Our picks for the best reasonably priced crossovers in America

inside the 2014 los angeles auto show 1 Our picks for the best reasonably priced crossovers in America

Best Inexpensive Crossovers and SUVs

The great thing about small SUVs is that they combine all of the good things about sedans (smooth, fun ride) and large SUVs (versatility) into an affordable and fuel efficient package.

This segment has really heated up in recent years and now nearly every automaker, from the luxury labels to the mass producers, has a small SUV in their lineup. The sheer number of choices can actually be a bit overwhelming.

To make the choice a little bit easier, we polled our editorial staff in an effort to identify the best choices for a reasonably priced small SUV or crossover. These are the best options out there for those of you looking for a car that is fun, attractive, fuel efficient, versatile and, most importantly, affordable. Click through to see what made the list.

a mazda cx 5 crossover suv is displayed 2 Our picks for the best reasonably priced crossovers in America

Mazda CX-5

In terms of value, I don’t think there’s any contest. The Mazda CX-5 is the runaway winner. Base-price wise it’s among the lowest, if not the lowest price, in the crossover class. And I think they deliver a product that’s pretty good. Nobody will ever accuse a crossover of being fun to drive, but the CX-5 comes closest. It’s fuel economy leads the class, and in terms of safety, it does better than a lot of its competitors on crash tests – looking at you, RAV4 and Escape.

Look at the other bargain-priced cars in the segment – the awful new Tucson, for example. What you pay for is what you get. But not the case with the CX-5. You get a pretty good package at a low price point – that’s the definition of a good value. – Pete Bigelow, Associate Editor

Research the 2015 Mazda CX-5

auto show subaru 2 Our picks for the best reasonably priced crossovers in America

Subaru Outback

At $25,845 with destination, the base 2016 Subaru Outback 2.5i is the Goldilocks of crossovers. Subie’s high-riding wagon can’t fit the passengers of a larger, three-row model, but everyone in the Outback still has plenty of space to spread out. The interior is also usable, though not very luxurious, but the cargo area is easily large enough to swallow the luggage for a vehicle-load of people.

The just-right approach extends to the Outback mechanically, as well. Its 175-horsepower, boxer engine and CVT certainly don’t offer neck-snapping acceleration, but the powertrain is plenty adequate for keeping up with daily traffic. For a vehicle of this size with standard all-wheel drive, the 33-mpg highway fuel economy is quite good, too. If you’re searching for a value in the CUV segment, all of these elements make it hard not to at least consider the Outback. – Chris Bruce, Associate Editor

Research the 2015 Subaru Outback

us transport la auto show 2 Our picks for the best reasonably priced crossovers in America

Honda HR-V

There’s no shortage of options in the growing subcompact crossover class, and all of them can be optioned to a conservative price. The Honda HR-V stands out as a handsome option, with an interior that feels nicer than its platform mate’s, the Honda Fit. There’s enough room inside to fit four comfortably, and the HR-V’s trick is the second-row Magic Seat, which can be reconfigured a ton of different ways to accommodate different combinations of oddly shaped things.

Honda avoids going over the top with cutting-edge safety options, which also helps keep the cost down. The mid-range EX has a healthy complement of equipment, including heated seats, Honda’s Lane Watch camera, automatic climate control, and a straightforward infotainment system; with front-wheel drive and a CVT, it’s just $22,965. And you can save even more on the front-driver if you opt for the manual transmission. If you want everything, including navigation and all-wheel drive, the total for the top EX-L trim comes to $26,890. – David Gluckman, Editorial Program Manager

Research the 2016 Honda HR-V

2015 chicago auto show media preview day 1 2 Our picks for the best reasonably priced crossovers in America

Jeep Renegade Trailhawk

Want to talk about value? Let’s talk about a roomy, efficient, stylish, well-equipped small crossover from a wildly popular brand that can mix it up off-road with far bigger, more expensive vehicles. That is the Jeep Renegade Trailhawk. Not only does it have some serious off-road chops – the tiniest Trailhawk will easily go further off-road than its owners will ever need y– it’s a good enough ride on paved roads that it can hold its own in an increasingly competitive segment. 

The nine-speed automatic and 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine return respectable mileage (you can get over 30 mpg in other Renegade models, but not the Trailhawk) and rarely feel flat-footed, while the ride/handling balance is perfectly arranged for tossability without compromising comfort. It’s a true do-everything vehicle, and despite not offering the greatest size-to-dollar ratio, it’s represents a tremendous value for those who want capability, style, and livability in a tidy package. – Brandon Turkus, Associate Editor

Research the 2016 Jeep Renegade

2014 jeep wrangler willys wheeler edition 2 Our picks for the best reasonably priced crossovers in America

Jeep Wrangler Willys Wheeler Edition – Alex Kierstein

The Willys Wheeler Edition might be the perfect Wrangler, a just-right combination of off-road goodies and value in a relatively compact platform. The Rubicon, with all its bells and whistlers, is overkill for a vehicle that you still want to get groceries in. If the grocery store is at the end of a murderous overland trail, though, the Willys Wheeler is probably up to the task.

For roughly $5,000 less than a Rubicon (without options), the Willys Wheeler provides an upgraded Dana 44 rear axle with Trac-Lok mechanical limited slip differential, BF Goodrich KM Mud Terrain tires lifted right from the Rubicon, and rock rails. The 3.73 rear gearing is a nice compromise between crawling grunt and commuting realities, and the 2.72:1 low-range gear ratio allows for legitimate trail work. The 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 is torquey and returns 21 mpg on the highway, which isn’t bad for a vehicle with the drag coefficient of a brick. And to make it more civilized, it has some niceties the Rubicon doesn’t: a leather-wrapped wheel, tire pressure monitoring, and Connect with voice command and Bluetooth. This is a lot of old-school, solid-axle capability without some of the crudeness of spartan older Jeeps, and for $27,795 to start it’s a great deal, too. – Alex Kierstein, Senior Editor

Research the 2016 Jeep Wrangler

2017 Fiat 124 Spider priced below most Miatas

The Fiat 124 Spider and Mazda MX-5 Miata might be siblings, but all that means is the rivalry between the two cars will be unusually intense. Pricing for the reborn 124 has been released and is added proof of that fact – aside from the very base trim, the turbocharged Italian is cheaper than its Zoom-Zoomy brother.

Fiat’s base model, the 124 Spider Classica, starts at $25,990. The MX-5 Sport isn’t much cheaper, at $25,735. Both cars get 16-inch alloy wheels, black cloth seats, LED taillights, but the Mazda will throw in LED headlights. It’s also interesting to note that the two cars have differing destination charges – $995 for the Fiat and $820 for the Mazda.

Move up to the mid-range Fiat, and you’ll start to see the “Italian” car eke out a pricing advantage. The Lusso, Italian for luxury, rings up at $28,490 compared to the MX-5 Grand Touring’s $30,885. Yes, we’re comparing the middle-tier 124 to the range-topping Mazda, because the mid-range, enthusiast-oriented Club is more analogous to the 124’s Abarth model. The Lusso matches the MX-5 GT with 17-inch alloys, heated leather seats, a 7.0-inch touchscreen with navigation, and dual-zone automatic climate control. The Mazda does come with a bevy of safety features as standard – blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning, and automatic high-beam control – which look to be optional on the Fiat, so take that into consideration if you’re thinking about buying one of the two.

We enthusiasts are most interested in the matchup between the 124 Spider Abarth and the MX-5 Club. The scorpion-badged 124 starts at $29,190 and the Club at $29,420. You’ll get more power – 10 additional ponies according to FCA – as well as all the performance goodies from the Club. There are Bilstein-tuned shocks, a mechanical limited-slip diff, and a front strut bar, plus a very imposing exhaust note. Recaro seats will be an optional extra, as will Brembo brakes (the MX-5 bundles them with BBS wheels).

Finally, there’s the 124 Spider Prima Edizione Lusso. The limited-edition wears Azzurro Italia (translation: pretty blue) paint and rings in at $35,995, which gets you a bunch of swag on top of the normal Lusso stuff. Oh, and if you choose the automatic transmission, you’ll be punished with a $1,350 charge, regardless of which Fiata you go for. That’s less than the premium Mazda charges for an automatic on an MX-5 Club or GT, but more than the $1,480 extra it charges for a two-pedal Sport.

So, with pricing now in mind, what do you go for – 124 or MX-5?

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56d71728e4b0baa1338ba7a9 1 v1 2017 Fiat 124 Spider priced below most Miatas

The Mazda MX-5 Miata RF's wild concept ancestor

miata rf 3 The Mazda MX 5 Miata RF's wild concept ancestor

Mazda finally decided to put one of its awesome Miata concepts into production.

No car in the latter half of the twentieth century changed the way enthusiasts think more than the Mazda MX-5 Miata.

Living up to its name, which is a rough translation from Old High German for the word “reward,” the Miata has remained true to its original form as an approachable, simple, reliable sports car that blends modern convenience with classic charm.

The basic genes that make the Miata so good have largely remained unchanged since the first, $14,000 model (that’s about $27,500 today) debuted at the 1989 Chicago Auto Show. Light weight, rear-wheel drive, and a chassis more capable than its powertrain have kept things true to the original idea.

That said, the new Miata RF — that’s for Retractable Fastback — that goes on sale soon represents arguably the biggest diversion. With a targa-esque electric roof that stows, leaving the rear section in place, the Miata RF is as close to a traditional coupe as we have seen from Mazda.

But that’s not to say that the folks in Hiroshima haven’t toyed with the idea of a coupe (or a bare-bones roadster) before.

They’ve teased us with concepts for more than 20 years, and now they’ve finally rewarded us with the Miata RF, which looks more like a concept than a showroom-bound production model.

Let’s take a walk through a timeline of a few of Mazda’s most interesting Miata concepts, some of which have inspired what you can actually own.

miata speedster concept 1 The Mazda MX 5 Miata RF's wild concept ancestor

M Speedster Concept (1995)

Mazda returned to the site of the original Miata’s unveiling—the Chicago Auto Show — with its 1995 Speedster Concept, a style the automaker subsequently repeated several times.

The original Speedster Concept appeared at first glance to be most notable for its gigantic driving lamps, but its low-roof look and fixed panel behind its seats gave it a distinct appearance all over. Oh, and then there are the five-spoke alloy wheels – they look dated and anonymous now, but were considered stylish at the time.

Mazda continues to tease us with speedster versions of the Miata — even through to the current model.

Research the 1995 Mazda MX-5 Miata

m coupe concept 1 The Mazda MX 5 Miata RF's wild concept ancestor

M Coupe (1996)

Mazda first played around with the idea of a fixed-roof Miata early into the life of the original, or NA model (subsequent Miatas are known internally as NB, NC, and now ND).

The M Coupe, which uses a name BMW later grabbed, had a fiberglass roof melded onto the convertible’s body but was otherwise basically a standard Miata.

Sure, it had sportier tires and a few bolt-ons that looked more like accessories than showroom features, but the M Coupe accurately previewed a factory fixed-roof NB model (with a proper metal top) that went on sale in Japan several years later.

However, it wasn’t until the NC that Mazda finally offered American buyers the choice of a permanent, folding hard top Miata – a power folding metal roof that added a bit of weight and complexity in exchange for extra security and weather protection.

Research the 1995 Mazda MX-5 Miata

miata mono posto 1 The Mazda MX 5 Miata RF's wild concept ancestor

Mono Posto Concept (2000)

Intended to recall sports cars from the 1950s, the Mono Posto Concept that arrived on the scene at 2000’s SEMA show in Las Vegas derives its name from its single-seat arrangement

It was the first concept Mazda built on the then-new NB Miata, the car’s second generation.

Not much of the Mono Posto ever inspired a production Miata, but it did link the modern sports car to those racing greats of the 1950s like the Porsche 550 Spyder that came before it.

At the time, Mazda fell somewhat under Ford Motor Company’s once enormous umbrella, so the Mono Posto shared space on the stage with concepts from brands as diverse as Lincoln, Volvo, Mercury, and Aston Martin.

Research the 2000 Mazda MX-5 Miata

miata spyder 1 The Mazda MX 5 Miata RF's wild concept ancestor

MX-5 Superlight (2009)

In Frankfurt, just as the recession was taking hold of the world, Mazda released a bare-bones Miata concept that was rather in line with the times.

In many ways, the Superlight addressed long-standing concerns that the NC was too heavy at about 400 lbs. portlier than the original NA. It lost its windshield and utilized high-tech lightweight components in an effort to shed weight.

The Superlight tipped the scales at 2,200 lbs., close to what a no-options NA Miata weighs.

Research the 2009 Mazda MX-5 Miata

nd speedster 2 The Mazda MX 5 Miata RF's wild concept ancestor

MX-5 Speedster (2015)

Mazda took the wraps off of two concept versions of its new ND Miata last fall at the SEMA show, and while the Spyder was the looker of the two, the Speedster best represents the platform’s capability.

Tipping the scales at a hair over 2,000 lbs., the Speedster is a bit lighter than the original NA Miata’s curb weight. That’s no small achievement given that the current car complies with modern safety and emissions standards – and for the most part, so would the Speedster.

If the M Coupe eventually inspired the new RF, does that mean a lightweight Miata could show up in showrooms? Don’t hold your breath—but no automaker surprises us with such consistency as Mazda.

Research the 2015 Mazda MX-5 Miata