Looking to go off road? It's not as hard as you think. Although many modern SUVs tout their go-anywhere capabilities, only a few have the hardware to tackle the trails - and even fewer can do it with a manageable price tag. We've rounded up some of our favorite reasonably-priced SUVs with true off-road capabilities, capping our budget at $20,000 to ensure affordability. And while our list is composed of used vehicles, we've factored in JD Power rankings and picked certified pre-owned vehicles to ensure you won't get stuck far away from civilization.
2009 Jeep Grand Cherokee
Although the Jeep Grand Cherokee may seem like a natural on the road, the midsize SUV also shines when it's taken off the pavement. That's because the Grand Cherokee includes available low-range gearing for serious off-road treks, along with a host of other rock crawling items like hill descent control, skid plates and front tow hooks. And while it may be hard to find a 2009 or 2010 Grand Cherokee equipped with those options, we think it's likely that they're included on at least a few of the 250 different Grand Cherokees currently listed on AutoTrader.com with a certified pre-owned warranty for around $20,000 or less.
2010 Jeep Wrangler
No list of budget-priced SUVs with a penchant for getting dirty would be complete without the Jeep Wrangler. Among the original off-road toys, Jeep's brawny icon has certainly added luxury touches over the years - but it still retains the go-anywhere capability that made it famous. With nearly 100 certified pre-owned examples currently available on AutoTrader.com for around $20,000 or less, a used Wrangler is a surprisingly good deal - especially the four-door Unlimited model, which provides off-road fun for the whole family. And while the Wrangler's fuel economy may leave something to be desired, buyers can take comfort in the knowledge that their SUV of choice offers the best resale value of any recent model, meaning they won't lose too much money to depreciation.
2010 Nissan Xterra
Nissan's robust Xterra is the automaker's toughest SUV, providing athletic styling and an even more muscular chassis. We especially recommend a certified pre-owned 2009 or 2010 model, which is easy to find on AutoTrader.com for around $20,000 or less. Shoppers serious about off-roading will want to look around for a mid-level Xterra Off-Road, which includes luxury features like a navigation system, Bluetooth and an in-dash 6-disc CD changer. But the Xterra also boasts serious trail gear like skid plates, purpose-built suspension, a front tow hook, and hill ascent and descent control. The Xterra also includes an excellent 261-horsepower V6 that can strong-arm its way through nearly any situation.
2008 Toyota FJ Cruiser
The FJ Cruiser is commendable for offering the brawny, go-anywhere muscle to back up its unique styling. While its appearance may not be for everyone, its combination of futuristic and retro styling certainly turns heads - and functional elements like exceptional ground clearance actually nets the SUV a high degree of usability when the going gets tough. Used examples of the FJ Cruiser are also reasonably priced, with around 50 different 2007 and 2008 models currently listed on AutoTrader.com, advertised with a certified pre-owned warranty for around $20,000 or less. Buyers are also likely to appreciate the FJ Cruiser's notoriously strong resale value, which makes the SUV easy to sell without losing a fortune.
2008 Toyota 4Runner
While the boldly styled FJ Cruiser gets all the off-roader glory, Toyota's four-door 4Runner SUV is nearly as capable off the pavement - especially in its previous bodystyle, which remained the same from 2003 to 2009. In addition to offering robust body-on-frame construction and high ground clearance, four-wheel drive 4Runners included hill descent control, a two-speed transfer case and a locking center differential. The SUV also offered buyers a choice between two gutsy engines: a 236-horsepower V6 and a strapping 4.7-liter V8 that produced a mediocre 260 horsepower but more than 300 pound-feet of stump-pulling torque. Icing on the cake is the 4Runner's reasonable pricing, with nearly 70 certified pre-owned models currently available on AutoTrader.com for around $20,000 or less.
2001 Toyota Land Cruiser
While it won't have a certified pre-owned warranty, Toyota's tremendously capable Land Cruiser should be on the consideration list of shoppers interested in a robust SUV that will almost last a lifetime. Although $20,000 could buy later models with much higher mileage figures, we recommend a well-kept 2000 or 2001 Land Cruiser with average miles and complete service records. With reasonable maintenance and consistent oil changes, it should last for decades - even if it spends a considerable portion of its life crawling over rocks or barreling down rutted trails. The same goes for Lexus' upscale LX470, which is virtually identical to the Land Cruiser except for minor stylistic details inside and out.
What it means to you: Many nearly new SUVs offer off-road capabilities and bargain prices.