Take a camping trip and you will want to take the right vehicle. After all, you need something to hold all your gear. Fortunately, there are a number of models wholly suited to provide what you need for your camping trip or other outdoor activities, with some offering excellent off-road prowess and others prized for superior towing capabilities. To that end, we have assembled a list of seven models that get the job done, including two that are now out of production, but available on the used car market.
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1. Pontiac Aztek
The Pontiac Aztek has not won many awards and often shows up on “worst car ever built” lists due chiefly to its polarizing styling. It is the type of vehicle that has critics wondering what designers were thinking when the Aztek was released.
Produced from 2001 to 2005, older copies of this model can be had. And what makes this midsize crossover utility vehicle a worthy addition to our list? For the simple reason it included a center console that doubled as a cooler and offered a camper package. That package included an air compressor, a mattress and tent, the latter attaching to the rear of the vehicle. The Pontiac Aztek has a maximum cargo capacity of 93.5 cubic feet and can pull up to 3,500 pounds.
As you might imagine, used vehicle prices for the Pontiac Aztek, a front- or all-wheel drive vehicle powered by a 3.4-liter V6 engine making 185 horsepower and paired with a four-speed automatic transmission, are quite reasonable. If the Aztek is too polarizing for your tastes, there is always the similar Buick Rendezvous. Alas, GM did not outfit the Buick with a camping option.
2. Toyota FJ Cruiser
The Toyota FJ Cruiser is a throwback model, taking its styling cues from the FJ40 that made its debut in the 1960s. Underpinned by the same platform as the Toyota 4Runner, the FJ Cruiser was built from 2006 to 2014 when it was retired.
The FJ Cruiser’s sturdy frame alone makes this an ideal vehicle to take camping or engage in other outdoor activities. This midsize five-passenger body-on-frame sport utility vehicle is available in 4×2 and 4×4 configurations. Its 9.6 inches of ground clearance can help you ford streams, climb embankments and conquer gravelly surfaces. In other words, it will take you to places that most utility vehicles cannot reach.
Under the hood, this Toyota is powered by a 4.0-liter V6 engine making 260 horsepower and paired with a five-speed automatic transmission. Models equipped with a full-time 4WD system can be had with a six-speed manual transmission. When not taking the road less traveled, the FJ Cruiser can pull up to 4,700 pounds and has a maximum 66.8 cubic feet of storage capacity.
3. Subaru Outback
The Subaru Outback is based on the same platform that underpins the midsize Subaru Legacy sedan and, therefore, it does not have the same drawbacks of traditional SUVs, including the bulk common to the segment. Credit its tall wagon-like design with making the difference here.
Seating five, the Subaru Outback comes with standard all-wheel drive. A raised suspension gives this vehicle extra ground clearance, which can help you push deep into a camping site or help you cross that muddy field without worrying that you will get stuck.
In the 2015 Outback, Subaru offers a pair of horizontally-opposed engines beginning with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 175 horsepower. There’s also a 3.6-liter six-cylinder engine rated at 256 horsepower. A continuously variable transmission (CVT) is standard on all models. You can bring a lot of gear with you as the Outback provides up to 73.3 cubic feet of storage capacity. It can also handle towing — up to 2,700 pounds when properly equipped.
4. Land Rover Range Rover
Since 1948, Land Rover has provided us with vehicles that stir the imagination and conquer just about any type of terrain. Years later, Land Rover released its top of the line Range Rover line, vehicles that simply look too pretty to take off road.
Do not be deceived: the unibody Land Rover Range Rover is a tough off-road beast and an elegant country club driver. This model comes equipped with a fully independent air suspension that lifts the Range Rover and gives it a wading depth approaching three feet. Its steep approach and departure angles take the Range Rover places other SUVs dare not tread.
Two supercharged engine choices are available on the 2015 Range Rover, beginning with a 3.0-liter V6 making 340 horsepower and a 5.0-liter V8 reaching 510 horsepower. Earlier models were paired with a six-speed automatic transmission; newer models are equipped with an eight-speed automatic. Standard cargo space comes in at 32.1 cubic feet and towing capacity is excellent at up to 7,716 pounds.
5. Nissan Xterra
Very few manufacturers make midsize, body-on-frame sport utility vehicles anymore. You have the Toyota 4Runner as well, but that is it. Competing models such as the Ford Edge, Jeep Cherokee, and even the Nissan Pathfinder are of unibody construction. That’s a big deal for serious off-road enthusiasts.
Sharing its platform with the Nissan Frontier pickup truck, the Xterra is a stout SUV and has been on the market since 2000. Some find it a more polished SUV than the capable Jeep Wrangler. The Xterra is great for hauling gear with a storage box under the load floor for keeping small items organized. Ceiling hooks, tie-down cleats and an available sliding cargo net divider is also present in a storage compartment measuring 36.3 cubic feet.
The Xterra has a reinforced suspension system, ample ground clearance and in 4×4 models it has a dual-range transfer case. This SUV is powered by a 4.0-liter V6 engine making 261 horsepower and paired with a five-speed automatic or a six-speed manual transmission. The Nissan Xterra has a 5,000-pound towing rating.
6. Jeep Grand Cherokee
The Jeep Grand Cherokee provides perhaps the best combination of premium styling, off-road utility and price of any SUV on the market. It is of unibody construction, but when one of three available 4×4 systems is chosen, this Jeep can keep up with the best of them.
Seating five, the Grand Cherokee can be had in part-time or full-time four-wheel drive systems that can take you deep into the bush or enable you to take that hill to a secluded campsite overlooking the valley. The front and rear axles rotate at different speeds to ensure that no slough holds you. The axles can also be locked when needed.
The Grand Cherokee offers more engine choices than its competitors (three) including a class-exclusive turbodiesel 3.0-liter V6 delivering up to 30 mpg and paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission. This engine makes 240 horsepower and provides an impressive 420 pound-feet of torque. The Jeep offers up to 68.3 cubic feet of storage capacity and delivers up to 7,200 pounds of maximum towing capacity — more than enough to pull a camper.
7. Chevrolet Suburban
Perhaps the best vehicle for taking camping is the Chevrolet Suburban, a full-size SUV that seats up to nine. Long a family favorite, this model, as well as the shorter Chevrolet Tahoe, are based on the same platform underpinning GM’s large pickup trucks, including the Chevrolet Silverado.
You can choose between 4×2 and 4×4 models with each one delivering optimum power thanks to a 5.3-liter V8 engine making 355 horsepower and 383 pound-feet of torque. Although you are not likely to engage in serious off-roading with the Suburban, you won’t be afraid to plow down an unpaved road to your secret fishing hole.
You won’t find more space with any SUV than in the Suburban and its twin, the GMC Yukon XL. Both models have a maximum storage capacity of 121 cubic feet and a towing capacity of up to 8,000 pounds, sufficient for pulling a trailer.
Off the Road Again
Your choices in utility vehicles are many with seating ranging from five to nine people, offering varying degrees of on-road comfort and off-road utility. Whether you buy new or are considering a certified pre-owned (CPO) model, there’s a capable vehicle that’s ready to carry or haul your stuff to the great outdoors.