If you’re interested in a new or certified pre-owned SUV, chances are you’ve already checked out the usual suspects, which advertise heavily on TV and sell in huge numbers. All of today’s most popular SUVs are well-built vehicles that offer strong value for the money. But even so, some shoppers may want to look at a different set of choices. If that’s how you feel, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve rounded up seven of our favorite SUVs that aren’t well known by most buyers, providing several great new and certified pre-owned alternatives for shoppers looking for something other than the SUV norm. We’ve also capped our price at a reasonable $20,000 to make our picks as affordable as possible.
2007 Acura RDX
Acura’s stylish RDX was among the first vehicles in the compact premium SUV segment, which is now one of the hottest in the market. Because of its age and reasonable pricing when new, certified pre-owned examples of the RDX are easily available within our price range. Nearly 30 are currently listed on AutoTrader.com in the $20,000 range or below. Although many buyers may pass over the RDX for rivals from Lexus, BMW or Mercedes, we think the compact Acura has a lot to offer. Such items include an exciting 244-horsepower turbocharged 4-cylinder powerplant and a long list of luxurious equipment including dual-zone automatic climate control, leather upholstery, heated front seats, Bluetooth and 18-inch alloy wheels. Also included is Acura’s certified pre-owned warranty, which provides bumper-to-bumper coverage for 12 months or 12,000 miles and seven years or 100,000 miles of powertrain coverage.
2010 GMC Terrain
Chevrolet’s handsome Equinox has been deservedly earning considerable praise in the automotive press. Meanwhile, its mechanically identical twin, the GMC Terrain, has remained remarkably less visible. That’s especially a shame for buyers interested in a more utilitarian appearance than the Equinox offers, since the Terrain couples brawny new styling with many of its more popular twin’s positive attributes. Such features include a standard 4-cylinder engine capable of more than 30 mpg on the highway or an available V6 with more than 260 horsepower. Standard equipment is also generous and includes side curtain airbags, a rear-view camera, 17-inch alloy wheels and automatic headlights. A brand-new Terrain starts in the mid-$20,000 range, but certified pre-owned 2010 models are easily available within the $20,000 budget and include a 12-month, 12,000-mile bumper to bumper warranty along with powertrain coverage of up to five years or 100,000 miles.
2008 Hyundai Veracruz
The little-known Hyundai Veracruz provides a great alternative to mainstream mid-size SUVs. Featuring standard three-row seating and a muscular 3.8-liter V6, it’s surprising the Veracruz hasn’t caught on with shoppers-especially considering the SUV’s long list of standard equipment that includes 17-inch alloy wheels, rear air conditioning, satellite radio and curtain side airbags. Potential reasons for the Veracruz’s slow sales include its debut during the recession and the lack of an available hybrid variant. However, for shoppers interested in a V6-powered crossover, we think it makes a great choice. It’s an even better deal on the used market, where many certified pre-owned 2008 models are now priced well within our $20,000 budget.
2010 Mazda CX-7
Nearly 200 different examples of Mazda’s little-known CX-7 are currently listed on AutoTrader.com with a certified pre-owned warranty for $21,000 or less. That’s great news for shoppers interested in either a mid-size or a compact SUV, since the CX-7 combines several of the positive attributes of both. For shoppers interested in a mid-size SUV, the CX-7 offers surprisingly good fuel economy, reaching up to 28 mpg in highway driving with its base-level 2.5-liter 4-cylinder. Shoppers who want a compact SUV will be impressed with the CX-7’s size, which is more befitting a larger vehicle despite its reasonable price and miserly powertrain. And although $20,000 will buy various trim levels and model years, we especially recommend Touring models thanks to their rear-view camera, automatic climate control, power sunroof and leather upholstery with heated front seats.
2009 Nissan Pathfinder
Although most shoppers are turning their focus from truck-based vehicles to crossovers like Nissan’s stylish Murano, buyers looking for a robust, terrain-tackling SUV would be well advised to check out the brawny Nissan Pathfinder. In addition to offering a muscular standard V6 that produces nearly 270 horsepower, the Pathfinder added a powerful V8 for the 2008 model year, a must for buyers looking to tow. A new Pathfinder can easily reach the $40,000 range when equipped with options, but more than 30 different certified pre-owned models are currently available on AutoTrader.com for around $20,000 or less. Several available units are even luxurious Pathfinder SE models, which include a rear-view camera, dual-zone automatic climate controls and an iPod hookup as standard equipment. Also standard on certified cars is Nissan’s generous powertrain warranty, which provides up to seven years and 100,000 miles of full coverage.
2008 Saturn Outlook
Many shoppers are keenly aware of the Chevrolet Traverse, Buick Rainier and GMC Acadia, which share General Motors’ Lambda platform. But many buyers don’t realize the automaker also used to sell a fourth member of the full-size SUV crew. Dubbed the Saturn Outlook and available from 2007 through 2010, the large SUV offered the same muscular 3.6-liter V6 powerplant as its mechanical siblings, along with arguably the best styling of the bunch. It’s also become a veritable deal on the used market. There are currently more than 60 examples available nationwide with a certified pre-owned warranty for around $20,000 or less. Yes, the Saturn brand has been shuttered by General Motors, but the automaker is allowing its other dealers to provide certified warranties for the Outlook, providing peace of mind well into the future.
2009 Subaru Forester
If you’re checking out compact SUVs, a certified pre-owned example of Subaru’s all-wheel-drive Forester provides a great alternative for shoppers who want ground clearance and capability without spending an arm and a leg on a new model. The base price of an all-new Forester is just over $21,000, but we recommend an upscale 2009 or 2010 Forester Limited or Premium. Shoppers who choose the Premium will enjoy a power sunroof, 17-inch alloy wheels and steering wheel audio controls, while buyers opting to upgrade to the Limited get leather upholstery with heated front seats, automatic climate control and a standard automatic transmission. And with more than 400 certified examples currently on AutoTrader.com for less than $20,000-including nearly 300 different 2008 and 2009 models-the Forester certainly provides exceptional value for the money.
What it means to you: If you’re bored with traditional SUVs, don’t worry-alternatives are out there.