Have you ever come to the point where your current vehicle just isn't cutting it anymore? It just seems like one thing happens after another and you realize that it's time for an upgrade. Unfortunately, that just opens up a whole new set of issues as you now need to find that new set of wheels.
That's exactly the position my wife and I found ourselves in recently, when it became apparent it was time to replace our 2007 Jeep Liberty. Because Jeep stopped manufacturing the Liberty after the 2012 model year, we were forced to look elsewhere for our upgrade. Surprisingly, there wasn't much on the market that appealed to us. We were looking for something having the rugged good looks of the Liberty, but with better gas mileage and more comfort for long trips. Not only that, but we needed something with four-wheel drive for visits to family during the winter. Oh, and we wanted it all for a price we could afford.
We spent hours looking online at vehicles including Ford's (NYSE:F) Escape, which, in all honesty, didn't have the rugged good looks we wanted. It was the same story when comparing General Motors' (NYSE:GM) Chevy Equinox. Further, while both are excellently built vehicles, when putting a price tag on the fully featured vehicle we were looking for, it really wasn't as appealing as the vehicle we ended up purchasing: the 2014 Jeep Patriot.
Not only did the Patriot have the rugged good looks we desired, but the price really couldn't be beat. Its base Sport model starts at just $15,995, while the more luxurious Limited can be had starting at $23,995. Compared with the Chevy Equinox which starts at $24,225, or the Ford Escape at $22,700, it's evident why the Patriot has been called the best-priced SUV in America.
Best of all, the Patriot put our gas-guzzling Liberty to shame, as the four-wheel drive 2.4L World Engine our Patriot is equipped with gets up to 27 MPG on the highway and 21 MPG in the city -- though I will point out Ford's Escape and Chevy's Equinox can both get up to 32 MPG on the highway. When it comes down to the overall value, missing out on a few MPGs was a compromise we were willing to make, especially in light of the fact that we were lucky if our old Liberty would give us 20 MPG on the highway.
With CAFE standards set to nearly double to a tough new 54.5 MPG standard by 2025, both automakers and consumers have really been putting a premium on those more fuel-efficient vehicles. The industry has been making great progress, especially when it comes to SUVs. Today's SUVs are now getting similar gas mileage as midsize sedans were delivering earlier in the decade. That's great news for customers wanting the space of an SUV without paying a lot extra at the pump.
What's not surprising is that customers are beginning to take notice. This past June was the best sales month for Chrysler since 2007, with sales of its flagship Jeep Grand Cherokee leading the way up 33%. All Jeep brand vehicles recorded double-digit sales gains last month, and the Patriot set a record for its best June ever, as sales jumped 20%.
The more fuel-efficient Ford Escape has also performed well on the market, as its sales have been on a record-setting pace, though it was just up 1% last month to 28,694 vehicles. Still, the increase helped drive Ford's overall sales, which were up 13%. Meanwhile, over at GM, its total sales were up 6%, with the Equinox having a stellar month as its sales were at record levels, up 14%.
The key takeaway is that customers want an SUV that gets pretty decent gas mileage at an affordable price. While the Patriot might not have the best gas mileage in its class, when you combine its safety features (it was named an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety top safety pick), price, and rugged good looks, it's really in a class of its own. That, in my opinion, makes it the best SUV on the market today.
Matt DiLallo has long January 2014 $10 calls on Ford and short January 2014 $10 puts on Ford. The Motley Fool recommends Ford and General Motors and owns shares of Ford. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.