I Need A Comfortable, Capable Off-Road SUV Under $18K – What Should I Buy? [Ask TFL]

There are some great used options out there

What should you choose when you need a comfortable off-road SUV?

TFLcar viewer Don sent in a great question to info@tflcar.com, asking which would be a suitable replacement for his two-wheel drive crossover for some light off-road tasks.

“I’m looking for an SUV/Crossover for off-road use. In your opinion, could you give me three recommendations? I like to go Gold mining on California desert roads, but my wife doesn’t want a truck. Please help. I’ve gotten stuck in my current 2WD Honda Pilot.”


Getting stuck is never fun, and it’s a good idea to have all-wheel drive if you’re thinking of doing some form of off-roading. Even if you’re not, modern all-wheel drive and four-wheel drive systems provide an added layer of security for traction on loose, slippery surfaces. We need to know a bit more information before we can field our recommendations, though. Don did provide some more information as to his budget and what he’s looking for.

I’m looking to spend $18,000 for a used SUV. I want the smoothest ride I can get with off road features. However, I don’t need something radical off-road. Sometimes, I end up on some rutted uneven roads and I just don’t want to get stuck.


That’s certainly a reasonable request, and $18,000 gives us somewhere to start. To that end, we’ve chosen two of the most capable off-road brands that are available under his budget. In fact, we found cars that are actually for sale right now via online classifieds. With that in mind, here are our recommendations.

I Need A Comfortable, Capable Off-Road SUV Under $18K - What Should I Buy?
The Toyota FJ Cruiser took a classic off-road icon and modernized the concept in a more comfortable, capable package. [Photo: Toyota]

1) 2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser: $15,999

Toyota introduced the FJ Cruiser in 2007 as a modern interpretation of the legendary FJ40 Land Cruiser. What’s more, while the modern Land Cruiser is massively expensive – starting at around $85,000 – the FJ Cruiser started at $23,700. To put that in perspective, that’s about $29,000 in today’s money. For that, you bought a retro-styled SUV that mixed capability and comfort fairly well. The other up side? Toyotas always hold their value well.

This particular model, for sale at a local dealership here in Colorado, is available right now for $15,999. In 2007 dollars, that would be around $13,115 according to an inflation calculator based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI). On that basis, the FJ Cruiser held on to over half its value, even after ten years.

I Need A Comfortable, Capable Off-Road SUV Under $18K - What Should I Buy?
Jeep redesigned the Grand Cherokee in 2010, with a more refined platform than previous generations.

2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland: $17,495

While the Wrangler would be a go-to choice for a serious off-roader, used prices are generally on the high side. So, to get one within budget, you’d have to get a high-mileage JK or opt for an older TJ-generation model. The Grand Cherokee, on the other hand, bridges the gap between comfort and off-road capability for a much lower premium.

This older Grand Cherokee Overland is an earlier example of the WK2 generation, but it’s still more refined and comfortable previous models. It also has low range and a terrain management system, which helps in light to moderate off-road scenarios. The older models do have a 5-speed automatic transmission rather than the 8-speed units we see today, so fuel economy is a down side.

2013 toyota 4runner front grill
The Toyota 4Runner is one of Toyota’s longest-running SUVs. [Photo: Toyota]

2012 Toyota 4Runner SR5 4WD: $17,322

We’re back to Toyota with another of their popular SUVs. The 4Runner has more or less been around in its current form for nearly a decade. When it comes to their trucks, Toyota takes their time between redesigns, and the up side of that is these 4Runners are relatively bulletproof. Despite an archaic 4.0-liter V6 and 5-speed automatic transmission, folks are still taken by the 4Runner’s rugged dependability.

Among these three options, this would be my personal choice, as it offers a great blend of functionality, comfort and off-road performance. Granted, if you look at it in the same vein as more refined crossovers like the Pilot, you may not end up liking it. However, even this SR5 model is perfectly capable for light to moderate off-roading, it’s still comfortable, and the aftermarket support for the 4Runner is huge. Like the FJ Cruiser, the 4Runner also holds its value fairly well, if you don’t mind the lackluster fuel economy.

These are just three examples of SUVs that should offer a fair amount of comfort and off-road capability. What would you recommend for Don, TFL community? Let him know in the comments below! Please feel free to send your car-related questions to info@tflcar.com!

See more on our suggestions (and some cheeky spy photos of Ford’s new Baby Bronco) in our latest TFLnow Live below: