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Edmunds: The 5 Best SUVs for Under $40K

The models that rise to the top.

This photo provided by Mazda shows the 2024 CX-50. An upscale cabin and enjoyable performance back up this small SUV's stylish design.
This photo provided by Mazda shows the 2024 CX-50. An upscale cabin and enjoyable performance back up this small SUV's stylish design.
Mazda North American Operations via AP

The automotive experts at Edmunds test SUVs of all shapes, sizes and prices. During these evaluations, certain models rise to the top with qualities such as roomy seating and cargo areas, a comfortable ride, and easy-to-use touchscreens and technology features. But with many prospective buyers looking to make every dollar count, it's important to consider value as well.

Working with a budget cap of $40,000, Edmunds picked five SUVs to highlight. Some have city-friendly proportions that take the stress out of parking in tight spots, while others have cavernous cargo holds and handy third-row seating. They are listed below in order of price, which includes the destination charge.

2024 MAZDA CX-50

The Mazda CX-50 small SUV earns a spot in this list thanks to its driving refinement and upscale cabin. From inside it's not hard to believe that you're behind the wheel of a luxury-badged model. The design is first-rate and the seats are supportive in either row. The CX-50 rides a bit more firmly over bumps than other SUVs, but in return it has stable handling and is enjoyable to zip around town in or take out on a scenic drive.

All-wheel drive is standard on every trim, as are driver assist features such as lane keeping assistance, traffic-adaptive cruise control and blind-spot warning. A 186-horsepower four-cylinder serves as this Mazda's capable and budget-minded base engine. There's an optional turbo four-cylinder that's more powerful, but it nudges the price at or above a $40,000 spending limit.

Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price: $31,675

This photo provided by Kia shows the 2023 Sorento. It is a bit bigger than the typical small SUV and has a third-row seat that will come in handy for growing families.This photo provided by Kia shows the 2023 Sorento. It is a bit bigger than the typical small SUV and has a third-row seat that will come in handy for growing families.Kia America via AP

2023 KIA SORENTO

The Kia Sorento is a compelling choice for shoppers wanting a low-priced seven-passenger SUV. Its third-row seating area is smaller than those of bigger models — such as the Hyundai Palisade listed below — but it is still suitable for occasional use for kids. Most of the Sorento's trim levels come well stocked with helpful convenience and technology features.

There is a choice of a fuel-conscious, non-turbocharged 191-horsepower four-cylinder engine or a punchier 281-horsepower turbo-four available in higher trims. And it's possible to opt for the more powerful engine and keep the Sorento's price well below $40,000. A Sorento Hybrid is also available for shoppers seeking higher fuel economy.

Starting MSRP: $31,415

This photo provided by Honda shows the 2024 CR-V. The latest CR-V continues to be a small SUV benchmark for roominess, practicality and ease of driving.This photo provided by Honda shows the 2024 CR-V. The latest CR-V continues to be a small SUV benchmark for roominess, practicality and ease of driving.American Honda Motor Co. via AP

2024 HONDA CR-V

The Honda CR-V is about as well rounded as a small SUV can get. It delivers a smooth and comfortable ride, great outward visibility, and loads of cargo space. Fuel economy is another plus point. The CR-V's base 190-horsepower turbocharged four-cylinder gets up to an EPA-estimated 30 mpg combined, or you can opt for the 204-hp hybrid powertrain that gets up to 40 mpg combined.

Thanks to its recent redesign for the 2023 model year, the interior of the CR-V is attractive and functional. Picking the midgrade EX-L trim stays under our budget limit and still gets you some upscale features such as leather upholstery, a power liftgate and a bigger center touchscreen.

Starting MSRP: $30,825

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2024 SUBARU OUTBACK

The Subaru Outback is ideal for SUV shoppers who want a vehicle that's suitable for occasional off-road adventures. Thanks to its standard all-wheel drive and generous ground clearance, the midsize Outback has above-average capability on dirt roads or rocky trails. The Outback's wagon-like shape also makes it easier to load recreational gear or cargo on the roof.

Acceleration from the Outback's standard 182-horsepower four-cylinder can be slow when you need a burst of speed on the highway, but in exchange the Outback gets a respectable EPA-estimated 28 mpg combined. A more powerful turbocharged four-cylinder is also available, though it exceeds our budget cap.

Starting MSRP: $30,190

This photo provided by Hyundai shows the 2024 Palisade. The base version stays under a $40,000 budget and is an ideal pick for a roomy and upscale three-row SUV.This photo provided by Hyundai shows the 2024 Palisade. The base version stays under a $40,000 budget and is an ideal pick for a roomy and upscale three-row SUV.Hyundai Motor America via AP

2024 HYUNDAI PALISADE

The three-row Hyundai Palisade is the most expensive SUV among Edmunds' choices here, and the majority of trims are priced beyond a $40,000 budget. But it's important to know even the base Palisade is equipped with a long roster of tech features and driving aids. Highlights include a big 12.3-inch center touchscreen, first- and second-row USB ports, traffic-adaptive cruise control and blind-spot warning.

All Palisades come with a 291-horsepower V6 engine that delivers acceptable acceleration and fuel economy. Despite its relatively large size, the Palisade is relaxing to drive and easy to maneuver. Also worth noting is its third-row seating has ample space even for adults, which is a rarity among many midsize SUVs.

Starting MSRP: $37,735

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