Shelby’s RAV4 was totaled in a somewhat interesting fashion due to Hurricane Isaias, so it’s time for a replacement. Shelby and his wife are torn between going super interesting on a JDM Pajero or sticking with something a bit more common. They need a family car for long drives and fun activities. What should they buy?
(Welcome back to What Car Should You Buy? Where we give real people real advice about buying cars. )
Here is the scenario:
Our 2014 RAV4 got swept away by Hurricane Isaias! Totaled. I’ll attach a regionally famous pic if possible, but it managed to get landed perfectly atop a fire hydrant and ALL the island people thought it was the damndest thing they’d ever seen.
So we need a replacement. Two elementary age kids with us 50%, and we own a big canoe, 4 bikes, and we LOVE to camp and explore. We need space for four moderately-sized humans, the ability to haul 4 bikes at once, and hopefully throw the bigass canoe on top as well.
We’ve got $5k to put down (thanks Geico), about a $24k max on price, and collectively care very little for having the latest newfangled ApplePlay/AndroidCares adaptivity. We need reliability, functionality, and a little bit of personality. And room. And AWD. We live in the mountains of NC, and once humans can again return to humanity we will have a 40 mile total daily commute.
I want a 1993 Mitsubishi Pajero (one of the great ones from Duncan Imports in VA) - and we live within driving distance of there! Roomy! Beautiful! Cheap! We’ve also ID’d: Subaru Crosstrek / Nissan Frontier crewcab / GMC Terrain / Mazda CX-5 (I owned one before and loved it). We nixed the Honda Ridgeline (price) and the Mini Countryman (reliability) from our shortlist. The RAV4 was her car, btw. I have a lovely and functional ‘99 Saab 9-3 turbo hatch with under 100k miles. It’s a joy, but it can’t hold us all, and a cooler, and a canoe, and 87 stuffed animals, and two girls bikes, and two tents, etc...
Budget: Up to $24,000
Daily Driver: Yes
Location: Asheville, NC
Wants: Fun, Family Friendly, Reliable
Doesn’t want: Something too small
Expert 1: Tom McParland - Simple, Yet Durable
Shelby, it looks like your RAV4 had a wild ride. I will also mention that I have a fondness for Asheville, NC. Not only is it a super cool town, it’s where my wife and I got engaged. But on to more important matters such as your next car; I’m not really one to talk you out of a Mitsu Pajero or any other fun JDM 4x4, but if the RAV4 was the wife’s daily driver you may want to make sure she is comfortable with adjusting to a right-hand-drive car on roadways that were not designed with those vehicles in mind. The novelty of those JDM rides are fun for a bit, but it can get tiring on a daily basis.
What you may want is an “old school” 4x4 that’s rugged without all the fuss of these new-fangled gizmos. I would suggest you check out a Nissan Xterra. These are perfect for camping and adventures. They can carry a good amount of gear on the roof or inside, and they remain fairly comfortable for the family.
Finding a low mile example may be tricky, but here is one up in VA right in your budget zone with under 60k miles. This is the very desirable Pro-4x trim with some extra bits that make it a tad more focused off-road.
Expert 2: Raphael Orlove - Have You Tried Crystal Lite?
Certainly, you could get that Nissan. Nissan’s trucks and SUVs are about as old as new vehicles get here in the States, and I mean that in the best way possible. They’re not cutting edge, they’re old and dependable.
But if you’re looking at the wonderful vehicles of Duncan Imports (as I myself often have) who am I to stop you?
I myself would actually skip the Pajero and go to something I’ve had an eye on for some time: Crystal Lite.
That is, a Mitsubishi van with the wonderful, legendary, Crystal Lite roof. This is the 21-window VW Bus of its generation, practical, roomy, trusty, and with glass all over the roof. The view is unreal, even if you’ll spend a lot of it staring at the underside of a canoe. Apparently Americans with Crystal Lite Mitsus have been able to get roof racks to work on these things, so I wouldn’t avoid ‘em.
This 1994 Space Gear is $19,000, which leaves a lot of extra budget if you need translation services for any of the repair manuals, but with just 62,000 miles on the clock I don’t know how much you’ll need it.
Expert 3: Jason Torchinsky — You Want Space, Wrapped In Metal And On Wheels
Hello, Shelby! First, I want to say I think you’re on the right track with a visit to Duncan to get yourself something actually fun and engaging—why the hell not? And, if that Pajero is lodged in your heart, I’m not going to talk you out of it.Just based on what you described, though, I see one key factor above all: space.
You mention “room” or “roomy” or “space” or all the stuff you want to cram in and on your car like five times in there, so I have to believe this is the key priority: a good volume of space, wrapped in a shell and with AWD. Happily, a vehicle like that exists, right at Duncan, where you should probably go to see your Pajero and browse options, anyway: this 1994 Toyota HiAce Super Custom Van.
Raph was on the right track, but I think you need something a bit bigger and roomier, and the HiAce fits the bill perfectly. It even has some skylights like Raph’s pick. This one is about $18,000, but it looks like there’s a number to pick from if you want to pay more and have less miles (though this one only has 50K) or pay less for a bit more wear.
The inside of this thing is vast and plush, like a mobile living room you can cram full of kids and bikes and stuffies and whatever you want. Plus, it’s 4WD and HiAces are known for their reliability. What do you have to lose?
Also, don’t listen to Tom about driving a RHD car being “tiring” on a daily basis. I do it every day! You get used to it quickly, you and your wife will be fine.
Also, it has whatever this button does:
Joyful talk! I guess it stops arguments and fights with sonic waves, or something?
This’ll be fun! Get something interesting that you genuinely like, and you’ll be happy. I think your family could turn this into a delightful home-on-wheels.