Small efficient overlander


Second gen tracker/vitara! Cheap, easy, fuel efficient, durable. They have simple ifs front end and true hi/lo stick shifted 4wd. They have body on frame (unlike rav and Subaru) and live rear axle with 5 link suspension. They are GREAT and best of all they are very affordable. WIll do anything a samurai will with more room, comfort and AC! 30mpg with the 2.0 engine, which is EFI and coil-on-plug ignition.
Also, I can’t stand FWD. these are proper RWD cars with longitudinal engines. Only weak point is the aluminum front axle housing, but with some effort you can source (or just buy) the steel housing and swap in. I bought this one with 135k for $1100 and been loving it ever since. I traded down a 2012 Tacoma for it.
Another vote for the Suzuki Vitara/Grand Vitara. I've had a 2001 GV for ten years as my daily driver and it's been the most reliable car I've ever had. Simple and easy to work on. I converted the front to manual hubs, which is super easy to do. I have the V6 so the gas milage is not as good as the 4 banger but it moves the car well.


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Not sure the budget, nor if you are wanting to go with new (warranty and such), but the VW Atlas is worth a look- 3rd row seats and the second and third rows lay flat for plenty of room to sleep in. Not for extreme offroad, but really surprising on forest service roads and such with decent tires and 1.5" lift:



I should add that I have an Isuzu Amigo that is about to start getting built: the body lift kit is here now and so I can begin getting work done. I think it's about as small as I can get and still do stuff off road.


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What about the last north American Grand Vitara before Suzuki left NA?
(Third generation)
2.4 4 cylinder was a bit under powered, but longitudinal engine, real 4x4.
Hybrid body ( integral frame reinforced the unibody)
I personally loved the looks of them. There was a V6 available for a few years, a 3.2 GM engine I believe that had more than adequate power.

Otherwise I'd say newer Forester, Cherokee KL Trailhawk (although not sure if they ironed out the transmission yet) or maybe the new TRD RAV4. All going to be fairly pricey.
I think the big risk is getting parts easily for them