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Front Page - Friday, October 13, 2023

Big wheels, small budget: 5 affordable off-roaders

Getting away and into America’s outdoor spaces can go a long way to making life more enjoyable. But what if you need to drive on some off-road trails to get to your destination?

Luckily, there are some new vehicles that can serve as relatively inexpensive daily transportation as well as a means for in-the-dirt recreation.

While there’s understandable value in using an inexpensive used vehicle for going off-road, a newer model will get you more of the latest technology features and the added comfort of a warranty.

Edmunds’ experts put the spotlight on five ready-to-roll off-roaders that cost less than the average price of a new vehicle and are highly rated. All prices below include the destination charge.

2024 Chevrolet Trailblazer Activ

The Trailblazer is Chevy’s smallest and least-expensive crossover SUV. This budget-oriented model might not seem like an obvious place to start, but Edmunds has found it to be pleasingly comfortable and well equipped for its price.

The available Activ trim is the one you want to hit up some fire roads or light-duty trails. All-terrain tires and specialized off-road suspension tuning are included on the Activ. There’s also skid plates under the vehicle for added protection.

Chevy offers a nice collection of features for the Activ including a heated steering wheel and power-adjustable driver’s seat. You’ll want to get all-wheel drive to maximize the Activ’s off-roading potential, but all-wheel drive has the further benefit of coming with a more powerful engine that helps quicken the Trailblazer’s otherwise leisurely acceleration.

Starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price of 2024 Chevrolet Trailblazer Activ AWD: $29,995

2024 Subaru Crosstrek Wilderness

The Subaru Crosstrek is pricier than the Trailblazer Activ, but in return this compact crossover SUV is more capable on trails. A high ground clearance and all-wheel drive are standard on all Crosstrek versions.

Subaru also redesigned the Crosstrek for 2024. The new look brings with it updated technology and driver assist systems plus a new Wilderness trim level.

Like Subaru’s other Wilderness models, the Crosstrek’s version has even more ground clearance, grippy off-road tires and water-resistant upholstery, among other changes. We also like that the Crosstrek Wilderness comes standard with the SUV’s more powerful engine option.

2024 Subaru Crosstrek Wilderness MSRP: $33,290

2023 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road

The Toyota Tacoma is a go-to choice for many midsize-truck shoppers thanks to its reputation for high resale value and rugged off-road capability. Our pick here is the TRD Off-Road trim because it offers increased performance for comparatively little cash.

This Tacoma comes with specialized Bilstein shock absorbers, all-terrain tires, and a lockable rear differential that can be used to maximize available grip.

The current-generation Tacoma has been around since the 2016 model year, and Toyota will shortly be phasing it out in favor of the redesigned Tacoma. The new truck will have a higher-quality interior and new technology features, though Edmunds’ experts also predict the TRD models will become more expensive as a result.

2023 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road MSRP: $39,420

2024 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands

Ford’s big Bronco is a standout for style and capability, but the smaller and less expensive Bronco Sport isn’t too bad, either. This small crossover SUV has upright styling that mimics that of its big sibling and has more inherent off-roading chops than most other crossovers.

The Bronco Sport Badlands is the highest-equipped Bronco Sport money can buy for heading off-road. The Badlands gets an upgraded all-wheel-drive system that maximizes available traction, as well as underbody skid plates to keep things protected and secure. Of course, more off-road-focused tires and suspension components are included too.

2024 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands MSRP: $39,98

2024 Jeep Wrangler Willys

The Jeep Wrangler is an off-roading icon and until the arrival of the new Ford Bronco, it was the default pick for off-road enthusiasts. Despite stiff competition from Ford, there’s still a lot to like here. The 2024 model, in particular, gains some worthwhile upgrades – including an improved center infotainment touch screen – to go along with this SUV’s classic attributes such as a high ground clearance, removable roof and standard four-wheel drive.

The popular Rubicon trim continues to be the most capable Wrangler but there’s lots of value to be found in the less expensive Willys trim. It comes with a suitable number of standard features plus off-roading upgrades such as body-protecting rock rails, a locking rear differential and beefy all-terrain tires. The Wrangler’s off-road toughness does come at the expense of on-road comfort, however.

2024 Jeep Wrangler 2 Door Willys MSRP: $41,190

Edmunds Says

The Jeep Wrangler is the best option on our list for maximum off-road capability. But Edmunds has found the other vehicles to be respectably capable while being versatile and enjoyable to drive every day.

Chase Bierenkoven is a contributor at Edmunds and is on Twitter