A red 2016 Ford Explorer is parked on a rocky shore while a couple brings a kayak to the water.

Off-Road Capable SUVs for the Family

I don’t know about you, but when I recently started looking for used car dealerships near me, it was a little overwhelming. Where do you start with so many options out there? How do you narrow down your search? Let’s talk about this, because, as I realized, doing a little research goes a long way in concentrating your search, so you do not waste time at a dealership with a bad reputation, or where they might specialize in a type of car, you are not interested in.

Let’s set up a hypothetical situation, similar to my recent situation, where we’re looking for an SUV for my family and dog. It has to be off-road ready though because 1) it’s always nice to have this capability (you never know when your navigation might send you down a dirt road) and 2) it occasionally snows where you live. We’re also going to keep the search under $30,000 and hope we can find interesting payment options to keep the monthly payment under $400/month. Now, these are lofty goals, but let’s take a look at some of our options in this price range that make sense for us.

We know we won’t be targeting the nearest BMW or Porsche dealerships, so we’ll rule out any other luxury-minded dealers near us. While we might be able to find a car there at our price point that fits our desires, we might end up overpaying for luxury amenities we do not necessarily need. We will probably want to focus on the Ford’s and Chevy’s and Subaru’s of the automotive world because they are known more for their emphasis on family, while also giving good options for off-road capability. We might also have to check out a Jeep or two too.

The Ford Explorer

If you’re looking for a family SUV, this is a great option. With advanced safety features and many engine choices and options, Ford’s midsize SUV is hard to beat. What’s also great about the Explorer, in terms of our search, is its advanced all-wheel drive system, which would definitely give us the peace of mind we are looking for on dirt roads, more so than its competitors, such as the Honda Pilot or Mazda CX-9. While they have their own benefits, such as performance and fuel efficiency, they’re not quite the perfect car for our situation.

The Explorer is looking to be a good match for us. When you consider all of the drivetrain options, it seems like it could be a perfect fit for any family. Plus, all models can be equipped with all-wheel drive and include the Terrain Management System, which adjusts for snow, sand, mud, grass, and gravel. There are also many luxury options to explore that will make everyone in the family happy if you chose an Explorer, including, of course, a big 8-inch touch screen, dual-zone automatic climate control, and a dual-panel moonroof.

Chevy Traverse

A red 2018 Chevy Traverse is driving in the snow after leaving a used car dealership near me.

Here is another great option for a family-minded SUV. If you’re looking for a safe and competent sedan-like ride, then this is a good SUV for you. It can also tow up to 5,200 lbs depending on the year/trim you choose, which is always useful. You’ll also find features for 7 or 8-passengers, and lots of cargo space. Your family will also appreciate the exceptionally quiet cabin and many technological features, such as a built-in WiFi hotspot to keep the whole family connected.

You’ll also find all-wheel-drive as an option for the Traverse, so this is one we’ll have to keep in mind. Combined with its best-in-class cargo space, the Traverse should be in everyone’s conversation when going three-row SUV shopping.

Subaru Outback

The Subaru Outback is a great option for an off-road family vehicle. Known for its resale, fuel economy, and safety, this is one we will have to strongly consider as well. If you’re an adventurous family who often finds themselves on forest service roads or in deep snow, here is a car that you can feel comfortable taking the family out in these conditions.

One of the best things about this car is the all-wheel-drive system. The Active Torque Vectoring technology the all-wheel-drive system employs enhances traction at high speeds by routing power for better stability. The X-Mode and Hill Descent Control further help with its off-road capability, making this an ideal choice for a crossover SUV if you encounter difficult driving conditions in your day-to-day activities.

There’s also lots of cargo space, and you can expect a quiet, comfortable driving experience with lots of infotainment and safety options for the family. If you live somewhere with occasional snow or difficult driving conditions, you probably already know this, as you’ve probably wondered why there are so many Subaru’s on the roads in your area.

A silver 2018 Subaru Outback is driving on a dirt road at sunset.

Jeep Wrangler

Since we’re talking off-road, we’ll have to consider the Wrangler. While you won’t find the luxury amenities of other SUVs, the Wrangler offers exceptional off-road capability with ever-increasing ride comfort. Plus, it’s fun to drive in ways other SUVs cannot match. This is a nearly unstoppable off-roader. Standard on the latest models is skid plates, and stability control with roll mitigation, trailer-sway control, and hill-start assists. Also standard is a 285 horsepower, 3.6-liter V6 engine with a 6-speed manual transmission and low-range transfer case.

While this was not the SUV we had in mind when we started our search, after test driving and careful consideration, it’s the one we’re going with. Why? Well, it fits all of our needs in terms of cargo space and offers the off-road assurance we did not know we could find in an SUV. It’s also the cheapest convertible on the market, and you bet we can’t wait to take the doors off this summer and take the family to the mountains or our favorite out-of-the-way spot.

So, after all of this, who knew we would end up with a Jeep Wrangler? That’s why it’s good to do your research and not rule anything out right away, because you never know which car you might not know you have to have. We sacrifice a little on gas mileage but now have the peace of mind of a dedicated off-roader. We even found one with manual windows and a manual transmission, which was exactly what we wanted all along. Of course, with the many options out there, you are sure to find whatever you want as well, it just takes a little work.

A black 2019 Jeep Wrangler is driving on a muddy trail.

It’s getting time to replace your sedan, possibly, so this might be the occasion to go in the complete opposite direction. Imagine a driveway with a utilitarian warrior like the Jeep Wrangler and a modern SUV or truck sitting in it, with all of the amenities of a luxury vehicle. That sounds like a vehicle ready for anything.

But for now, we’re just grateful we found such a great financing option—can you believe we were able to pull this off? The used car dealership was able to give us a creative loan at a good rate, and we managed to keep our payment under $400 a month! Oh, and as an extra bonus, now people will wave at you when you drive down the road.