Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply!
James asks: I currently have a 2007 Scion Tc which has been absolutely incredible. My favorite car that I have ever owned, if only because it is the only car that has had zero mechanical issues. Alas, I have since moved to the Olympic Peninsula and have already gotten stuck many times just parking on the sides of roads. The ground is often moist and soggy, especially in the shade, and my little 4 banger FWD friend cant cut it. My hobby is landscape and nature photography, so I am constantly exploring the web of logging roads in the National Forests, many of which are deteriorated with potholes and erosion. As we come out of winter, I am also learning that nobody scrapes those roads clear of snow and ice. Go figure. I would love to get deep into the wilderness during winter to find that virgin powder among some random nature scene that nobody will ever find. But I need the proper vehicle. Can you help?
I have my eye on something like a used Rubicon because I like the 4 doors. But also, the Toyota FJ cruiser. Thoughts on these and others, or just things to look out for when shopping for four wheel drive vehicles would be appreciated. What I am really concerned about is sometimes certain makes or models have a reputation of being problematic later in life. For example I have heard the Jeep Cherokees tend to need new transmission sooner than other vehicles. I don’t know if this is even true, but it’s these kinds of rumors that can really affect the buying decision.
My reply: A Rubicon would certainly get you there- and back. Also the FJ – which I personally prefer because of its bulletproof Toyota running gear and also because it’s different (a personal preference).
Both are, however, very different vehicles than your current one. Have you driven either – or anything similar? If not, I strongly recommend some seat time – and more than just a drive around the block. The difference in ride/handling (among other things) is like the difference between a walk in a city park and a hike up the mountain. Your Scion is small and agile and easy to park; the Rubicon and FJ less so. Your gas bill will also double.
Not that there’s anything wrong with either vehicle – just be aware.
The same will apply to similar vehicles with truck-type 4WD systems and transfer cases such as the Grand Cherokee.
The regular Cherokee – which has AWD (available with a gear-reduction feature that works like 4Low in a 4WD vehicle) is also very capable off road – might be a better middle ground for you in terms of ride and handling on road.
I am going to recommend a Subaru Crosstrek. Inexpensive new – and a bargain used. Not overwhelmingly huge, easy to drive – but also very roomy and versatile – with lots of space for cargo/equipment. These also have nearly nine inches of ground clearance and an immensely capable AWD system. If you know how to drive off-road, these will go pretty much anywhere a 4WD truck will go – and places most 4WD trucks/SUVs can’t fit. Because they are wider/longer.
The little Soobie also gets decent (not great, but decent) gas mileage. It won’t sink you, at any rate And it drives comfortably on-road, like most cars.
Hugely recommend a test drive. (My review of the plug-in hybrid version is here; but look at the regular non-hybrid version.)
Keep us posted!
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