Jeep Renegade Trailhawk, Nissan Frontier 4WD, or something else?
May 28, 2017 12:25 PM   Subscribe

I will soon be in the market for a (pretty) new vehicle. I need 4WD and something somewhat capable. What can you tell me about these vehicles? Or others that might tick my boxes?

I am relocating back to the US from Europe in two months (yay!) and am moving into a cabin in the mountains. It's pretty remote--nothing crazy, but involves 1.5 miles of well-packed gravel road to and from my place, and windy and somewhat steep 2 lane country roads to and from work (only commuting 2-3 days a week though). I need a vehicle that can do what I need.

Basics are: I am looking to spend around $20-24k and want something with no more than 45k miles, the less the better. I'd like to ideally get something like a 2015-16 with 25k miles for $22k. Shopping around online I think both vehicles mentioned in the title are options.

I need 4WD and some kind of decent ground clearance.
I am not small--6 foot 1, 190 lbs.
I like to camp a lot, and a vehicle that has cool camping perks would be neat but not at all a must.
MPG is kinda important, but reliability trumps it.
Cargo is pretty important. I need something that I can use to haul decent size stuff, but it's not like I need a long bed pickup or anything. Just the usual.
I don't like Subaru.
It's likely I will lift whatever I get a couple inches.

I like the Jeep Renegade Trailhawk. I think it looks nice, and the size seems solid to me. Decent MPG, and the Trailhawk version seems genuinely off-road capable. How
are newer Jeeps, though? Are they dependable now that Fiat is running the show? Is the newer Cherokee any good (I'm not real into these, as I have heard horror stories about the transmission, and they cannot be lifted at all). How is the interior space?

I love pickups, and have usually driven one of those. But newer trucks are so overpriced I can't do it. And I think the gold standard Tacoma has mostly gone to shit, and the older ones are impossible to find and priced insanely when they are found. The Frontier looks pretty nice though. I've looked at the 4WD SV online, the king cab (4 door) model. I like it, and like the mid size bed, minimal interior setup, etc. How is the reliability, though? How do they drive? Is road noise awful in them, like some other trucks?

Are there other things I might be neglecting to look at? Or consider? I can't test drive anything until I am back in the states, at which point I need to go from test drive to buying pretty quick, so I am hoping to go into things with a list of contenders, drive one or two of each, and make a fast move on buying.
posted by still bill to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Well, I would have suggested a Tacoma or a Subaru... Both are Western Montana staples.
posted by so fucking future at 12:39 PM on May 28, 2017

For what it's worth, plenty of people get by with normal front wheel drive passenger cars desire living miles down some dirt road. I say this because most of the modern inexpensive 4WD vehicles kinda suck for one reason or another.

TBH, I'd buy a beat up old Accord/Camry or a RAV4. The previous generation RAV4 was available with a V6 and part time 4WD. From 2009 on, they have a button to disable traction control, which is necessary in deep snow. Toyota trucks are pretty good, too.

If you need more cargo capacity, the F150 is available with 4WD. If you aren't into trucks, the Nissan Xterra is pretty decent, but I'm not sure how it rates in terms of reliability and the rear seats are kinda a pain in the ass to get into. Lots of cargo space, and reasonably good on crappy roads, though. However, as I said earlier, crappy roads aren't really a problem for anything with front wheel drive as long as you apply a bit of thought to your driving when it's really bad. I used to take my 1991 Accord down forest roads and unmaintained logging roads all the time back when I lived in the mountains in northwest Arkansas.

Unless you're going to be traversing literal boulder fields or plan to drive through the forest where there is not even a track, ground clearance is overrated. A shorter wheelbase can be helpful for some of the worst spots, though.
posted by wierdo at 12:43 PM on May 28, 2017

Should have mentioned: I need 4WD for more than my daily use stuff. I spend a lot of time in the mountains doing fieldwork, and need 4WD and good clearance for really rough spots with, basically, no roads.

4WD is a must.
posted by still bill at 12:50 PM on May 28, 2017

Tacoma if you are buying new, but it is hard to get a good deal on a used one. Same with a Jeep Wrangler, used prices are weirdly high for late model examples.

Vehicles you didn't mention that I would suggest looking into: Nissan Xterra and Toyota 4Runner. They just stopped making the xterra, so I don't know if that has raised or lowered prices on used ones. 4runners have been made forever and seem to depreciate more normally than the Tacoma. Either has more than enough capability than what you describe and good aftermarket support for lifts and so on.

A Subaru will drive better, be safer, and be more comfortable than any of these, but if you don't like them, you don't like them, and that is fair.

It's only fair to note that mpg is about the same in the vehicles you are considering and in full size trucks like the F150, and you get better capacities too. My impression is that used prices on the Tundra especially are not bad, but I haven't actually shopped for one.
posted by Dip Flash at 12:54 PM on May 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

Man, my first rule would be "no Chrysler products," (except a diesel RAM pickup) and certainly "no Jeeps," not "no Subarus," and I do fieldwork in Alaska. There, a lifted RAV-4 is a popular choice for similar situations as yours. As with all Toyota products, it's a piece of shit that just won't quit.
posted by spitbull at 1:00 PM on May 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

I would get a Tacoma, easily. I'm not sure what makes you think they have gone to shit but even if they have suddenly become 10x shittier than ever they would still be 10x better than every single Chrysler product on the market.

I drive a Frontier a fair bit, I like it, though it is somewhat unrefined. I would be happy to own one.

2016 Automaker reliability ratings, in order, note the bottom four:

posted by Cosine at 1:17 PM on May 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

I just saw your fieldwork note. Every situation is different, but no one I work with drives a lifted vehicle (except for diesel trucks). Everyone drives a late-model 4wd of some variety (all the list above, plus any number of full size American trucks and SUVs). You need the 4wd for mountain passes and for the final few miles into the project site, but if the road is impassable to a normal SUV, you either use ATVs, hike, or bring in machinery to improve the road.

No one wants the mileage or comfort hit that come with a lifted vehicle, especially when you are being reimbursed at the IRS rate and your SUV/truck already gets crappy mileage. (The diesel trucks are the exception, because they are so overpowered for normal use that a lift and bigger tires doesn't seem to make much difference.) Lifts are expensive, bigger tires are expensive, and both tend to come with follow-on costs -- alignment issues, or regearing, say.

Your situation may of course be different and you may need that capacity. For the fieldwork I am involved in, a Subaru, RAV4, or anything else mentioned in this thread would be normal and completely adequate. It would be worth checking what your colleagues doing the same work are driving and taking that as guidance.
posted by Dip Flash at 1:23 PM on May 28, 2017

My dad is a scientist who does a lot of fieldwork in fairly hard to reach and rugged locations in the Colorado mountains, and he and his colleagues all drive Toyota trucks, 4Runners or Subarus. You don't see a lot of Jeeps or Nissans.
posted by heurtebise at 1:37 PM on May 28, 2017 [2 favorites]

Then yes, if you can't swing a 4Runner, think a CUV is too low, and don't want a truck, the Xterra is a pretty good bet. The rear seats are a pain precisely because of how tall they are. Service availability could be an issue, though.

I love Jeeps, but they break down like mid-20th century cars. The only advantage is that it is much easier to find parts and mechanics for them than most imports. They are not good for a situation where you must have them running. Great for weekend fun, but otherwise it's just a bad idea.
posted by wierdo at 1:51 PM on May 28, 2017

Probably a Tacoma or Frontier although I personally think both are a bit of a rough ride for tall people on dirt roads. I've hit my head on the roof of a newer Tacoma. So therefore I would bit the bullet and get either a Tundra or a new F150. Those are niiiice trucks, so very very nice. And useful for a lot of things.
posted by fshgrl at 3:32 PM on May 28, 2017

The Jeep Renegade has better gas mileage than an Xterra, and used Xterras are hard to find with low mileage due to being discontinued (I considered buying one but this and the lower gas mileage changed my mind). The Renegade is comfortable and good for camping, in my experience. The storage capacity is decent, especially with the rear seats lowered. It handles gravel and steep roads fine, though I haven't driven the Trailhawk.
posted by cp311 at 7:52 PM on May 28, 2017 [1 favorite]

The Renegade is a fun car to drive - I got to test drive one at Easter Jeep Safari in Moab - but it has suffered from Chrysler/Fiat's reliability issues. It's hard to recommend it for your situation.

I have a lifted and armored Tacoma - and it gets used in the mountains and deserts of Colorado and Utah. It is unstoppable. You're right that the used market for T4R and Tacos is bonkers - they are reliable, tough as nails, and have excellent aftermarket support. The demand is there because they really are that good.

If you get a T4R/Taco, and you're going to do a lift, I highly recommend Old Man Emu. I have been super happy with OME Dakar/885s. Also, you really, really, should replace the UCAs when you do. If you don't, it will be impossible to get the caster back to spec, and while it is driveable, it wanders and bump steers like crazy. If you go 3+ inches, you need to deal with driveline issues and CV joint angles - the solutions to that get more fragile and finicky as you go. 2-3 inches will get everything you need without the compromises. Don't do spacers - get taller springs. You can fit 33inch tires with a 2inch lift, but you'll get some rubbing and gearing will be a bit messed up. Stick to 32 inches (265/70r17 or so) - you're just a bit shorter, but the side effects are not anywhere near as bad. I've had great luck with BFG AT KO2 - they've been durable as hell and a big improvement over the venerable AT/KO.

If you love your pocketbook, stay away from Tacomaworld. :-) I love my truck, and I'm going to spend the next week offroading/badroading in Utah and Arizona. It takes me to the best places, and in your situation, I can't recommend it enough.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:07 PM on May 28, 2017

We've had a Renegade for about 18 months and it is nice looking and handles the road well (Michigan potholes, mostly). But the transmission is really ... busy. Just with regular driving on the road and highway the engine makes a lot of jerks and jumps. We're not sure if it needs a tune up or if there's actually a problem at this point. Others have reported the same. (We're well past any type of break in period)
posted by getawaysticks at 5:09 AM on May 29, 2017

My experience with modern Jeeps is that they are underpowered, steer badly, uncomfortable and poorly made.
posted by ITravelMontana at 6:42 AM on May 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

I should say that the utility of lifted CUVs in my Alaskan setting has no offset as there are no paved roads there. You're on gravel at best. In mud a lot of the time. And gas is $7 a gallon.
posted by spitbull at 8:41 AM on May 29, 2017

We have two Jeeps, a Wrangler and a Cherokee and both have been great. They have good 4W and we have never had any problems.
posted by chocolatetiara at 9:04 AM on May 29, 2017

I drove a Tacoma recently and was struck by how it's not made for taller people (and I'm not as tall as you). The proportions were all wrong, and I couldn't adjust things as much as I wanted. That said: it was the smooooothest ride I've been in, smoother than my minivan.

Speaking of minivans: other than the clearance, they've got everything you want. They're the perfect camping vehicles.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:08 AM on June 1, 2017

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