Let’s face it. Going off-road on a consistent basis means you need a lot more out of your SUV than a daily driver. Fortunately, there are some great used SUV choices out there, but you do have to check them out carefully. Look out for excessive wear, obvious damage to frame and lots of scratches, and have them mechanically inspected by a top technician. Also get the vehicle history report so you know exactly where this bad boy’s been.

Narrowing the field to three choices, here are our selections for Best Used Off Road SUV. In keeping with the desire to be nimble and agile off-road, but thoroughly capable, we’ve eliminated the big brutes and kept the contenders to compact and midsize SUVs. Besides off-road prowess, we look at power, amenities, towing capability, and overall appeal. Expert automotive opinions count, too.

  • Toyota FJ CruiserIntroduced in 2007, the retro-styled Toyota FJ Cruiser compact SUV “quickly wowed critics with its out-of-this-world looks and impressive off-road performance,” says U.S. News and World Toyota_fjcruiser_2009Report. The publication also ranks it in number one spot in SUV Rankings: Off-Road SUVs. Consumer Guide comments “FJ pays a price for its exaggerated styling and off-road-biased engineering…it is solidly built, extremely capable off road, and looks like no other SUV.” Motor Trend’s Truck Trend hails the FJ Cruiser as 2009 Best in Class Compact SUV for its “plenty of power (239 horses)…available off-road package with Bilstein shocks, 265/75R16 tires and rear diff lock means it can tackle tough trails with ease, plus it won’t beat you up on the freeway.” Although some reviewers complain about rear visibility, a rearview camera is available on 2009 models. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) named Toyota FJ Cruiser a 2009 Top Safety Pick.
  • Land Rover LR3Edmunds says the midsize Land Rover LR3, in V8 versions, “is hard to beat off-road…vastly capable in the dirt and all and all variants come LandRover_LR3_2009standard with fully-adjustable air suspension and a host of electronic off-road aids,” although the “interior is a little on the spartan side.”  U.S. News and World Report gives the 2010 Land Rover LR4 (LR3 renamed, with a few performance updates) the number three spot in SUV Rankings: Off-Road SUVs. Motor Trend’s Truck Trend names Land Rover LR3 the overall winner as 2009 Best in Class Midsize SUV, saying the “stout LR3 uses a fantastic Terrain Response system to make easy work of obstacles for drivers at any experience level, offers more room than you’d think for seven adults, and tows more than 7,000 pounds.”
  • Volkswagen Touareg 2Motor Trend’s Truck Trend singles out the Touareg 2 as winner in Over $35,000 category as 2009 Best in Class Midsize SUV, saying it “blends excellent off-road ability, 7,700-pound towing capacity, smooth power and comfortable ride…an impressive all-around sport/utility.” Edmunds says Touareg vw_tourag2_20092 “can handle off-road challenges while providing ample on-road comfort and a fairly luxurious interior…a premium SUV with true off-road chops.” Giving further praise, Edmunds’ editors say “taken off-road, the Touareg amazes, negotiating steep passes and deep ruts normally reserved for rough-and-tumble Land Rovers.”

Other Best Used Off Road SUV contenders include Hummer H3, Jeep Liberty 4WD, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Kia Borrego, Land Rover Range Rover Sport, Nissan Xterra, and Suzuki Grand Vitara.

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