By on January 23, 2019

Don’t let the title confuse you; we’re not discussing how to save money on your electric bill. Today’s QOTD hopes to find utility vehicles of value, in both the SUV and CUV categories. Put on your thinking caps.

We’re forever being told the utility vehicles of today are not good value. They’re more expensive to buy than their sedan, wagon, or hatchback counterparts, and not as “good” at doing utilitarian hauling duty as their truck cousins. And they fail on these fronts while using more fuel than necessary, due to their excessive weight and air-punching shape. Yet here we are — crossovers and SUVs are what most American consumers are buying and want to buy, as all those other body types (except trucks) fade ever closer into irrelevance.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t find the best of the bunch for getting some bang for your buck. Today we’ll take a look at three main categories of SUV and CUV; the easiest way to segment them seems to be by size.

  • Compact
  • Midsize
  • Large

We can further differentiate the segments by finding our value leaders in separate realms of truck-based and car-based utility vehicles. Then, we divide them up a bit further by coming up with recommendations for luxury and non-luxury marques. Of course, the true goal of a luxury vehicle is not kindness to the checking account, but perhaps there’s a way to have a luxury utility in your life without paying far too much to your local car dealer.

It seems simple enough to rack your brain for the lowest cost entry in each segment, but cheap doesn’t necessarily mean good value. They’re not all qualifiers for Ace of Base. Your selections must be available as new, here in 2019. And as an overarching rule today, if it doesn’t have four- or all-wheel drive available, it’s not a utility vehicle. Those are called hatchbacks. Sad!

Off to you.

[Image: Ford]

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64 Comments on “QOTD: Searching for Value Among the Utilities?...”


  • avatar
    indi500fan

    Observe the parking lot at your local Costco / Sam’s / etc
    The people have spoken.

  • avatar
    volvo

    Based on the service I have gotten out of my V6 AWD 09 RAV4 and expected total cost of ownership over life of vehicle I would have to go with a base level FWD RAV4. The decision made easier with the discontinuance of the V6 option several years ago.

  • avatar
    2drsedanman

    Although it is essentially 9 years old in it’s current configuration, I think the 4Runner still represents a good value in this segment. It’s durability and ruggedness are legendary, as is resale. And several people like the fact the vehicle is still made in Japan. The downside is it lacks a lot of the improvements that have been made in this class over the last decade, especially among the CUV crowd. But if lived somewhere with inclement weather, needed a body on frame vehicle, or had an outdoor lifestyle involving hunting, off-roading, etc, the 4Runner still makes a compelling argument.Sales have increased every year since 2011, it must be doing something right.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      If looking at long term overall operating costs, assuming you can keep the frame rot-free with some oil undercoating, I could see a 4Runner SR5 bought new and driven for 25 years coming out ahead of a lot of significantly cheaper and more modern CUV competitors: I trust the drivetrain to go the distance without ever needing an expensive replacement CVT or turbo, or messing with DI issues (cylinder washdown, valve coking, high pressure pump problems), the suspension will likely make it intact 25 years later with just a set of shocks and struts. Finally, in 25 years, it will still be worth something, a surprising amount, if my 1996 4Runner is any indicator.

    • 0 avatar
      MoparRocker74

      Im no fan of Toyota as a whole, but arguably the 4Runner is the last of the pure sports utility vehicles. Wrangler is a straight up 4×4 truck, Grand Cherokee isn’t the offroad world beater it was in the first two generations, Durango is basically the Magnum II, Tahoe, Expedition, etc are morbidly obese lardasses that are unsuitable for anything rougher than a gravel road. Fwd car based CUVs are the new midsize sedans: appliances for the masses.

      For what a ‘sports utility’ is expected to do (mix of car and truck duties) I don’t think theres a more well rounded vehicle out there. And it WILL last if you take care of it.

  • avatar
    gtem

    Are we talking MSRPs or real world prices?

    In real world prices, I’d say the Outlander has got to be in the running, Rogue makes a case for itself although I still wonder whether Nissan truly beefed up the CVT between the current 2013+ gen and what my sister in law had implode in her 2010 (albeit with 186k miles). A leftover 2018 Rav4 LE is a strong value contender if you consider total cost of ownership.

    Midsize, I think the Ascent has a lot of features for the money, and is basically guaranteed to retain value like no other (regardless of how it actually holds up mechanically, and with that much weight and turbo torque, I wince for its CVT).

    Large SUV: Armada SV runs away with this one IMO, whether comparing MSRPs OR real world prices.

  • avatar
    jack4x

    Wrangler – Lower trims only

    Grand Cherokee

    Land Cruiser – Worth every penny and more. Nothing else on the road is designed for the same 25 year service life.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      As much as I like and respect the Land Cruiser, at their current $85k price tag, their longevity isn’t THAT much beyond that 4Runner for less than half the price.

      • 0 avatar
        jack4x

        True, but the LC is just my pick for large SUVs.

        The 4Runner is likely my second choice in the midsize class, I prefer the interior and V8 availability of the JGC just enough to give it the nod over the superior build quality and reliability of the Toyota.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      A new Land Cruiser is $76K while an Escalade is $64K on cars.com. While a 2009 with less than150,000 miles the LC is $26K and a Escalade is $17K.  A new LX570 3-row is $92K while a 2009 is $27K.

      So the LC drops $50K and the Escalade only drops $48K.  Toyota LC is not luxurious and should not have that depreciation compared to another luxury marque.the LX is more like a luxury vehicle in it’s high depreciation of $65 in the last decade.

      • 0 avatar
        gtem

        Norm the Escalade is a Chinese ginger-bread covered piece of crap compared to the LC, which is still engineered to an impressive standard (25 year lifetime of third world abuse).

      • 0 avatar
        jack4x

        Even accepting those numbers, which I’m certain were cherry picked to make the Escalade look as good as possible, the 10 year residuals would then be:

        LC: 26/76 = 34%
        Caddy: 17/64 = 26%

        That is better than a 30% advantage for the Toyota.

        I may be one of the few on here who actually love the styling of the Slade and one of many who appreciate the 6.2L, but driving them back to back really hammers home the point that the LC is engineered to a higher standard across the board, feels more solid and durable, and does not give up much in the way of interior furnishings.

        • 0 avatar
          NormSV650

          At the end of the day you are not carrying around % symbols in your back pocket but greenbacks. You’ll have more leftover with the Esky purchase and no how much more tech.

          Plus the Esky can do anything everybody else can.

          https://youtu.be/H405OpDxzfo

  • avatar
    Dan

    Explorer.

    Big, smooth car with a V6.

    Old enough to have the bugs worked out.

    Cold enough to have decent incentives.

    Acceptably invisible everywhere.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      “Old enough to have the bugs worked out”

      Kind of sort of. They’re still not great. Water pumps still leaking internally into oil on the 3.5Ls last I heard, although it’s not an insane failure rate (but not trivial). Smattering of crappy interior things breaking.

  • avatar
    Nedmundo

    I think mid-trim Subaru Foresters represent good value. A few months ago, we bought a CPO 2016 Forester Premium (with Eye Sight), which is one step up from base, and it’s surprisingly well-equipped. It has a large moonroof, privacy glass, satellite radio, heated seats, Homelink, and other stuff. It isn’t luxurious by any stretch, but for our purposes it’s great.

    I don’t need anything more, but a better stereo would be darned nice. Satellite and terrestrial radio should OK, but CDs and my iPod sound awful. I can’t fathom why there’d be such a difference.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      Subarus are definitely high-value cars, they sell them on pretty low margins IMO, judging by the content and quality of interior materials, which even on a $27k Outback 2.5i Premium feel like they belong in a $40k car IMO.

      • 0 avatar
        ToddAtlasF1

        Subaru takes shortcuts in the places you can’t see, like rear wheel bearings that wear out more than all other wheel bearings extant, like axles that do half the work for half the time and twice the replacement cost of anyone else’s axles, like cam position sensors that are maintenance parts, like headgaskets that are maintenance parts, and like air-fuel ratio sensors that drown in the coolant that gets into and then through their combustion chambers. Speaking of coolant, Subarus come from the factory with stop leak in theirs. They’re the shady used car dealers of the OEMs.

  • avatar
    mikey

    For me ?? First choice would be buying a base Tahoe . With an annual Krown spray ,and diligent maintenance you could easily get 25 years service. The initial cost, combined with the Tahoe’s thirst, are certainly factors that need to be considered .

    My second choice ? For a “few” bucks more, a nicely optioned Grand Cherokee..leased.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      The “bones” might still be good, but with every iteration of increased complexity by way of modules made in China, long term ownership costs have been increasing proportionally on GM’s fullsize stuff. And silly things like brake boosters crapping out at 3 years old.

      • 0 avatar
        PrincipalDan

        I’d feel better about GM if they’d expand the warranties of their own free will.

        I know you can now buy a factory extended warranty at the time of purchase but instead of charging people $1K-$2K for the privilege, just make it standard.

        It would show confidence in the product.

        (Mary B. – Are you listening?)

        • 0 avatar
          jack4x

          Yeah GM reducing the powertrain warranties from 100K to 60K miles for 2016 was a tone deaf move IMO.

          Either they have factual data proving they pay out more in claims between 60-100K than it’s worth to offer the warranty (bad), they just decided to cancel it to save a couple bucks (worse), or as Dan points out, they want to upsell it at the dealer level (worst of all).

          • 0 avatar
            PrincipalDan

            My wife had a 2005 Vibe that was purchased just before they started the 5/100 powertrain. At 40,000 miles 3rd gear syncro on the 5-speed manual $hit the bed.

            The dealer “good-willed” the repair saying: “If you’d have bought it the next year we’d have given it too you anyway.” There’s no incentive for that now.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    In terms of value, hard to argue against anything with a low TCO… which means good fuel economy, low depreciation, maintenance and unexpected repairs. So basically all the top rated import stuff like the Subarus/Toyotas/Hondas. The cost of entry is higher but you get that back over the life of the vehicle.

    I do like the Ford Edge/Lincoln MKX… they get pretty bad gas mileage, but the powertrains are bulletproof, the electronics are mostly sorted and they are low maintenance. After incentives they are decent value new, and because Americans hate non pickup/pony car American vehicles they are cheap used.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Compact: RAV4 Adventure AWD @ $33K MSRP. It isn’t much of a premium over base and people have claimed this trim is the best to drive.

    Midsize: Grand Cherokee Laredo ‘E’ 4WD with towing and “all-weather Trail-rated” package for $39K. There’s a lot to like with this setup. You get a full-size spare, class IV hitch, stronger alternator, HD engine cooling, skid plates, 2-spd transfer case, and balloony 17-inch tires. Also no air suspension.

    Large: Armada SV 2WD @$47K. Really good standard specs. Wish it had a brake controller though.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      Pretty good choices.

      If I knew someone who HAD to have a Rav4 I’d certainly push them toward the Adventure trim for the upgrades to suspension and the automatic inclusion of a towing package.

      There are so many Grand Cherokee trims that there should be an a$$ for every seat. You Sir picked some very choice upgrades. I sometimes search AutoTrader for new Grand Cherokees to see what they’re being advertised for and I always spec “Trail-Rated” and “tow hitch”. Honestly what dealers are advertising them for I can’t see getting a Wrangler unless you’re a dedicated off-roader OR you have to have top down experiences.

      I’d never buy a 2wd SUV/CUV. If I’m going to do that I might as well go rehab a B-body wagon. However the Armada has a soft spot in my heart due to being kind of like the discount LC that Toyota won’t give us Americans.

  • avatar
    Matt51

    Compact – Near base models of the Jeep Renegade and Compass, and the Ford Escape, but only when substantial incentives are offered. Test drive them before you knock them.

    • 0 avatar
      hondaaustin

      Something I wrote in August 2018

      Rental Car Review: 2018 Jeep Renegade

      I rented a 2018 Jeep Renegade on a recent trip to Phoenix. During a three day trip I had the opportunity to drive the Renegade a total of 213 miles both in town and on the highway. How does the Renegade stack up? Let’s explore:
      My temporary use 2018 Renegade came in standard issue rental spec with a small touchscreen radio and 16” steelies. The only damage I made sure to note at the rental counter was a missing radio antenna. Either someone really needed an antenna for their FCA vehicle or it was never attached. This was a bummer because when I could get a signal the radio in the Renegade had decent sound quality. (It didn’t blow me away, but keep in mind this is the base model.)
      Loading luggage into the Renegade’s cargo area was painless. A light hatch combined with plenty of space for my bag made it easy. I took a moment to lift the cargo floor and was astonished to find yet another floor about 6-8 inches below the main cargo area. Had I needed extra space this would have come in quite handy.
      Driving the Renegade started off just how I expected with decent handling around the tight airport parking garage. Getting out on the street and to my hotel in light traffic was an easy endeavor. I was starting to think this Mini-Jeep may be the best rental vehicle I’ve ever been assigned… but then I got on the highway in heavy traffic.
      The acceleration of the Renegade can be described as mostly pomp with very little circumstance. Put your foot to the floor and you’ll be sure to hear the Renegade’s 2.4 liter naturally-aspirated engine wheezing like an eighty-five year old two-carton-a-day smoker at the end of a marathon. But that’s okay… as the Renegade finally gets up to freeway pace (after what seems like an hour) the engine noise will be replaced with road noise coming from the 16” Continentals rolling along the well maintained Arizona highway.
      Other than the noise at highway speed, the Renegade was a comfortable little runabout. The driver’s seat was firm, yet supportive and had the ability to adjust to a comfortable position for my overweight 6’3” frame. For the sake of this article I did try to squeeze myself into the rear seat, but gave up when I realized it would have been uncomfortable for someone much smaller, and downright unbearable for someone of my proportions. However, the air conditioning did a wonderful job in the desert heat. I even had to turn down the A/C when driving at night in mere 85° weather. The Renegade was also fairly easy to see out of which helped to increase driving confidence.
      Is the Jeep Renegade a good vehicle? That depends on your needs. If you need a vehicle that’s easy to maneuver around a city with 1-2 occupants and a good amount of cargo… check out the Renegade, it just may be the Jeep for you. However, if you’re looking for a family hauler or a luxurious highway cruiser, you may be a bit disappointed.

      • 0 avatar
        slavuta

        I love Renegade. But 2017 had too many issues for me. One glaring – small car but MPG not so good in context of small fuel tank and hence limited range. I was going after 1.4L/MT and this engine wants Premium gas.

        But in Altitude 4WD trim, this car had so many nice touches. Seats were comfy, knobs and switches felt great, etc.

      • 0 avatar
        pwrwrench

        About a year ago I had a rented Renegade for about a week. I found many problems. It had an annoying surge/hesitation just above idle. This was most noticeable in stop and go traffic. It was hard to drive smoothly. The steering was too quick at center and then cornering felt mushy. The windshield posts often obscured pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcycles. Perhaps they have to be that thick to meet rollover standards, but they could be moved back and not be in the way as much. The ride was rough and that was after I checked the tire pressure. As usual the rental agency service people had overinflated the tires to the max listed on the sidewall. Lowering the pressure to the placard on the doorpost made the ride better, but it was still rough.
        If I was given a Renegade I would sell it, quick.

  • avatar
    Eric

    Compact: Jeep Compass Sport. 4×2 Manual available for US$21.5k before typical incentives. I just picked one up for under US$17.5. Ace of Base Special, but it’s a low cheap advertised price to get typical family shoppers into the dealership. $1500 upcharge for the Automatic. $1500 upcharge for the 4×4 (Winter tires are a better buy for most that think they need the 4×4). Most consumer versions end up costing closer to $30k, but the base version does well. Power windows, doors, push button start. Comes with black steel wheels, but those do well in salt covered streets, and black wheels are “in” now. You can pay extra for alloys if that’s your thing. The base 16 inchers are small, but cushion well for potholes for typical commuting and boring family activities. Bigger wheels are an option for those that want them, but only the 16 inchers have enough clearance for chains, going back to the “utility” argument.

    Has lots of space for its size, and a naturally aspired 2.4 engine that should have a lower ownership cost than a typical turbo. Horrible residual if you compare vs. MSRP, but since you shouldn’t buy at MSRP, it’s pretty much in line. Plus the low price really shields you from the residual drop. The manual avoids the guess-hunt of the 9 speed transmissions that people complain about, and is certainly more reliable than the new automatics/cvts with an annoying auto start-stop.

  • avatar
    MBella

    Does it really matter? Basically the three vehicles in these three sizes made by whichever manufacturer you like. All of them suck the soul out of you.

  • avatar
    don1967

    Toyota Schmoyota. I’ll take a bird-in-the-hand discount + decent reliability over speculation of future resale value anyday. Cars are not investments.

    Best utility value I ever had was a massively-discounted end-of-run Hyundai Veracruz. Got four years of reliable, comfy, plush, 7-passenger tow-the-family-camper service, and then when our needs changed I recovered 60% of my purchase price (plus tax) in wholesale trade allowance.

    If a similar deal was offered today on pretty much any brand (with the possible exception of Chrysler) I’d take a hard look at it.

  • avatar
    formula m

    Honda CRV is great value because you get so much space/comfort/ride height/resale value without any fuel economy penalty over a sedan

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      https://www.cars.com/articles/fix-coming-for-honda-cr-v-oil-fuel-problem-details-still-unclear-1420703180990/

      I’m leery of the 1.5T+CVT implementation in it long term. I’d buy a lightly used CRV with ye-old K24+5spd auto if I wanted a long term keeper.

      • 0 avatar
        formula m

        There is a fix for the recall on 2017-18 and it is not an issue for 2019

        I will share a link that explains it fairly well directly from Honda Canada

        http://www.hondanews.ca/en/news/release/Statement-Regarding-Irregularly-High-Oil-Levels-in-Certain-Honda-Vehicles–UPDATE4

        • 0 avatar
          xtoyota

          ERRRRR no the fix does not work ….I just got rid of my TURDO CRV :=(

          • 0 avatar
            formula m

            Honda only released that information to the dealers in mid december. Don’t see how you could already know that the recall is ineffective and moved on from your vehicle within 30 days??

        • 0 avatar
          NormSV650

          The 2018 Equinox is a higher rated vehicle with less repairs according to Truedelta. It also has segment best 81 cu ft of cargo space with passengers seat folded and is $6,000-7,000 less than a similarly equipped CR-V.

          • 0 avatar
            formula m

            Didn’t they cover GM reliability data being false last week when everyone sued GM to take down their TV ads.

            Equinox is pretty much a Tupperware container on the inside. squeeks and rattles come standard as a second year of ownership feature

            plus GM is dead here in Ontario after what they did with the plant closures

          • 0 avatar
            gtem

            Check out the long term ownership review of a ’11 Equinox over at CC, transmission failure by 72k miles, massive oil burning problems at 112k (DI cylinder washdown issues), and I predict timing chain stretch on the horizon. Oh it also has rust on the bottoms of the doors. GMs epitomize disposable automobiles these days, although the Japanese are following in their footsteps, just 7-10 years behind the domestics.

          • 0 avatar
            burnbomber

            We’ve got a 10 model Equinox and have to report NO problems, no leaks, squeaks, rattles, or transmission/engine failures.

          • 0 avatar
            don1967

            @ formula m

            “plus GM is dead here in Ontario after what they did with the plant closures”

            What better time to find value among GM utility vehicles? That’s sorta the whole point.

      • 0 avatar
        sirwired

        This CVT has been in use in Honda products long enough without any reported systemic issues that I don’t have any doubts about it’s longevity.

    • 0 avatar
      Featherston

      “without any fuel economy penalty over a sedan”

      Ahem . . .
      – http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/bymodel/2019_Honda_Civic.shtml
      – http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/bymodel/2019_Honda_Accord.shtml
      – http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/bymodel/2019_Honda_CR-V.shtml

      • 0 avatar
        formula m

        I’m looking at the 2019 Civic EX sedan (2.0L) sticker as we speak and its 7.1L (combined) per 100km driven

        CRV is 8.0L (combined)

        Less than one liter of gasoline more every 100kms having the turbo CRV and unlike most EPA ratings Honda’s have always surpassed EPA ratings in my experience. Gas is 95 cents per liter here in Ottawa, Canada today. The difference in economy is negligable

      • 0 avatar
        sportyaccordy

        The Civic is not relevant to the discussion.

        The Accord/CR-V are now on the same platform and are the vehicles people cross shop. It’s a 1MPG penalty with the 1.5T & FWD CVT. At current fuel prices that’s a whopping $50/year.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    I’ve seen 2018 Grand Cherokees go for $10K under… Yea, if you get loaded up Laredo for $30K – not too bad

  • avatar
    MoparRocker74

    Classic 2-door Jeep Wrangler, bar none.

    It starts under $30K, and that gets you a solid V6 engine, true dual range 4×4, a truck frame, a live front axle…pretty much the most proven and durable setup on the road. Yes, the price on these can climb quickly if you start checking the boxes with bells and whistles. Savvy buyers will upgrade the hard bits like posi-trac, tow package, etc and take advantage of the Wranglers biggest selling point, which us an endless menu of accessories to make it your own.

    Arguably, the Wrangler is the most versatile vehicle money can buy. Already, it’s a full roof wagon, convertible, or an open roadster. It fits in tight city parking spots, seats 4, tows trailers, handles any kind of weather or terrain, and hauls a good bit of gear. No, it won’t get great MPGs, it’s not quiet comfy or refined. Get over it. Should you encounter an extreme situation that you HAVE to conquer, a Wrangler will always come through, whereas some rinky dink crossover will likely be crippled. Nothing in its price range will give you as much capability or piece of mind.

    • 0 avatar
      Matt51

      The new 4-door Wrangler is quite and refined, with a much improved ride. I think the softtop is the best convertible available. It can readily be purchased for $31k, with automatic.

  • avatar
    seth1065

    I will toss my hat in the honda area , our Pilot has been great for us, 14 years , no major issue and really no minor ones either, it may not go to far into the woods or tow a ton, I will never use it for that, it has held up well inside and out, it will be handed down to our teenager when he gets his DL in a few months, I know plenty of folks who swear by their CRV’s. really have no need for a BIG SUV but maybe a Lexus GX , maybe you could get a Land Crusier w more toys and get a better deal w the number of Lexus coming off lease vs a LC ?

    • 0 avatar
      burnbomber

      Big second on the Honda Pilot. We have a relatively new 3rd generation and it came with a good price, beating the price pants off the GM trio of Acadia, Traverse, and Enclave. It exceeded in our “taste test” against those as well as the Highlander, Sorento and Santa Fe, Pathfinder, and Durango.

      • 0 avatar
        tonycd

        I believe the old Pilot held up well, although the 2nd gen was criminallly cheaped out inside. But as with other new Hondas, I don’t entirely trust the more complex new engines and transmissions they’re using, and recent Consumer Reports reliability data show a precipitous decline for most Honda models except the Fit (which lacks most of the tech).

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    (See top pic) I’m on my 2nd Escape and can’t say enough good about them. Buy one slightly used for the best value


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