118 pound-feet of torque (24 mpg city/30 mpg highway) and a bigger 2.0-liter four-cylinder unit with 161 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque (25 mpg city/30 mpg highway). Throw in the Soul’s excellent reliability, towing capacity of 2,400 pounds, and starting price of $17,095, and you have an award-winning crossover that’s in the running as one of the best in its segment.

Read our full review on the 2018 Kia Soul.

Jeep Patriot

2014 Jeep Patriot High Resolution Exterior
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If you want a specialized compact crossover that you can bring in your off-road adventures, the Jeep Patriot fits that mold to a tee. It’s one of the most capable off-road crossovers at its price point, though if you are getting the model, you should know that beyond its off-road capabilities, it doesn’t offer much else that’s worth the money you’re paying for it.

See, that’s the crux with the Patriot. It’s largely a one-trick pony. No one’s going to complain when you take it out in the outdoors, but there are some things about it that fall short compared to its rivals. It doesn’t have as many standard and available features, the interior looks cheap, and the engines - 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 158 horsepower, and a 2.4-liter four-cylinder with 172 horsepower — are either sluggish or thirsty. Fuel economy is about average at 23 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the highway. Interior space falls behind the competition and comfort isn’t any better, at least compared to what’s out there. Towing capacity approaches 2,000 pounds, but you’re going to have to avail the optional towing package to get it. Even the Patriot’s 53.5 cubic feet of maximum cargo room falls below industry standards. If you’re buying the $18,890 Patriot, you’re actually better off getting the much more delightful Renegade.

Read our full review on the 2018 Jeep Patriot.

Nissan Kicks

2018 Nissan Kicks - U.S. Spec Exterior
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125 horsepower and 115 pound-feet of torque

The Nissan Juke casts a big shadow over its successor, the Nissan Juke. Fortunately, the latter has been able to hold its own in a market that has no shortage of new models.

The Kicks isn’t as funky-looking as the Juke, and that’s a good thing. The gimmicky design of the Juke worked for others, but it turned off some people, too. With the Kicks, Nissan has a more conventional-looking compact crossover that also comes with a lot of useful features. One of the Kicks’ biggest strengths is its interior space. There’s a lot of it, be it for the driver and passenger or for cargo, the latter of which returns a class-leading 25.3 cubic feet of cargo space. Fold down the back seat and the volume increases to 53 cubic feet. The interior design isn’t spectacular, but Nissan does have a grocery list of standard and optional features and amenities that you can get to spice up your Kicks. Engine options are middle-of-the-road at best, but the fuel economy - 31 mpg in the city, 36 mpg on the highway - is the biggest reason why you’re going to want to part with $18,965 to buy one.

Read our full review on the 2018 Nissan Kicks.

Hyundai Kona

2018 Hyundai Kona Exterior High Resolution
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Did you say that you want a fresh compact crossover that has some attitude in it? Well, if you are looking for such a model, the Hyundai Kona is for you.

It’s literally a fresh model that was launched a year ago. Give Hyundai a lot of credit, then, because it developed what is turning out to be one of the best crossovers in the market today. It has an aggressive design that makes it look fiercer and bigger than its actual size. It has an attractive interior that can be personalized to look more energetic. Cargo volume is hit or miss depending if the seats are up or not. If they’re up, the Kona offers 19 cubic feet of cargo space, which ranks right up as one of the best in its class. Put the seats down and the cargo volume only adds up to 46 cubic feet, well below most competitors.

The Kona also has an engine lineup that includes a turbocharged four-banger with 175 horsepower and fuel economy returns that are rated at 26 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway. Towing capacity also hits north of 2,000 pounds. Best of all, Hyundai was able to blend all of those elements together and still have enough quality to turn the Kona into one of the most agile crossovers in its field. You’re going to have to a little bit of a premium to buy one — the 147-horsepower Kona SE base unit costs $19,000 — but that shouldn’t be an issue. That money is going to be well-spent.

Read our full review on the 2018 Hyundai Kona.

Jeep Renegade

2015 Jeep Renegade High Resolution Exterior
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Jeep makes another appearance on this list. Who knew, right? Well, the Jeep Renegade is a more appealing choice than the Patriot, in large part because it is actually a more evolved version of the Patriot.

The Renegade is a certified Jeep, in large part because of its excellent off-road capability. The crossover can hold its own in any surface, be it smooth pavement or rough roads. It can even hold its own in the smoother confines of urban driving, something the Patriot isn’t as adept at. Throw in a maximum cargo volume of 50.8 cubic feet and amenities like a touch screen, a rearview camera, and Bluetooth — all are standard in the Renegade — and you have an intriguing model that should be worth a serious look. That said, the Renegade isn’t a perfect crossover. Its mileage isn’t the best in the segment - fuel economy sits at 24 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway - and its towing capacity maxes out at just 2,000 pounds. If you really want to experience the best of what the model has to offer, you’re going to have to go all-out on and buy the range-topping Trailhawk trim. That’s going to set you back in excess of $25,000, whereas the base Renegade starts off at just $19,090.

Read our full review on the 2018 Jeep Renegade.

Mazda CX-3

Three Years In, Mazda Trumps the Subcompact Segment with Small Improvements to the CX-3 Exterior
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Different crossovers are good at different things. In the case of the Mazda CX-3, it’s good at being a sporty crossover. It sounds cliché, but it’s true. Mazda did a great job designing and developing the CX-3 that it rightfully deserves to be called one of the best models in its class.

The sporty design of the CX-3 is the first of its many highlights. It also has one of the best-looking interiors of any crossover. It has quality materials and a long list of features. On the side of performance, the CX-3 comes with fuel-efficient engine options that complement its superb handling and a towing capacity of 2,000 pounds. It’s even one of the safest crossovers you can buy, a distinction it earned after posting excellent crash test scores. About the only thing this model falls short on is interior space. The CX-3 has a paltry 12.4 cubic feet of space behind the back seats and 44.5 cubic feet with the seats folded. If you need lots of it, there are better options out there like the Honda HR-V. But if you’re fine with what the CX-3 has to offer, you can’t go wrong with it. All that and you’re only paying a base price of $19,960 for a car that returns 29 mpg in the city and 34 mpg on the highway? That’s a good deal.

Read our full review on the 2019 Mazda CX-3.

Fiat 500X

2016 - 2018 Fiat 500X
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The Fiat 500X is proof that looks can take a crossover very far. The 500X’s design is, without question, its biggest strength. Even the interior is well-dressed. There are enough quality materials in it that can do its Italian roots proud.

But for the 500X to stand out, it needs to have more than just good exterior looks and an upscale interior. It’s these shortcomings in other areas that prevent it from really standing out. The engine options, for example, aren’t anything home to write about. They’re fine if you want to get from point A to point B, but the journey itself leaves something to be desired (fuel economy is average at 25 mpg in the city and 33 mpg on the highway.) Cargo space is also a bit iffy at just 12.3 cubic feet, though that’s to be expected for a Fiat, anyway. There’s a lot of appeal in a car like the 500X if you really want a crossover that’s going to catch the public’s attention. Just make sure that if you do buy it — the base price is at $19,995 — you’re prepared to accept it for the things it can’t do.

Read our full review on the 2018 Fiat 500X.

Ford Ecosport

2018 Ford EcoSport High Resolution Exterior
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Sometimes, expecting something that isn’t there is a bigger disappointment than knowing what you’re getting into from the beginning. The Ford EcoSport is not a bad crossover. It’s not a particularly good one, either. It is, for lack of a better term, decent.

Arguably its two biggest strengths are its ride height and Ford’s SYNC3 infotainment system, which, while being one of the best systems in the business, also happens to be a pay-to-install feature. The EcoSport is a good choice for a crossover if you want to see into traffic better. Just don’t expect the drive to be one of the best. The engines, while competent, are somewhat underpowered. Fuel economy is at 27 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway while towing capacity maxes out at around 2,000 pounds. The interior design is cool, but the materials Ford used aren’t. Hard plastic covers a big part of the EcoSport’s surface. Some of you may not mind that, but others are more particular with the quality of their crossover’s interior. Fortunately, the front seats are comfortable, and for its size, it has 21 cubic feet of cargo space with the seats up and 50 cubic feet if the seats are folded. You need to know what you want in a crossover if you’re going to give the Ford EcoSport a chance, and with a base price of $19,995, that might take some a lot of convincing.

Read our full review on the 2018 Ford Ecosport.

Honda HR-V

2016 - 2017 Honda HR-V High Resolution Exterior
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Ever since it arrived in 2016, the Honda HR-V has been one of the best compact crossovers in the market. A few years into its life hasn’t changed that sentiment.

The HR-V is like the jack-of-all-trades among all compact crossovers. It doesn’t shine in any one category, but it is good in a lot of them. Passenger and cargo space aren’t issues in the HR-V, specifically the latter, which boasts a class-leading maximum cargo space of 58.8 cubic feet of room. The crossover also has a more impressive-than-expected ride, a testament to the kind of quality that Honda has been able to develop in recent years. It doesn’t have the refinement as some other crossovers do, but there is something to be said, too, for an interior that eschews fancy styling and details for a more straightforward approach that’s anchored on a clean look. Truth be told, there are sportier, more upscale, and more off-road capable crossovers out there. But if you want the best combination of quality and value — the HR-V starts at $20,520 and returns 28 mpg in the city and 34 mpg on the highway — you’d be hard-pressed to do better than Honda’s new compact crossover.

Read our full review on the 2018 Honda HR-V.

Chevy Trax

2017 Chevrolet Trax
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The Chevrolet Trax offers up a good fight against a lot of the modes on this list. It rides well and has an agility to it that’s, well, surprising. But the Trax suffers nevertheless, not because of what it can’t do, but because the things it can do, others can do better.

It’s a lonely place to be in, but it is where the Trax has found itself in after only three years in the market. New models like the Hyundai Kona, Nissan Kicks, and Honda HR-V have elevated the level of competitiveness in the segment. The Trax is fine in the things where most crossovers are fine. It’s a great crossover to drive in the city where power and performance aren’t premium requirements. It even returns 25 mpg in this environment. But take it out on the highway, and the Trax doesn’t do as well, though, to be fair, its 33 mpg rating is about average for its class.

Still, there are worse choices out there and the Trax, given what it can and can’t do, is still a compact crossover that’s worthy of a serious look. Heck, it has 19 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats in use, which is enough room for vacation luggage or a cooler and chairs for when you head to a cookout. That’s a victory! Fold the rear seats down, and you have more than 48 cubic feet, too. Score!

All jokes aside, make sure you know that if you end up buying Chevy Trax, you’re going to pay — starting price is at — $21,200 — more than you probably want for it.

Read our full review on the 2018 Chevy Trax.

Conclusion

Best SUVs Under $20,000
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There are plenty of good choices here, and I wouldn’t begrudge anybody if they end up buying any one of these models. But my choice is the Hyundai Kona. It’s one of the newest models in this list, and it combines a lot of exciting features with a ride that’s not going to disappoint. It has its flaws — the fuel economy is below average and it’s priced higher than a lot of its rivals — but like I said, if you’re willing to look past what it can’t do as well and focus on the things it offers and does better than others, there’s a good chance that you’re not going to be left disappointed in what you buy.

Best SUVs Under $20,000
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