There’s no question that Jeep makes some of the most capable off-road SUVs ever built—but there’s more to life than Wranglers and Cherokees.
Here are seven SUVs that make great off-roaders and don’t wear the Jeep name badge.
There are a lot of reasons to use a Blazer as an off-road rig: Short wheelbase, chunky pickup truck chassis, simple and easy-to-fix powertrains, and enough available upgrade parts to cover all of Utah. You’ll find plenty of older trucks (often with lift kits already installed) in the $3,000 to $10,000 range, with nicer projects going as high as $20,000. We’re talking about the full-size Blazers, by the way, but don’t rule out the smaller S10-based Blazers: These largely unloved vehicles make good, cheap projects as frequently sell for $2,000 or less, and if you’re willing to replace an engine or trans, you should be able to grab one for less than $750.
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It’s almost unfair to consider the Bronco as a single vehicle. Early (’66-’77) Broncos
are the most desirable, but they also command the highest prices: Project trucks go for $2,000 to $5,000, good runners go for up to $10K, and nice restorations command $30,000 or more. We’d consider the full-size (’78-’96) Broncos
, which have more of a novelty factor than the Chevy Blazer (and besides, they were good enough for OJ). There are plenty of good runners available for under $3,000, and you’ll find lifted trucks and clean low-mileage originals for less than $10,000. And don’t rule out the smaller Bronco II and early Explorers: Like Chevy’s S10 Blazer, they are capable trucks that are largely unappreciated and therefore underpriced.
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With all of Mitsubishi’s troubles nowadays, it’s easy to forget that they were once a primo player in the SUV market, back in the days when most SUVs had serious off-road chops. The short-wheelbase two-door Montero of the ‘80s (also sold as the hard-to-find Dodge Raider
) make great off-roaders due to their small size, though the four-cylinder engine (also used in early four-door Monteros) doesn’t do it any favors. Don’t rule out the second-generation (’91-’99) trucks either, but keep in mind that with each successive generation, the Montero traded some off-road ability for comfort. The good news is that these rugged rigs come cheap: First- and second-gen Monteros frequently sell for around $500 to $4,000.
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While the current Pathfinder should probably be renamed the Pathfollower, the first-gen (1985-1995) vehicle was a decent off-roader, as it was based on the Hardbody pickup truck with coil springs substituted for the pickup’s rear leafs. Nissans of the ’80s and ’90s were every bit as well built as Toyotas, and early Pathfinders feature stout engines, cool styling, and a good selection of built-up parts. Considering all that, it’s baffling to us that there are so few for sale or that they sell for so little: You should be able to find a good project truck for less than a thousand bucks.
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When new, the Samurai was the butt of jokes (“Have you seen the new Samurai? It has a sunroof on the floor!”), but today it is coveted for what it is: A fly-weight off-roader that draws its abilities from its small size and mechanical simplicity. Samurais are unpleasant on the road but great off-pavement, and due to their popularity and long production run (though killed off early in the U.S., the Samurai was sold elsewhere in the world for much longer), parts and build-up advice are easy to come by. You’ll find plenty of stock and modified trucks selling between $2,500 and $10,000.
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The 4Runner has been in production for more than 30 years, and unlike most SUVs, it has never lost its off-road chops—even new models offer a rugged off-road-ready chassis and good ground clearance. That, plus their reputation for bulletproof reliability—it’s not uncommon to find 4Runners still running strong with a quarter-million miles on the clock—makes them great off-road project trucks. It’s a buyer’s market: You’ll find clapped-out fixer-uppers for less than a grand, running high-milers for $1,500 to $5,000, and newer, lower-mileage examples (including some with V8 power) for 10 grand or less.
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Toyota Land Cruiser
Originally designed as a competitor for Jeep and Land Rover, the Land Cruiser has become an icon in its own right, and deservedly so. Classic short-wheelbase Cruisers can still be found in the $3,000 to $15,000 range, though as you would expect, cheaper ones will be rough, and good restorations can go as high as $30,000 or more. 1980s-vintage long-wheelbase trucks give you the best bang for the buck: We saw decent examples selling for $1,000 to $5,000 and nicely restored vehicles for $8,000 to $12,000.
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