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What kind of rugged off-road SUV can I get for under $30,000?

buying used

What rugged off-road SUV can I buy for under $30,000?

With the Nissan Xterra and Toyota's FJ Cruiser gone, the rugged Wrangler stands alone, probably covered in mud on top of a mountain

I'm looking to buy a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited with a six-speed, and I'm amazed that there's nothing out there like it. I don't like the Toyota FJ Cruiser. Any other suggestions for a rugged SUV? Every other SUV is basically a glorified minivan or a compact hatchback in high heels. My budget is flexible, but I'd prefer to spend less than $30,000. – Sam, Kelowna, B.C.

With the Nissan Xterra and Toyota's FJ Cruiser gone, the rugged Wrangler stands alone, probably covered in mud on top of a mountain.

In 2014, the year Toyota retired its Land Cruiser remake, it sold 618 in Canada. That same year, Chrysler sold 23,057 Wranglers.

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In 2015, Nissan axed the Xterra after it sold only 991 the year before – although that number rose to 1,707 for its final year.

So what does the Wrangler have that the other two purpose-built SUVs didn't?

"Among Toyota's many truck models, the FJ is an orphan and looks like one, what with its over-the-top passé design," Globe Drive said in 2014. "The Wrangler, still a Willys at heart, looks ready to storm the beaches; yet there is something fun and friendly there, too – you'll see as many young women driving Wranglers as young men."

And the Xterra? It may have been too rugged; Nissan buyers apparently preferred SUVs designed mainly for the road.

For less than $30,000, you'll likely have to go back to 2014 for the Xterra, 2013 for the Wrangler Unlimited, and 2011 for the FJ Cruiser.

Since you're not a fan of the Toyota, we'll look at the Jeep and Nissan.

2014 Nissan Xterra

The discontinued Nissan Xterra.

  • Second generation: 2005-2015 (facelift in 2009)
  • Average asking price for base: $28,075 (Canadian Black Book)
  • Engine: 265-horsepower 4.0-litre V-6
  • Transmission/Drive: Six-speed manual, five-speed automatic/Four-wheel drive
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 15.2 city, 11.9 highway (manual), 16.1 city, 11.1 highway (automatic)

The Xterra was more comfortable on city streets than its competition, but "for buyers who regularly seek out dirt – and snow-packed trails, the Xterra offers a pretty compelling package," Edmunds said. "It also has a pretty comfortable and civilized ride compared with other off-road-themed body-on-frame SUVs."

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While the Wrangler and FJ Cruiser were more rugged off-road, the Xterra was the "most livable truck in its class," it said. But the interior was "unimpressive" and the gas mileage poor, compared to crossovers in the same price range.

Consumer Reports called the Xterra's ride "stiff and rubbery" and complained that narrow rear doors made it tough to climb into the back seat.

It praised the Xterra's acceleration, interior room, off-road ability, towing capacity and quietness.

Consumer Reports had no reliability data for the 2014 Xterra. There were no recalls.

2013 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Sport

The Jeep Wrangler.

  • Third generation: 2007-present
  • Average asking price for base: $29,457 (Canadian Black Book)
  • Engine: 285-horsepower 3.6-litre V-6
  • Transmission/Drive: Six-speed manual, five-speed automatic/four-wheel drive
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 15.0 city, 11.3 highway (manual), 14.8 city, 11.8 highway (automatic)

When it comes to sex appeal, the Wrangler beats its rivals. When it comes to, well, everything else related to city driving? Not so much.

"Jeeps are all about the heart and the soul, not the brain," Globe Drive said in 2013. "Now, the Wrangler Unlimited does its best to be a sensible rig. It has four doors and decent leg room, front and rear."

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Compared to the standard Wrangler, what's unlimited about the Unlimited? Well, the extra two doors. Jeep says it's the only four-wheel-drive, four-door convertible you can get.

Edmunds praised the Wrangler's "superior off-road capability, strong engine, and rough-and-tumble image."

But, it complained about the "cumbersome soft top," noisy cabin, choppy ride, long braking distances, and poor side crash ratings.

Consumer Reports also praised the Wrangler's off-road skills, but panned its "ride, handling, braking, wind noise, access, driving position, seat comfort, fit and finish, visibility [and] fuel economy."

"On-the-road performance is uncivilized. The ride is unsettled, sometimes even snappy. Handling is very clumsy. Wind noise is pervasive, even at modest speeds," it said.

The magazine gave the 2013 Wrangler three out of five for reliability. Reliability issues reported by owners included water leaks through the doors.

There were two recalls, including one to fix a potential electrical short in the power heated mirror.

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