Ron is looking for a vehicle to flat-tow behind his RV that has AWD/4WD and isn’t too heavy. He really does not want a Jeep, but he does have a fairly healthy budget of around $30,000 to spend. What car should he buy?
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Here is the scenario:
I want something different than a Jeep to flat tow (four wheels down) behind my RV. I’d like something akin to a small SUV, but would like to keep the weight down. While I do prefer something smaller, I am 6’5” and 285 pounds so I can’t have something too tiny like a Fiat. I’m trying my best to avoid a Jeep because they are heavy and everyone has them.
As for the budget I can spend up to $30,000.
Budget: up to $30,000
Daily Driver: Not really
Location: Killeen, TX
Wants: Smallish, 4WD/AWD, able to be flat-towed
Doesn’t want: a Jeep
Expert 1: Tom McParland—Makes Recommendations Based On Research
Ron, I’ll admit that I thought this was an easy case. You wanted a lighter AWD/4WD that is not a Jeep, and I immediately jumped to the Subaru Crosstrek. Well, it turns out based on some research on flat-towing that Subaru’s CVTs aren’t optimized for that type of towing and it can cause damage to the transmission, and therefore that car was out.
Then I found this handy guide from Family RVing magazine on all the 2019 models that can be flat-towed without any modifications to the transmission. Needless to say there are a lot of Jeeps on the list and the rest of the cars are either front-wheel-drive or are large trucks. The lightest AWD crossover I could find was the Chevrolet Equinox, that tips the scales at around 3,600 pounds in with AWD.
While the Equinox is not a car that is normally high on my recommended list, by process of elimination this seems to be a good fit for you and the Chevy is a fine place to be. It’s comfortable, it has nice tech and while it’s not going to crawl rocks like a Wrangler it will handle your small trips just fine. Here is lightly used 2019 Equinox 2LZ (fairly loaded) nearby for under your budget.
Expert 2: David Tracy—Knows a Sign From the Car Gods When He Sees One
For sale near you is a 1988 Suzuki Samurai—one of the greatest Japanese off-road vehicles ever sold in the U.S.—with a tow bar already in place! This was one of the first machines I saw when looking through your local listings. Clearly a sign from the heavens that you need to grab your wallet from your back pocket, remove 60 $100 bills, and hand them to whomever has the misfortune of having to offload such a beautiful machine.
These Sammys are incredibly rugged beasts, with a body bolted to a frame, which is suspended above a pair of solid axles via four leaf springs. Curb weight is only about a ton, so yanking this thing with your RV should be no problem, especially if its not particularly aerodynamic boxy profile gets to draft in the wake of your RV.
If you buy this, you’ll have $24,000 extra. You could spend some of that on getting the machine into tip-top shape, and the rest on whatever it is Texans spend money on. Barbecue and cowboy boots, I guess.
Expert 3: Raphael Orlove—Spoiled For Choice
Ron, I can’t tell you that a Suzuki Samurai is a bad choice. (Though I might find an Equinox... on the less than exciting side of things.) But what I can say is that there is more in the world or light, old, high-quality offroaders that aren’t quite as diminutive as the Suzuki.
If you step up to Toyota, there’s actually a trio of good options right by you.
The first is this right-hand-drive Toyota Hilux Surf. It’s the Japanese designation for what we got as the 4Runner, and for some reason it’s easy to find these imported examples in incredibly good shape, low miles, and priced well within your budget even at a high $18,995. This one is minty, lifted, and available just south of you in Austin.
If you want newer, it’s easy to find the absolute cult classic FJ Cruiser also within your budget at $28,800. These are completely beloved cars and it’s a shame we only got one generation of them, tough but cute.
All that said, if it were me, I would go for the absolute peak in indestructible Toyota-ness, the 70-series Land Cruiser. This one is a big diesel that seems high-priced at $18,800, but it’s a quality vehicle by the looks of it. The thing might seem like a high-mileage example as well, but at even a quarter of a million miles, it’s just getting broken in.
Expert 3: Andrew Collins—OK Fine, No Jeeps, But...
Ron, this sounds like a good problem to have. Though it’s not abundantly clear if you want this vehicle for serious off-roading or just as a runabout for when you’re living out of the bus and don’t feel like pushing forty feet of steel down the road to do errands.
I was going to suggest an early Honda CR-V or RAV4, but if you’re looking to spend $30,000 you probably don’t want to tolerate the annoyances of 20-year-old hardware without at least being in a bonafide “classic.” Then I thought “new Passport,” but they’re too expensive. At the same time, you’re asking on Jalopnik and don’t want what everybody else has, so it’s clear you’re trying to step out of the norm a little bit...
What about a Jeep that’s actually a Mitsubishi?
Yes, Mitsubishi made rugged off-road vehicles that predate the Montero/Pajero, look like Jeeps but aren’t, shouldn’t be too terribly heavy to tow, and will definitely be conversation starters with Jeep people.
The main downside, of course, will be the fact that they’re pretty old, so that’s something you’d have to be up for. As for parts acquisition, you might have to deal with long shipping times and navigating Japanese Yahoo but I bet stuff is out there.
Duncan Imports over in Virginia has this big one a little over-budget ($36,000) and a bunch of smaller ones under-budget, so if you start sniffing around I have a feeling you’ll be able to find something that splits the difference. Good luck!
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