Maybe you’re adding a new member to your family, or perhaps you’re tired of cramming your jogging stroller into a trunk already brimming with kid gear, but let’s face it — you’ve reached the crossover tipping point.
The crossover tipping point is the phenomena where your lifestyle no longer fits inside the sleek sedan or sexy sports car you used to drive before you had children, pets, and the unspeakable amount of injection molded plastics to haul around. You know you’ve reached it when the number of carseats you need outnumbers the adults, you’d seriously consider transporting the dog in the trunk if it weren’t full of sports equipment, and other parents give you the cold shoulder because you can never carpool. The prognosis: You need a bigger vehicle.
Purchasing a new vehicle is one of the most important — and expensive — decisions a family will make. To help simplify the buying process, Babble waded through the crowded crossover segment to find the best CUV for any driving need. We examined new and best-selling vehicles on the market, but limited our budget to $35,000. That price ceiling quickly eliminated many vehicles from our shopping list, but the selection of economical crossovers is still considerable. To help narrow the list even further, we focused on fuel economy, safety, and parent-friendly features. When crossovers were fairly evenly matched, we gave preference to vehicles that had better fuel economy, price, or were a previous Babble favorite. — Liane Yvkoff
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Top 7-seater SUV on a budget | 2013 Mitsubishi Outlander
MSRP: $22,695 – $28,595
FUEL ECONOMY: 23/28 mpg
The 2013 Mitsubishi Outlander is the perfect crossover for families that want the convenience of a 7-seater crossover but don’t want to invest a lot of money for the two extra seats that won’t be used a majority of the time. Its more aggressive exterior will appeal to dads in the market for a carpool-friendly vehicle that handles and looks better than most other crossovers in its class. With either a 168-horsepower, 2.4-liter or a 230-hp, 3.0-liter engine, it’s not the most powerful or fuel-efficient on the market. But that’s because Mitsubishi is saving most of its improvements for 2014, when the vehicle will be completely redesigned.
Drivers used to being behind the wheel of a performance car will appreciate the vehicle’s sports car-like column-mounted paddle shifters that drivers can use to simulate gear-shift changes. Once you get going, the Outlander is one of the easiest 7-seaters to maneuver because it has the smallest turning diameter in its class.
One feature that sets the 2013 Outlander apart from other crossovers is the drop-down tailgate, which can support up to 400-lbs of weight and is useful if you’re loading bikes and skis on the roof or just hanging out at soccer games. Another mom-approved perk is the odor-defeating headliner. The latest model of the Outlander now also features standard heated side mirrors, along with heated front seats and a hands-free FUSE infotainment platform on the SE and GT trim levels. Cold-climate drivers may want to opt for the new All Weather Package, which includes remote engine start.
SEATING + STORAGE
Passengers in the second row have a respectable amount of room, and depending on your car seats, you probably could fit three of them across. But the third row has less legroom than a couple of its close competitors. Of course, like most 5+2 vehicles, the third row isn’t meant for full-size adults; in fact, the seats are really built to only support a child of around 60 pounds. The Outlander won’t win any awards for its interior, but Mitsubishi keeps the price low and fuel economy high.
ENTERTAINMENT + NAVIGATION
The Outlander features an optional voice-activated navigation system that integrates mobile devices like iPods and iPhones. But if you’re in a congested commute corridor, you’ll appreciate the navigation system’s ability to show you the shortest, quickest route to the HOV lane. Both a ceiling-mounted and rear-seat entertainment system is available, which includes a DVD player, remote control, and infrared wireless headphones. Video and audio inputs and a 110-volt outlet are also offered.
IIHS gives the 2013 Mitsubishi Outlander a Good rating for frontal-offset and side-impact crash, and an Acceptable rating on its roof strength test.
Consumer Reports graded the Outlander 73 out of 100 points, and 52 percent of owners would purchase this vehicle again.