If you love the outdoors, you know that one of the greatest feelings happens when you ditch the hustle and bustle of your daily life to escape into the wilderness to unwind and reconnect with nature and yourself. This is a secret that many off-road enthusiasts have discovered, which is why so many are hitting the trails in trail-ready rigs like the Wrangler and Tacoma. But what if you don’t have the right vehicle for the trail and you’re not ready to spend top dollar on a brand-new off-road warrior? You can find exactly what you need to start your off-road adventure at your local used car dealer.
While one day you may want to buy a new off-road truck or SUV, you’ll find that many off-roaders prefer to invest in an older model as their trail runner since the vehicle will undoubtedly get a few scratches and dings along the way. After all, that’s what makes off-roading fun – the challenge of rock crawling, water fording, and navigating obstacles. So, what models should you look for on the used lot? Here are a few top picks in the four-wheel-drive category that make trail-worthy workhorses!
#1 Chevy Colorado ZR2 Bison
Introduced in 2019, the Chevy Colorado ZR2 Bison is one of those trucks that you know you have to get behind the wheel of when you see it on a used car lot. Chevy wanted to build a truck that could handle extreme off-roading while also offering the reliability and warranty that come with the Chevy brand. The answer was a collaboration with American Expedition Vehicles to build an overland-ready powerhouse packed with features. The ZR2 Bison was born, and Chevy hasn’t looked back since.
Named the 2019 Overland Truck of the Year in the midsize category by the Overland Journal, the ZR2 is one of those rare gems that you can drive off the lot and straight to the trail without making any modifications. The Bison is equipped with five skid plates that protect the truck’s undercarriage, which is already higher than the standard Colorado, thanks to a 2-inch factory suspension lift. The model is also outfitted with front and rear locking electronic differentials and cast-iron control arms that make the Bison a strong and capable performer both on and off the trail.
#2 Toyota Tacoma
Affectionately known as the “Taco,” the Toyota Tacoma is a legend on the trail and rightly so because of its capability and durability. First introduced in 1998, the early Tacomas were small workhorses, but Toyota has progressively upsized the truck over the years to give drivers a larger interior cabin and a bigger bed without sacrificing the Taco’s performance. This, in turn, has made the Taco even more popular, driving up its value both from the factory and on the used lot.
One of the hardest aspects of shopping for a used Tacoma is weighing the value of paying for a brand-new model or paying a surprisingly high sticker price for a used model with thousands of miles. Since Tacos run forever, they make great trail vehicles. You can invest in modifying the truck to handle the harshest terrain, secure in the knowledge that it can log well over 100,000 miles with ease. This makes spending thousands of dollars on modifications and gear to outfit the truck an even better investment since the Taco is built to handle whatever the road or trail comes its way.
#3 Jeep Gladiator
You can’t talk about off-road capable trucks without mentioning the Jeep Gladiator. The recent introduction of this model in 2020 means that any Gladiator you find will be fairly new and boast a high price on the used market. This shouldn’t come as a big surprise since Jeeps are known for holding their value thanks to the brand’s reputation for building some of the best adventure-ready vehicles on the road. So, what makes the Gladiator so special?
Marketed as “the most capable midsize truck ever,” the Gladiator delivers on Jeep’s promises to give drivers an exceptional workhorse that can navigate everything from errands around town and weekly projects at home to adventures on the trail. The Gladiator is equipped with Jeep’s proven Command-Trac four-wheel-drive system standard and offers you the choice between two powertrain options – a standard 3.6-liter V6 and a 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6. What truly sets the truck apart is its fully immersive driving experience. By folding down the windshield and removing the top and doors, you can bring the trail and your surroundings even closer in a true walk with nature!
#4 Jeep Cherokee
Somewhat of an underdog in the Jeep lineup, the Cherokee is often overshadowed by the Wrangler and the Grand Cherokee, but it deserves a chance to shine and prove its off-road prowess. The original 1983 to 2001 rear-wheel drive Cherokee, in particular, is a classic American SUV that’s exceptionally capable whether you’re on or off the pavement. This is what makes the Cherokee a great find on the used lot and is why so many people are quick to snag a stock or modified Cherokee with low mileage.
While many used Cherokees are outfitted with trail-ready components, a stock Cherokee is still a great option because it’s one of the easiest vehicles to modify for off-road use. Since you’re paying a used price, you can afford to invest in various upgrades like an aftermarket suspension lift and some knobby off-road tires. From there, you can outfit the Cherokee with lights, skid plates, and more to fully customize the SUV to your driving and adventure needs.
#5 Toyota 4Runner
The last vehicle to make the list is the Toyota 4Runner. This model is closely related to the Tacoma and is one of the last midsize body-on-frame SUVs. Capable of navigating a busy city street and pulling itself out of a fender-deep mud pit on the trail, the 4Runner is incredibly versatile. Because of this and Toyota’s stellar reputation for building vehicles that last, the 4Runner is known for holding its value long after it’s driven off the lot. This is why the SUVs are a hot commodity in the off-road world and, like the Tacoma, often come at a premium even when purchased used.
There’s no question that off-roaders love customizing their vehicles with modifications to meet all their adventure needs. Knowing that the 4Runner is capable of logging hundreds of thousands of miles gives you the confidence to invest in modifying the vehicle because you know it’s built to last. Modifying a vehicle that will only serve you a few years before you have to trade makes for an expensive hobby. This is another reason why finding a 4Runner like the TRD Pro on the used lot is like finding the golden ticket, especially if the previous owner invested in a few key modifications to make it an even more capable off-road warrior.
What’s Your Adventure Style?
When it comes to choosing an off-road rig, keep in mind how you plan to use it. Are you willing to pay top-dollar for a new four-wheel-drive vehicle that will likely get scratched, dented, and potentially damaged on the trail? Or, do you feel more comfortable buying a used model that you can modify to your needs and push to its limits? For most off-roaders, finding a reliable used vehicle is the best route because it allows them to get a little mud on the tires and truly dive into the hobby without breaking the bank!