Owen has a 1999 Jeep XJ and he wants to upgrade to something a little safer and more modern. But he’d still like to keep his Jeep’s capability. With a budget of up to $40,000, which car should he buy?
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Here is the scenario:
I have a 1999 Jeep Xj that is about done in life with 225K miles. I also have a 6 year old boy who is growing like a bean pole. With gas prices rising I’m looking for something modern but equally reliable and capable and having recently driven a 4runner this just isn’t the answer. I would really like a sunroof as my favorite driving pleasures are with all the windows down and a good breeze. I like 4runner but too much for too little, love xj just a bit cramped and old. Basically all the cars I love are 90’s buses on wheels but I need something new
I live in AZ so I don’t want leather seats and I can spend up to $40,000
Budget: up to $40,000
Daily driver: Yes
Place: Tucson, AZ
Want: Modern, capable, decent MPG
Do not want: Something too old
Expert 1: Tom McParland – Modern and boxy
Owen, it’s probably a good thing you filed your case after our rusty Jeep collector moved elsewhere. But he’s dead to us now, so we’re free to think of suitable replacements for your XJ. Your two biggest problems with the old Jeep are that it lacks modern features that make it safe for transporting children and that it’s a bit thirsty. While you like its “capability”, you didn’t mention the need for intense off-road driving.
Since the 4Runner didn’t impress you, the natural option is a Bronco, but they’re essentially unobtanium at reasonable prices for a while. So maybe the smaller Bronco Sport would do the trick. It’s more like your XJ in size but still has plenty of room for the kid and whatever else you’re carrying around. It retains the boxy look and can get up to 28 MPG on the highway. Well, equipped examples with a sunroof will sticker under the $40,000 mark so if you can find one without the typical dealer tag this could be a good value.
Expert 2: Bob Sorokanich – Big and Supercharged
As a previous XJ owner and unrepentant jeep soul, I understand the challenge of replacing a beloved but broken Cherokee. Nothing on the modern market has the combination of charm, simplicity, oil leaks and propensity for catastrophic rust that the Jeep Cherokee embodies. So we have to broaden our horizons. We need to take a trip to Telluride.
Compared to your XJ, Kia Telluride is, frankly, huge. Then again, almost all modern vehicles are huge compared to an XJ, a vehicle designed in the late 1970s when Detroit’s understanding of ergonomics was “if I fit, I sit.” But like your XJ, the Telluride is nicely square without being a true cube. It is remarkably safe, extremely comfortable and extremely enjoyable to drive. Fuel mileage isn’t mind-blowing, but for a mid-size SUV with a somewhat serviceable third row of seats, it’s actually pretty good.
But good luck finding one. The Telluride is insanely popular, and wherever there’s a hot-selling vehicle, there are dealers willing to put ridiculous markups over MSRP. Your budget of about $40,000 should easily get you to an LS, X, or EX model, but I should be able to fit into the 30″ waist jeans I wore in college. Reality may not match what we think “should” be possible.
Does that make this a worthless recommendation? Probably. But when our staff discussed possible vehicles to recommend to you fair XJ owners, the conversation was dominated by 20-year-old Isuzus and questionably imported Nissan Patrols. We all think we want a VehiCross, the same way we all do think we can do a complete clutch change at home in a weekend. Compared to that advice, I think you’ll find my suggestion perfectly reasonable.
Expert 3: Lawrence Hodge – Reliable and capable
This is something that is a bit difficult because you want the MPG and the capacity, and it’s not easy to get a vehicle that has both of those. So to make up for that, how about something that is both capable and reliable? Try the 2018-2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Off-Road.
While probably not as capable as what you’re used to, the 4Runner can still handle its own. With the TRD Off-Road trim, you get goodies like mud/snow tires, a two-speed transmission with a locking rear diff, and skid plates. And it’s old school in the best sense, as it’s one of the last frame SUVs you can buy. The disadvantages? The engine is old as hell too. That 4.0-liter V6 has been around forever, and it’s not smooth. Gas mileage could be better as well as this thing gets 18 mpg combined. The good news though is that they can be bought within your price range, with examples under 50,000 miles comes in right at or just under $40,000.
Expert 4: José Rodríguez Jr. – The Original Sport Utility
I’m going against the grain here, but not really. Many of today’s boxy SUVs are just closed versions of beloved trucks that slowly lost touch with their roots; I want to suggest a return to these. What better way to combine modern security with solid reliability and good terrain performance than with the oft-overlooked Nissan Frontier? With four doors and a motorhome shell, it will be as practical as an SUV – if not more so. It’s not boxy Hard bodybut it is “modern.”
The 2022 Nissan Frontier starts at $33,000 for a four-door model with 4X4, and even if you don’t get the fancy off-road version, you can always modify a lower trim with (better) aftermarket components at your own pace. This is technically a “new” Frontier, but there’s plenty of the old in the redesign.
Which is mostly a good thing in this case, because the old truck is an underrated off-roader. To this day, Nissan is routinely upstaged by Toyota Tacoma or the one Ford Ranger. Again, that’s a good thing because it means less markup when shopping for a new Frontier, or no ridiculous asking price for a used one.
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