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Front Page - Friday, March 29, 2024

Behind the Wheel: Best used spring adventure vehicles for less than $30K

By Dan Frio | Edmunds

Even with much of the country blanketed by rain and snow, it’s not too early to think of the thaw. March and April bring one of the most anticipated parts of the calendar – spring – and with it thoughts of adventure and the open highway.

If the idea lifts your spirits but your current car lets you down, consider one of the following upgrades selected by Edmunds’ car experts. All offer ample room and capability for bringing friends, playing tunes and navigating new roads. All fare well in Edmunds’ rankings and get generally positive consumer reviews. And at around $30,000 or less, none will break the bank.

Jeep Wrangler

Whether cruising a coastal highway with its removable doors and roof stowed away or scrambling up a 14,000-foot Rocky Mountain peak, the Jeep Wrangler is synonymous with adventure.

Part of that owes to Jeep’s legendary four-wheel-drive systems, and another to the Wrangler’s rugged simplicity and utility.

The modern Wrangler remains frill-free but not primitive.

The roomy interior features attractive and durable materials, and the infotainment is easy to navigate. Its brick-like aerodynamics contribute to mediocre fuel economy and a steady roar of wind and road noise, but it’s hard not to love driving a Jeep.

Look for: You can find plenty of four-door 2017-2018 Wranglers for $30,000 or less. The 2018 Wrangler is the first year of the latest generation and offers improved comfort and tech compared to 2017 or earlier models. Both are appealing, but the consumer reviews on Edmunds are more favorable to the 2017 Wranglers.

Lexus GX 460

The GX 460 is a darling of overlanders, enthusiasts who mix off-road adventure with camping.

The SUV’s stout full-time four-wheel-drive system makes it capable on the trail, but it’s still a Lexus with plenty of luxury features: three-row seating, acres of room, leather upholstery, power-adjustable seats and a sliding, reclining second row.

Prices have surged with the GX’s newfound popularity, but good examples still exist for less than $30,000.

Look for: Most 2014-2017 GX 460 models hit the sweet spot of price and mileage.

Overall, the GX 460 was essentially unchanged during this span. The high mileage of these older GXs may scare you, though parent company Toyota’s record for reliability offers some comfort.

Subaru Outback

If you don’t need the Wrangler’s boulder-dashing brawn but still want trail capability and a smooth highway ride, the Subaru Outback offers a more civilized option.

Practical, comfortable and easy to drive, the Outback is more wagon than SUV. And while it won’t get you to the deepest reaches of nature like a Wrangler, its ample ground clearance and all-wheel drive make easy work of rutted trails, snowy pavement and remote fire roads.

Look for: Start your search with the latest Outback generation that debuted in 2020. You can find 2021 or 2022 Outbacks for less than $30,000, too. The Outback’s base engine gets impressive fuel economy but is pretty slow. Look for an Outback with the optional turbocharged engine if you want more punch.

Honda Ridgeline

The Ridgeline is the truck for people who don’t buy trucks. That’s because the Ridgeline wraps its versatile truck attributes in a package that handles and rides more like a crossover SUV.

It also hides a few trick features absent on most other trucks, such as lockable in-bed storage and a two-way tailgate that can both drop down or swing out.

True, the Ridgeline can’t tow quite as much as more traditional midsize pickups. But its roomy cabin and decent capability in the dirt make the Ridgeline an excellent adventure chaser.

Look for: Go for a 2017 or newer Ridgeline. That’s the first year of the latest generation that has a longer cargo bed, a nicer cabin and more powerful V6. There are front-wheel-drive Ridgelines but get all-wheel drive for maximum towing capability.

Edmunds says

It’s not too early to start thinking about spring road trips in an affordable adventure mobile. Whether you prefer back roads, open roads or dirt roads, there are great used options waiting to take you there.

Dan Frio is a contributor at Edmunds.