The $38,000 Question - Part Two- SUVs

By: Anthony Fongaro

Original Post: 

Welcome to part two of our series, The $38,000 Question. In our initial article, we took a look at the world of sedans. Part One showed us that there is a combination of interesting new and used sedans for the average price of a new car in the year 2020. $38,000 can get you into new but basic German luxury vehicles as well as high-end used luxury vehicles that can mask the fact that you spent under $40,000.   This time, we are going to look at SUVs, and this poses a befuddling conundrum. 

As we know, the pool of new SUVs is vast. Looking at Edmunds’ SUV page, there are more than 50 new vehicles that start under $38,000. What’s interesting is these vehicles span a wide spectrum. While it isn’t surprising that you can buy small and compact SUVs, most midsize SUVs can be bought for around $38,000. Unfortunately, buying a new large SUV such as a Ford Expedition or the Chevrolet Tahoe is more than $10,000 than what we are looking for. Although there are a good amount of both interesting and sensible SUVs for this price, we are going to start with German luxury brands. 

German brands Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz all have SUVs around $38,000. Audi has the Q3 45 TFSI® quattro® Premium Tiptronic®, BMW has both the X1 sDrive28i and X2 sDrive28i, and Mercedes has both the GLA250 and GLB250. Right away, I’m going to eliminate the GLA250. My reasons are: there will be a new GLA250 debuting later this year, the current GLA250 is over five-years-old, and the interior simply isn’t on par with the other vehicles in this segment. All of these SUVs are front-wheel-drive at their lowest trim levels. What you’ll notice is their engines are very similar. 
Audi’s Q3 and BMW’s X1/X2 almost tie for the most powerful SUV. While Audi has a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four with 228-horsepower and 258 lb-ft., BMW uses a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four with 228-horsepower and 259 lb-ft.  Mercedes-Benz almost comes close to the Audi and BMW with a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four producing 221-horsepower and 258 lb-ft. Really, a seven-horsepower and one lb-ft difference don’t matter. All of these take around seven seconds to get to 60 mph. In terms of options, all of these have back-up-cameras, sensors, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and that’s about it. If you absolutely need one of these, go for the GLB. It’s boxy yet stylish with digital dials and the best interior.

Switching over to all other brands, $38,000 gets you some good and fun SUVs. You really can’t talk about SUVs without talking about the iconic Jeep Wrangler. The Wrangler is one of the best off-roading SUVs currently sold and its boxy design has been around for over 50 years. There are a lot of trim levels available, but if you’re a purist, the one to go to is the Willys 2-door manual with the no-cost 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four. It’s good for 270-horsepower and 295 lb-ft. Two of the options I would get include heated seats and an upgraded 7.0-inch infotainment system with Apple CarPlay. With the Wrangler, you can get a fun off-roading SUV with good power and all the amenities that are needed in 2020.

Two other new SUVs I would recommend are the Kia Soul GT-Line Turbo and the Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring Reserve. Both of these are turbocharged inline-four-cylinder engines. Kia gives the Soul a 1.6-liter engine with 201-horsepower and 195 lb-ft along with a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. Mazda’s CX-5 has a 2.5-liter engine with 250-horsepower and 320 lb-ft along with a 6-speed automatic transmission. The all-wheel-drive CX-5 takes 6.2 seconds to 60 MPH while the front-wheel-drive Soul is only .2 seconds behind the CX-5. Around the average price of $38,000, these are fully-loaded and have every option you would ever want! Looking for heated leather seats, a full safety suite of radars, powerful turbocharged engines, and a heads-up display? All of these are included. Mazda’s known for creating fun-to-drive vehicles and the CX-5 is the most enjoyable SUV to drive in its class. Kia’s Soul has a bold design and a plethora of options.

Now that we have looked at new SUVs, let’s take a look at used SUVs. Before we dive into my actual recommendations, there are some SUVs that give you insane power and prestige. We start with the 2013-2016 Porsche Cayenne Turbo. A massive 4.8-liter twin-turbo V8 is at the heart of the Cayenne Turbo producing 520-horsepower and 553 lb-ft. Heated and ventilated seats, navigation, back-up camera, and off-roading technology makes this sporty SUV a posh and luxurious SUV. If you’re looking for ultimate bragging rights, the BMW X5M has a 4.4-liter V8 creating over 550 horsepower and over 550 lb-ft. It may not handle as well as the Cayenne but it has similar options, although it would be older as a 2013 option.  Two other vehicles worth mentioning are the 2017-2018 Audi SQ5 and the Mercedes-AMG GLC43. Both of these use 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 with around 350 horsepower, all-wheel-drive, and have options such as digital dials in the Audi, adaptive-cruise control, and heated seats. 

In terms of luxury, you can’t go wrong with German and Swedish SUVs. My recommendations for German SUVs are the compact BMW X3 and Mercedes-Benz GLC. Both of these can have all-wheel-drive and they have 2.0-liter inline-four engines creating around 250-horsepower. While the BMW will be more sporty, the Mercedes-Benz is set up for comfort. A 2017-2019 model can have adaptive cruise control, leather heated seats, backup cameras, and panoramic roofs. For sub-compact and midsize SUVs, look no further than Volvo. Their XC90 and XC40 and beautifully styled Swedish luxury. A 2017 XC90 T6 Inscription comes with a dual-supercharged and turbocharged two-liter inline-four producing 316-horsepower and 295 lb-ft along with all-wheel-drive. These will available options such as leather heated and ventilated seats, navigation, a full safety suite, and a panoramic roof. Volvo’s XC90 T5 R-Design will look more sporty and a lightly used 2019 will see the price drop from $45,000 new to around $38,000 used. This has the upgraded 2.0-liter turbocharged engine producing 248-horsepower and 258 lb-ft along with all-wheel-drive.

Finally, we have two subdue vehicles. Both of these will have all-wheel-drive, heated seats, navigation, a plethora of safety options, panoramic roofs, and backup cameras. Jeep’s Grand Cherokee currently has 12 different trim levels, but the top trim before the high-performance models is the Summit. A slightly used example will have all of the options above. I recommend the 3.6-liter V6 which makes 295-horsepower and 260 lb-ft. Acura has an interesting SUV with the RDX A-Spec. Not only is it a stylish SUV, but it also has a 2-0 liter inline-four with 272-horsepower, 280 lb-ft, and all-wheel drive. The RDX also has styling upgrades with the A-Spec package along with ventilated seats. 

It’s really not surprising that there are a lot of good choices for around $38,000. Going in order, my first recommendation for entry-level German luxury is the Q3. It has a decent amount of options, but there are better SUVs with a lesser badge. All three new SUVs, the Jeep Wrangler, Kia Soul, and Mazda CX-5 are the best in their segments for style, fun, and options. Power-hungry SUV choices include the Porsche Cayenne Turbo and Audi SQ5. The Porsche has the best handling out of all of the choices and the Audi has a good amount of style with power. Along with the new non-German SUVs, the used German and non-German SUVs are great choices. The BMW and Mercedes-Benz have the brand snobbery that’s wanted by many, while the Volvos has incredible safety technology and style. Jeep’s Grand Cherokee may not have the German brand’s badges, but it has a lot of safety features while utilizing American styling. Acura’s RDX is a good alternative with a strong engine and available features. Whichever SUV suits your needs, budget, and status will be a great and enjoyable choice. 


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