Shopping for a used SUV can be challenging. There are dozens of models to choose from, and a decade’s worth of model years to consider. All of the criteria you’d consider when buying new are still in play, but since the cars are older, reliability becomes a major factor as well. We think the best used SUV is one you can count on. Let’s try to help you make the best choice by narrowing the market to “small” SUVs – those which could be classified as compact or subcompact – and evaluate strictly on reliability. The most reliable small SUVs are models that appear on JD Power’s Dependability awards list year after year, consistently rank highly on US News & World Report’s “Best Used (Class) for (Budget)” lists (where reliability accounts for 20% of the score), and are noted by other reviewers such as Car and Driver and Autotrader.com.
If reliability is king in your book, the following picks are real winners. Whether you’re looking for the most luxurious model you can find, keeping to a strict budget, or looking for the model with the best reputation, there’s a 2010-2017 small SUV that’ll be right for you. Read on for our take on the most reliable small SUVs of the decade.
Budget Champions – 2010-11 Honda CR-V and 2010 / 2012 Toyota Rav4
If you’re not already considering a Honda CR-V or Toyota Rav4, you’re making a mistake. These are two of the most popular models in America for a good reason. While mid-decade models provide excellent value and more modern amenities, nothing can compete with the price point of the 2009-2012 model years. 2010-2011 CR-Vs can be found for under $8k, and with 5/5 reliability ratings from JD Power, the risk of serious mechanical issues is low. Reliability is a touch worse on the ‘09 and ‘12 models (the 2012 CR-V was an all-new design), so they don’t quite make the cut.
The Toyota Rav4 similarly underwent a major model change in 2013, but prior to that, it offered seating for up to 7 (unique for this list) and a V6 engine option. The 2010 and 2012 models share 5/5 reliability scores. The ‘12 can sell under $10k and was featured on JD Power’s Dependability shortlist for 2015, while the ‘10 can be had for under $7k. Lower reliability scores keep the similar ‘09 and ‘11 models off of our list.
Both the CR-V and Rav4 offer excellent fuel efficiency, comfortable seating, and cargo volume suitable for most practical needs. The 2010-2012 model years are two generations old by now, so they can satisfy budgets of $10k or less. Despite their age and low cost, though, they maintain a reputation as some of the most reliable small SUVs on the road today.
Comfort You Can Count On – 2014 VW Tiguan and 2015-16 Audi Q3
If your budget offers more wiggle room and you’d prefer a small SUV with a smoother, classier feel plus modern luxurious amenities, we recommend a mid-decade Tiguan or Q3. The Volkswagen Tiguan was introduced in 2009 and continued without a major model change until 2018 Built on the same platform, the Audi Q3 was all-new in 2015 and elevated the status of this small SUV.
The VW Tiguan might not be the first name to come to mind when thinking of a small SUV, as models like CR-V, Rav4, and Equinox tend to dominate the conversation. However, the 2014 Volkswagen Tiguan has a 5/5 reliability score and a price point under $15k. In fact, the model has appeared on JD Power’s Dependability shortlist for 5 years spanning the ‘13-’17 models. It sacrifices some cargo volume, and its sporty engine is only average on fuel, but it offers European style and the ride quality of a performance-class vehicle. 2015-2017 models offer upgrades in comfort and connectivity technologies for under $20k as well, but even the ‘14 is well-appointed with an easy-to-navigate touchscreen. Reviews note the simplicity of the control layout, quality of interior materials, and rear legroom as highlights, and the ‘14 model includes an auxiliary input and Bluetooth connectivity functions. A pair of cautions: one strike against the product line is a lack of standard safety tech available elsewhere, and reliability prior to 2014 drops off precipitously.
If the Tiguan sounds good, but budget and rear legroom are less important, or safety and luxury performance are more important, the 2015 Audi Q3 is a worthy alternative. Both 2015 and 2016 models boast 5/5 reliability scores and rate 10/10 on safety, with US News reporting significantly better crash test performance than the Tiguan. With a 7” touchscreen, a top-notch sound system, leather-appointed heated seats, and a panoramic sunroof standard, you get what you pay for in a $22-25k used Q3. The ‘17 model, while another high-value pick, sports much lower reliability scores and doesn’t make the cut for this list.
Motivated by Moderation – The Best of the Rest
We’ve covered what we think are the best small SUVs for your budget and your driving experience, but they span a pretty extreme range of price and age. If 10 years is too old in your opinion, but you’re not about to drop $20k on a used small SUV, here’s a few more models that you should take for a test drive when you find one on sale:
- 2014-2016 Chevy Equinox / 2012 & 2014 GMC Terrain
- 2013 BMW X3
- 2016 Hyundai Tucson
2014-16 Chevy Equinox / 2012 & 2014 GMC Terrain
Paired together because they’re essentially the same vehicle in different outfits, this duo has been on JD Power’s Dependability shortlist six years running and has won the award 3 times. Only the Tiguan and Buick Encore come close, appearing on the list 5 and 4 times in the same span. In that time, the ‘14-’16 Equinox and ‘12 & ‘14 Terrain are the best of the line. The 3 JD Power awards belong to the 2012 GMC Terrain and 2015-2016 Chevy Equinox. They also score 5/5 reliability ratings for the 2014 model year, which gets them on our list.
The Equinox does have a reputation for being a little boring. A lot of drivers would agree that’s less important than a safe, reliable SUV with ample seating and cargo volume. For those who almost agree but also like a bit of flavor in their oatmeal, the rugged styling of the Terrain brings a little more flair. Fuel efficiency, well-rounded safety and technology packages, and passenger comfort characterize these stalwart American entries to the small SUV market.
As an honorable mention, the smaller but more luxurious Buick Encore carries GM’s legacy for reliability well, joining the Equinox/Terrain on JD Power’s Dependability shortlist for the ‘13, ‘14, ‘16, and ‘17 model years. It’s worthy of consideration if capacity isn’t critical, or you find yourself allured by its luxurious Buick style. Whatever your preference, used Equinox, Terrain, and Encore models can be had for about $15k, fitting almost any budget.
2013 BMW X3
The BMW X3 practically invented the luxury compact SUV segment when it debuted in 2007, and in the last decade it occupies nearly half of the spots on US News Top 10 lists for highest-value models in its segment. The standout from a reliability perspective is the 2013 model, the only one with 5/5 reliability since 2010. While the interior won’t overwhelm you with features and gadgets, it’s understated styling, high-quality materials, and firm, comfortable seats exude European performance luxury. Fuel efficiency isn’t bad, and the tuned suspension keeps things smooth, but it’s still a BMW at heart – make no mistake that the X3 is a driving machine. On the market in the $16k neighborhood, this spacious and capable offering remains accessible to those on a budget despite its lauded badging.
2016 Hyundai Tucson
The Hyundai Tucson, and it’s upscale cousin the Kia Sportage, are probably the most well-rounded compact SUVs on the market. Backed by an excellent warranty, they offer style, comfort, capability, and affordability. Even if you can’t get a Certified Pre-Owned model with an extended warranty, the manufacturer’s warranty should speak volumes about Hyundai-Kia’s faith in their product. The new-for-2016 Hyundai Tucson is the most reliable of the bunch according to JD Power, and the newer 2017 and 2018 iterations have been praised for high reliability and safety as well. The Sportage gets honorable mentions for top reliability scores received in 2011-12 and was shortlisted in ‘15-’16 for the JD Power Dependability award. The catch is that these models hold value well; while the ‘11-’12 Sportage comes in well under $15k, you may have to pay over $20k for a Tucson or Sportage that’s less than 5 years old. That being said, if your budget has the room, we absolutely recommend taking a test drive when you find one in your market.
In the used small SUV market, there are easily 100 unique models to consider for model years 2010-2017, and that’s before considering the half-dozen trim levels and countless other options most models offer. In every car shopping experience, it’s important to narrow down what matters the most to you, and which models will deliver on those fronts. If you know that reliability is a prime factor for you, we think you’ll be well served by the models we highlighted here.
Other model years and related product lines are good, but these are the most reliable models of the decade according to owner surveys. They represent the full range of options from low budget to premium luxury across the decade, so we think one of these is the right model for you. No matter which small SUV you’ve got your eye on, schedule a test drive to make sure it’s the right fit for you, secondary drivers, and any frequent passengers you’ll have. Happy shopping!