What’s best for a transcontinental adventure: truck or SUV?
This new question from David just came across our inbox, and he asks a question that really kicks my urge for adventure into gear. David’s looking for a vehicle to travel from Dallas on long-distance exploring that will stay the course and get him anywhere he wants to go.
More specifically, he’s looking for a rugged, reliable rig that will allow him to “get away from the paved crowd and the Subaru crowd.” Subaru aside, pickups or SUVs are fair game, as long as it’s comfortable and easily serviceable thanks to dealer support.
Here is his full question:
“So I’m in my mid 40’s and decided I wanted to get back into wildlife/outdoor photography. Used to be into it in my younger years but wanting to travel North & South America and spend time exploring.
I’m looking for a vehicle that will allow me to get away from the paved crowd and the Subaru crowd. I’m too old to do extensive climbing with gear but want to have a capable and reliable vehicle that can travel from Alaska to the tip of South America over the next 10 years.
I live in the Dallas suburbs, work from home and drive around 10K miles a year without taking trips. I need this to be a daily driver, fit in a garage, not looking to crazy mod other than possibly a 2” lift, tires, winch and some lights. It needs to fit in a 25’ deep garage with standard height.
I’d like to have the ability to camp 2-3 days between traditional logging during trips so a roof top tent, etc. would be nice.
I’m looking for nothing older than 4 years old, no more than 25K miles and open to used or new. I haven’t set a budget but let’s say under $70K stock.
So do I go pickup or SUV? Say Land Cruiser, Land Rover, Tundra, Tacoma, 4Runner etc.. I want comfort, reliability and good dealer support. It will be two of us and possibly a black lab part of the time. P.S.: I’m 6’0″ and want to have comfort, some midsize just isn’t comfortable spending all day driving but want to be able to use on trails.”
Going through the options
$70,000 is a robust budget to get exactly what you want, and there are plenty of options. David specifically mentions a range of Toyotas, as well as the Land Rover brand. There is also plenty of support for Jeep out there, and now you have the option of buying either a Wrangler JL or even a Gladiator.
Before I put out a recommendation, let’s go through the necessities. Apart from age, this needs to be comfortable for a 6-foot tall person, a passenger and a dog. Just by having the dog, I’d lean more toward and SUV than a truck, just for the interior space. If you’re carrying photography equipment, an SUV also helps keep it out of the elements and secure on long trips. However, there are plenty of good points for trucks as well, from looks and capability to customization.
My recommendation: Toyota 4Runner TRD Off-Road Premium
Yes, I know the Toyota 4Runner is technically a decade old now. I also know it may be one of the “obvious” choices, and my points about the 4Runner might paint me biased in favor of Toyota. That said, there is a reason Toyota still sells over 10,000 4Runners each month, despite its age. It carries a reputation for ruggedness, reliability, capability and comfort, and all those factors contribute to its strong long-term resale value.
David, if it were my money, the 4Runner would be my pick. The Land Cruiser is an awesome SUV. It’s big enough to haul anything you please, it’s comfortable, and it’s one of the most bulletproof daily drivers out there. When’s the last time you heard horror stories about a Land Cruiser? I’d wager the same for the Tundra, but fuel economy and their overall size turn me off from buying either. They are a bit difficult to live with in commuter traffic and city driving because they’re so damn big, and I struggled with the Land Cruiser’s 13 mpg city figure.
A more manageable rig
The Toyota 4Runner’s fuel mileage isn’t much better, honestly, but its smaller stature makes it less cumbersome as a daily runabout. Its cabin is also much more comfortable than the Tacoma, which forces its drivers into a really odd position where the floor is too high, and the roof is too low. In terms of reliability, too, the 4Runner’s old 4.0-liter V6 and five-speed transmission offer a tough combination, even if it’s not dynamic or particularly refined. Indomitable is a word I’d use to describe that powertrain. It’s not electrifying, but the 4Runner always feels solid every time I drive one.
For $70,000, you could easily get a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon and build it up with the lift, rooftop tent, bigger tires and so on. However, while I and the rest of the TFL crew love the Wrangler’s ability, its reliability is a question mark. It has a legendary reputation and the latest model is more capable out of the box than ever before. But after hearing owners’ stories and seeing the NHTSA complaints page, I just can’t recommend it if you’re planning to keep it for 10 years or more.
What’s more, when you are ready to make the long trek from Alaska to South America, you’ll be able to get service for your 4Runner. Toyotas are popular throughout the continent, and you’ll be able to find parts wherever you end up.
Why not the TRD Pro?
When I say the Toyota 4Runner is worth a look, I’m not specifically talking about the TRD Pro. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love the top-dog 4Runner. However, if you plan on building this, making it your own, and living with it for a decade or more, I’d recommend going for the TRD Off-Road instead.
Why? You still get most of the toys you would also get in a TRD Pro. Like the TRD Pro, you still get 9.6 inches of ground clearance, Crawl Control, Multi-Terrain Select and a rear locking differential. You also still get Toyota’s A-TRAC traction control system and part-time four-wheel drive with low-range, too. What you don’t get are the 2.5-inch Fox shocks with TRD-tuned front springs or all the other TRD bits. So you don’t get the TRD-branded skid plate, TRD wheels, roof rack or TRD shift knob. Toyota also fits more tame Bridgestone Dueler tires, rather than the Nitto Terra Grapplers you get with the TRD Pro.
However, you also save more than $8,000 by opting for the TRD Off-Road. I’d much rather spend the money buying my preferred off-road tires — likely some BFGoodrich KO2 All-Terrains — and fit an aftermarket suspension setup if I felt I needed it. Here, you still get a capable, comfortable daily driver that you can modify however you want and stay well within your budget.
What would you recommend? Let us know in the comments!