Recommendation for used SUV on the small side?

My daughter and her husband just moved 20 miles out of town in northern Arizona and need to get a small to mid-sized used SUV to negotiate the dirt roads. High ground clearance is a must. I’d appreciate the wisdom of the board participants regarding one that might be a good bet for around $5,000. If that’s unrealistically cheap, then what would be a good plan B?

A low mileage Jeep Cherokee would be at the top of my list. Decently reliable and a real off road SUV not pretend. They also get pretty decent mileage considering the power available. You also may find a Jeep Liberty which was the Cherokee’s successor.

Previous generation Suzuki Grand Vitara or XL-7. Body-on-frame construction, dual-range transfer case.

Most SUV’s aren’t really off road vehicles and will get beat up on dirt roads. I would look at a small pick up, with extended cab if they need the room. They are more rugged and quite reasonable in price.

If the road is reasonably well-maintained and you don’t get too much snow, I’d say a regular car-based SUV would be fine. Something like a Rav4, CRV, Ford Escape, or even a Subaru Forrester would be okay. You will get better mileage with one of these than with a truck-based vehicles.

If the road is in really bad shape, like very deep ruts or boulders to crawl over, or if you will need to negotiate deeper snow, you probably do want to look at an actual truck-based vehicle. The Cherokee would be good, as would an older 4runner or Pathfinder or Rodeo/Passport or Explorer. If you’re looking newer, a lot of the truck-based nameplates have turned into luxury models that are much pricier and don’t have the offroad capabilites they once did-- a four-door Ford Ranger or Toyota Tacoma are similar to what the older Explorers and 4runners were for example. Generally, you will want something with actual 4-wheel drive (the kind you have to shift into) as opposed to all-wheel drive.

From my own experience, we had a 94 Suzuki Sidekick, prior to the new models. The Grand Vitara of the next generation with frame should be very good off road/ dirt road and cheap. Don’t expect a highway cruiser, but they they will handle rough stuff very well. Mine would hold it’s own with neighbor’s Wrangler (not quite).
Also the Cherokee will work.

Second thought…not an SUV, but Ford Rangers (extended cab) are cheap and very good off road in 4 wd and are quite decent reliability wise. Could get more reasonably for $5k than an SUV.

The Chevrolet Tracker is a rebadged Suzuki Vitara. After doing some research I was set to buy a used 2000 Tracker in 2003, I ended up with a 2000 Blazer instead. The Blazer also has body on frame construction, a dual range transfer case, and decent ground clearance. However it is expensive to keep on the road, both gas and repair wise.

Just a thought, ask around to see what the locals prefer.

Ed B.

I use to own a pickup before I bought my first SUV in 90. Great until your kids are over 4.

Also a pickup is NOT that good on snow unless you have 4wd. The back end is very light and tends to fish-tail. SUV’s handle snow/slippery conditions a LOT better.

They could get a 2000 Nissan Frontier Crew Cab for about $6000 or an Extended Cab for $400 less. My cousin owns one an is very happy with it. Hers is a 2004, I think. These prices are for RWD, automatic and 6-cyl. If they want 4WD, add about $1000. The truck is also available with a 4-cyl and automatic transmission for about $5800 (2002, RWD only).

Or better yet simply buy an X-Terra that is an SUV they seek for a similar price.

get a chevy trailblazer the body is set on an s10 pickup frame which is fairly small and has a small engine with good gas-mileage and it has the tow option