Claire is a member of wilderness rescue team and needs a big SUV to take her family out into nature. Despite living in an affluent area, she does not want a status machine. She has up to ten grand to spend on something simple, rugged and reliable. What car should she buy?
The 1990s were good times. Hip-hop group Jade won our hearts with the still-catchy “Don’t Walk Away.” Children across the nation enjoyed the Sega Saturn, the best-selling game console of all time. And more importantly, gas was cheap and the SUV craze was in full force.
For many suburban families, it was the bigger the truck, the better. Who cares if it never saw a dirt path and got 10 MPG? We couldn’t be seen in some pansy-ass minivan! Which is why the iconic Canyonero from The Simpsons was such excellent commentary on our excess of the time.
While times have changed a bit, our appetite for high riding 4x4s hasn’t. The vehicles just got a bit smaller and more “eco-friendly.” However, there are some people like Claire who really could use the size and capability of those old-school SUVs, but that doesn’t mean she has to spend a ton of money to get it.
Here is the scenario:
Currently, I am driving my Mom’s old 2004 Honda CR-V. It has 320,000 miles on it and other than the fact that I can’t open the driver’s side door with the key, the thing runs like a top. My plan was to drive it into the ground, but every day that feels farther and farther away.
I am a member of a wilderness search and rescue team and am also training my dog for search. I have accumulated a lot of gear that just stays in my car year round.
Absolutely must have 4-Wheel Drive. At this point it’s necessary (snow, off road etc.). I need at least enough space for my three boys and my dog. This vehicle also needs to be a symbolic protest against the excess and mindless comfort of suburbia: the less features the better.
My husband drives a Volvo XC60 and it has too many knobs and buttons and blue tooths and my kids are always fighting over the USB ports to charge their tablets. I need a vehicle that you can’t play angry birds in because it doesn’t ride smooth enough—something with nice big windows because that’s all the entertainment there is. Shag carpeting a plus.
Ideally, I want a squirrel crushin’, deer smackin’, drivin’ machine, so if you can find me the Canyonero from The Simpsons that would be perfect. If not, I’m open to any SUV or truck.
Budget: $5,000 - $10,000
Daily Driver: Yes
Average Miles Per Week: 200-300
Wants: Simple, Big, Reliable, 4x4
Doesn’t Want: The excess and mindless comfort of suburbia
Claire, I just want to say that in our age of way too much tech and way too much attachment to the “status” of our vehicles, your request is a breath of fresh air. What you are looking for is a big 4x4 with a V8 up front and platform built for abuse. Unfortunately, a lot of these SUVs met a sad end with the Cash for Clunkers program, but there are still a few out there.
What you need is a Chevrolet Suburban. This red 2005 LT is as close as you are going to get to a real-life Canyonero. With a little over 176,000 miles, it still has plenty of life left in it. It’s got some nice features like heated leather seats, sunroof, and supposedly even a backup camera, but your kids will think they are in a time warp back to simpler days riding in this beast.
The Suburban is one of the original family SUVs and the nameplate is pretty much stayed true to its roots. These trucks may have been mostly bought by suburbanites whose only off-roading consisted of unpaved parking lots at their local ballgame, but they were meant for someone like yourself who will put it to use as intended.
My first thought was to recommend a Jeep Grand Wagoneer, because it’s a big, simple, classic outdoorsy off-roader. But then I came to this line in your email “This vehicle also needs to be a symbolic protest against the excess and mindless comfort of suburbia.”
That’s when the record in my brain came to a screeching halt, because the Jeep Grand Wagoneer is perhaps the single yuppiest SUV ever built, finding itself permanently parked in front of country clubs and Beverly Hills mansions ever since the SUV debuted in the 1980s.
But, all hope is not lost, because before it became the plush suburban cruiser called the Grand Wagoneer, the big boxy off-road “SJ Platform” was also used on the first-generation Jeep Cherokee, a much simpler, less ostentatious beast that still has huge windows and thick carpeting, just as you like it.
Here’s one for $2,500, but if you want a nicer one, gorgeous, low-mile examples regularly pop up on Craigslist well under $10,000.
Claire, I like your style, and I’m delighted that my choice will be your next vehicle. Because, of course it will be– just look at that beautiful, butter-cream yellow, two-tone 1975 International Harvester Travelall and tell me that’s not exactly what you had in mind.
Everything about this lovely brute is what you want: a 4x4 V8 SUV with plenty of room for boys and dogs, it resembles the fictitious Canyonero more than almost anything else built here in our real world, and it’s absolutely free of all the modern bullshit frippery you want to avoid.
Hell, it even has wind-down windows!
And, this thing is more than just a symbolic protest against the “excesses and mindless comfort of suburbia” – this thing will actually devalue any $80,000 SUV you park it next to.
Even the cheery color is a big middle finger flipped to all the status-obsesses blacks and silvers and grays and whites. And did you look at the upholstery inside? It’s not shag, but it’s pretty damn close. The seats look like the couches in a Lutheran Church’s basement rec center from 1982.
It’s mechanically dirt simple, so maintenance shouldn’t be terrible, and, at only $5750, you have the cash to have it shipped from Ohio and leftover money to make sure everything’s in working order.
You’re going to love this thing.
Claire, if everyone wrote to us saying they want “a symbolic protest against the excess and mindless comfort of suburbia” and “a squirrel crushin’, deer smackin’, drivin’ machine,” the world would be a better place.
Longtime readers know I’m predisposed to weird, older Japanese cars from the ‘80s and ‘90s, but a Land Cruiser is too overpriced and a 4Runner is too typical. No, you need to go hard or go home, and the answer to that has always been Isuzu, the greatest car brand in the history of the world.
I recommend an Isuzu Trooper, because it’s big and tough and weird and different and nobody’s going to accuse it of being soft. You have a budget of $10,000? You’re gonna have to find the nicest damn Trooper on the planet for that much. Most of these things go from $3,500 to about $7,000, based on a cursory Cars.com used vehicle search. Some of them are even kind of nice, like this one with leather, but generally these things are kickass Real SUVs that will get the job done nicely.
Also it was called the Holden Jackaroo in other markets and nothing is better than that.