Which off-road SUV should I buy?

Can you please recommend any capable off-roaders with good cargo space, usable rear seats for long drives, reliability and good mpg for less than $60,000?

Pranay, Portland, Ore.

When we think of off-roading, two brand names quickly come to mind — Jeep and Land Rover, both of which are renowned for their four-wheel-drive systems and ability to conquer terrain that’s not fit for beast, let alone man. Unfortunately, neither Jeep nor Land Rover is renowned for its reliability, one of the criteria you listed and one that should be high on the list of anyone who frequently ventures off-road. So we suggest you look at other brands, such as Nissan and Toyota.


Although we have been mightily impressed by the off-road performance of vehicles such as the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Land Rover LR4, we get queasy when we see those brands regularly score below the industry average for quality in owner surveys by J.D. Power and Associates. We’ll be more inclined to recommend Jeeps and Land Rovers once they show significant and sustained improvement in quality studies.

That’s why we think you would be better served by an off-roader such as the Nissan Xterra PRO-4X or Toyota 4Runner Trail, body-on-frame SUVs with the right stuff for boulder-bashing and good reliability records.

The 2013 Xterra, expected to have fresh styling, won’t arrive until later in the model year, so you will have to find a 2012 PRO-4X, which seats five and comes with an electronic locking rear differential, hill start and descent assists, and a two-speed four-wheel-drive transfer case. It starts around $30,000, well under your price limit.

The 4Runner Trail can seat up to seven (five is standard), has locking center and rear differentials, a crawl mode, two-speed transfer case and an optional dynamic suspension that adjusts to the terrain. Prices start under $40,000.

You said you want “good mpg,” and we hope that’s relatively speaking because SUVs designed for slogging through the mud aren’t known for miserly fuel consumption. The Xterra has EPA estimates of 16/20 mpg city/highway, and the 4Runner Trail is rated at 17/21 mpg.

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Answered by Rick Popely on December 10, 2012 in What Car Should I Buy? | Permalink

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