Top 6 Budget Off-Road SUVs Under $10,000

Silver Jeep Wrangler 2007 Best Off Road Suv Options Feature

BEST OFF ROAD SUV OPTIONS UNDER $10,000

So, you need an SUV to give you the freedom to head off the beaten track but are shackled by a limited budget?

No problem: here’s Gumtree Cars’ guide to the six best off road SUV options that can keep your finances on track while taking you off road.

JEEP WRANGLER (2000-2007)

The great thing about this iconic Jeep is that the design has barely changed over decades – so you can buy an older model and only Wrangler devotees would notice.

And Jeep Wranglers from the TJ generation (1996-2007) will be far more common in the under $10K classifieds area, than the newer JK (2007-2019). So it easily makes it to our best off road SUV shortlist, for that price point.

It’s worth noting the Wrangler isn’t much cop as a daily driver – iffy ergonomics, limited refinement and average handling being the chief culprits.

But point the Jeep at a steep sand dune or challenging rocky trail and few off-roaders can match the Wrangler, which uses its combo of old-fashioned yet sturdy underpinnings and unsophisticated yet grunty six-cylinder petrol engine to great effect.

It’s also impossible to discount the two-door Wrangler’s high cool factor when in open-air ‘mode’ with its removable doors and roof shed and its windscreen folded down.

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MITSUBISHI PAJERO (2006-2008)

How about an off-roader that has proven itself as a multiple winner in the ultra-tough, world famous cross-continent race, the Paris-Dakar Rally?

That’ll be the Mitsubishi Pajero. The rally models were heavily modified, of course, but they had to be based on the production version to qualify.

And a major 2006 update for the third-generation Pajero (first released in 2000) brings back the three-door variant most closely related stylistically to Mitsubishi’s rally winners.

The SWB (short wheelbase) version lasted only a few years owing to a lack of popularity and their rareness means you’re much more likely to find Pajeros in five-door wagon form – the most practical form, anyway.

The Pajero features a nifty all-wheel-drive system called Super Select, which allows the driver to switch from 2WD to AWD at up to 100km/h – using the secondary ‘dual range’ gear lever.

When off-roading, 4H LC mode locks the vehicle’s centre differential for even distribution of power to all four wheels for higher speeds, with 4L LC doing the same but below 30km/h with lower gearing to help the Pajero crawl over challenging terrain.

Get yourself the range-topping Exceed and there’s a 650-watt, 12-speaker Rockford Fosgate audio, Bluetooth connectivity, side and curtain airbags, and a rear-seat entertainment system great for the kids. (Or find a base GLX and sporty-looking mid-spec VRX with those fitted as part of a $3K option pack that cost buyers $3000.)

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NISSAN PATHFINDER (2005-2007)

Nissan’s big off-roader has chopped and changed between focused 4WD and more urban-friendly SUV since its debut in the 1980s.

The model we’re looking at here is the third-generation (R51) Pathfinder that favoured trails over streets with its body-on-frame chassis (though there was independent suspension all round).

Sold between 2005 and 2013, this Pathfinder is bigger than the previous model and claimed to be stronger for off-road activities.

An ‘All Mode AWD’ system helps on that front, too, giving drivers with a fondness for the rough stuff access to low range and a symmetrical split of the engine’s pulling power between the front and rear wheels for the trickiest tracks.

Off-road enthusiasts will also welcome the Nissan Pathfinder’s first turbo diesel – a 2.5-litre with a bit more torque than the 4.0-litre V6 petrol and which, crucially, is delivered from lower in the rev range.

Another first for this Pathfinder: a seven-seater cabin with 64 different seating/cargo configurations (and a washable boot floor).

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NISSAN X-TRAIL (2008-2012)

The original and follow-up versions of the Japanese brand’s compact X-Trail, while not as hardcore as the aforementioned Pathfinder (or even bigger Patrol), are a hoot to drive on gravel roads and across sandy dunes.

With up to $10,000 to spend, that’s enough to put the second-generation model (2007-2013) in sight. It retains the boxy, 4WD-style styling of the first X-Trail and again don’t just look the part.

An improved four-wheel-drive system includes off-road assistance features such as hill-descent control and hill-start assist, while new stability and traction control systems are another bonus.

Drivers can alternate easily between drive train modes with the X-Trail cabin’s rotary dial – with a choice of 2WD (front-drive) for fuel-saving in normal driving, Auto to bring in the rear wheels for all-wheel drive when needed for traction, and even a 4WD Lock for 50:50 torque split up to 40km/h.

And look for models from 2008 onwards as you can get a turbo diesel engine that was an even better match for the 4WD set-up thanks to its chunkier torque. (Its conventional auto was also preferable to the 2.5-litre petrol’s noisy CVT auto.)

Also keep an eye out for 2011 models that gained numerous styling, interior and feature upgrades before an all-new, more suburban-focused Nissan X-Trail arrived in 2013.

The older X-Trail had something else to love over the newer model – a clever boot with twin easy-to-clean drawers.

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SUZUKI GRAND VITARA FIVE-DOOR (2008-2013)

The pint-sized Jimny is Suzuki’s most famous 4WD – with its own cult following – but it’s difficult to recommend with its lack of cabin space, safety, towing capacity or engine performance. So, the Jimny misses our best off road SUV list.

Instead, take a look at the Suzuki Grand Vitara that will give you much better value for your used-car dollars – while still being well equipped to leave the bitumen with its tough body and 4WD system with high/low range and a locking centre differential.

The big difference – apart from the size – is that the third-generation Grand Vitara released in 2005 offered superior protection.

Pick a model from 2008 on wards and you’ll benefit from safety updates that including stability control, six airbags (previously two) and rear disc brakes (previously drum brakes) on all Grand Vitaras.

There are comfortable and supportive seats, decent legroom and good headroom up back, and okay boot space. The side-hinged tailgate isn’t helpful in tight parking spots, though.

The Grand Vitara, if far from a leader in the driving stakes, offers safe, predictable handling.

Engine choices you’ll encounter are 2.4-litre four-cylinder and 3.2-litre V6 petrols, and a 1.9-litre turbo diesel that teamed with a manual gearbox only but was the most fuel-efficient.

Just be mindful that a 2WD (rear-wheel-drive) Grand Vitara, dubbed Urban, was released in 2012 – aimed at urban dwellers not off-road folk.

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TOYOTA LANDCRUISER PRADO

The Prado is a member of the LandCruiser family. It’s smaller than the grand-daddy 200 series, though that’s relatively speaking as the Prado is still a big vehicle.

It’s also damn good off road like its big brother, while its ‘smaller’ size means it’s actually attainable for a $10,000 budget, making it into our best off road SUV list.

Earlier model-years of the third-generation Prado released in 2003 should be in reach, giving you access to all the natural improvements that come with an all-new model.

This includes a new 4.0-litre V6 petrol engine, plus improvements to the four-cylinder petrol and diesel units. Whichever way you go, there’s constant four-wheel drive with high and low range and a 2.5-tonne braked towing capacity.

And V6 and diesel models come with a huge 180-litre fuel tank to give you the confidence to go exploring deep into the countryside without worrying too much about petrol stations.

The Prado was still a (class-leading) eight-seater only at this stage.


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Jez Spinks

Automotive Journalist