Wesley has had a 1996 Montero since he was 16 years old. He has a lot of fun with the Mitsu, but it’s time for an upgrade. He is torn between another off-roader or something that is more engaging on the tarmac. What car should he buy?
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Here is the scenario:
So here is where I am at, I’ve driven the family hand-me-down 96 Mitsubishi Montero since I got my learner’s permit at 16 at let me tell you, I have tested the limits of that poor rig. There is next to nothing that I haven’t done with that car ranging from mudding, off-roading, jumping all 4 wheels in the air, taking it skiing, impromptu “drag races” (allegedly), snowy parking lot donuts (also allegedly), you name it. To this day I still love that thing, but when my sister got a small hatchback for her 16th, I realized how much of the “driving experience” I have been missing out on. I recently graduated college and found myself a job in Seattle, which means that a move is likely in order. The ol’ reliable is starting to show age and its time for me to find something new (to me). I’m working with a budget of around 30k ideally, but max out at 45k if the perfect option exists. I’m stuck being torn in multiple directions wanting something fun on the road (aka NOT a large SUV), but also something that can handle well in the snow and rain, and can take me camping/skiing/ect (roof rack would work). Do I stick with what I’m used to and find something fun to take off-roading on trails, to the beach, and into the mountains, or do I look for something more engaging for street driving that will gift me with the experience I have been missing? Is there some magical unicorn that does both and I just don’t know about it? Help!
Things I am looking for
- Reliable, I can do minor maintenance, but I dont want to live in constant fear of a breakdown.
- All terrain, I really enjoy mountain hobbies and want to feel comfortable making the trek in any conditions all year round.
- Something exciting, either being fun to drive on the street and around town OR being able to take offroad and through various terrain, either way I want it to be something I WANT to drive, not just a tool to go from place to place.
- Decent gas mileage, it will be my daily, so something semi-reasonable is ideal.
- Not too old, ideally 2010 or newer, however I am open to other ideas.
Budget: Ideally $30k, but up to $45k
Daily Driver: Yes
Location: Seattle, WA
Wants: Reliable, decent MPGs, fun on-road or off-road
Doesn’t want: something too old
Wesley, you have clearly had some good times with the Montero, and while something that carves the corners might call you, I think your heart is set on an off-roader. If reliability is your top priority, a Lexus or Toyota is likely your best bet. An FJ Cruiser would be the closest direct replacement for the Mitsu, but those go for bonkers money. Of course, 4Runners are solid as well, but that is a predictable choice.
Since you are grown up now, it’s time to treat yourself to a bit of comfort. My bossman, Rory, isn’t going to be happy that I stole his recommendation but that is the benefit of having the first entry on this post. You need a Lexus GX. These rigs have some depreciation to them, so you get a bit more for your money compared to the overpriced Toyotas. They are as durable as you would expect, and the only downside being a relatively thirsty V8 under the hood. You can find examples with reasonable miles for under $35,000 and newer versions at the top of your budget. Here is a stylish burgundy GX with under 80,000 nearby.
See Wesley, while I agree with Tom’s choice if you want a pure off-roader, I’m not as convinced you actually do. If it is in fact an SUV your heart secretly desires, this is America — there’s no shortage of candidates with ample ground clearance currently wasting their potential in mall parking lots for you to rescue and help live their best lives. No, I think those considerations you spoke about — driving experience, efficiency and something that’s a little more engaging behind the wheel than a ’96 Montero — are key here. That last one should not be hard to check off.
I don’t know that there is a unicorn out there, and if you want something that’s extremely capable on trails or extremely fun on asphalt, my recommendation isn’t going to be either of those. Instead, I hedged and went Volvo V60 Cross Country. Surely these aren’t the quickest nor the most spirited drives in the world, but they’re decent on gas, roomy and gorgeous. With all-wheel drive and a little more clearance than a typical sedan, you’re free to do at least some of the outdoorsy stuff you enjoy, without driving something miserable (a Subaru Outback) or totally unreliable (an Audi Allroad). Here’s one in your neck of the woods that I know is right at what you’d prefer to spend — OK, a few hundred over budget — but it’s virtually new.
Wesley, congrats on graduating and the new job! You need a fun car to celebrate and maybe something that will give you a different “driving experience,” as you mentioned. You need this 2002 Lexus IS300 SportCross.
Not only because it’s yellow, and not only because it’s roomy enough to hold all your gear for trips into the mountains, but because it’s a rear-wheel drive, inline six-powered wagon. Kind of. It’s more like a cross between a hatch and sedan, but however you want to classify it, the point is it’s got most of what you require.
Sure, it’s a little older than what you’re looking for and the miles are getting up there, but if you can do minor maintenance then you can probably handle the preventative maintenance this car needs to keep going for a long time. It’s powered by the 2JZ engine, after all.
Also the price is kind of high. Good thing it’s nearby to you in Kent, WA and also way under your max budget figure. That leaves enough money for repairs, a suspension refresh, mods or whatever else.
I’ll begin by saying: That’s not a 1996 “gen 2" Montero in the topshot, it’s a 1998 “gen 2.5" owned by the legend Andrew Collins. With that out of the way, I’ll say that, Wesley, this is a hell of an ask. You’re looking for a vehicle that’s capable off-road and also fun to drive on-road. Those two requirements tend to be mutually exclusive unless you get some kind of awesome rally car.
I get the feeling that every one of my coworkers wanted to answer this question with “WRX,” but they were afraid it was a bit too obvious. A bit too predictable. Well, I don’t shy away from obvious, because I’ve learned in this life that sometimes there is an obvious answer. Get a Subaru WRX. Lift it a tiny bit and throw on some off-road tires, and boom: You’ve got a great rally machine.
With that said, like my coworkers, I couldn’t just hand over an answer that boring, so instead I’ll offer a WRX alternative: The Subaru Forester XT shown above. It’s got 224 horsepower hooked to a five-speed manual and an all-wheel drive system; there’s plenty of room in there for your skis; and it’s fun to drive on the road and decent enough off of it (you may want a bit more ground clearance, so slap on some all-terrains and maybe a small lift). It’s an epic machine, and it’s for sale for only 12 large.
I hear you, Wesley. I, too, dream of a car that is relatively affordable and can do it all, whether that be taking tight mountain corners on asphalt or taking a trip off-road. That’s why I’m going to recommend you this 2017 Ford Focus RS.
I can see where my colleagues are coming from, recommending cars with plenty of trunk space for your skis and other off-the-beaten-trail goodies. I think those are entirely viable options. I also think it’s worth looking at those smaller cars that are easier to throw around, since you don’t want an SUV. But please consider a car that’s as good at drifting as it is on the trails — and if you need some tips on how to make large objects fit into a smaller car, you can ask me. I moved an 11-foot bookshelf in the hatch of my Mazda 2 without a problem.
This particular Focus RS is hitting that top of your budget, but you can find plenty of options that are cheaper. There’s no shortage of these bad boys, which means you’ll also have a simple time finding replacement parts. That, Wesley, is a win-win.
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