10 Cheap Off-Road Vehicles: Affordable Adventures on Four Wheels

Off-Road / 42 Comments

Why are new off-road trucks and SUVs so darn expensive?

The 2023 Toyota Sequoia is probably the best all-around off-roader money can buy. It's comfortable, safe, spacious, and powered by a smooth twin-turbocharged 3.4-liter V6 engine. The Sequoia is the perfect blend of old and new, riding on a robust ladder frame chassis but equipped with the latest electronic systems that make off-roading as easy as pie.

The only problem is the price. It starts at roughly $60,000, and you can add another $3,000 if you add the part-time four-wheel-drive system. Would you subject a $60,000 SUV to the kind of terrain where an off-road recovery is almost certainly guaranteed?

When it comes to off-roading, cheaper is better. You don't necessarily have to have sympathy with the car, and older cars aren't sullied with modern technology like hill descent control and terrain response.

With that in mind, here are some cheaper alternatives, with the maximum budget set at $20,000.

This article was originally published in 2018 but was updated in June 2023 with more relevant information.

10 Cheap Off-Road Vehicles CarBuzz

1. Jeep Cherokee (XJ)

The Jeep Cherokee is arguably the best one ever made. After this, Jeep went through that whole Liberty phase for two generations and finally returned to the Cherokee nameplate with the oddly styled KL.

Jeep's 4.0-liter inline-six is better than the 3.7-liter, and 3.2-liter V6 engines that followed, and the Cherokee lost sight of its off-road roots somewhere along the line. The current model isn't wrong, but it looks more at home in the suburbs than in the woods. Just look at the images below to see how majestic the second-gen model still looks.

Sure, old Cherokees have some mechanical issues, such as dashboard lights, check engine lights, and oil leaks. But the 4.0 is not a complex engine; you can work on it at home.

The model below is one of the later 2001 models, available today for as little as $10,000.


2. 2011 Ford Ranger

The Ranger was sold in the US from 1983 until 2011, and then Ford introduced the T6 model in 2019. The all-new 2024 Ranger debuted recently, but it's still based on the T6 platform. The big news is the Ranger Raptor and its twin-turbocharged V6 and jumping abilities.

The introduction of the T6 Ranger drastically affected the prices of earlier models. Before this article was updated, a late 2011 model cost roughly $20,000. These days you can pick up a 2011 model 4x4 with the naturally aspirated 4.0-liter V6 and 4WD for $10,000.

It's not fancy, but it has air-conditioning and electric windows. There's more than enough room in the instrument cluster to mount a basic touchscreen interface with Apple CarPlay, but if you want to stick to CDs, that's okay, too.


3. Toyota 4Runner

Toyota recently unveiled the all-new Tacoma, which means the next-generation 4Runner can't be far behind. It will be heavily based on the Tacoma, which means the beloved 4.0 V6 will be culled.

This is good news for used shoppers because prices of the current-generation 4Runner will dip. And because the naturally aspirated 4.0 engine is virtually bulletproof, there's a good chance you'll be able to score a good deal.

Because Toyota sold so many, you can get a 2000 model for as little as $6,000 or a 2015 Limited (top-spec with all the goodies) for $20,000. Even though the 4Runner is known for being durable, look out for all the known flaws and a full service history.


4. Toyota Tacoma

Still prefer a midsize pickup truck with Toyota reliability? Just opt for an older Tacoma. It's that simple. As is the case with the 4Runner, older Tacomas are bound to lose value now that the all-new model has arrived with no more than four cylinders.

Like with all other vehicles listed here, there are plenty of Tacomas out there, so don't buy the first one you find. Tacomas are known for their reliability, though there have been some rust issues involving the frame (there was a recall), so be on the lookout.

There are loads of used options, ranging from a 2006 double cab 4x4 for $12,000 to a 2015 TRD Pro for $19,999.


5. Jeep Wrangler

You want a Jeep Wrangler but don't want to pay nearly $50,000 for a new Rubicon. Understandable. The third-generation JK is a good option if you avoid the 3.8-liter V6 and opt for the later models equipped with the 3.6-liter Pentastar V6.

The Pentastar was introduced in 2012, so that's where you need to start shopping. A mint 2012 Rubicon costs roughly $15,000, while an already modified example can go for $20,000. That's also part of the fun. Since the Wrangler is a modifier's dream, you'll find many models with overlanding kit already included.

JL (the current generation) Rubicon models are still out of reach on our strict budget, but a few Sport and Sahara models are available.


6. Mitsubishi Montero

The Montero always struggled to get out of the 4Runner's shadow, and at a certain point, it just became irrelevant. Don't think it isn't tough enough, however. The Montero is still a top seller in third-world countries and is considered a decent alternative to the Nissan Armada and Lexus GX.

Mitsubishi's 3.8-liter V6 engine is reliable, and the Montero's noise, vibration, and harshness levels are still acceptable. You won't find a model with the latest connectivity features, but who needs that stuff anyway?


7. Suzuki Samurai (Jimny)

There are few Suzuki Samurais in the country, meaning you must pay a premium. Luckily, that premium still falls under our budget.

For $19,000, you can get a 1987 Samurai, and it will give you the same thrills as its modern equivalent, the Jimny. There is a loophole that allows you to import a current Jimny, but we'd rather have this.

The Samurai is as basic as they come. It has a naturally aspirated 1.3-liter four-pot mated to a five-speed manual. It sends power to the wheels via a part-time four-wheel-drive system but doesn't have differential locks. Still, the Samurai's small size means you can take some exciting lines through obstacles, and its lightweight body means it often has to recover vehicles three times its size.

Wikipedia Commons

8. Toyota FJ Cruiser

You have to jump fast on this one because prices will increase. The world often doesn't know a good thing when it's gone, and the FJ is now gone for good.

The FJ was an excellent car launched at the wrong time. It first arrived in 2006, just as the recession hit. The world started recovering in 2008, but the FJ could never achieve the goals Toyota set for it. And the famous 4Runner was the same car but with more space and a lower price.

The FJ's retro design now looks better than ever, and thanks to shorter overhangs, it's arguably better off-road than the 4Runner. People are already paying stupid money for delivery mileage examples, so get one of these while they're still available for between $12,000 t $20,00, depending on condition and mileage.

Front-End Bumper Toyota
Rear-Facing View Toyota

9. Kia Sportage

Nope, we're not talking about the second generation and onward. The first-generation Kia Sportage is one of the best-kept off-road secrets in the world. Kia completely over-engineered the first-gen model and gave it a part-time four-wheel-drive system with low-range gearing. Only when the second-gen rolled along did Kia decide to take it in a more crossover route.

The first-gen models are stupidly cheap, costing as little as $4,000. They're also easy to modify.

Kia struggled with interior quality in the early noughties, so don't expect much. But since it's so cheap, you won't feel bad about abusing it. For reference, see the video below the image.

Wikipedia Commons

10. Nissan Xterra

The Nissan Xterra was never competitive in America because the 4Runner exists. Because of this, used values tanked, and you can pick one up for a bargain. You can have a 2015 (the last model year sold in the USA) with 70,000 miles on the clock for $20,000, or opt for the same model year with 150k on the odometer for $15,000.

It uses Nissan's well-known naturally aspirated V6 engine, and the interior still feels relatively modern. The plastics are hard but durable.


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