Sure, you can get an adventure truck or SUV for way less than $20,000. But if you have a bit more money, you can step up to the next level of adventure mobile awesome.
The following list comprises used vehicles that can seat at least four, have room to sleep, and have a drivetrain that can power all four wheels. This combination allows you to have your friends along for the adventure and carry lots of gear.
It also provides a place to lay your head, scoff at nasty weather conditions, and have the ability to tackle most terrain you’re likely to encounter.
The Best Adventure Vehicles Under $20,000
This list isn’t all-encompassing — far from it. But it’s a solid place to start the hunt for your next great adventure mobile.
Also, note that some of the vehicles shown here have add-ons like campers that add tremendously to the cost. We’re basing the price on the vehicle alone.
Let’s have a look at what $20,000 can buy. You might be surprised at some of the options.
Nissan Xterra (2010-2014)
One of the few body-on-frame SUVs, the Xterra is built for durability and off-road fun. While not a big SUV, the Xterra still has just enough room to sleep and carry your outdoor gear.
Price: You should be able to snag a quality 2014 top-of-the-line PRO-4X model with around 50,000 miles for under $20,000.
The good: A powerful V6 propels this rugged body-on-frame SUV with gusto. And it’s even more fun to drive with the optional six-speed manual transmission. Durability and readily available inexpensive parts keep ownership costs down.
The bad: The interior feels a bit cheap, the ride feels like a truck, and you’d probably expect better fuel economy from a V6, as the 4WD Xterra gets only around 18 mpg.
Why Xterra? As a true rugged outdoor adventure vehicle priced under $20k, the Xterra offers everything you need in a fun, compact package.
Toyota FJ Cruiser (2007-2014)
The FJ Cruiser was only around for 7 years in the U.S. and is now heavily coveted by enthusiasts. Because of its quirky looks, basic ergonomics, and off-road capability, values won’t be dipping much lower on these Toyota fun machines.
Price: An early-model-year, high-mileage example in good shape will cost you $15,000-20,000. The last few model years, 2012-2014, often fetch a premium.
The good: It’s a solid performer on and off the road. The FJ Cruiser is a unique vehicle with tons of charm, as well as Toyota’s reputation for reliability.
The bad: The FJ Cruiser is a thirsty little truck. It also has cramped back seats and a diminutive cargo area. Moreover, there’s more plastic inside and out on this vehicle than you’re likely to find on any other.
Why FJ Cruiser? It’s fun, unique, and quirky, with honest off-road capability and Toyota reliability. The enthusiast community around the FJ Cruiser is second to none as well.
MINI Cooper Countryman All4 (R60 2011-2016)
It is possible to downsize even when considering getting off the beaten path and escaping to your personal paradise. While the MINI Cooper isn’t the first brand that comes to mind when the topic of adventure comes up, the Countryman is a roomy crossover with all the necessary creature comforts. Its stylish looks match its reliability, executing with responsive handling and proficient engine power.
The All4 AWD model, with the right tires and a proper lift kit, is the way to go when venturing away from bustling highways and byways. It’s also possible to sleep inside, although you’ll want to consider your height and how much you want to stretch out when laying down.
Price: A little searching can uncover lightly used 2015 or slightly older models priced below $20,000.
The good: Unique style, comfortable ride quality, nice interior, comfy seats. MINI Countryman can last over 150,000 miles when properly maintained and serviced.
The bad: Watch out for model years 2011 through 2013. Most Countryman crossovers for these years are reliable but reported severe safety hazards that include engine failures, loud grinding brakes, exploding glass sunroofs, faulty seatbelt alarms, and malfunctioning airbags. However, formal complaints drop to almost nothing for 2010 MY and from 2014 through 2020.
Why Countryman? BMW’s niche brand offers unique styling that exemplifies what you can do when stepping outside the typical choices for adventure vehicles under $20,000.
Toyota Land Cruiser 100 Series (2004-2007)
The Land Cruiser is arguably the most sought-after off-road vehicle in the world. It offers amazing capability, reliability, and durability. Because of that, it also has great resale value, meaning you have to go back a full 10 years to get a quality example under $20,000.
Price: You should be able to find a decent 100 Series Land Cruiser for under $20,000, but most will have well over 100,000 miles on the odometer.
The good: Go anywhere your heart desires with full-time 4WD and a standard center-locking differential.
The bad: The 4.7L V8 under the hood offers plenty of torque, but it’s thirsty and not that powerful. The third-row seats need to be removed to get the most out of the cargo area.
Why LC100? If you want a capable and dependable adventure vehicle under $20,000 that will hold its value, look no further than the Land Cruiser.
Dodge Ram 2500 Diesel 4×4 (2006-2009)
There isn’t much that can stand in the way of a full-size, 5.9L Cummins turbo-diesel three-quarter-ton American pickup. These trucks hold up and perform in the most demanding conditions while offering respectable fuel economy, around 15 mpg. There’s even a manual transmission option.
Price: A well-optioned 2008 Quad Cab 4×4 Diesel with less than 100,000 miles will likely be over $20,000, but higher-mileage examples in reasonable shape can be found for less money.
The good: RAM has power, durability, and reliability for many miles of adventures. The 5.9L turbocharged inline-six vaunts 305 horsepower and an astonishing 610 pound-feet of torque. A properly equipped Dodge Ram 2500 with the Cummins has an insane tow rating that exceeds 13,000 pounds. Owners think the seats are fabulous and can fit a full-sized memory foam mattress inside the Mega Cab. Passengers in the second row enjoy reclining rear seats and executive-class legroom. If your priorities lie with carrying cargo or primarily driving short distances, the Quad Cab is the best option.
The bad: Big truck parts, especially diesel parts, aren’t cheap. While you should generally have fewer issues, it will be expensive when they arise. The automatic transmission on these trucks is their weakest component, so find a six-speed manual version if you can.
Why RAM 2500? This Cummins diesel-powered full-size truck can haul you, your friends, and all your outdoor gear wherever your adventure dreams take you.
Bonus: It’s relatively easy and inexpensive to add a vegetable-oil fuel system to these trucks, which allows you to save a ton on fuel costs and collectively help the environment.
Lexus GX470 (2006-2009)
Toyota Tundra (2007-2013)
The Double Cab with the 381 horsepower i-Force V8 is probably the best setup for this truck. A stout frame, three cab sizes, three bed lengths, and three engine choices put the second-generation Tundra toe to toe with the Big Three pickups.
Price: Prices on Tundras are all over the map, so you need to shop around. You should be able to find a mint 2010 or newer with fewer than 100,000 miles on the odometer for under $20,000.
The good: You get full-size truck gear-hauling capacity in a rugged, reliable Toyota package. It offers plenty of seating, lots of bed space to sleep and carry gear, and enough power to move this big truck with authority. Husky power ratings and 10,000-pound towing capacity also translate to a highly competent workhorse and off-road vehicle. Moreover, it’s not uncommon for a well-maintained Tundra to last over 400,000 miles. Owners say the Tundra lives up to Toyota’s reputation for reliability, and they appreciate how it drives and doesn’t feel like a typical full-size truck.
The bad: The Tundra isn’t a small truck by any measure. Expect this vehicle to have a tough time fitting down some narrow passageways and in tight parking spaces. You can expect around 15 mpg no matter which powerplant you opt for. The rear suspension design can carry or tow a hefty load, so the ride is a bit harsh in an unloaded truck. The ergonomic design isn’t the best, with too many controls on the center stack too far away from the driver.
Why Tundra? Toyota gets it right with respect to performance, work capacity, road manners, and available configurations and equipment. This half-ton pickup with three-quarter-ton pickup towing and power is built in America and ready for adventure.
Toyota Tacoma (2008-2014)
If a “small” indestructible pickup is the right fit for your adventures, there isn’t a better option on the U.S. market than the Taco. Show up in any adventure town in America, and I’m sure you would find a Tacoma on any street you look.
Price: Prices vary widely by region, but you should be able to find a good-condition, but high-mileage, 2012 4×4 Access Cab with TRD Offroad package for under $20,000.
The good: The build quality and durability have proven fantastic over time. Stock, this truck is completely capable of off-roading. Its off-road capabilities become legendary after a few minor improvements to the suspension.
The bad: You will pay what’s known as the “Toyota tax” when you buy any 4×4 Toyota, especially the ever-popular Tacoma. The inline-four and V6 engines are underpowered. Hence, you’ll probably want the V6 power, even at the loss of a few miles per gallon. Keep an eye out for frame rust, as Toyota recalled 2005-2010 models to replace frames with issues.
Why Tacoma? Besides the venerable Outback, you’d be hard-pressed to pull into any adventure destination parking lot and find a more prevalent vehicle. The reason is that this pickup keeps going when other vehicles die, and it can tackle most driving conditions the average outdoor enthusiast will encounter.
Bonus: If you can get your hands on a TRD edition Tacoma, you get a selectable locking rear differential, which raises this truck’s off-road prowess to the next level.
Jeep Grand Cherokee (2011-2016)
The Grand Cherokee carries the famous Jeep off-road heritage but also serves as a family hauler in a comfortable, contemporary SUV package. As one of the original sport utility vehicles, it continues to evolve and compete in its segment thanks to its off-road chops and modern improvements. It’s great for hauling all your toys, especially with the Hemi V8, which can tow up to 7,400 pounds. While you can get this vehicle with a 3.0L turbo diesel, it is an underpowered diesel with few advantages over its gas V6 or V8 counterparts.
Price: A little searching will uncover a 2016 V6 or 2013 Hemi V8 model with less than 100,000 miles for under $20,000 without any serious issues. Models from older generations maintain their resale value reasonably well, outperforming rivals like the Chevy Tahoe and Ford Explorer.
The good: It’s capable off-road, is comfortable around town, and has plenty of power — especially with the 5.7L Hemi V8. Its on-road manners are much more refined than the Wrangler. Not to mention a top safety-rated SUV once you address the recalls.
The bad: The Jeep Grand Cherokee has a history of rolling away (even when you think you’ve put it in park) and a known problem with faulty ignition switches. Some experience alternator failures, leak fuels, or even catch fire in a rear collision. Factory recalls addressed these issues, so make sure you purchase one already sorted out.
Why Grand Cherokee? Don’t let the bad points deter you. It’s a comfortable, modern SUV that behaves equally well on and off road.
Volvo XC70 (2008-2013)
The XC70 T6 AWD, aka Cross Country, offers a refined on-road ride, impressive ground clearance, and lots of cargo capacity. Plus, it has Volvo’s renowned safety features and a quality luxury interior. Think of it as a super-safe luxury Outback.
Price: You can snag a 2013 full-featured T6 AWD XC70 for under $20,000 with around 90,000 miles on the clock. A lower-mileage (around 50,000 miles) 2012 model costs about the same.
The good: The T6 300-horsepower inline-six turbocharged engine offers plenty of power for your adventures and about 21 mpg. You even get quality off-road driving features like Hill Descent Control with the Cross Country. The quiet and refined luxury interior is an easy place to spend a lot of time.
The bad: Reliability isn’t bad, but when things do go wrong, parts and labor aren’t cheap.
Land Rover LR4 (2010-2011)
Someone else swallowed the huge depreciation on the LR4 already. These vehicles started at $50,000 new, so now’s the time to snag a bargain on this capable luxury SUV. The V8 HSE model is what you want, as it provides more power and nearly the same mileage per gallon as the V6 but with more luxury features than the SE.
Price: A number of fully optioned, quality examples are available with around 100,000 miles for just under $20,000.
The good: The interior is cavernous, and the seats fold completely flat, making great sleeping or storage space. The terrain-response system makes this vehicle extremely capable off-road, even if you have little driving experience beyond the pavement.
The bad: It has spotty reliability and is expensive to repair. Oh, and you also have to feed this beast premium gasoline, and it consumes around 14 mpg — if you’re lucky.
Why LR4? Come on; you get to drive a Land Rover! You also get a comfortable, refined ride anywhere you might want to venture and an interior that can carry all your friends and gear.
Jeep Wrangler (JK 2007-2018)
No list of adventure vehicles under $20,000 would be complete without the Wrangler. There are few vehicles as capable from the factory as the Jeep, and the massive aftermarket for these vehicles makes them even more capable and customizable.
Price: The current generation JL two-door Wrangler or the longer wheelbase four-door Wrangler Unlimited isn’t a bargain. Fortunately, you don’t have to go back too far to find one that fits within the budget and has a respectable amount of miles. Three distinct models define the Jeep Wrangler, not counting the limited edition variations released to boost sales. In ascending order, there are the Sport, Sahara, and Rubicon. All are great for off-road enthusiasts; the Rubicon is at the top of the economic scale, while the Sport is the most affordable JK Wrangler.
The good: The off-road capabilities of the Wrangler are second to none. With the Rubicon edition, there’s little that can stand in the way of this little machine. Remove the doors and canopy for an open-air experience. A passionate enthusiast community is a way to connect with other like-minded folks and learn essential insights. Plus, a thriving appetite follows the Wrangler because of its loyal following.
The bad: Don’t expect good fuel economy in this boxy, solid-axle vehicle. The interior volume is smaller than you might imagine, as the roll cage intrudes on much of the space. Additionally, poor road manners and excessive wind noise on the highway are notorious.
Why Wrangler? Buy this if you need to tackle off-road obstacles on the way to your next adventure. What other vehicle allows you to pop off the doors and roof to connect with your surroundings — especially off-road?!
PS: We’re just as sad as you that there aren’t any vans on this list. Sadly, there just aren’t many vans with a 4WD system — most are 4×4 conversions — and they bring big money. Yes, you can find one under $20,000, but it’s likely to be a very high-mileage, older unit with rust issues.