Driving off road brings a new dimension to travel, allowing you to go beyond our nation’s highways and byways and explore the back country. The problem is, off-road capable vehicles can get very expensive. So how do you explore on a budget? We’ve found ten of the least-expensive off-road-capable vehicles on the market, and rather than list them by base price, we’ve priced out the least-expensive configuration you’ll need to actually go off-roading. Strap on your waterproof boots, pop some Dramamine, and let’s go off-roading!
10 of the Least Expensive Off-Road Vehicles
Photo Credit: Jeep
2017 Jeep Renegade Sport 4x4 -- $21,960
Jeep is one of the best-known off-road brands on the market, and kudos to them for ensuring that all of their vehicles are off-road capable, even the entry-level Renegade. The four-wheel-drive Renegade lists for $21,960 (including destination charge), which is $2,870 more than the front-drive version, though its still a bargain compared to other vehicles on this list. Technically, the entry-level Renegade Sport is what we’d consider a light-duty off-roader, though it’s more capable than many of its rivals. If you’re serious about off-roading, consider the Renegade Trailhawk. At $27,990 it’s still cheaper than many of the vehicles on this list, and it will go farther off the beaten path than most.
Photo Credit: Subaru
2017 Subaru Crosstrek -- $22,570
While many of the vehicles on this list require extra-cost options to go off-road, the Subaru Crosstrek does not: It comes standard with all-wheel-drive and a raised suspension that provides extra ground clearance. Like the Jeep Renegade, the Crosstrek is a light-duty off-roader, but it’s great at tackling muddy tracks and other low-traction surfaces, and it has the ground clearance needed to tackle uneven ground. The Crosstrek is also a great on-road car: It gets respectable gas mileage and is almost unstoppable in the snow. Note that Subaru has a new version of the Crosstrek in the wings for 2018, so now is a good time to get a good deal on a 2017 model.
Photo Credit: Jeep
2017 Jeep Compass Sport 4x4 -- $23,590
The Compass is the newest member of Jeep’s family, though it’s important that if you go shopping for one, you not confuse it with the old version of the Compass (which, confusingly, is also labeled as a 2017). You want the more expensive one. The Compass is based on the same machinery as the Renegade, and has many of the same advantages: It’s very good off-road in four-wheel-drive form and excellent in Trailhawk trim. While it’s not as cute and cheeky as the Renegade, it offers more space and a more grown-up attitude. Four-wheel-drive Cherokee Sport models start at $23,590, only $1,500 more than the two-wheel-drive version, and the Trailhawk is priced at $29,690.
Photo Credit: Jeep
2017 Jeep Wrangler Sport -- $25,090
No question, the Wrangler is the best four-wheel-drive value on this list, because it comes with everything you need for serious off-roading — not just dirt roads and rough trails, but honest-to-goodness, nerve-wracking, knuckle-whitening off-roading. All Wranglers come with part-time four-wheel-drive, solid axles, and a low-range transfer case, which many experts will tell you are must-haves for serious rock crawling. Jeep makes several versions of the Wrangler; some are better looking and some have nifty functional bits that improve the off-roading experience. All well and good, but the truth is that a base-model Wrangler Sport — perhaps with a set of more aggressive off-road tires — will take you farther from civilization than any other vehicle on this list.
Photo Credit: Mitsubishi
2017 Mitsubishi Outlander ES AWC -- $25,935
At first glance, the Mitsubishi Outlander seems to be a tame, run-of-the-mill crossover. Which it is. But the Outlander’s ace in the hole is its all-wheel-drive system, which is more sophisticated than most. The $25,935 ES model gets Mitsubishi’s all-wheel-control system (AWC), which is pretty good, but our pick is the $27,435 SE model, which features the upgraded Super All Wheel Control system (S-AWC) originally developed for the Lancer Evolution performance car. It features torque vectoring (the ability to shift power side-to-side as well as front-to-rear) and a locking center differential (a rarity among crossover suvs). We’ve had the opportunity to compare the Outlander head-to-head with other all-wheel-drive crossovers, and we’ve found that the S-AWC system makes the Outlander more sure-footed on rocks, dirt, and other loose surfaces. The Outlander is very humble, but when it comes to off-roading, it’s also very good.
Photo Credit: Volkswagen
2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrak -- $26,710
The Volkswagen Golf Alltrak is VW’s answer to the Subaru Crosstrek, and it follows much the same formula: Based on the Golf Sport Wagen, the Alltrak comes standard with 4Motion all-wheel-drive, and its ride height has been increased for extra ground clearance, giving it the ability to deal with the uneven surfaces you’ll find when adventuring off-road. Like the Crosstrek, the Golf Alltrek is intended primarily as an on-road machine, but it does surprisingly well off-road. We’ve tackled some tricky trails from behind the wheel, and were very impressed with its performance.
Photo Credit: Toyota
2017 Toyota Tacoma SR 4x4 -- $26,805
The Tacoma has earned a reputation as a tough-as-nails off-roader. Among pickup trucks, it certainly has the right formula: Small size, lots of ground clearance, and big, torquey engines. With a base price of just over 25 grand, the Tacoma is hardly the least expensive pickup on the market, but they don’t charge much for the 4x4 upgrade (at least not compared to Nissan and Chevy, as you’ll see shortly). You can get a 4x4 Tacoma as cheap as $26,805, and it comes with a stout 2.7-liter engine and a manual transmission — a great combination for off-roading. Of course, if you’re really serious about off-roading, you’ll want the TRD Pro model, which features (among other things) Crawl Control, which is sort of a low-speed cruise-control system for climbing off-road obstacles. That asid, $41,920, the Tacoma TRD Pro is hardly one of the least-expensive off-roaders you can buy…
Photo Credit: Nissan
2017 Nissan Frontier SV V6 4x4 -- $28,570
With a base price under $20,000, the Nissan Frontier is the least-expensive pickup truck sold in America. Unfortunately, that doesn’t extend to 4x4 models, which only come in SV V6 trim — and that raises the price to $28,570, more than a Toyota Tacoma 4x4. That said, Nissan’s Pro-4X model is mighty appealing, building on the SV V6 with big alloy wheels, a locking rear differential, Bilstein shocks, and GPS navigation. At $33,540 it’s hardly inexpensive, but that’s not a bad price for a dedicated off-road pickup truck.
Photo Credit: Chevrolet
2017 Chevrolet Colorado WT 4x4 -- $28,995
Like the Nissan Frontier, the Colorado is an inexpensive pickup truck, with prices starting at $20,995. But Chevy doesn’t offer four-wheel-drive with the base model, so if you want all-wheel-drive, you have to buy a nicer version — and that brings the price up to just under $29k. And if you’re going to spend that much, you may as well spend an extra $1,400 for the V6 engine. Now, while the Colorado 4x4 may not be inexpensive, it is a very good value: We’ve found that it does a better job towing and hauling than other mid-size pickups, and its towing package includes a built-in trailer brake controller, a unique offering in the small-pickup segment. If you’re looking to do some serious off-roading — either low-speed rock crawling or high-speed desert running — the newly-introduced Colorado ZR2, priced at $40,995, is the best in the biz.
Photo Credit: Ram Trucks
2017 Ram 1500 Tradesman 4x4 -- $32,490
Full-size pickup trucks don’t come cheap, but the RAM 1500 comes close, with an entry-level Tradesman model that offers four-wheel-drive for a shade under $32,500. The 1500 is a good truck, with a powerful V6 engine and a coil-sprung suspension that gives it a comfortable ride. If you’re looking for something not quite as industrial as the 1500 Tradesman, the Express model offers better looks and a few more creature comforts, with 4x4 models starting at $33,890.