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When Driving is about Lifestyle, Car Life Nation is the Answer

When Driving is about Lifestyle, Car Life Nation is the Answer

A popular vehicle for car sales, a blue 2016 Toyota Tacoma, is shown parked off-road.

Answering the Call of the Wild in the Unexpected, the Favorite, and the Opulent: The Appeal of the Used Xterra, Tacoma, and Discovery

Off-roading is one of the fastest-growing pastimes because it lets drivers escape the hustle of everyday life and take a moment to breathe. Granted, that peacefulness is full of adventure, and those breaths are sometimes held as we test the limits of our rigs and rely on winches, recovery straps, and friends to pull us out of dicey situations—but we appreciate these moments the most because we get to see our investment pay off and, hopefully, live up to the challenge.

For most off-roaders, that investment isn’t in a new car; making your way down the trail and hearing a tree limb run down the side of your rig is enough to cause you to cringe, but hearing that sound against a new SUV or truck like the Wrangler, 4Runner, or Tacoma is gut-wrenching. It’s why veteran off-roaders know the appeal of finding hidden gems among used car sales, tackling the project with the enthusiasm of a young driver that just got the keys to their first ride. Technically, it’s the same experience, but it’s more enjoyable when your route fights you back.

So, therein lies the question of what to look for when shopping for used vehicles that can answer the call of the wild. While most major automakers have introduced off-road trucks and SUVs with rugged stances, underbody protection, and specifically tuned components, many are only off-road by design and are far better suited for life on the pavement. Fortunately, your options expand tenfold in the used car market, from the unassuming rigs that have assembled cult followings over the years to veteran off-roaders with snorkels and suspension lifts that require few modifications before answering the call of the wild…

The Unexpected: Nissan Xterra

The Xterra met its fate in 2015 when declining sales forced Nissan to discontinue its once-popular SUV. However, Nissan’s loss is our gain, as the Xterra is a fan favorite among off-roaders. Most notably, it’s one of the few body-on-frame SUVs you can find in a sea of crossovers. Moreover, Nissan didn’t just give the Xterra a rugged design as we see with many “rugged” SUVs; instead, Nissan gave it the chops to prove its competency on the trail. You can enjoy that competency in models like the Xterra PRO-4X, a four-wheel drive powerhouse with either a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission.

The caveat is that the Xterra PRO-4X is getting long in the tooth, with the 2015 model being the newest you’ll find on the used car lot. However, a cult following of Xterra fans and a healthy aftermarket of parts, accessories, and modifications do wonders to mitigate any concerns. More importantly, Nissan is renowned for building vehicles that last, and the Xterra is no exception.

Even as a nearly ten-year-old model, the 2014 Xterra PRO-4X offers exceptional capability and tech-savvy features. Its 4.0L V6 engine delivers 261 hp and 281 lb-ft of torque, with the electronic throttle control system offering secondary mapping in 4LO for next-level capability matched by advanced off-road technologies like Hill Start Assist, Hill Descent Control, and an electronic locking rear differential.

In terms of tech, you won’t be left wanting since the 2014 Xterra PRO-4X features a rearview monitor, the NissanConnect system with Navigation, smartphone integration for iPhones and Androids, a 5.8-inch touchscreen display, Bluetooth capability, and a CD player (a retro rarity you won’t find in modern models).

The Favorite: Toyota Tacoma

Toyota has an incredible reputation in the industry, but even more so in the off-road realm because adventurers relish in the indestructibility of trucks like the Tacoma and SUVs like the 4Runner. The Tacoma is such a staple on trails across the country that it’s affectionately known as the “Taco.” It’s also one of the most sought-after used trucks in the industry, which has several benefits. First, it means the Tacoma holds its value incredibly well (often known as the “Toyota tax”) on the used lot. Secondly, it also means aftermarket parts are readily available and affordable. Because of this, the Toyota tax is a small price to pay for the capability and versatility of the beloved Taco.

As expected, older Tacoma models tend to be more affordable, but you can’t expect much in terms of interior technologies. This isn’t an issue for many off-roaders because they’re investing in the Tacoma as a trail-runner and not necessarily looking for all the latest features. Moreover, those are easy to add with GPS accessories and other tech-savvy components that gearheads appreciate.

Because of these factors, the third-generation Tacoma that debuted in 2016 is one of the best deals you can find as a used model because of its availability as a four-wheel drive road warrior. The TRD Off-Road is the pinnacle of capability, boasting a 3.5L V6 engine that produces 278 hp and 265 lb-ft of torque. Toyota matches this potency with a slew of off-road components that ready the Taco for the trail, from an electronically controlled locking rear differential to the Multi-Terrain Select drive modes and Crawl Control. Keep in mind that newer rivals are only NOW introducing features like Crawl Control, which stands to prove Toyota’s ingenuity in the off-road realm.

Between its build and features, the Tacoma offers tangible value that off-roaders can readily appreciate. In addition, the Tacoma serves as a blank canvas that’s easily customizable, with this truck’s value-oriented price on the used lot giving you more money to spend on modifications. Of course, whether those mods are beefier tires, a snorkel, or a more aggressive suspension lift is entirely up to you.

The Luxury Chariot: Land Rover Discovery

Years ago, when I attended my first overlanding meetup, I was surprised to discover the popularity of Land Rover models. I knew Land Rover had one of the best four-wheel drive systems in the industry, but the capability of its lineup always competed with its reputation as a high-end luxury brand with a mile-high price tag to match. I couldn’t fathom spending that much money on a rig just to push it to its limits and have it scratched, dinged, and dented during a weekend of fun.

SUVs like the Discovery embody Land Rover’s penchant for luxury, but used models have a distinct appeal among off-roaders. While a new Land Rover fetches a high price, buying a used Discovery lets the first owner take the biggest hit, leaving you to reap the rewards of a lower price tag without settling for anything less than exceptional capability.

Perhaps the greatest example of this combination of value and agility is in the 2018 Discovery, with its standard 340-hp 3.0L V6 engine or its potent turbo-diesel that delivers 443 lb-ft of torque. The turbo-diesel has even more appeal because of the Discovery’s proven four-wheel drive system and its low-range transfer case—an “old-school” approach by modern standards.

The Discovery lives up to its Land Rover heritage with its premium cabin and intuitive technologies, making it the most appealing and luxurious off-road rig you can buy. Moreover, Land Rover makes tuning the Discovery’s performance on the trail as easy as turning a knob. Models like the 2018 Discovery feature a Terrain Response dial that operates like a “set it and forget it” tool.

Once you choose the setting, the technology adjusts the rear locker and center differential lock, adjusts the brake calipers, finetunes the height of the suspension to offer a maximum ground clearance of 11.1 inches, modifies how the traction control system intervenes, and tailors the response of the throttle. All you’re responsible for is staying focused on the road ahead. Easy enough, right?

The Value Behind the Investment

Venturing off the pavement has a distinct appeal. It lets you escape the chaos of your daily life but also introduces you to others who share your passion for the outdoors and exploring the unknown. Off-roading is dichotomous, offering both an escape and a community.

Where the off-roading community is expansive, your trail runner offers another sense of support. For example, thousands of Xterra off-roaders across the country are passionate about Nissan’s rugged SUV, excitedly organizing meetups and swapping stories of adventure and modification tips and tricks. The same is true for the revered Toyota Tacoma and the luxurious Land Rover Discovery. While these rigs are incredibly different, they offer something remarkably similar by giving off-roaders a sense of camaraderie as they test their limits on the trail—and isn’t that one of the greatest perks of answering the call of the wild?

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