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The 10 Cheapest Best-Looking Compact SUVs You Can Buy Right Now

Automobile logo Automobile 11/27/2020 Eleonor Segura,Manufacturer
a car parked in a parking lot: The 10 Cheapest Best Looking Compact SUVs © Manufacturer The 10 Cheapest Best Looking Compact SUVs

Buying a brand-new and inexpensive vehicle, more often than not, requires you sacrifice good looks in the name of a cheap price tag. This isn't always the case, but the least expensive cars on the market are not consistently the best-looking. (Several of those cars do offer killer fuel economy, though, so there's always that.)

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In the SUV segment, budget-car shopping only gets more complicated; it is not the most economical of vehicle segments, especially in the full-size SUV category. For this list of cheapest compact SUVs, we factor in appearance because, frankly, buying a car is a major life purchase. So, why the hell not get behind the wheel of an inexpensive car that doesn't automatically convey a dorky personality?

To refine the list, we established a few rules: 1. Not ugly; 2. $24,000-$28,500 price range; 3. Compact SUV that is still in production; 4.  Base model; and 5. Only one vehicle per automaker. With that framework established, here are the 10 cheapest, best-looking compact SUVs on sale right now.

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Best-Looking, Cheapest SUVs: 2021 Jeep Cherokee Latitude FWD, $24,285

  • EPA estimated fuel economy: 22/31/26 mpg (city/hwy/combined)
  • Engine: 2.4-liter I-4/180 horsepower, 171 lb-ft of torque
  • Transmission: 9-speed automatic
  • Drivetrain: front-wheel drive

Landing on our recent list of ugliest SUVs of all time, the fifth-generation Jeep Cherokee made its debut at the 2013 New York Auto Show and immediately went on sale for the 2014 model year. To date, the fifth-gen Jeep Cherokee has sold more than 1.3 million copies in America, not terrible for an SUV whose front end caused an uproar. The refreshed 2021 Jeep Cherokee has since then redeemed itself; available in seven optional exterior-paint colors and with optional four-wheel drive, the Jeep Cherokee provides a maximum of 54.7-cubic-feet of cargo space.

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Best-Looking, Cheapest SUVs: 2021 Subaru Forester, $24,795

  • EPA estimated fuel economy: 26/33/29 mpg (city/hwy/combined)
  • Engine: 2.5-liter I-4/182 hp, 176 lb-ft
  • Transmission: continuously variable automatic
  • Drivetrain: all-wheel drive 

The all-wheel-drive Subaru Forester can accommodate five passengers comfortably with a generous 43.3 inches of legroom in the front and 39.4 inches for rear passengers. For the 2020 model year, the Subaru Forester earned an overall five-star safety rating from NHTSA and received a Top Safety Pick Plus award. The rugged and off-road capable Forester is among the three small SUVs on this year's IIHS winners list, which also includes the Mazda CX-3 and CX-5. Active safety features at no extra cost include the EyeSight driver-assist package, a tire-pressure monitoring system, vehicle-dynamics control, and a brake override system.

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Best-Looking, Cheapest SUVs: 2020 GMC Terrain FWD SL, $26,195  

  • EPA estimated fuel economy: 26/30/27 mpg (city/hwy/combined)
  • Engine: 1.5-liter turbocharged I-4/170 hp, 203 lb-ft
  • Transmission: 9-speed automatic
  • Drivetrain: front-wheel drive

Offered in four trim grades, including the luxurious Denali version that increases output to 252 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, the 2020 GMC Terrain FWD SL is a compact SUV we don't hear about often. Wearing GMC design language in a smaller package, the GMC Terrain has an abundance of standard features and equipment. Those selling points include the GMC Pro Safety bundle, a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, heated and power-operated side mirrors, LED taillights, and active noise cancellation.

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Best-Looking, Cheapest SUVs: 2020 Honda CR-V 2WD LX, $26,270

  • EPA estimated fuel economy: 28/34/30 mpg (city/hwy/combined)
  • Engine: 1.5-liter turbocharged I-4/190 hp, 170 lb-ft
  • Transmission: continuously variable automatic
  • Drivetrain: front-wheel drive

In production since 1995 and five generations later, the fifth-gen Honda CR-V reached a record 384,168 in sales in 2019. Of the eight models available in the CR-V lineup, the base model Honda CR-V LX is the most affordable at $26,270. Standard driver-assistance technology consists of lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, auto high-beam headlights, and a blind-spot system with cross-traffic monitoring.

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Best-Looking, Cheapest SUVs: 2021 Mazda CX-5 Sport, $26,370

  • EPA estimated fuel economy: 25/31/28 mpg (city/hwy/combined)
  • Engine: 2.5-liter I-4/187 hp, 186 lb-ft
  • Transmission: 6-speed automatic
  • Drivetrain: front-wheel drive

The Mazda CX-5's U.S. sales have seen a healthy increase in the past five years, the most significant coming in 2017 with the introduction of the second-generation CX-5. One of three winners of the 2020 IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus award, the Mazda CX-5 is available in seven trims. Among standard equipment on the CX-5 Sport base model are a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a 10-inch touchscreen infotainment system, dual front USB ports, LED headlights, and a heap of safety technology features.

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Best-Looking, Cheapest SUVs: 2020 Volkswagen Tiguan S, $26,440 

  • EPA estimated fuel economy: 22/29/25 mpg (city/hwy/combined)
  • Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged I-4/184 hp, 221 lb-ft
  • Transmission: 8-speed automatic
  • Drivetrain: front-wheel drive 

A refreshed 2022 Volkswagen Tiguan is already on sale in Europe, and damn, we are jealous. The U.S. will have to wait until October 2021 for the updated Tiguan, but for now, the 2020 Volkswagen Tiguan is a qualified stand-in. If you need room for a larger group of people, this compact SUV can be configured with a third-row seat to fit up to seven passengers, even if not particularly comfortably. VW offers the Tiguan in six trim levels, beginning with the base-model S. Standard safety features are a rearview camera system, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, forward-collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, and pedestrian monitoring.

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Best-Looking, Cheapest SUVs: 2021 Nissan Rogue S, $26,745

  • EPA estimated fuel economy: 27/35/30 mpg (city/hwy/combined)
  • Engine: 2.5-liter I-4/181 hp, 181 lb-ft
  • Transmission: continuously variable automatic
  • Drivetrain: front-wheel drive

All-new for the 2021 model year, the Nissan Rogue is the reigning champ of Nissan's entire lineup in terms of high-volume sales. Offering 38.5 inches of legroom in the second-row seat and 41.5 inches in the front, the 2021 Rogue S comes fitted with plenty of standard equipment. Comfort and convenience highlights are the Nissan Concierge personal assistant feature, NASA-inspired zero-gravity seats, lower storage space in the front center console, and an improved Divide-N-Hide rear cargo area system.

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Best-Looking, Cheapest SUVs: 2021 Toyota RAV4 LE, $27,225

  • EPA estimated fuel economy: 27/35/30 (city/hwy/combined)
  • Engine: 2.5-liter I-4/203 hp, 184 lb-ft
  • Transmission: 8-speed automatic
  • Drivetrain: front-wheel drive 

In 2019, Toyota moved a jaw-dropping 448,068 RAV4s into the hands of U.S. customers, and it should come as no surprise that the RAV4 made this list. The front-wheel-drive Toyota RAV4 LE has a 1,500-pound towing capacity, all-season mud- and snow-rated tires, a 60-month/60,000-mile powertrain warranty, and 69.8 cubic feet of total available cargo space. Toyota Safety Sense, a backup camera with projected path, Safety Connect, and hill-start assist control come standard.

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Best-Looking, Cheapest SUVs: 2020 Hyundai Santa Fe SE, $27,450

  • EPA estimated fuel economy: 22/29/25 (city/hwy/combined)
  • Engine: 2.4-liter I-4/185 hp, 178 lb-ft
  • Transmission: 8-speed automatic
  • Drivetrain: front-wheel drive

With more than 70,000 units of the outgoing model sold this year in the U.S., the updated 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe received a stunning makeover. Due to arrive in showrooms by the end of 2020, the new face is sure to send sales through the roof. The new 2021 Hyundai Santa Fe comes standard in front-wheel drive and has nine exterior colors to choose from, all at no additional cost. (The Stormy Sea hue is our favorite offering.) We drove a 2020 Santa Fe Limited 2.0T on a road trip to a California small town last winter and much enjoyed the ride, so we expect even better from the new model.

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Best-Looking, Cheapest SUVs: 2021 Ford Bronco Sport, $28,155

  • EPA estimated fuel economy: TBA
  • Engine: 1.5-liter turbocharged I-3/181 hp, 190 lb-ft
  • Transmission: 8-speed automatic
  • Drivetrain: 4x4

The all-new 2021 Ford Bronco Sport is a breath of fresh air in the tumultuous year of 2020. With a starting price of $28,155, destination included, the base model Ford Bronco Sport looks more expensive than what its MSRP suggests. A flip-up rear-glass feature, LED configurable daytime running lights, roof-rack rails, active grille shutters, and a safari-style roof are among the standard exterior gear. Bravo, Ford—it's been a long time coming.

The 10 Best-Looking, Cheapest SUVs:

  • 2021 Jeep Cherokee Latitude FWD, $24,285
  • 2021 Subaru Forester, $24,795
  • 2020 GMC Terrain FWD SL, $26,195
  • 2020 Honda CR-V 2WD LX, $26,270
  • 2021 Mazda CX-5 Sport, $26,370
  • 2020 Volkswagen Tiguan S, $26,440
  • 2021 Nissan Rogue S, $26,745
  • 2021 Toyota RAV4 LE, $27,225
  • 2020 Hyundai Santa Fe, $27,450
  • 2021 Ford Bronco Sport, $28,155

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