I go out of town probably once every 3 months. As much as I would like to go electric, the most I'd go will probably be a hybrid. I have been wanting that Rav Hybrid but budget says NO :(
They only came out last year, and are quite desirable. There is some gap between your budget and one of those.
In terms of hybrid SUV's that fit your budget there are only really 3 options:
Lexus Rx400h / Toyota Harrier Hyrbid / Kluger hybrid cira 2006 - 2009. All use the same 3.3L v6 hybrid power train making 200kW. These vehicles are about offering the performance of a 4.0L v8 (of their era), with economy similar to a 2.4L 4 cylinder SUV. They were the very first performance (rather than fuel saving hybrid). Modern 4 cylinder SUV's will beat them for economy, and low running costs (6x sparkplugs, costs more than four spark-plugs etc). But my car is very powerful and comfortable, and uses a lot less fuel than a modern v6 highlander for example. Probably not a good fit for your goals.
Misti Out lander Plug in Hybrid. There is one high mileage 2014 example on trademe for $17k, and the rest at $21k+. These are AWD, and I think they outperform the 2.4L petrol version. A touch bigger than the Rav4 but still in the same class. Plug in hybrid is quite desirable - I wanted one of these, but my wife didn't like the badge or styling & they were well out of my budget when I was looking. Could be a good fit, but I think the $17k one will get snapped up (it is high spec too), and the rest are well out of budget.
Subaru XV hybrid. I don't know much about these. They are one size down from the forester, essentially being the Impreza hatchback with lifted suspension and bigger tires. That said, its 220mm ground clearance is impressive, and would make it one of the better cars in class off road. While not technically a mild hybrid because the car can move under electric power alone it is towards the milder end of the spectrum, only saving 0.5L/100km over the non hybrids. Still 6.5L/100km is quite respectable for an AWD car, even if it is blown out of the water by the larger toyota Rav4 which gets under 5.0L/100km. Some used imports are just seeking into your budget range. Could be worth a look. Obviously Subaru is pretty new in the hybrid game.
Also could consider the Prius alpha, although this is a fat wagon rather than a suv.