Consumer Reports ran its array of tests and gathered reader input to assemble a list of the best two- and three-row SUVs under $40,000. The straightforward bit is that there are eight two-row and six three-row family haulers here. The not-so-straightforward bit is that there’s quite a bit of MSRP latitude between choices. The least expensive two-row SUV is the 2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid which starts at $28,815 (with destination) and tops out at $37,715 before a buyer starts throwing shiny features at it, whereas the entry-level 2023 Ford Edge SE starts at $39,440. Among three-row options, the 2023 Subaru Ascent starts at $33,895, the 2023 Toyota Highlander Hybrid starts at $41,955, and all easily reach past $50K in top trim save for the Ascent.
Ranked in order, the magazine recommends these two-row models:
- 2023 Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid, $37,545: Chosen for its 225-horsepower combined output and 30 miles per gallon overall scored in CR‘s testing; credited with riding “more comfortably than the gas-only Santa Fe,” dinged for the center console being “a sea of buttons” and because “the push-button gear selector is tricky to use without looking.”
- 2023 Hyundai Tucson Hybrid, $32,685: With the same powertrain and output as the Santa Fe Hybrid, CR liked the the Tucson Hybrid’s “firm yet steady” ride, “responsive and secure” handling, “nicely trimmed cabin” and generous load bay, but wasn’t a fan of the digital controls for the HVAC and volume in higher trims, nor the push-button gear selector.
- 2023 Honda CR-V, $29,705: This one seems most like a sympathy pick, the once segment-defining Honda now given a big meh for “underpowered” and “unobtrusive propulsion” from its 190 hp, and its 26 mph in CR‘s testing. The decent ride and handling go with a roomy back seat, roomy cargo area, and easy ingress.
- 2023 Subaru Outback, $30,190: The 182-hp 2.5-liter four-cylinder in the bottom five trims “does the job but can feel strained,” CR preferring the 260-hp turbocharged 2.4-liter that means spending more than $40,000 before options. A “very comfortable” ride and good handling are joined by the kinds of nice, outdoorsy details Subaru is known for. The only demerit is that “Some tasks through the large infotainment screen require more than one step.”
- 2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid, $28,815: Noted for being the roomiest compact crossover, the hybrid stands out for being quicker and quieter than the non-hybrid that’s not much less expensive, and for getting 36 mpg in CR testing. On the other hand, “having to toggle back and forth between the dual-use touch controls for climate and media systems is annoying.”
- 2023 Toyota Venza, $35,955: Akin to the CR-V, called “pleasant enough,” its 37 mpg in CR testing the high point, otherwise “doesn’t stand out.” Decent ride and handling compromised by “tired and engine noise [that] can be pronounced” and controls that “are very distracting.”
- 2023 Ford Edge, $39.440: Called roomy and capable with “smooth, quiet acceleration” from the turbocharged 2.0-liter and able to “rival some luxury SUVs with [its] quiet cabin,” but the “driving position is uneven” because of the position of the left-side footrest.
- 2023 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, $32,560: Powertrain “feels energetic” and returned 37 mpg overall, the handling stays secure “even when pushed.” The low roof, “somewhat stiff” ride and “noisy engine” were problems.
The magazine recommends these three-row models:
- 2023 Kia Telluride, $37,255: The perennial favorite Telluride is here again lauded for its roomy, quiet cabin, its easy-to-stow second-row seats, intuitive controls, long list of content and 5,000 pounds of towing capacity. It only suffers from not being a sporty handler, the least surprising gripe about a three-row SUV.
- 2023 Toyota Highlander and Highlander Hybrid, $37,955 and $41,955: Both make the list even though the Highlander only got 22 mpg while the Highlander Hybrid got 35 mpg, and CR considers the third row “tiny.” Good points were easy controls, secure handing, and good fit and finish in the cabin.
- 2023 Hyundai Palisade, $37,235: Hyundai’s version of the Kia Telluride earns similar coos for it roomy, “very quiet” cabin, “interior filled with thoughtful details,” gets mixed results for comfortable handling that “isn’t particularly nimble,” and an “unintuitive push-button gear selector.”
- 2023 Chevrolet Traverse, $35,915: Nothing bad here, from the “very comfortable ride,” “responsive handling” and “quiet interior” to the “quick acceleration,” comfy second-row captain’s chairs, roomy third row and intuitive infotainment system. Only got 20 mpg in CR‘s test, though.
- 2023 Subaru Ascent, $35,120: Like baby bear’s bed, called “very functional” and “easy to live with,” its powertrain providing “ample power” but just 22 mpg overall and needing a deft right foot to overcome “jumpy initial takeoff.” Despite being “not the most agile in corners,” is “ultimately secure at its limits,” and the cabin is quiet, comfortable and roomy until the third row, which is “usable for shorter trips.”