I'm A Field Biologist Looking For An Affordable Adventure Vehicle! What Car Should I Buy?

Illustration for article titled I'm A Field Biologist Looking For An Affordable Adventure Vehicle! What Car Should I Buy?
Photo: Mitsubishi

Eric is a field biologist from Oklahoma who finds rare plants. He wants something rugged for some light off-roading. He wants it to hold his gear, but he doesn’t want something too big or too thirsty. He has a modest budget of $10,000. What car should he buy?


(Welcome back to What Car Should You Buy? Where we give real people real advice about buying cars. )

Here is the scenario:

I’m a field biologist who needs a car for long road trips collecting plants. Here is my wishlist:

(1) a little bit of ground clearance for exploring roads throughout the west, but no need for 4WD

(2) decent MPG,

(3) comfortable for long trips,

(4) enough space to hold a week or so worth of stuff

(5) a serious bonus if it can fit my mountain bike inside with all the other stuff

I had an old 4Runner that l loved but it wasn’t comfortable for long rides. I once owned a Land Cruiser before they got crazy expensive, and I might be the only person on earth that doesn’t love the LC, primarily because it was really thirsty. I’ll use my motorcycle for around town so this car is really a long-distance vehicle.

I’m looking to spend around $10,000.

Quick Facts:

Budget: Up to $10,000

Daily Driver: Sort of

Location: Oklahoma

Wants: Good mileage, room for a bike, ground clearance

Doesn’t want: A big, thirsty truck

Expert 1: Tom McParland - Rhymes With...Foliage?

Illustration for article titled I'm A Field Biologist Looking For An Affordable Adventure Vehicle! What Car Should I Buy?
Photo: Kia

OK, so that snappy sub-headline wasn’t one of my better ones, but I think I have a pretty good feel for what you are after. You don’t need a big SUV. A reasonably sized crossover with respectable gas mileage and enough room for your gear is the way to go.

Of course, the usual targets like the RAV4 and CRV are going to mean super high mile examples at this price point, so it would be wise to examine some second-tier options like this 2011 Kia Sportage for about $7,600. This is a front-wheel-drive model, but you indicated that would work just fine. That also means the 2.4-liter four-cylinder can return up to 31 mpg on the highway. Throw the back seats down and the compact Kia should swallow your bike and whatever else you can cram in there.

Expert 2: Rory Carroll - Couldn’t Find A Biologist-er

Illustration for article titled I'm A Field Biologist Looking For An Affordable Adventure Vehicle! What Car Should I Buy?
Photo: Autotrader

Hey Eric! Sounds like a cool job you have there, looking for plants. You ever see that movie Adaptation? It is, in a sense, about a guy who finds rare plants. Anyway, you need a car. Tom’s suggestion is, as usual, a good one. But I think we could do a little better. How about a little Subaru Forester? With a stick? How about this one, comfortably under your budget or this one, listed at just a hair over with fewer miles on the clock?

It’s got a decent amount of interior space, plenty of ground clearance for light off-roading and as a bonus, both of the ones I linked have manual transmissions to complement their all-wheel drive systems. The Forester is also well-supported in the aftermarket, so if you want to upgrade for more storage, performance or whatever, you’re just a couple of clicks away.


Expert 3: Raphael Orlove - A Van Man Can


I am sorry, first of all, to say that this 1946 International Harvester is not only slightly out of your budget but also in need of some restoration work before anyone would declare it ready for field duty. That it “even kinda stops” is not ideal.

As such, I had to go scrambling around the rest of Oklahoma’s Craigslist pages on the hunt for something that I myself would want to buy in your position. Oh shit! A bunch of people are getting rid of Transit Connects over near you.


The mileage is high on this one at 170,000, but the price is low at a very negotiable-sounding $6,999. I myself would hunt that down before I went running to a Honda Element or whatnot!

Expert 4: David Tracy - Just Get A Kia Soul

Illustration for article titled I'm A Field Biologist Looking For An Affordable Adventure Vehicle! What Car Should I Buy?
Photo: Legend Driven Mazda Lawton (Facebook) (Other)

Oh boy, do I feel weird recommending a “normal” car, but I guess I can’t always suggest something wacky. Plus, the Kia Soul isn’t the most boring car out there, especially not the 2016 Kia Soul for sale in my former hometown of Lawton, Oklahoma, for about $11,000, as it comes with a manual transmission.

You can find Souls quite a bit cheaper if you do a bit of searching, which I think will be worthwhile, because this little cube is exactly what you need. It looks SUV-ish, but it’s not. It’s only front-wheel drive, and it doesn’t have a ton of ground clearance, but it probably has enough. Combine loads of space with a fuel economy rating of 30 mpg highway, and you’re getting the best of all worlds.


It won’t be quick, but the six-speed manual will give you something to do. You’ll want to give it a test drive to see what you think of ride comfort, as I’ve read mixed reviews, but I bet it’ll be fine given that you’re used to driving old Toyota SUVs.

You know what? I can’t do it. I can’t just recommend something this boring. So here you go: Buy this 2009 Chrysler PT Cruiser. (Actually, that was meant to be a joke, but it seems like a decent option. A manual transmission, roomy PT Cruiser in apparently great shape for only $4,000? You should consider it).


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Tom is a contributing writer for Jalopnik and runs AutomatchConsulting.com. He saves people money and takes the hassle out of buying or leasing a car. (Facebook.com/AutomatchConsulting)



my 2 cents are to avoid Subaru as I’ve found their bushings and links don’t love rough roads for long periods of time. At least the older models don’t. Avoid the CR-V because it has the worst AWD system in its class.

You can get a 2nd gen Highlander in that price range. Very comfy, pretty durable. decent AWD (not great, but decent) and all the space.

Not amazing MPG, but not terrible.  You’ll average around 20