The midsize SUV segment is saturated, and when browsing the numerous used SUVs for sale it can become difficult to find the best buy for you. Nearly every major manufacturer offers at least one midsize SUV, and several offer more than one. Stepping into the used SUV market, your choices open up even further as you now have the option of vehicles only a few years old with modern features, as well as the option of higher-end vehicles that you might not be able to afford new. So what are some used midsize SUV best buys?
The Big Three – Explorer, Highlander, Grand Cherokee
Although the best vehicles are not always the most popular, the most popular vehicles are usually a good place to start. As of 2018, the three most popular midsize SUVs are the Ford Explorer, Toyota Highlander, and Jeep Grand Cherokee. Together, nearly 750,000 of these three vehicles were sold in that year alone, easily surpassing their closest competitors.
The 2018 date is important for the used market because it usually takes around three years before a used model is a significantly better deal than a new model. And fortunately for people shopping for used SUVs for sale, all three of these midsize SUVs were introduced long before 2018, meaning there are relatively few major changes to watch out for. The 5th generation Ford Explorer and the 4th generation Jeep Grand Cherokee both first went on sale in 2011, while the 3rd generation Toyota Highlander arrived on the market soon after in 2014.
While all three of these midsize SUVs are similar in size, they are quite different in their details, and the Jeep Grand Cherokee is the most unique of the bunch. Not only is the base model RWD rather than FWD, but the Grand Cherokee is also a two-row SUV with seating for five rather than a three-row SUV with seating for seven or eight. The Grand Cherokee also has the lowest cargo capacity, at only 68.3 cu.ft. against 81.7 cu.ft. for the Ford Explorer and 83.7 cu.ft. for the Toyota Highlander.
However, if you are looking for a powerful off-road SUV, then the Grand Cherokee is still the best buy for you. To start with, its base engine is a 3.6L V6 generating 290 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. And if that is not enough for you, then there is the option of a 6.4L V8 with 360 hp and 390 lb-ft of torque. The Grand Cherokee also comes with a genuine 4WD system that, in the top trims, has a two-speed transfer case and an electronic limited-slip differential. However, when looking at a used Grand Cherokee for sale, be aware that the 2011-2013 models had an outdated five-speed transmission. This was replaced with a modern eight-speed transmission in 2014.
When looking for a used 2015-2017 Grand Cherokee in good condition with moderate mileage, you can expect to see list prices in the range of $16,000 – $20,000. But if you are set on one with the V8, then you will be looking at much higher prices on the order of $28,000 – $30,000.
Daily Drivers? Ford or Toyota
But if you are not searching for an off-roading monster, then the choice between the Ford Explorer and the Toyota Highlander is a bit more difficult. Despite having slightly less cargo capacity, the Ford Explorer is actually the larger vehicle. At 6” longer than the Highlander and with about 10% more interior volume, this gives the Explorer noticeably more headroom and legroom and makes it a better choice for taller buyers.
However, engine availability on the Explorer is very dependent on model year. When introduced for 2011, the only option was a 3.5L V6 with 290 hp and 255 lb-ft of torque. A turbocharged 2.0L EcoBoost I4 that produced 240 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque was then added to the lineup for 2012. For 2013, the Ford Explorer Sport trim was introduced with a 3.5L twin-turbo EcoBoost V6 with 365 hp and 350 lb-ft of torque. Finally, in the 2016 facelift, the somewhat anemic 2.0L EcoBoost was replaced with a larger 2.3L EcoBoost I4 with 280 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque. In general, it is probably best to look for the V6 before 2016 and the I4 after 2016.
In contrast, the Highlander has just two options and has maintained them throughout its third generation: a 2.7L I4 generating 185 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, and a 3.5L V6 with 270 hp and 248 lb-ft of torque. But unless fuel economy is your priority, you probably aim for the V6. For 2017 and later, the V6 has the added advantage of an eight-speed transmission that gives it better fuel economy (22 MPG combined) than either the V6 (20 MPG combined) or 2.3L EcoBoost (21 MPG combined) on the Explorer. The Highlander also has a much better safety rating than the Explorer, receiving the IIHS Top Safety Pick every year it was in production.
However, the Explorer tends to win on cost. Looking at 2015-2017 vehicles in good condition with moderate mileage, the Explorer can be expected to have a list price starting around $18,000 – $22,000, while the Highlanders will be a touch higher at $20,000 – $24,000.
The Luxury Options – BMW and Porsche
Although the Explorer, Highlander, and Grand Cherokee are all among our best buys list and offer a good variety between them, none of them can be truly considered luxury vehicles. And even if you are not the type to normally buy luxury vehicles, it is an option well worth considering when shopping for used SUVs for sale because the luxury models often are not that much more expensive than economy models.
Among the best buys in this segment are the Porsche Cayenne and the BMW X5. Looking through cars from the 2015-2017 model years in good condition with moderate mileage, you will be able to find list prices starting around $26,000 – $30,000 for the BMW X5 and around $30,000 – $34,000 for the Porsche Cayenne. And although these are certainly more expensive than the prices of the more popular used SUVs for sale, they also generally represent greater value for your money.
For the BMW X5, the best buy is the 3rd generation that was produced for 2013-2018. These had both a two-row and a three-row option, although the three-row lost most of its cargo space. The 3rd generation X5 was available with either sDrive (RWD) or xDrive (AWD), with both versions coming with a modern eight-speed transmission. Engine options are designated by the code 35i for a 3.0L twin-turbo I6 with 302 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, or 50i for a 4.4L twin-turbo V8 with 444 hp and 479 lb-ft of torque. Although the interior is perhaps somewhat sparse by the standards of 2020, the X5 is an excellent all-around midsize luxury SUV.
When it comes to the Porsche Cayenne, the best buy is the facelifted 2nd generation, which ran from 2014-2018. Although the 2nd generation was introduced in 2011, it had entirely different engine options for the first three years. After the facelift, there were seven versions ranging from the base Cayenne with a 3.6L V6 producing 296 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, all the way up to the Cayenne Turbo S with a 4.8L twin-turbo V8 capable of 550 hp and 553 lb-ft. Although the higher trims may still be out of reach even on the used market, even the lower trims on the Cayenne represent a powerful and unique blend of sports car and SUV.