What is the Best Used SUV?
When deciding which good used SUVs are the best used SUVs, it helps to explain what constitutes “best.” For the purposes of this list of the best used sport utility vehicles, we’ve first considered those SUVs offering a solid track record for reliability and dependability, and then narrowed the list of reliable used SUVs based on safety ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
Unfortunately, this approach produced a list of recommended used SUVs devoid of full-size models designed for towing. If you need a good used SUV designed to move a significant amount of weight, the 2009-2012 Chevy Tahoe/GMC Yukon twins, the 2008-2012 Ford Expedition, and the 2008-2012 Lincoln Navigator offer the best combination of towing muscle, average or better reliability, and decent crash-test ratings.
Still, these big SUVs didn’t meet our lofty overall criteria for determining which models are the best used sport utility vehicles on the market. The following SUVs, listed in alphabetical order, are the best used SUVs for sale today.
Best Used SUVs: Acura MDX
2011-2012 Acura MDX
The Acura MDX is a luxury crossover suv with 7-passenger seating in three rows of seats. It is equipped with a 300-horsepower, 3.7-liter V-6 driving all four wheels through Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system, and the SH-AWD offers torque-vectoring technology that can direct up to 80% of the engine’s power to a single rear wheel.
The MDX can tow up to 5,000 pounds, and it carries 15 cu.-ft. of cargo behind its third-row seat, 42.9 cu.-ft. behind the second-row seat, and 83.5 cu.-ft. with both rows of seats folded down.
In addition to its favorable reliability history, the MDX received a 5-Star overall crash-test rating from the NHTSA in both 2011 and 2012, and was named a “Top Safety Pick” by the IIHS in 2012. Available safety features include a reversing camera, a blind-spot warning system, adaptive cruise control, and Collision Mitigation Braking technology.
Offering an impressive blend of passenger capacity, cargo capacity, towing capability, safety technology, and dependability, the Acura MDX is clearly one of the best used SUVs you can buy.
Best Used SUVs: Honda CR-V
When Honda redesigned the CR-V for the 2012 model year, a model with a long and distinguished track record for reliability, it improved the compact crossover SUV’s crash-test ratings and, in the process, built one of the best used SUVs for sale today.
In addition to its “Top Safety Pick” rating from the IIHS and its 5-Star overall crash-test rating from the NHTSA, the 2012 Honda CR-V offers a standard reversing camera and a driver’s side mirror that helps reveal what is in the left-side blind spot.
Sold in LX, EX, and EX-L trim levels, the 5-passenger Honda CR-V carries 37.2 cu.-ft. of cargo behind the rear seat or as much as 70.9 cu.-ft. with the rear seat folded. A 185-horsepower, 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine is the only engine available, rated to get 31 mpg on the highway with front-wheel drive, 30 mpg with all-wheel drive, and to tow up to 1,500 pounds.
While the 2012 Honda CR-V is one of the best used SUVs available, it bears mentioning that the previous-generation 2007-2011 Honda CR-V ought to be considered a good used SUV based on the strength of its dependability record and its decent crash-test results (with the single exception of its roof crush strength rating).
Best Used SUVs: Honda Element
2007-2011 Honda Element
The Honda Element’s styling might be difficult to accept, but there’s no denying that the 2007-2011 models are among the best used sport utility vehicles for sale. Thanks to a strong track record for reliability, a “Top Safety Pick” rating from the IIHS, and good fuel economy ratings, a used Honda Element makes plenty of sense.
Unless you need to carry more than four people, that is. This cube-shaped compact crossover SUV holds no more than four passengers because the 50/50-split rear seat is designed to collapse and fold against the SUV’s cargo walls to improve cargo capacity. Maximum cargo volume measures 74.6 cu.-ft., and with the rear seats in use the Element carries 25.1 cu.-ft. of your stuff.
A 166-horsepower, 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine powers the front or all four wheels through a 5-speed automatic transmission. In its final year of production, the Element was rated to get up to 25 mpg on the highway with front-wheel drive, and it could tow up to 1,500 lbs. of trailer.
Of the three models available – LX, EX, and SC – our favorite is the sport-tuned SC. This model adds body-color exterior panels, a set of attractive aluminum wheels, and an extra does of entertainment in corners. Regardless, no matter which Element you choose, it is one of the best used SUVs for sale.
Best Used SUVs: Lexus RX
2010-2012 Lexus RX
In 2010, the Lexus RX 350 and RX 450h were completely redesigned and, in the process, they improved to IIHS “Top Safety Pick” status. This upgrade, coupled with a long history of dependability, makes the 2010-2012 Lexus RX among the best used SUVs for sale today.
Able to carry up to five people, the luxury-oriented RX 350 is equipped with a 275-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine coupled to a 6-speed automatic transmission and either front- or all-wheel drive. For extra power and better fuel economy, the gas/electric hybrid model, the Lexus RX 450h, offers 295 horsepower and a combined fuel economy rating of up to 30 mpg. Compare that to the combined 21-mpg rating for the RX 350.
Cargo capacity measures an impressive 40 cu.-ft. behind the Lexus RX’s rear seat. Fold the rear seat down and space doubles to 80.3 cu.-ft. When properly equipped, the Lexus RX can tow up to 3,500 lbs.
Standard safety equipment includes 10 airbags and a telematics system that offers Automatic Collision Notification when the proper subscription to service is active. Additionally, rain-sensing wipers, a reversing camera, adaptive headlights, dynamic radar cruise control, and pre-collision safety technologies are available for the Lexus RX.
Thanks to its favorable reliability and safety ratings, the Lexus RX makes our list of the best used SUVs for sale. But given this model’s practicality, luxury, and in hybrid format, fuel economy, it goes above and beyond in terms of its appeal.
Best Used SUVs: Subaru Forester
2009-2012 Subaru Forester 2.5X
Before we get into details about why the 2009-2012 Subaru Forester is one of the best used SUVs you can buy, some housekeeping is in order.
First, the Consumer Reports reliability data we used as part of our consideration set for inclusion on this list made it clear that only models equipped with the standard, non-turbocharged engine qualified (the Forester 2.5X model). Second, though the Forester is rated a “Top Safety Pick” by the IIHS for all model years since its last redesign for 2009, after the NHTSA strengthened its crash-testing program for the 2011 model year, the Forester received a middling 3-Star side impact rating. Halfway through 2011, that NHTSA rating was upgraded to a 4-Star rating.
That’s not confusing, is it?
With these caveats in place, the Subaru Forester 2.5X is a 5-passenger crossover SUV equipped with standard all-wheel drive and a 2.5-liter boxer-type 4-cylinder engine. A 5-speed manual gearbox is standard, with a 4-speed automatic transmission optional. In 2011, the Forester received a new version of the 2.5-liter engine, one making a little more horsepower and torque, and a little bit better fuel economy. For many years, the Forester has proven itself to be reliable transportation.
Sold in several levels of trim, all capable of towing up to 2,400 lbs. and carrying a minimum of 30.8 cu.-ft. of cargo behind the rear seat or 63 cu.-ft. with the rear folded down, a used 2009-2012 Subaru Forester is one of the best used SUVs you can buy.
Best Used SUVs: Subaru Outback
2010-2012 Subaru Outback 2.5i
Redesigned for the 2010 model year, the Subaru Outback has proven itself dependable when equipped with the standard 170-horsepower, 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, and it has been called an IIHS “Top Safety Pick” since that time. These qualities land the Subaru Legacy-based crossover SUV squarely on our list of the best used SUVs you can buy.
Offered in several trim levels, the Subaru Outback 2.5i comes standard with all-wheel drive and a choice between a 6-speed manual and a continuously variable transmission (CVT). In certain regions of the country, the standard 4-cylinder engine is rated as a Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle when equipped with the CVT, and can achieve 29 mpg on the highway with this same transmission.
Safety-related options include a wiper de-icer grid and a reversing camera, and the Outback offers 8.7 inches of ground clearance. The Outback can carry 34.3 cu.-ft. of cargo behind its rear seat, can haul up to 71.3 cu.-ft. with the rear seat folded, and can tow up to 2,700 lbs.
Back in 1996, when the Subaru Outback was one of the first crossover SUVs available to consumers, it was an instant hit. Fast-forward 15 years, and now the Outback is one of the best used SUVs for sale.
Best Used SUVs: Toyota Highlander
In reviewing the data for the 2008-2012 Toyota Highlander, it became immediately apparent that this midsize, 7-passenger, crossover SUV is more than just one of the best used SUVs for sale today – it might just be the best used SUV you can buy.
Rated as an IIHS “Top Safety Pick,” the 2008-2012 Toyota Highlander is evidently bulletproof when it comes to reliability, according to Consumer Reports. In 2012, the Highlander Hybrid rated average, but this appears to be a short-term anomaly in the data. Based on what owners say about their Highlanders, these SUVs don’t break.
They do, however, carry a good chunk of your belongings. It’s true that space behind the third-row seat is tight at 10.8 cu.-ft. But if you don’t need to park 2 extra butts in that location, the Highlander swallows 42.3 cu.-ft. with the third-row seat folded down. Fold the second-row seat down and the Highlander handles an impressive 95.4 cu.-ft. of cargo (94.1 cu.-ft. for the Highlander Hybrid).
Sold in several levels of trim with a choice between 4-cylinder, V-6, and gas/electric hybrid powertrains combined with front- or all-wheel drive, the 2008-2012 Highlander models offer a maximum tow rating of 5,000 lbs. and the Highlander Hybrid gets up to 28 mpg in combined driving. Safety-related features include a knee airbag for the driver, a reversing camera, and a wiper de-icer grid.
Thanks to its combination of size, capability, dependability, crash-test ratings and, for the Hybrid model, fuel economy, the 2008-2012 Toyota Highlander is unquestionably one of the best used SUVs you can buy.