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 Toyota’s, Hyundai’s and Honda’s configurators, set a budget of $32,500 and tried to find out which imported mid-size SUV offers the best value for a daily driver/family hauler: the 2017 Toyota Highlander, the 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe or the 2017 Honda Pilot.
Photo via Toyota
2017 Toyota Highlander Le, 2.7L 4-cylinder, (starting MSRP $30,630)
If we didn’t want to start already above our budget, we had to go with the Highlander’s base trim. That means we couldn’t afford all-wheel drive, nor could we upgrade the 2.7-liter 4-cylinder engine, which puts out 185 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. And while that might sound disappointing, the fact is that, like most Toyota models, the Highlander comes standard with some pretty outstanding features. In addition to the Toyota Safety Sense package, which has just about every advanced safety feature we could want, our crossover comes with a backup camera, five USB ports and a great audio system.
Photo via Toyota
Options: Tow hitch receiver with wiring harness ($699) Ball mount ($57)
First of all, we want the ability to tow. The tow hitch package comes with everything we need other than the ball mount and ball, but we considered every item essential. Unfortunately, we couldn’t afford any other accessories, such as a body protection package or a roof rack.
The total price — with $960 destination charge — of our 2017 Toyota Highlander Le, 2.7L 4-cylinder in Midnight Black Metallic: $32,346.
2017 Honda Pilot, 3.5L V-6, (starting MSRP $30,345)
The LX is the Pilot’s base trim, which is all we could afford, given our budget. The Pilot’s V-6 engine produces 280 horsepower, which is more than enough for a daily/family driver. Unfortunately, though, some of the advanced safety features we really want, such as lane assist and blind-spot detection, only are available on higher trims. But we do get a rearview camera, as well as eight seats.
Options: Roof rails ($525) Trailer hitch ($360) All-seast floor mats ($208) Remote engine start system ($99)
We didn’t have much wiggle room, so we went with what we need: Roof rails and a trailer hitch. Adding the floor mats and the remote-start system brought us dangerously close to our budget, but the mats are necessary, and the ability to turn the vehicle on when it’s too cold to walk outside is convenient.
The total price — with $940 destination charge — of our 2017 Honda Pilot, 3.5L V-6, in Black Forest: $32,477.
2017 Hyundai Santa Fe SE, 3.3L V6, (starting MSRP $30,800)
The trend continues, as starting above the Santa Fe’s base trim would put us way over budget. That’s okay, though, because the SE is a solid vehicle. The 3.3-liter V-6 engine puts out a robust 290 horsepower, and the vehicle comes with a pre-wired trailer-prep package that has 5,000 pounds of towing capacity. The seven-inch display is great, as is Hyundai’s Blue Link system, and we love some other nice touches, such as the blind spot mirror.
Options: Tow Hitch ($350) Roof rack cross rails ($250) All-weather floor mats ($155)
There wasn’t much we could afford here, and truth be told, there wasn’t much available. That said, we needed the tow hitch, and the roof rack is a must for a busy family. Additionally, we opted to go with all-weather floor mats over cargo nets or trays, because we’re probably going to make a mess.
The total price of our 2017 Hyundai Santa Fe SE, 3.3L V6, in Regal Red Pearl: $31,555.
We set budgets for a reason: Because we’re committed to not spending more than we can afford. Each of these vehicles left us little room for accessories and added features, but we still feel comfortable with the cars we were able to build.
But when taking everything into consideration, it’s hard to argue with the Santa Fe. Not only is it the most powerful crossover of the three, but it comes with a pre-wired trailer-prep package that we had to pay extra for with the Highlander. Toyota’s safety package almost is an equalizer, but we opted for power, towing and, most importantly, bang for our bucks.
Thumbnail photo Hyundai