I Want To Trade My XJ Jeep For Something More Modern! What Car Should I Buy?

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Photo: David Tracy

Owen has a 1999 Jeep XJ and he is looking to upgrade to something a bit safer, and more modern. However, he would still like to retain the capability of his Jeep. With a budget up to $40,000, what car should he buy?

(Welcome back to What Car Should You Buy? Where we give real people real advice about buying cars. )

Here is the scenario:

I have a 1999 Jeep Xj that’s about done in life with 225K miles. I also have a 6-year-old boy thats growing like a beanpole. Given rising gas prices, I’m looking for something modern, but just as reliable and capable and after recently driving a 4runner that just isn’t the answer. I would really like a sunroof since my favorite driving joys are with all the windows down and a good breeze. I Like the 4runner but too much for too little, Love the xj just a little cramped and old. Bassicaly all the cars I love are the 90’s box on wheels SUVs but I need something new

I live in AZ so I don’t want leather seats and I can spend up to $40,000

Quick Facts:

Budget: up to $40,000

Daily Driver: Yes

Location: Tucson, AZ

Wants: Modern, Capable, Decent MPG

Doesn’t want: Something too old

Expert 1: Tom McParland – Modern and Boxy

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Photo: Jason Torchinsky/Jalopnik

Owen, it’s probably a good thing you submitted your case after our rusty Jeep collector moved elsewhere. But he is dead to us now, so we are free to think of suitable replacements for your XJ. Your two biggest gripes with the old Jeep is it lacks modern features that make it safe for kid hauling and it’s a bit thirsty. While you like its “capability,” you didn’t mention the need for some intense off-roading.

Since the 4Runner didn’t impress you, the natural alternative is a Bronco, but those are essentially unobtanium at reasonable prices for a while. So perhaps the smaller Bronco Sport would do trick. It’s more similar in size to your XJ but still has plenty of room for the kiddo and anything else you are moving around. It retains that boxy look and can get up to 28 MPG on the highway. Well, equipped examples with a sunroof will sticker under the $40,000 mark so if you can find one without the typical dealer markup this could be a good value.

Expert 2: Bob Sorokanich – Large and Overcharged

2022 kia telluride nightfall edition

Photo: Kia

As a former XJ owner and unrepentant Jeep zealot, I understand the challenge of replacing a beloved but busted Cherokee. Nothing on the modern market has the combination of charm, simplicity, oil-leakability, and propensity for catastrophic rust that the Jeep Cherokee embodies. So we have to broaden our horizons. We have to take a trip to Telluride.

Compared to your XJ, the Kia Telluride is, frankly, huge. Then again, just about any modern vehicle is huge compared to an XJ, a vehicle that was designed in the late 1970s when Detroit’s understanding of ergonomics was “if I fits, I sits.” But like your XJ, the Telluride is handsomely squared-off without being an actual cube. It’s remarkably safe, extremely comfortable, and exceedingly pleasant to drive. The fuel mileage is not astounding, but for a midsize SUV with a somewhat-usable third row of seats, it’s actually pretty good.

But good luck finding one. The Telluride is insanely popular, and wherever there’s a hot-selling vehicle, there are dealerships willing to put ridiculous mark-ups over MSRP. Your budget of around $40,000 should easily get you into an LS, X, or EX model, but then again, I should be able to fit in the 30-inch-waist jeans I wore in college. Reality may not conform to what we think “should” be possible.

Does that make this a useless recommendation? Probably. But when our staff was discussing possible vehicles to recommend to you, fair XJ owner, the conversation was dominated by 20-year-old Isuzus and questionably-imported Nissan Patrols. We all think we want a VehiCross, the same way we all think we can do a full clutch replacement at home in one weekend. Compared to that advice, I think you’ll find my suggestion to be downright reasonable.

Expert 3: Lawrence Hodge – Dependable And Capable

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Image: Toyota

This is one that’s kind of hard because you want the MPG and the capability, and it’s a not easy to get a vehicle that has both of those. So to make up for that, how about something that’ll be both capable and dependable? Try the 2018-2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Off-Road.

While probably not as capable as what you’re used to, The 4Runner can still handle its own. With the TRD Off-Road trim, you get the goodies like mud/snow tires, a two-speed transfer case with a locking rear diff, and skid plates. And it’s old school in the best sense, being one of the last body on frame SUVs you can buy. The downsides? Its engine is old as hell too. That 4.0-liter V6 has been around forever, and it’s not smooth. Gas mileage could be better as well as this thing gets 18 mpg combined. The good news though is that they can be had within your price range, with examples under 50,000 miles coming in right at or just under $40,000.

Expert 4: José Rodríguez Jr. – The Original Sport Utility

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Photo: Nissan

I’m going to against the current here, but not really. Many of today’s boxy SUVs are just enclosed versions of beloved trucks that slowly lost touch with their roots; I want to suggest a return to these. What better way to combine modern safety with stout reliability and great off-road performance than with the often-overlooked Nissan Pathfinder? With four doors and a camper shell, it’ll be as practical as an SUV — if not more. It’s no boxy Hardbody, but it is “modern.”

The 2022 Nissan Pathfinder starts at $33,000 for a four-door model with 4X4, and even if you don’t get the fancy off-road version, you can always modify a lower trim with (better) aftermarket components at your own pace. This is technically a “new” Pathfinder, but there’s plenty of the old under the redesign.

Which is mostly a good thing in this case, since the old truck is an underrated off-roader. To this day, the Nissan is routinely upstaged by the Toyota Tacoma or the Ford Ranger. Again, that’s a good thing because it means less markups when shopping for a new Frontier, or no bonkers asking price for a used one.

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