2010 Subaru Forester -- Tim Stevens, editor in chief
Subaru's Forester wagon was completely refreshed to enter SUV territory in 2009, but going with a 2010 model helps you to avoid potential new-model niggles.
Opt for the XT Limited with all-wheel drive and you'll get the same 2.5-liter turbocharged flat-four engine as found in the WRX, which makes this a punchy choice -- but, perhaps not the most frugal at just 19 city and 24 highway MPG.
2010 Nissan Xterra -- Chris Paukert, managing editor
Nissan's evergreen Xterra remains tough to beat for those looking for an authentic all-terrain SUV. If you're seeking a car-like ride and efficiency, look elsewhere, but if you're into strapping active-lifestyle gear to the roof of your ride and getting lost in the nearest wilderness, the Xterra is a prime fit.
With a standard 4.0-liter V6 giving a generous 261 horsepower and 281 pound-feet of rock-climbing torque, there's plenty of power.
In the world of hip, boxy urban crossovers, the Soul has been the indisputable home run. It has better design than you have a right to expect for $16,000, is bigger inside than it looks from the outside and is good at everything you care about daily.
Look for a car with optional Infinity audio and a sunroof, which leverages the boxy roominess this body style affords you inside. An example with the optional navigation rig might push you beyond our price point, but will have a touchscreen that's close to the most responsive we've ever tested.
2007 Acura MDX -- Wayne Cunningham, managing editor
Although pushing the limits of our $16,000 price, the second-generation Acura MDX comes in with reliability, impressive utility and surprisingly good handling. With Acura's Super Handling All-wheel-drive system, the MDX gets torque vectoring, overdriving the outside wheel to help it get around the turns.
Even better, this model could be had with a magnetic adaptive suspension, limiting body roll and working in concert with torque vectoring to improve handling. Acura actually dropped the adaptive suspension on the following generation, likely to cut costs.
Although you'll likely be looking at an older model with about 100,000 miles to keep the price down (the second-generation MDX ran from 2007 to 2013), Acura's 3.7-liter naturally aspirated V-6 is a tough, proven engine and should hold up for many, many miles.
With this generation's first model years, you'll be looking at a five-speed automatic transmission, swapped out for a six-speed unit by 2010. Taking drivetrain and seven-passenger utility into account, the second-generation MDX makes for a particularly good value, with surprisingly good handling characteristics.
2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser -- Andrew Krok, news editor
Sporting a retro-fresh exterior, the Toyota FJ Cruiser isn't your average crossover, it's a proper body-on-frame SUV. As such, it touts some proper off-road prowess, thanks to the overseas-only Toyota Land Cruiser Prado, which gifted many of its hearty underpinnings to this compact ute.
The FJ was sent into production after a concept version garnered massive praise at the 2003 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
For about $16,000 -- roughly half the average price that buyers pay for a new car -- you can find a clean FJ with approximately 108,000 miles on the odo. In the right hands, this thing could very well survive the next apocalypse -- zombie or otherwise.
This era of Jeep Wrangler has a 4.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine, good for 190 horsepower and 235 pound-feet of torque. The Rubicon trim came with beefy Dana 44 axles, a 4:1 low range for rock crawling and air-actuated front and rear locking differentials.
In 2006, the Rubicon was available with a six-speed manual, as well as a four-speed automatic.
The four-door Wrangler Unlimited body style was introduced in 2004, and while its longer wheelbase can be a hindrance in some off-roading situations, its improved access to the rear seats and cargo is worth the tradeoff for most people.
For around $16,000, you should be able to find a battle-hardened 2006 model with around 120,000 miles on the odometer.
2010 Honda Element -- Antuan Goodwin, associate editor
It's a bit of a shame that the Honda Element didn't last longer than one generation. Production ended in 2010, but its upright, compact design seems like an excellent fit in today's CUV-dominated marketplace, as its strong resale values attest.
What the Honda Element lacked in driving thrills, it more than made up for in boxy utility and pretty-OK fuel economy. Plus, it's one of the most pet-friendly rides to ever grace America's roads.
$16,000 gets you a 2010 model in LX or EX trim with about 70,000 miles on the odometer. Don't worry too much about its half-decade old infotainment tech; you can pop the Honda head unit out easily and install a modern Android Auto or Apple CarPlay rig while staying under budget.
2006-2009 Toyota 4Runner -- Jon Wong, reviews editor
The Toyota 4Runner's body-on-frame construction gives this midsize SUV rugged bones to tackle off-road expeditions and tow up to 5,000 pounds with its base 236-horsepower V-6 engine. Its solid foundation and proven V-6 give the 4Runner near-certain longevity in just-the-right-size packaging.
A more powerful V-8 is available in these fourth-generation 4Runner models, but if you don't need the additional towing capability, it would be wise to steer clear of this fuel-thirsty engine option.