2017 Subaru Forester 2.5i Touring -- Tim Stevens, editor in chief
If I had $35K to blow on a compact SUV, I'd go with the Subaru Forester -- if only so I could tell myself I'm almost driving an Impreza.
For this money, I'd get myself a very nearly fully loaded 2017 2.5i Touring, with a few choice options like fog lights (c'mon, it's a Subaru), remote start for those cold mornings and a rear bumper cover so that I can let my dogs jump in with wild abandon.
I'd also recommend getting a tow hitch, because the 1,500-pound towing capacity is enough to haul my motorcycle to the track.
Whatever you do, don't drop $500 for the factory hitch. A Draw-Tite hitch is a whopping $120 and installs with four bolts. You can manage that.
2017 Honda CR-V Touring -- Andrew Krok, news editor
I chose the Honda CR-V because it's long been one of Honda's most important cars, and if there's a car you want to screw up the least, it's the volume seller. It also happens to look very nice and drive very well.
I went with all-wheel drive since I live in the snow belt, as a good deal of CR-V buyers do.
A healthy $35,000 budget let me spec the top trim, Touring, with premium-looking ivory leather, along with navigation.
A suite of advanced driver-assist systems is also included at this level, including blind-spot and lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control, and collision-mitigating auto brake.
I added rear parking sensors, because even with a backup camera, we all make mistakes and it's best to get ahead of 'em.
I capped it all off with a bike mount and roof rails because, with pets or children, finding interior storage space might not always be easy.
2017 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring -- Chris Paukert, managing editor
A loaded Mazda CX-5 is my ideal $35,000 crossover, precisely because it's the least likely to drive like one. I tend to prefer the sharper handling of conventional wagons and hatchbacks, and Mazda does affordable sporty cars better than anyone.
It wasn't long ago that choosing a Mazda over other automakers meant that you'd have to sacrifice on interior quality, as well as put up with more noise, vibration and harshness. That's changing, as evidenced by the upscale cabin of this new CX-5.
Like every other CX-5, my all-wheel-drive Grand Touring model features Mazda's well-behaved 187-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder.
Going top trim means I capture creature comforts like leather seating, moonroof and Mazda Connect infotainment. Plus I get advanced safety features like blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise, auto-brake and most importantly, adaptive LED lighting.
With a GT, there's not much need to raid the options list, but I've spec'd out practical features like smartphone-based remote start ($550) and a retractable cargo cover ($250). That still leaves coin left over to splurge on machine gray paint.
2017 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid SE -- Wayne Cunningham, managing editor
As a city dweller, I appreciate the Toyota RAV4's size, as it fits well at curbside parking spots, while offering a very practical interior for five passengers and cargo.
In Hybrid form, the RAV4 manages 34 mpg in the city and 30 mpg highway, so that not only means less of a drain on my wallet, but long overall range when I want to take a roadtrip.
All-wheel drive comes standard, as does Toyota's advanced driver assistance package, a nice bonus. There is one trim above the SE, but it hardly seems worth the extra $2,000, and it limits exterior paint to one color.
I'll take the SE model in the lovely electric storm blue, and throw in the Advanced Technology package for the surround-view camera, which helps when maneuvering around tight parking garages.
2017 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk -- Emme Hall, reviews editor
For the type of fun I like to have I need an off-road-capable crossover SUV, and nothing is more suited to the dirt than a Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk.
Its Selec-Terrain system allows for Auto, Snow, Sport, Sand/Mud and Rock and the Trailhawk gets a low gear with a 56:1 crawl ratio and a locking rear differential. Plus, I get skid plates all around to protect the underbody from the elements.
I would option up my Cherokee with the 3.2-liter V6. The Cherokee is a heavy beast and the 271 horsepower and 239 pound-feet of torque are worth the extra $1,745.
I'd also pick the $795 tow package, which outfits the Cherokee to tow up to 4,500 pounds, enough for my open trailer and desert race car.
And because I'm a wimp in the cold, the $985 cold-weather package adds heated front seats and a heated steering wheel, in addition to an engine block heater and a few other bits that are completely unnecessary in California.
While Apple CarPlay and Android Auto aren't available on the Cherokee, the available Uconnect system is very functional and easy to use. The only bummer is that adaptive cruise control is not offered on the Trailhawk trim line.
A small price to pay for so much dirty fun.
2017 Kia Soul EV -- Antuan Goodwin, associate editor
Not everyone agrees that this boxy little ride is a crossover SUV, but Kia says so, and I like the spacious Soul so much that I'm giving it a pass.
The fully electric model is my favorite starting configuration, thanks to its high-torque EV performance and 120 mpge city efficiency. Yes, the 93 mile-per-charge range should be considered, but you may be surprised how much lifestyle fits within that range.
In this trim, there are no other options to think about. At $34,845 before any available electric vehicle credits or rebates, the 2017 Kia Soul EV even leaves a few bucks in the budget for floor mats.
I recommend you start at the midtier -- and redundantly named -- "EV" trim level, which gets you the excellent UVO3 dashboard tech and a rear camera.
2017 Honda CR-V Touring -- Jon Wong, reviews editor
A 2017 Honda CR-V Touring all-wheel drive in obsidian blue is my ideal pick for a new $35,000 crossover. A turbo engine, sharp handling and practical size will come in handy, while still being easily maneuverable.
Since I live in Michigan, a state that usually experiences real winters, all-wheel drive is a nice feature to have, along with all the fancy items included with the range-topping Touring model, including features like navigation and LED headlights.
Completing my ideal CR-V is the accessory rear bumper guard to prevent scuffing of the painted surface when loading and unloading cargo, along with all-weather floor mats and a cargo tray to better protect the interior carpeting.
2017.5 Nissan Rogue SV Hybrid -- Donovan Farnham, social media editor
For starters, I picked the 2017.5 Nissan Rogue because it's one of the better-looking crossovers on the market. Specifically, I'd order a Rogue with optional all-wheel drive to make getting to the ski slopes a little bit easier and the 176-horsepower hybrid drivetrain to stretch the gas budget on my daily commute.
I spec'd mine out in Glacier White with an Almond Cloth interior.
The $2,870 SV Premium Package is an excellent addition because it adds a 360-degree camera, motion object detection, a better sound system and upgraded infotainment. Also, the package comes with a sweet panoramic moonroof.
If you're looking to save a few bucks, ditching the extensive list of accessories I specified would bring the price down by a few grand.