The Best Off Road Vehicles Under 20k To Buy (2021)

I was browsing around online and I have seen many articles titled “Best Off-Road SUV Under 20k” or something like that. But they are basically vague lists of the same few used off-road vehicles for sale everyone drives. 

Sure they are helpful and a good place to start, but you’re not going to find out the best SUVs under 20k staying on these lists. I wanted to take a bunch of real-world examples and show why they are or are not the best off-road vehicles under 20k.

Ok, so it got me thinking, what if I waste some time browsing current listings of used off-road vehicles for sale and come up with my own list of REAL LIVE ACTUAL listings? So, how much does $20,000 could get me? I searched craigslist.com and autotrader.com with these factors in mind:

  • The model year 2010 or newer
  • All-wheel drive or 4×4
  • Manual transmission
  • Fewer than 100,000 miles
  • Lift kit included or bought within budget
  • Winch included or bought within budget

So I went to craiglist.com and autotrader.com to see what I could find. I am located in Orange County so I searched within 300 miles of zip code 90032.

This is my list of the best off-road vehicles under 20k. Why? I give you a unique and real-world analysis based on several factors. Read more and find out why I am right. Or don’t.

This is America after all:

1981 JEEP CJ-5 LAREDO 4×4

Kelly Blue Book: $15,285
Asking Price: $21,995
Missing: Nothing

A classic. This listing has everything you need to claim your weekend warrior status in the hills. You can drive it directly from the bank to the dirt stopping for a 12-pack and Slim Jims. 

The only issue is reliability. These things are built tough. Rust may be an issue. The good thing parts are cheap and readily available. Working on Jeeps is like a dream (if that is possible) and you will be able to be back on the road (unpaved road) in no time.

Equivalents are priced similarly so talking them too much below $20k would be difficult. These Jeeps are keepers though. You should be able to pass this onto your son or sell it when you need to pay for college. This one is my personal choice as one of the best 4×4 under 20k.

1991 JEEP WRANGLER 4×4

Kelly Blue Book: $6,460
Asking Price: $13,500
Missing: Nothing

I can repeat myself or you can reread the description of the 1981 CJ-5. Your choice. 

A possible upgrade could be more lights though.

2007 Cadillac Escalade EXT

Kelly Blue Book: $12,441
Asking Price: $22,000
Missing: Winch, Grill Guard

I made an exception with the transmission here. Forgive me. In fact, I don’t think Cadillac knows how to make manual transmissions (I know you’ll correct me in the comments if I’m wrong). This is one of the few SUVs under 20k here.

If they were asking $5,000 less than what they have, I would have ranked this higher. 

Side note: When you’re spending thousands and thousands on aftermarket parts and upgrades for your ride, don’t expect to recoup that money when it comes time to sell. Their vanity purchases and unless you have a famous last name you’re SOL.

This thing is a beast and I would love to ride around in the dirt with a Caddy. With 407 HP and 417 ft/lb of torque, it sits at a hefty 5,838 lbs. It’s got the power to weight ratio of about 6.9. Compare that to the PTW ratio of our #1 pick at 7.3 and you’ll be sitting pretty in the mud.

2012 Nissan Frontier 4×4 Crew Cab

Kelly Blue Book: $15,500
Asking Price: $18,000
Missing: Tires, winch, lift kit, power

Talk the sell down $2k and you have $4k to work with. Get a 6″ lift kit or just a 2.5” body lift and you still have plenty to spend on tires, a winch, and some power upgrades. At 261 HP and 281 ft/lb of torque, you won’t need to spend much. But more power is always better.

2013 Porsche Cayenne AWD

Kelly Blue Book: $18,589
Asking Price: $19,995
Missing: Suspension, tires, mud flaps

This Porsche has the same power to weight ratio as the others. You may be much more comfortable INSIDE than out. And with a suspension upgrade and tire swap, you’ll be styling in the dirt. Known for high-end streetcars the Cayenne is an able off-road machine. Another one of the SUVs under 20k. Super SUV.

They’re not as common due to being so cost-prohibitive but older ones can be worth having if you don’t mind having higher repair costs and fewer off-road aftermarket options than the others on this list. 

2012 Toyota Tacoma Access Cab 4×4

Kelly Blue Book: $15,586
Asking Price: $16,900
Missing: Lift kit, tires, winch, power, 

Tacomas are at home in the dirt. Everyone knows that. The Access cabs are great with their shorter wheelbase and spunky handling. This listing is asking for under $17k. Get this thing for under $15k and you have a lot of room to add power, a winch, a lift kit, tires, a front grill, and other accessories that will make you smile.

Sell the camper as well and you’ll have a few hundo more to play with. 

READ MORE: WHAT IS A TRUCK LEVELING KIT?

2013 Jeep Wrangler 4×4 Sport

Kelly Blue Book: $20,854
Asking Price: $20,675
Missing: Realistic wheels, winch

This listing stood out to me because all I could think of was getting that green completely covered in dirt. That would be a better look than the atrocity I currently see. 

Well, it’s newer, it only has 36,000 miles, and if you sell those wheels you’ll be able to buy a winch. This is one of the best used off-road vehicles that will make your girl sitting shotgun dirtier than a third-year junior at rush week. 

2005 Jeep Unlimited LJ

Kelly Blue Book: $14,309
Asking Price: $19,000
Missing: Winch

This thing is loaded with extras. And a lot of quality extras; Dana axles, Smittybilt bumpers, Bilstein shocks…

It’s hard to believe it only has 55,000 miles for being 15 years old. It must have been a weekend truck and that’s about it. It’s priced a bit high so you can probably talk them down a smidge, pick up a winch, and hit the hills this weekend with no worries!

2013 Jeep Wrangler 4×4 Sport

Kelly Blue Book: $21,165
Asking Price: $19,995
Missing: Winch

With only 31,931 miles and a soft top, it’s only missing a winch. This line of Jeeps will hold their value as well. They’re tough, reliable, and you can customize them easily with lots o’ parts.

One more. Because, why not?

1972 FJ40 Toyota Land Cruiser

Kelly Blue Book: $12,450-$67,600
Asking Price: $15,000
Missing: Years, Lift kit, possibly everything

I wanted to add this guy here because while the point of having an off-road machine is to drive it. To own a classic truck can be different. Do you want to preserve it? Do you want to restore it to stock? Or do you want to own the best used off-road vehicles with your friends? If so, are you willing to work on it or pay a shop more than newer trucks?

Or maybe you could go all out and fully restore the beast with new upgrades and make it a one-of-a-kind monster that any off-road enthusiast would drool over? For this price, I would take a chance.

READ MORE: BEST OFF ROAD VEHICLES UNDER 10K

I have included a BONUS LIST of cars that handle great in the dirt but are designed for racing instead of the above These are not part of the best off-road vehicles under 20k because they do not meet our requirements but they still are great machines that can be a lot of fun:

2014 Subaru Impreza WRX STI

Kelly Blue Book: $20,041
Asking Price: $20,999
Missing: Mudflaps

The STIs are badass machines. Everyone knows it. This guy can be got for $20k out the door. At 305 HP stock, it’ll float through the dirt all day. It has 99k miles which suck balls, but Subaru’s reliability has greatly improved and the 2014 models are no different.

2014 Mercedes Benz CLA

Kelly Blue Book: $17,586
Asking Price: $18,000
Missing: Suspension, mud flaps, tires

A Mercedes in the dirt? That’s like seeing an honest politician. They’re very rare, but they’re out there. This top-of-the-line (no AMG) Mercedes CLA has an all-wheel drive and manual shifting mode (manual/not manual?). 

Talk the seller down close to $16,000 and you can buy wheels and an airlift kit to get this baby off-road. If you do, send me a video of how its park assist does in the dirt. This could be one of the best AWD cars under 20k.

2012 Mini Cooper Countryman S ALL4

Kelly Blue Book: $11,444
Asking Price: $11,900
Missing: Turbo upgrade, Suspension, mud flaps, grill

Mini. Cooper. Off-road. Yeah, you thought an off-road Mercedes was strange. Minis are known for their surprising handling with their extremely short wheelbase and balanced chassis.

Reliability issues have been a problem in the past so due to your due diligence. These issues are usually minor and they aren’t involving major wallet-busting problems, but they can be enough to drive you nuts.

The price here is interesting. Get the car version of a Samurai and you can really turn some heads. For $20,000, you’ll have $9,000+ to beef up the suspension, tires, add about 100HP in a turbo upgrade, flaps, and maybe bumpers too. You may not make it to $17k with those upgrades. That means you need a new sound system too.

READ MORE: THE BEST 4×4 TRUCKS UNDER $5K

2010 Mitsubishi Evolution X GSR

Kelly Blue Book: $18,500
Asking Price: $19,000
Missing: Tires, possible engine work for weak compression

The listing shows the above blue book value for a car with possibly a bad cylinder. If there is engine work involved this could be a nightmare. I hope that is not why the owner is selling. I would go in with a lowball offer to mitigate my risk here.

It would be best to meet them at a mechanic I trust to run some tests. If the mechanic signs off on it then I would be happy to get this for (much) less than asking. This bad boy is almost one of the best off-road vehicles under 20k listed. Why?

On the street or the dirt, these EVOs are AWESOME. You can average 100 MPH from your garage to the top of a hill and back while sipping your half-caf/decaf/decaf caramel cinnamon frappuccino latte macchiato with soy milk.

I hope you enjoyed the list of our list of the best off-road vehicles under 20k. It can change quite a bit but overall you are going to see a lot of the same craigslist trucks and cars make these lists. Jeeps, Toyotas, Subarus, and Evos are home here, and for good reason. They have long histories of off-roading dominance. 

Agree or disagree? Did I make a serious boo boo? Let me know in the comments below or forever hold your peace.

Thanks for reading and stay dirty.

Written by Mud Flap

Hi Im Ryne Sweeney, or, Mud Flap. I am a dedicated truck enthusiast. I like to argue how Dodges are expensive pieces of metal. One day I will start showering daily inside the house. My nights are long and my days are muddy.

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