TOP 5 SUVs UNDER $30,000
The top SUV's under $30,000: Safe, Reliable & Affordable transportation for Families
The Ontario-built 2010 Equinox is all new and one of GM’s best makeovers. A 3.0 L V6 is available, but I prefer the 2.4 L four-cylinder engine. Even though it isn’t as powerful, its acceleration feels snappier, and fuel consumption is lower, especially if you use the “Eco” button that slightly dials back the performance. Because its engine is inherently noisier than the V6, the four-cylinder includes an innovative noise-cancelling feature: this vehicle is exceptionally quiet.
The four-cylinder is also available in all trims, starting with the LS at $25,995, and all can be optioned with all-wheel-drive. My preference is the 2LT, at $30,110. It’s one step below the fully loaded LTZ, but I find its fabric seats more comfortable than the LTZ’s leather chairs, and it includes a backup camera display in the rear-view mirror. Especially nice is a sliding rear seat that can be moved back for extra legroom, or pushed ahead for more cargo space.
Two engines are available in Ford’s popular little SUV, so pick the one that best suits what you’ll be doing with it. A 171-horsepower, 2.5 L four-cylinder starts at $25,999, and that’s with a five-speed manual transmission; pop in the optional six-speed automatic, and you’re up to $27,099. It’s fine for running around town, but if you’re regularly carrying lots of passengers or cargo, or if you want the 1,587-kg towing capacity, opt for the 240-horsepower, 3.0 L V6. It comes strictly with a six-speed automatic, and starts in nicely equipped XLT trim for $28,699. (You can go as high as $36,049 for the V6 Limited, or $36,399 for a gasoline-electric hybrid version.)
It looks like a tough little truck, but it drives and rides more like a car. It’s got decent ground clearance if you’re taking it along rougher cottage roads, and its tall windows provide excellent visibility all around. Nice touches are a “capless” fuel filler, power driver’s seat, and flip-up liftgate glass.
While it starts at $26,290, you can move up to an all-wheel-drive version with leather interior for $33,490 (a final addition of navigation system takes it to $35,590). All models use a 2.4 L four-cylinder making 180 horsepower, with five-speed automatic transmission, and it’s a strong little powerplant that’s well-mated to the vehicle’s size.
The ride is on the firm side, but the trade-off is sharp handling and cornering ability that makes it a lot of fun to drive – there’s no reason why practical has to be boring. The mid-range EX, at $29,490 in front-wheel or $31,490 in all-wheel, is probably your best bet: it includes automatic climate control and headlamps, sunroof, six-CD stereo, power driver’s seat, and a “dual deck” rear cargo shelf that lets you load items without stacking them on top of each other. I think it’s pretty handsome, too.
It has its faults. Its interior is heavy on hard plastic, and its engine can get noisy under load, but it’s extremely roomy, even in the rear seat. It holds lots of cargo, it’s fun to drive, it’s cute and it starts at $17,445. That gets you a 122-horsepower 1.6 L four-cylinder. I’d suggest moving up to the 142-horsepower 2.0 L, which runs between $20,045 ($21,245 with an automatic transmission) and a top price of $25,045.
I like the 4U model, at $22,045, which includes spiffy 18-inch wheels, sunroof, heated mirrors and seats, stability control, six airbags and premium stereo. It also includes the car’s signature red-light “mood” speakers, which pulsate with the music. (Thankfully, you can turn them off once you’re done showing them to everyone; they do get distracting at night.) This isn’t the most sophisticated vehicle, but it makes my list for its pricing, five-year/100,000-km just-about-everything warranty, simple controls, storage spaces and a suspension that handles road bumps long before they can make their way up to the passengers.
It’s more of a tall wagon than an SUV, which makes it a nice size for city traffic and smaller garages. Redesigned for 2010, it has more interior room and is responsive and light on its feet, and there’s a comfortable weight to the steering that inspires confidence, without feeling like you’re hauling it from turn to turn. The base model starts at $28,995 ($30,195 with an automatic continuously variable transmission). It uses a 2.5 L four-cylinder engine that makes 170 horsepower. It’s rated as a Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (PZEV), using special engine and exhaust technology to produce up to 90 per cent cleaner emissions than a comparable, conventional vehicle.
The price includes Subaru’s standard all-wheel-drive, along with heated power-adjustable seats, electronic stability control and a neat set of roof rails with integrated crossbars that fold out of the way when they’re not needed.