Sean is a rock climbing enthusiast with an aging Volkswagen R32, and he’s looking for something more suitable for off-road trails and hauling his three dogs. He wants something a bit different and has a modest budget. What car should he buy?
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Here is the scenario -
I’m looking for a replacement for my 2008 VW R32. It’s getting long in the tooth, and repair costs are becoming prohibitive. I’m looking for something that is an adventure buddy for rock climbing, can hold 3 dogs, but I can also daily drive to work. I prefer something a bit funky (there is a sea of Subaru Outbacks or CR-Vs in the climbing gym parking lot). I don’t mind if it’s older, but reliability is a factor.
I want the ability to navigate dirt roads, 4x4 / AWD, can be daily driven, dog friendly, funky or not common. My budget is up to $15,000
Budget: Up to $15,000
Daily Driver: Yes
Location: Cincinnati, Ohio
Wants: 4x4, funky, somewhat reliable
Doesn’t want: Something very common
The R32 was a great car, but an aging example can easily become a financial liability. And I would imagine it’s not ideal for several dogs and your climbing gear. There is no shortage of quality 4x4s for around $15,000, but what makes this a challenge is that you want something different.
The funkiest 4x4 in my mind is the Isuzu VehiCross. These cars were ahead of their time and still look futuristic, though the interior is very much stuck in the early 2000s.
Naturally, these are fairly difficult to come by so you will have to search far and wide, but you can find decent examples with reasonable miles. Here is one in Massachusetts that looks fairly clean and even gives enough of a buffer in your budget to fix up any shortcomings.
I don’t recommend Wranglers lightly, and I promise you that David Tracy has not hacked my computer and posted this recommendation incognito. But Sean, you are clearly an enthusiast as you’re coming from a storied VW like the R32. So let’s keep your record unmarred with another icon. Let’s get you behind the wheel of the second-generation Wrangler, the TJ Unlimited.
The Wrangler Unlimited, or LJ, had a relatively short run, from 2004-06, and as such it is the ultimate —actually the only — Wrangler to differentiate you from all the Subarus and Hondas at your climbing gym. Sure, it might seem like you’re just another Jeep-head as you enter the lot, but those familiar with the species will nod knowingly at your rare and excellent LJ. Its longer wheelbase combines the best of two worlds and will be a perfect fit for your three doggos and your gear.
This stretchy Jeep fits the bill for your needs and in a very literal sense, too. It’s priced at $9,500 and is relatively close to you in Maineville, Ohio. It’s going to need some work to return to its former (unrusted) glory, but even if you add the seller’s projected repair costs it still undercuts similar examples. Talk the seller down to give you a better repair buffer and enjoy a relatively untouched version of the best Wrangler. Oh, and leave it at stock height — both for your dogs and because stock-height Wranglers are a pleasant rarity.
I’m lucky José suggested the TJ Unlimited, for otherwise I would have been forced to violate my lifetime ban from recommending Jeeps. I have yet to learn what the ramifications are for breaking that rule, but I’m fairly sure they would be severe.
Since there’s a slight chance that the previous paragraph could be construed as me recommending a Jeep by promoting José’s reply, and because I’m a bit scared of my editor-in-chief’s wrath, I will recommend a vehicle quite similar to the boss’s own beloved Lexus GX470: the LX470.
It’s basically a 100 Series Toyota Land Cruiser, which means it’s big, decently capable off-road, rides well on the road and is borderline unkillable. The 2002 model shown above stickered for $65,000 back when Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated” was blasting on every radio station, and it could probably be bought for $10,000 today. In fact, that very SUV in the photo is for sale near Chicago; its owner emailed me to see if I can help her find a good buyer for the 275,000 mile vehicle from Texas.
I’d snag it myself if I had any sense. But, as you know, I don’t.
My comrades all have great ideas. Those vehicles will get you and your dogs to the ends of the planet without much fuss. However, I think I found the ultimate vehicle to fit your funky and uncommon needs. This is a Lada Niva.
This is an SUV that was designed in the Soviet Union in the 1970s and hasn’t been updated a whole lot since. It uses tech so old that it still has a carburetor. But that old tech should mean it’s as reliable as a stone ax. You’re also not likely to see another one of these on the road. You may even draw a crowd at your climbing gym!
Forget about being wary of dirt roads; blazing new trails won’t be a Lada work in this Niva. This example comes with a wild body kit, registered in America and comes in under budget.