Getting your SUV fix doesn't have to cost the earth.
Last year, despite the semiconductor chip shortage and related production issues, one thing remained unchanged: SUVs and crossovers killed sedans on the sales charts in the United States. Of the top 20 best-selling vehicles in the USA in 2021, just four were sedans - the rest were all trucks and SUVs.
The fascination with higher-riding SUVs and crossovers remains unwavering, but what if you want one of these vehicles and you're on a much tighter budget? To help, we've assembled the cheapest new SUVs you can buy in America in 2022, all of which come in below our price ceiling of $22,000. But because the MSRP alone shouldn't be the deciding factor, we've also compared these eight high-value SUVs with each other based on three key metrics that we consider important at this price point and in this segment. Those factors are power output, gas mileage, and trunk space.
The group average is 140 horsepower, 30 mpg combined, and 23.5 cubic feet of space behind the second row. Based on those figures and our experiences with each model, which of these offer the most bang for your buck?
The Venue SE is officially the cheapest crossover in America right now, starting at $19,000 excluding a destination charge of $1,245. We appreciate its sensible cabin design, good selection of safety features, and its superb warranty - including 10 years or 100,000 miles of coverage for the powertrain - further underlining its wallet-friendly appeal. However, the 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine produces just 121 hp and 113 lb-ft of torque, making it the least powerful of any car here.
The Venue will take around 9.5 seconds to reach 60 mph and it feels strained at higher speeds, where overtaking maneuvers will need to be carefully planned. At 18.7 cubic feet (expanding to 31.9 cubes with the rear seats folded), it also has the smallest trunk of the entire group, although its gas mileage of 29/33/31 mpg city/highway/combined rank as just above the group average. The Venue SE is incredible value but its wheezy engine and the smallest trunk of the lot are the sacrifices you'll need to be prepared to make.
The Kia Soul is evidence that a vehicle's price tag doesn't tell the full story. At just $290 more than the Venue SE (excluding the $1,215 destination charge), it has 26 hp more grunt, the trunk is a useful 5.5 cubes larger, and it returns nearly identical gas mileage. By a whisker, the Soul LX is the only crossover here that doesn't rank below average in any of the three categories we've chosen for comparison.
The Soul LX has a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 147 hp and 132 lb-ft of torque, allowing it to reach 60 mph in an acceptable 8.3 seconds. It also feels more like a hatchback than an SUV from behind the wheel, which is no bad thing. EPA-rated consumption works out to 28/33/30 mpg. Cargo space varies between 24.2 and 62.1 cubes with the rear seats up or down, and the LX comes with an eight-inch touchscreen, forward collision warning, and blind-spot warning. Plus, we think the Soul's unique design is another selling point, even in rental-car spec.
Not taking into account the $1,225 destination charge, the Nissan Kicks S is the last of these contenders to sneak in below the psychological $20,000 mark. Although the engine is short of power, the Kicks is the most economical crossover here and shares the second-largest trunk with the Chevrolet Trailblazer.
The Kicks S has a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine delivering 122 hp and 114 lb-ft, a lot less than the 140-hp group average and barely more than the Venue, and it's mated to a CVT transmission. As a result, about ten seconds will pass before you hit 60 mph. It's admirably efficient, though, with EPA-rated figures of 31/36/33 mpg. The Nissan looks much fresher after a 2021 facelift but, although the 25.3 cubes of space behind the rear seats are good, carrying bulkier items will be an issue as there's a much poorer 32.3 cubes of total space when the second row is folded. More impressively, Nissan includes blind-spot monitoring, lane departure warning, automatic emergency braking, and forward-collision warning as standard.
Hyundai makes its second appearance on this list with the Kona SE which starts at $21,300, excluding the $1,245 destination charge. The Kona SE has more power and better efficiency than the group's average, but it's less practical because of its tighter trunk.
The Kona SE's 2.0-liter Atkinson cycle four-cylinder engine produces 147 hp and 132 lb-ft of torque, and it's this engine that elevates it far above the cheaper Venue. An intelligent variable transmission is standard, but whereas the Venue is limited to front-wheel drive, the Kona can be optioned with all-wheel drive.
According to the EPA, the Kona SE with FWD returns an excellent 30/35/32 mpg, just 1 mpg behind the frugal Nissan Kicks. With the rear seats up, the Kona has 19.2 cubes of space, below the group's average of 23.5 cubes. The space measures 45.8 cubes with the rear seats folded, much better than the Kicks. We did find a few too many hard plastics in the cabin and the steering is lifeless, but the Kona SE is a fair package at this price point. In SE spec, it's hard to miss its entry-level positioning with tiny wheels and cheap black plastic bumpers.
For the 2022 model year, the Chevy Trax receives a 1.4-liter turbocharged engine that makes it comfortably the most powerful in this group. Added to that, the Trax has the largest trunk. At $21,400 excluding the destination charge of $1,195, those factors point to excellent value, but the Trax is far from perfect.
Compared with its rivals, the Trax LS has a less refined interior and is noticeably lacking the driver-assistance features that the Koreans supply by default. Yes, the 1.4-liter turbocharged engine is stronger than the rest with 155 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque, but its power advantage is undone by gas mileage of 24/32/27 mpg in FWD guise. Remember, the average in this group is 30 mpg combined. The Trax is practical for its size with 29.3 cubes of space behind the second row and 57 cubes with the rear seats folded. But the overall package is too rough around the edges.
At $21,445 excluding a destination charge of $1,245, the Outlander Sport is one of the more expensive models listed here but doesn't shine in any particular area. Practicality is below average and its gas mileage is joint-worst.
The Outlander Sport 2.0 S is served by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine producing 148 hp and 145 lb-ft. Those figures may look decent on paper, but the torque peak only arrives at 4,200 rpm and the engine is rather thrashy. Mediocre ride quality and evident road noise don't help the Outlander Sport's cause, either. You're looking at EPA-rated figures of 24/30/27 mpg in FWD guise and an annual fuel cost that is $450 more than that of the Nissan Kicks S. Cargo capacity is 21.7 cubes behind the rear seats and 49.5 cubes when they're folded. On a positive note, Mitsubishi includes forward collision warning and lane departure warning as standard, and there's a superb powertrain warranty that runs for ten years or 100,000 miles.
Of the two Chevys on this list, the Trailblazer is easily the more desirable. It's only $400 more than the Trax but the Trailblazer has a much fresher design and is more efficient. The Trailblazer also has one of the biggest trunks here, being almost two cubes larger than the group's average.
Unfortunately, the Trailblazer isn't as quick as its sporty looks would lead you to believe. Although it's turbocharged, the small 1.2-liter three-cylinder engine can only muster 137 hp and 162 lb-ft of torque, so leisurely acceleration is the order of the day. Besides a lack of power, the ride quality isn't particularly smooth. At 29/31/30 mpg, the Trailblazer LS matches the average consumption of this group. There's a practical 25.3-cubic-foot trunk, expanding to 54.4 cubes with the rear seats folded. Chevy at least throws in standard safety gear like lane-keep assist and lane departure warning, and as we reported not long ago, demand for the Trailblazer is incredibly strong.
The Honda HR-V is one of the safe bets in this class. It won't turn a lot of heads, but it promises to be a reliable car over many years. In LX form, the HR-V almost exactly matches the group average for power, efficiency, and practicality.
The Honda has a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine sans turbocharging that produces 141 hp and 127 lb-ft of torque. Sending power to the front wheels via a CVT transmission, it will take around 8.6 seconds to reach 60 mph. The HR-V rides with admirable composure and won't cost too much to run as it returns an EPA-rated 28/34/30 mph. Adding AWD is an option.
In terms of cargo volume, the HR-V provides a respectable 24.3 cubes with the back seats up and 58.8 cubes - second only to the Kia Soul - when they're folded. From behind the wheel, the HR-V feels a touch more refined than its rivals here. Unfortunately, the HR-V LX misses out on Honda's usually generous roster of driver aids, which is disappointing considering that the cheaper cars on this list are better equipped.
Every crossover on this list delivers plenty of value considering their low price tags, but all except one will force you to make at least one significant compromise, be it the Venue's poor cargo space, the HR-V's lack of standard safety gear, or the languid acceleration of the Kicks. However, there's a reason that the Kia Soul has a higher BuzzScore (9.3 out of 10) on our site than any other subcompact crossover. It has no major flaws yet is close to being the cheapest car on this list.
The Kia is not so slow that it'll leave you in a state of panic when approaching an incline, yet it's more efficient than the group average. It can carry the most stuff with the rear seats folded, and the trunk is quite big with all the seats up too. It also has a fantastic warranty, the most unique design, many standard safety features, and is good to drive. As a value offering that covers all the bases expected of a subcompact crossover, the Soul is brilliant.