Oftentimes, when people are shopping for a vehicle on a budget, they opt for a base model because they think it’s all they can afford. But that’s not always the case.

The truth is, if you’re smart about the way you build your vehicle of choice, you can actually get a lot more for your money. And if you are choosing between a few models, a great way to help you aid your decision making is to set a budget and see how much equipment you can get on each for that amount of money.

To prove this, we used Ford, Dodge and Chevrolet’s configurators, set a budget of $32,500 and tried to find out which American mid-size SUV offers the best value for a daily driver/family hauler: the 2017 Ford Edge, the 2017 Dodge Journey or the 2017 Chevrolet Equinox.

2017 Ford Edge

Photo via Ford

2017 Ford Edge SEL, Twin-Scroll 2.0L EcoBoost (starting MSRP $31,790)
The SE offers some of the best standard features in the segment, but the SEL offers even more, without making us dig deeper into our pockets. A leather-wrapped steering wheel, split-spoke 18-inch aluminum wheels and unique cloth seats all come standard at this trim, as well as power driver and passenger seats. The turbocharged 2-liter engine produces 245 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque, while the six-speed SelecShift transmission gives us the extra driving control we’re looking for.

2017 Ford Edge Interior

Photo via Ford

Options: Class II Trailer Tow Package with Trailer Sway Control ($435) Roof Rack Side Rails ($195) All-Weather Floor Matts ($125)
The SEL didn’t give us much wiggle room with our budget, but we found some options that will help our families during the weekend getaways. The Tow Package has a max towing capacity of 3,500 pounds, while the Sway Control automatically applies vehicle correction and braking if the trailer is swaying. Lastly, the roof rack and floor mats help make this the perfect weekend warrior for a busy family.

The total price — with $895 destination charge and $1,000 cash back — of our 2017 Ford Edge SEL, Twin-Scroll 2.0L EcoBoost in Shadow Black: $32,440.

2017 Dodge Journey Crossroad Plus

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2017 Dodge Journey GT, 3.6-liter V-6, all-wheel drive (starting MSRP $31,945)
The GT is the highest trim available and is dangerously close to our budget right out of the gate. But Dodge’s many incentives allow us to load up this crossover up all-wheel drive and plenty of options, while still remaining below our budget. The standard 2.6-liter V-6 engine produces 283 horsepower and 260 pounds-feet of torque, while the also-standard six-speed automatic transmission with AutoStick has a low first gear, which allows us to move quickly from a dead stop. We also love the adjustable leather-trim seats throughout the interior, as well as the excellent entertainment system with one year of free SiriusXM Satellite Radio. The GT trim also comes standard with trailer-sway control.

2017 Dodge Journey Crossroad Plus interior

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Options: Navigation and Back-Up Camera Group ($1,295) All Weather Group by Mopar ($350) Black Side Roof Rails ($249)
Somehow, we were able to fit in all of these options while staying below budget. The navigation and camera package features a rear camera for parking assistance, Garmin navigation system and a universal garage-door opener. Additionally, the weather package and roof rails make this vehicle perfect for potentially messy activities.

The total price — with $1,095 destination charge and $4,000 cash back — of our 2017 Dodge Journey GT, 3.6-liter V-6, all-wheel drive in Granite Pearl: $32,150.

2017 Chevrolet Equinox

Photo via Chevrolet

2017 Chevrolet Equinox LT 3.6-liter V-6, all-wheel drive (starting MSRP $29,395)
The Equinox’s base trim starts at $23,995, but we have a budget for a reason, and the extra money really improves this vehicle. The relatively low price allowed us to fit the Equinox with all-wheel drive, giving us the extra traction we’re looking for. We spent an extra $1,500 for the 3.6-liter, V-6 SIDI engine with Variable Valve Timing, but it allows us to fit the Equinox with a Sport-tuned suspension. The 17-inch painted aluminium wheels don’t pop as much as some of the other vehicles we’ve looked at, but the included LED DRLs, rack side rails and body-colored side mirrors make up for it. The LT trim also carries over standard features from lower trims, such as three months of free SirusXM Satellite Radio and a digital compass.

Options: Convenience Package 3.6-Liter V-6 SIDI Engine ($1,500) ($1,300) Technology Package ($890) Hitch Ball Mount Assembly and Tow Ball (Combined $75)
The 3.6-liter V-6 produces 301 horsepower and 272 pounds-feet of torque, which is great bang for our buck, though the other packages are nothing to snuff at. The convenience package comes with a remote vehicle starter, an 8-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and heated front seats. The technology pack also is great, coming with Chevrolet MyLink with navigation and a Pioneer audio system. Finally, the ability to tow is important to us, so we had to purchase the tow ball and mount assembly.

The total price — with $895 destination charge and $1,250 cash back — of our 2017 Chevrolet Equinox LT 3.6-liter V-6, all-wheel drive in Blue Velvet Metallic: $31,910.

It’s not the flashiest vehicle in the class, but we can’t argue against the Equinox. While we’re not against spending up to our budget, the Equinox LT cost us less, while providing us with more. Our Equinox is more powerful than the Journey GT or Edge SEL, achieves the highest fuel economy of the three, offers comparable safety and entertainment and features all-wheel drive. Not having the towing assembly come standard is a little annoying, but hardly a deal breaker.

Thumbnail photo Fiat Chrysler Automobiles