2012 Compact SUVs: Three Under $20,000

December 14, 2011

Need or want a small SUV to ferry the family around and accommodate other lifestyle requirements, but don’t want to pay upwards of $20,000? In 2012 Family Vehicles: 20 Under $20,000 we identified three compact five-passenger SUVs that fit the bill: the 2012 Jeep Patriot Sport FWD, the 2012 Kia Sportage Base, and the 2012 Hyundai Tucson GL. But what do you get for that under-$20,000 base model price?

Here we compare standard features, powertrain, fuel economy, safety ratings, roominess and cargo capacity, as well as any other stand-out features that appeal to family buyers.

All are front-wheel drive and equipped with standard manual transmission, cloth seats, 60/40 split-folding rear seats and tinted glass. Maximum towing capacity for each is 2,000 pounds.  Safety features include six standard airbags, electronic stability control, hill start assist, four-wheel disc ABS.

2012 Jeep Patriot

2012 Jeep Patriot

2012 Jeep Patriot Sport FWD      

The least-expensive base model compact SUV in America today, in terms of manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) is the 2012 Jeep Patriot Sport FWD. Priced from $15,995, adding the requisite $780 destination charge brings the out-the-door net price to $16,775. Note that this is before any options and does not take into account any available discounts or incentives.

The 2012 Jeep Patriot is, according to a review by our sister publication TheCarConnection, “a compelling choice for its versatile interior, maneuverability, and strong list of features – with just a bit of weekend-warrior ruggedness – but it’s woefully short on refinement or sophistication.” Design-wise, the exterior of the Patriot hasn’t changed much, and on the inside, the cabin is sturdy and attractive, albeit with lots of hard plastic if you look close. TheCarConnection rates the Patriot at 7.4 out of 10.

The Jeep Patriot Sport FWD is powered by a 158-horsepower 2.0-liter in-line four-cylinder engine paired with a five-speed manual transmission. That combination is good for EPA-rated fuel economy of 23 mpg city/29 mpg highway. Electronic roll mitigation, fog lamps, illuminated cup holders, premium cloth seats, roof side rails, 16-inch steel wheels, cruise control, and rear window defroster are some of the standard equipment. When equipped with optional side torso airbags, the 2012 Jeep Patriot is a Top Safety Pick from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

Thanks to its boxy body, there’s good seating and cargo capacity. Front/rear headroom is 41.0/39.9 inches, while front/rear legroom is 40.6/39.4 inches. Cargo capacity is 53.5 cubic feet with rear seats folded, 23.0 cubic feet with them up.

2011 Kia Sportage

2011 Kia Sportage

2012 Kia Sportage Base

The 2012 Kia Sportage is a compact crossover SUV that looks great and is fun to drive, even in the base model. It’s also $2,525 more than the Jeep Patriot Sport FWD, but it may be worth the extra money. Powered by a 176-horsepower 2.4-liter in-line four-cylinder engine paired with a six-speed manual transmission, the Kia Sportage Base gets an EPA-estimated 21 mpg city/29 mpg highway. Opt for automatic transmission for $2,300 additional and the fuel economy is 22/31 mpg.

In a review, TheCarConnection gives the 2012 Kia Sportage an overall 8.2 (out of 10) rating, calling it “one of the best-looking compact ‘utes,” and “fairly refined in motion.” Standard features include air conditioning, power windows/locks/mirrors, and 16-inch alloy wheels. In addition to six airbags and electronic stability control, the Kia Sportage has traction control, brake assist, electronic brake-force distribution, downhill brake control, and tire pressure monitoring system.

Seats are well-shaped, and there’s good headroom front/rear at 39.1/38.5 inches and legroom front/rear at 41.4/37.9 inches. Cargo volume is 54.6 cubic feet with rear seats folded, 26.1 cubic feet with the second row up.

2012 Hyundai Tucson

2012 Hyundai Tucson

2012 Hyundai Tucson GL

Kin to the Kia Sportage, the 2012 Hyundai Tucson compact crossover SUV in base GL trim, costs a bit more, but also offers more in the way of standard equipment. Net price, including destination charge, is $19,855.

Powered by a 165-horsepower 2.0-liter in-line four-cylinder engine matched with five-speed manual transmission, the Tucson GL is EPA-rated at 20 mpg city/27 mpg highway.

As for safety features, the Tucson GL is equipped identical to the Kia Sportage.

Reviewing the 2012 Hyundai Tucson, TheCarConnection rates it an 8.2 (out of 10), impressed with its “daring sheetmetal,” spacious interior and good headroom in rear seats for taller adults and good legroom. Standard equipment includes power windows and door locks, remote keyless entry, air conditioning, AM/FM/XM/CD player with USB port, and a rear spoiler.

Front and rear headroom is 39.4/39.1 inches, while front and rear legroom is 41.2/38.7 inches. Cargo volume with rear seats folded is 55.8 cubic feet and 25.7 cubic feet with the rear seats up.

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