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5 Used Mini SUVs to Buy Instead of a Side-by-Side ATV

A while back I was talking to my friend Tyler about the Suzuki Samurai, and he shared with me something really interesting. Where he grew up in central Utah, people used to buy used Samurais as alternatives to side-by-side ATVs because these mini SUVs were generally much more affordable (a new Polaris RZR or Can Am Maverick costs between $15,000 and $33,000), and they fit inside the toy trailers that most people use for hauling their side-by-side to and from the trailhead. This got me thinking, and now suddenly I’m really into the idea of buying a dirt-cheap mini 4×4 to whip around in off-road. Here are five pint-sized SUVs that I think would make a great alternative to a UTV or side-by-side.

1986-1995 Suzuki Samurai

The Samurai is the toughest mini off-roader ever sold in the United States, and as the inspiration for today’s topic, it ranks pretty highly on our list. Aside from the Jeep Wrangler, the Samurai is the only small 2-door SUV sold in the U.S. in recent history to offer a solid front axle, which allows for added wheel articulation off road. Additionally, its micro proportions, designed to fit into Japan’s pint-sized kei car category, mean it’ll fit onto most trailers used to store and haul side-by-sides. For around $7,000-$10,000, a Samurai like this one costs less than half what you’ll pay for a basic UTV but comes with things like, you know, windows, in addition to offering great off-road capability and a classic off-road SUV image. Find a Suzuki Samurai for sale

1987-1995 Jeep YJ Wrangler

While it’s a little too big to be referred to as mini, the Wrangler is the most legendary 4×4 of all time, and its diminutive proportions mean it’ll still go most places a side-by-side will go. Additionally, the Wrangler has been produced in massive numbers for decades now, meaning that there are plenty of used options out there. If you’re looking for something dirt cheap, consider an example from the YJ generation, sold from 1987 through 1995 (that is, if you can tolerate a Wrangler with square headlights). Or, if you can stretch your budget a little, look to an early TJ model, sold from 1997 through 2006. The one we’ve highlighted above is a 1990 model with 4-wheel drive and a soft-top. It uses a 5-speed manual transmission and even has aftermarket front and rear lockers installed. An Islander model, it comes with body color wheel arches and some other unique trim pieces. It’s located in Oklahoma with 128,000 miles on the odometer and an asking price of $4,500. Find a Jeep Wrangler for sale

1995-2002 Kia Sportage

While the Sportage of today is yet another car-based crossover, the first-generation Sportage, sold in the U.S. from 1995 through 2002, was built on a Mazda-sourced truck platform with a fully boxed ladder frame, a solid rear axle and true low-range 4-wheel drive. There was even an available limited slip rear differential. This was truly unique considering that most of its competitors like the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V rode on raised passenger car platforms. Given the Sportage’s surprisingly rugged construction, not to mention the fact that used examples are ridiculously cheap, an old Sportage could make for a great cheap off-roader. There was even a 2-door convertible bodystyle offered, which, like other vehicles on this list, would give you the same open-air experience as a side-by-side ATV. Unfortunately, there aren’t any 2-door Sportages listed on Autotrader with 4-wheel drive currently, but this 4-door example with just 87,000 miles on the odometer would be suitable, and for just $2,399, the price sure is right. Find a Kia Sportage for sale

eo Tracker

1989-1998 Suzuki Sidekick/Geo Tracker/Chevrolet Tracker

The Sidekick and Tracker twins were short-wheelbase subcompact SUVs built as a joint partnership between GM and Suzuki. They were sold under the Suzuki, Geo and Chevrolet banners here in the United States from 1989 through 1998, after which a second-generation model was introduced. First-gen examples hold a special place in our hearts and minds, though, for their boxy shape and tendency to come in odd colors and with unique graphics applied. While they weren’t as capable as the Samurai, the Sidekick and Tracker offered a true low-range transfer case, a solid rear axle and a beefy suspension designed to maximize off-road capability. This one is a 1996 model wearing a Geo badge on its hood, and it has just 65,000 miles on the odometer. It has 4-wheel drive, a 5-speed manual transmission and a removable hardtop. While it’s got some rust on the driver’s side rocker panel, everything else looks pretty good. It’s located in Cloverdale, Virginia, with an asking price of just $1,899 — about one-tenth the price of a base-model Can-Am Maverick. Suzuki Sidekick for sale or Find a Geo Tracker for sale or Find a Chevrolet Tracker for sale

1990-1992 Daihatsu Rocky

1990-1992 Daihatsu Rocky

The final vehicle on our list is a real oddity. It’s a Daihatsu Rocky, which was sold in the U.S. from just 1990 to 1992 during Daihatsu’s short attempt to establish itself in the U.S. market. The company’s efforts failed, though, and the Rocky remains but a footnote in automotive 4×4 history. It had the specs to back up its rugged appearance, with good approach and departure angles, a solid rear axle and true low-range 4-wheel drive. It also offered an available manual transmission and, like the other vehicles on this list, came with a removable top. As just around 7,000 Rockys were sold in the U.S. during its three model years on sale here, there aren’t a lot left on the roads, and there aren’t currently any listed for sale on Autotrader. The one pictured above I photographed myself in downtown Salt Lake City. Expect to pay between $4,000 and $8,000 for a running used example — if you can find one for sale, that is. Find a Daihatsu Rocky for sale

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Chris O'Neill
Chris O'Neill is an author specializing in competitive analysis, consumer recommendations, and adventure-driven enthusiast content. A lifelong car enthusiast, he worked in the auto industry for a bit, helping Germans design cars for Americans, and now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. He runs an Instagram account, @MountainWestCarSpotter, which in his own words is "actually pretty good", and has a... Read More about Chris O'Neill

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