Off-Road On The Cheap With These 4 SUVs January 06, 2014
There was a time that the average sport utility vehicle had more in common with a truck than with a car. SUVs had excellent off-road features like low-range transfer cases and locking differentials as well as more solid frames and higher ground clearance. These SUVs of the past have given way to more car-based SUVs that have better fuel economy and a smoother ride, which makes them less than adequate for off-roading. If you’re looking for a new-to-you SUV and you want to do some off-roading with it, look no further than these four SUVs all priced under $19,000 to start off roading on the cheap. These are all more than capable both on the road as well as off, so take a look and see if your next ride is in this list. 1. Toyota FJ Cruiser This retro-styled SUV has a lot more lineage with off-roading history than it lets on by just looking at it. Sharing a past with the traditional Land Cruiser family, this SUV started its life as a concept car all the way back in 2003, starting production for 2007. The FJ Cruiser has a full-time 4-wheel-drive system that’s always gripping the road, not buttons or switches required. Above this, the FJ Cruiser comes with locking front, rear, and center differentials, meaning the 40/60 split of power can be changed over to 50/50 for more serious off-roading. One interesting point about the FJ Cruiser is that it shares its platform with the Lexus GX470, which runs around $60,000, so the FJ’s cost of around $16-$19,000 for the 2007 model, it’s a real deal. 2. Nissan Xterra While the Xterra doesn’t immediately look like an off-roading machine, there are a number of features in the offering from Nissan that make it quite the champ off-road. To start with, the Xterra shares a platform with the Nissan Frontier and Titan trucks. Unlike the FJ Cruiser however, the Xterra does come in 2WD versions, so if you’re planning on picking one up, make sure to not get a RWD version if you plan on off-roading. The first Xterra was produced for the 2000 model year and is still in production today. The current second generation offers a 4.0L V6 that you can mate with either manual or automatic transmissions. Depending on your need for off-road use versus on-road comfort, the first and second generations of the Xterra both have something to offer. The first generation, which ran from 2000-2004 is smaller and a little more capable on the trail, while the second generation that ran from 2005-present, is roomier but a little harder to maneuver on the trail. Either way, you can find both generations for around $18,500 or less. 3. Land Rover LR3 Originally introduced in 1989 as a lower-cost option to the Range Rover, but with the same base body and drivetrain of the pricier version, the Land Rover has been a capable off-road SUV from the first model all the way up through the LR3, The current model is the LR4 and while it is still more than capable, it’s out of our price range for this article. The LR3 started its life in 2004 in the US market, and was known as the Discovery 3 in other parts of the world. Land Rover is the Jeep of Great Britain, and as such has quite the following there. While the LR3 may not look like as much of an off-road vehicle as the Jeep does, it still has more than enough off-road prowess to get you where you want to be. The front half of the LR3s frame is a unibody frame similar to most cars and crossover SUVs on the market today while the rear is a ladder frame. These two combined make the LR3 heavier than its competition and a little unwieldy on roads but great on the trail. Add to that a locking rear differential and electronic traction control systems meant for the trail and you’ve got an SUV that get over just about anything. Easily the nicest interior of the list, the LR3 has wood trim, leather seats, and just about every other interior option available. While it may be hard to find one of these fully decked out for under $19,000, lower models easily fit into this price range. To get even lower in price you should try to find one of the rare V6 models. These are slightly less powerful than the more common V8, but on the trail that extra power is just wasted anyway. 4. Jeep Wrangler The last entry on this list is probably the biggest crowd favorite. At the beginning of this list it says that all these SUVs are good both on road as well as off, and just like the LR3, the Wrangler is a lot better off-road than on. Still a great daily driver, the Wrangler does make some sacrifices for its off-road prowess. Jeep started production all the way back in World War II and is still produced today. Throughout all of these models there are a few that are your best bet for getting the most for your money while still staying under $19,000. The best option is definitely the 2006 TJ series Jeep Wrangler. With a 4.0L inline 6-cylinder engine, this model is more reliable than its V6 brethren. Featuring a coil-spring suspension and an optional DANA 44 rear axle, this model of Wrangler could even come with 30” wheels and gas-charged shocks. 2006 was the last year for both the TJ series as well as the inline 6-cylinder engine. If you can find one, it’s possibly your best bet out of this list if customization and off-roading are your main focus.