(Updated: August 1, 2019)
The used overland vehicle market is more exciting today than ever before, with high quality and capable options available from nearly every major automotive manufacturer. With so many models to choose from, you might be wondering which four-wheel drives make for the best second-hand overland vehicles? In 2011, we published our first US and Canada top ten used overland vehicle list, and it has been since been read over one million times. A lot has changed in the last eight years though, including the types of vehicles available under our original test’s $30,000 and 20-years or newer cap. We have also learned a few more things about overlanding vehicles since 2011 thanks to several circumnavigations of the globe. This has all resulted in a nearly new list for 2019, packed with excellent options for those looking to purchase their first overland vehicle or upgrade their current one. Regardless of this list and our opinions, the reality is that a traveler should drive what they can afford, and what they most enjoy driving, despite the make or model.
What makes a great used overland vehicle?
Typically, someone buying a used vehicle is looking for value, but they are also looking for something reliable and capable for travel too. At Expedition Portal, we feel the following criteria comprises the most critical attributes of an overland platform. Ride comfort, noise, vibration, harshness, and other less essential considerations are weighed in the final ranking, but the primary ordering is based on these qualities and our field testing results:
Capability: The vehicle’s ability to traverse rocky, muddy, and cross-axle terrain, including deep water crossings, severe side slopes, hill climbs, and descents.
Capacity: The vehicle’s ability to carry weight as measured by payload specifications and the interior storage volume aft of the front seats.
Durability: The vehicle’s ability to travel for extended periods of time (years) over rugged terrain while fully loaded without chassis or drivetrain failure.
Reliability: The vehicle’s ability to perform without engine, electrical, or support system failures due to component malfunction or workmanship error.
Value: Valuation of vehicle cost to content. Vehicles with high functional content will score the highest value ratings.
We also tested the best of the ultimate overland vehicles, including the Defender, G-Wagen, Patrol, Jeep J8, and Land Cruiser and dared to declare a winner. That result can be found here: The Ultimate Overlander
Why are there so many Toyotas on the list?
Based on the needs of the typical overland traveler, reliability and durability are paramount. As a result, Toyota products have been a preferred choice.
Why didn’t ______ model make the list?
A list like this is contentious at best, as selecting 10 will exclude 100. My goal was to limit my personal bias in the outcome, but that is difficult to separate for the reader that just spent a lot of money on a used FJ Cruiser (sorry). This list intentionally excludes models with poor aftermarket and repair support, ones that are too obscure, and vehicles that lack the general robustness and payload required for backcountry travel. But in all seriousness, there are so many great 4WDs to choose from, far more than the 10 listed here. Drive what you love and who cares if your Raptor didn’t make the list.
What are the constraints for our list?
The vehicles on this list are generally 20 years or newer, and available on average for less than $30,000.
Top 10 Used Overlanders (Revised for 2019)
#1 2008-2010 Toyota 200 Series Land Cruiser EDITOR’S CHOICE AWARD
1,600 lb. Payload | $24-30,000
The 200 series is the strongest Land Cruiser ever produced by Toyota, a statement I heard straight from the mouth of the product engineer in Nagoya, Japan. Despite the bland styling, the newest Land Cruiser is highly suitable for long-distance adventures and moderate terrain. The model is also well supported by the aftermarket and is a global platform that can be serviced in nearly every country around the world.
Legendary reliability and durability
1600 lb. payload / 8,000 lb. towing / 440 lb. roof load
Exceptional long-distance touring comfort
Bland styling and driving experience
Poor fuel economy
Limited in technical terrain due to overall size
Our Experience: The author has driven the 200 Series on three continents, including a continental crossing of Australia with the VDJ200. Photo, courtesy Equipt Expedition Outfitters
#2 2005-2015 Toyota Tacoma
1,200 lb. Payload | $10-30,000
There is no denying the popularity of the Tacoma as an overland vehicle, and it is for good reason. For most travelers, reliability is a critical consideration, but the Tacoma provides a mountain of other benefits, from class-leading resale value to excellent trail performance in the TRD variant. Aftermarket options are endless, but the Tacoma is no HiLux, and suffers from a lower payload than a Highlander, so they need to be packed light and be minimally modified.
Strong aftermarket support
Good trail performance
Bed lacks robustness
Cheap interior materials
Tragic payload for a pickup
Our Experience: The Expedition Portal team has owned several Tacomas, and the author has driven or traveled with Tacomas from both Prudhoe Bay and Tuktoyaktuk, down to the Darien Gap. Our team currently owns a 2017 TRD Tacoma.
#3 2005-2013 Lexus GX VALUE AWARD
1,300-1,500 lb Payload | $10-30,000
The Lexus GX represents the best overall value of any overland-ready SUV, providing a combination of reliability, durability, capability, and comfort that is difficult to find with any other vehicle. The platform is based on the international Prado/Land Cruiser 120 and 150 chassis, complete with a robust ladder frame, solid rear axle, and a proper AWD transfer-case with low range. Also available is the excellent KDSS suspension option, which greatly increases axle articulation in cross-axle terrain. Aftermarket support is growing, but many Prado parts can be retrofit to work. The 4.7L V8 available in the 2005-2010 model is one of the best motors Toyota imported to the US.
Ideal dimensions and wheelbase
Comfortable and competent on the trail
Seat leather made from paper mache
No factory rear locking differential
Our Experience: The author currently owns a GX, which is his newest project vehicle. Photo, courtesy Scott Brown
#4 2010-2012 RAM Cummins 2500/3500
Up to a 5,000 lb Payload | $22-30,000
The argument for the full-size overland vehicle keeps getting stronger, primarily focused around their massive payloads and the availability of reliable and efficient turbo-diesel motors. The aftermarket has also responded, making components that improve technical terrain performance, and also addressing camper and flatbed options. These trucks were even available with vinyl floors and a six-speed manual transmission- Nirvana! Even if you plan on buying a used truck, you’ll still get your money’s worth.
Payload capacity more than the towing capacity of most SUVs
Solid axle front and rear
Large for some technical routes
Large for many developing-world villages
Limited service infrastructure outside of North America and Australia
Our Experience: The author has driven a diesel Dodge Ram to the Arctic Ocean and on numerous adventures in North America.
#5 2009-2016 Toyota 4Runner
1,625 lb Payload (SR5 4×4) | $16-30,000
With 2009, Toyota redesigned the 4Runner and created one of the most usable, capable Toyotas ever. The 4.0L V6 makes 270 hp and ample torque. As a travel vehicle, it is comfortable and has usable payload at 1,625 lbs. for the SR5 4wd. Aftermarket support includes nearly any imaginable gadget. These models are also extremely popular with over 140,000 units sold in 2018. Made in Japan on the J150 platform.
Good technical terrain performance in the trail variant
Quiet and comfortable
Needs another few transmission gears (only a 5-speed auto)
Dash designed by a half-blind 1980s boom-box designer wearing gloves
Our Experience: Our editorial team has owned three 4Runners
#6 2005-2007 UZJ100 Land Cruiser
1,470 lb Payload | $16-25,000
The 100 series Land Cruiser has slipped down our list as the model has aged and low-mileage examples become more rare. That is the curse of the Land Cruiser, owners pile miles on them. What made the UZJ100 so special was the 4.7L V8, which was a massive improvement in driveability and performance over the 80 series I6. Early units had an available factory rear locker, but were also saddled with a weak front differential (two-pinion). The best years are 2006 and 2007 for the VVTi motor change, increasing hp to 271. Aftermarket support is extensive, and service is available in over 100 countries and on six continents.
Good balance of travel comfort and capability
Excellent reliability and global serviceability
Difficult to find clean, low mileage examples
Weak front differential in earlier models
Lack of locking rear differential in later models
Our Experience: The author has driven the 100/105 on three continents.
#7 2011-2017 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
1,050 lb Payload | $22-30,000
The Jeep Wrangler Rubicon is one of the most capable stock vehicles available globally, the factory locking differentials, rock sliders, solid axles, and long-travel coil suspension all work in concert to make this removable top traveler an ideal choice for those taking the road much less traveled. The challenge with the Wrangler is the diminutive payload, which can easily be exceeded by just a few passengers and basic modifications like a bumper and winch. The key to the Wrangler is to pack like a backpacker and keep everything minimalist.
Class-leading technical terrain performance
Strong aftermarket support
Less payload than a Toyota Camry
Cramped interior and limited cargo volume
Our Experience: The author has personally owned a JK with the EarthRoamer conversion. The team was provided both a JK and a J8 as multi-year loaners from Jeep.
#8 1995-2008 Mercedes G-Class
1,550 lb Payload | $20-30,000+
The Mercedes G is included on this list because it is one of the pinnacle overland platforms, despite its Gucci reputation. It boasts coil-sprung solid axles front and rear, a ladder frame, three locking differentials, and excellent approach/departure angles. Aftermarket support is good, although these vehicles require minimal modification for serious travel use. The global dealership network for Mercedes is excellent, but these vehicles are expensive to purchase and maintain.
Extremely comfortable and capable off-road
High payload and generous interior volume
Robust and durable chassis and drivetrain
Expensive to purchase and maintain
Poor fuel economy for North American models (i.e. non-diesel)
Our Experience: The author currently owns a W463 G-Class and has also driven the platform in Australia, Germany, South Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, and South Africa.
#9 2000-2003 Ford Excursion 7.3L Power Stroke
1,950 lb Payload | $12-28,000
Few would consider the Excursion for a list like this, but the specifications speak for themselves, including the famous 7.3L Powerstroke diesel, solid axles front and rear, massive interior volume, and a 1,950 lb. payload. The 7.3 will run on any global diesel source, and the vehicle can be fitted with many accessories designed for the F250 pickup. Having seen a few on the trail, they are impressive with larger tires and a longer-travel suspension. The dealer network is extensive in North America.
Massive interior volume
7.3L Power Stroke
Excellent payload for an SUV
It is a large vehicle for technical terrain
Factory suspension unsuitable for backroad travel
Our Experience: Chris Corder, Editor for Expedition Portal has owned an Excursion for many years. Image, Chris Cordes
#10 2010-2016 Land Rover LR4
1,488 lb Payload | $12-28,000
If this list was created 20 years ago, Land Rovers would have enjoyed several positions, both the Defender and Discovery were suitable used options in 1999. However, in 2019, there are few considerations within the Green Oval lineup. For North America, the most recent and relevant option is the LR4, a confluence of capability and reliability. Certainly, the newest models are the most reliable ever, but there are none with broad aftermarket support, or even the ability to run an 18-inch or smaller wheel. The LR4 is an excellent vehicle and can be supported by all-important modifications including locking differentials, bull bars, suspension modifications, etc.
Excellent trail performance with air suspension and center/rear locking differentials
Most reliable Land Rover we have owned
Comfortable and quiet for long-distance travel
Still lags Toyota in reliability
Highly technical, which limits field repairability
Our Experience: Overland Journal built a project 2012 LR4, and the author has also traveled Southern Australia by diesel Discovery 3.
2011-2015 Nissan XTerra PRO-4X
974 lb Payload | $12-20,000
Excellent durability and reliability
Good aftermarket support
Good trail performance
Model no longer sold
1997 FZJ80 Land Cruiser
1,719 lb Payload | Over $20,000 for clean examples
Class-leading durability and reliability
Excellent aftermarket support
Around the world service infrastructure
Poor fuel economy
Prone to overheat with FZJ motor
Slow acceleration, even slower braking
There are better 80-series options now available for import
We have retained our original (2011) list for reference:
#1: Toyota Land Cruiser 100 Series (Any year) – $10,000-30,000
Summary: Every other continent figured out this was the best Land Cruiser ever made a few years ago – ok, we agree.
Editor’s Field Experience: Long-term testing and numerous field adventures with UZJ100 vehicles, Overland Journal contributing editor Andrew Moore owns the model and it has become an Expedition Portal project vehicle.
#2: Toyota Tacoma (2001-2008) $10,000-25,000
Summary: Good enough for hauling 15 Taliban across Afghanistan, so just right for us.
Editor’s Field Experience: Owner 2004 Tacoma driven from the frozen Arctic Ocean, across the Rubicon trail and then all the way to the Darien Gap. Long-term tests with 2005 ARB Tacoma, 2010 Tacoma Crew Cab, 2011 Tacoma TXPRo.
#3: Jeep Wrangler Unlimited JK (2007- ) $20,000-30,000
Summary: Jeep surprised us all with this runaway hit. It is the real deal.
Editor’s Field Experience: Editor has owned or long-term tested a half-dozen variants of the JK Unlimited. One was owned for two years and driven the length of Mexico and Central America to the Darien Gap. Current fleet includes the long-term test Overland JK. Overland Journal had an 18 month long-term test JK. We have yet to experience a single warranty claim with any of these vehicles.
#4: Toyota Land Cruiser 80 Series (1995-1997) $5,000-20,000
Summary: Hard to find a clean one anymore, but worth the search.
Editor’s Field Experience: Expedition Portal currently owns a 1997 FZJ80 Land Cruiser which we have driven the length of Baja and the length of Central America. The vehicle is currently in Panama awaiting transport to Colombia for further adventure.
#5: Mercedes Benz G500 (2000-Whatever you can afford) $25,000 and up
Summary: Wonderfully obscure and capable, the eclectic overlander.
Editor’s Field Experience: Editor currently owns a 463 G-Wagen and has also tested a 461 extensively in Southern Africa
#6: Toyota 4Runner, Generation Four (2004-2008) $12,000-30,000
Summary: Throw in a few bags and head south.
Editor’s Field Experience: Long-term test (several months) with ARBs 2004 V8 4Runner
#7: Land Rover LR3 (2005-2008) $18,000-30,000
Summary: Shocker of the century. The LR3 is the best used Land Rover option available.
Editor’s Field Experience: Numerous tests and field work with the LR3, including Land Rover being a trainer on the platform for various LR dealerships. Long-term test of the LR4 in 2011.
#8: Suzuki Vitara (1999-2003) $uper Cheap
Summary: If you can leave your vanity at the door, this little machine will take you around the world.
Editor’s Field Experience: Numerous test of Suzuki Grand Vitara, including a recent test in Iceland. Editor drove a Suzuki Jimny through 23 countries, nearly half-way around the world.
#9: Nissan XTerra (2001-2010) $8,000-22,000
Summary: The best overall value on the list, but make sure you don’t leave the country without a DHL account and the number to your Nissan dealership. (Note: Not because the Xterra is unreliable, but because international parts support is limited so you will need to ship in replacements from the US).Editor’s Field Experience: Xterra is currently in the test and support fleet and driven by our Director of Photography.
#10: Mercedes Benz E320 or E350 4Matic Wagon (2000-2006) $10,000-25,000
Summary: Guido’s choice for overland travel and other activities