I love fast cars. But sometimes, it’s nice to just slow down and hit the trails for some off-road fun. However, this can be an expensive hobby after you buy your 4X4 and some of the parts it takes to get deeper into the woods. If you’re new to the hobby, and don’t know where to start, it’s always a good idea to make sure you get the right vehicle to start with so you don’t regret it later on, especially if you’re on a tight budget. Here is a list of the best and cheapest 11 4X4s to get you going down the trail:
Old school Jeep Cherokees are a dime a dozen and are one of the cheapest and most reliable vehicles to modify for off-road use. These are great for vehicles that are dedicated to going off-road, or as a mixed use daily driver. These Jeeps are available with an inline six cylinder 4.0 liter engine that is known for its torque, and can be found for dirt cheap. They can literally be found for their scrap metal price, which is only hundreds of dollars. And, when I say reliable, my family was responsible for throwing over 300,000 miles at an early 90s model before the transmission finally blew up.
It is totally possible to find a decent 4 wheel drive Trooper for under $1,000. Just make sure you don’t buy the 4 cylinder diesel or gasoline model, because performance was terrible. GM inserted the V6 from their small truck line, and all was well for the boxy looking sport utility. The 4 wheel drive system is quite capable, and many have successfully taken them up and over some huge rocks. They aren’t as abundant as some of the other best 4X4s on this list, but are plentiful enough to get one in good shape.
Toyota trucks are some of the most reliable trucks ever built. They aren’t without their issues, however. What kind of issues? Rust has a way of setting in on older Toyota vehicles, and if you are in the market, inspect it closely before you buy. If it has rusted, walk away from that deal. However, if you can find one with minimal or no rust, you’ve got a very capable off-road vehicle that can also be used as a daily driver. They can start out at $500 and go up from there depending upon the options and condition.
Toyota Land Cruiser
Far from the cheapest (or smallest) 4X4 on this list; the Land Cruiser has a proud history of being a capable off-roader with the ability to also tote the kids around in comfort and style. There is enough room for seven people or loads of camping gear. And, the 4 wheel drive system is more than enough to get you where you need to be, on just about any trail. However, finding one for less than 4K can be difficult, and you may need to wait for the perfect one to fall into your lap.
Some people are going to think I’m nuts, and I’m okay with that. Because usually, when someone thinks about Subaru going off-road, it is in the form of a rally car. However, the ground clearance of these peppy little all-wheel drive cars rivals that of some of the larger vehicles on this list (like the Cherokee). While there isn’t a lot of work that can be done to them to get several inches of travel to go, say, rock crawling, they are still a formidable opponent on just about any trail where huge rocks aren’t present. The argument can also be made that they receive the best fuel mileage on this list, make great daily drivers and are affordable starting at $1,000.
Jeep Grand Cherokee
Think of this sport utility vehicle as the bigger, more luxurious brother to the boxier Cherokee. These Jeeps had the option to come with the aforementioned six cylinder, or a V8. While these aren’t quite as cheap as the regular Cherokee, they can be a more comfortable option without lacking any off-road capability. And, as always, the extra power from those two extra pistons can only help you do more. They can be found in decent shape starting at about $800.
The Wrangler is the most expensive 4X4 (Jeep or otherwise) on this list. The reason being, there is the perception that you can usually do more with a Wrangler. A lot of the vehicles on this list (like the other Jeeps) have uni-body frames, while the Wrangler utilizes a ladder frame which allows you to get even higher off the ground. Some of the Wranglers came with a 4 cylinder engine, which I’d stay away from just because they don’t offer up the same resale value. Furthermore, if you’re going to build a capable off-road rig, then a mid-sized engine is the better way to go. A decent, rust-free Wrangler in good working order can be found for $4-5,000.
Ford Bronco II
I have a friend who used to have one of these with tires almost as tall as he was. I’m not quite sure what the point was, because if a good gust of wind came through, it just about blew over. And while driving? Forget about it. It gave new meaning to the term “top-heavy.” However, with moderate lifts, the Ford can be quite maneuverable off-road, and tend to be very affordable at around the $600 mark.
These aren’t quite as capable off-road as some of the other vehicles on this list are. However, they can be found for very cheap, which leaves some money for further modifications down the road. Decent Nissan Pathfinders from the early 90s can be found starting at just $600, just be sure to inspect for rust first, because it can be an issue. Finally, the V6 that these affordable 4X4s came with is enough engine to get you through the woods.
This is the kind of machine you either love or hate. There really is no in between. On one hand, they get great fuel mileage because they are a small, light weight vehicle with a tiny engine. But on the other hand, in order to do any serious off-roading in a Samurai, you need some power to move the bigger tires you’re gonna need to actually go anywhere. There is, however, a huge cult following for these things with a ton of aftermarket parts. Good Suzuki Samurai prices generally start at about $3,000 and go up from there.
Another of the larger vehicles on this list is the Mitsubishi Montero. These were sturdy SUVs built with a good V6 and decent ground clearance. Once again, the issue is the rust, so make sure you look it over before you buy. These can be found in the $2-3,000 range and are quite capable off-road, however because they aren’t that popular, aftermarket parts may be limited.