CHEAP First SUVs for Students… That Don’t SUCK

Silver 2008 mercedes-benz m-class
Concept Carz

You need room for you and your friends, you want something safe, and you might want to crush some trails, but you ain’t got much money. Well, just because you’re eating ramen for every meal, doesn’t mean you have to drive some boring ass SUV

We’re going to tell you the raddest, the roughest, the toughest people-movers you can get on a part-time job budget. Every ride on this list is under $5,000, and a lot of them are much cheaper than that. And the last car on this list will fool everyone into thinking you’re rich. You’re going to want to stick around for it. Alright, students, class is in session! 

Nissan Xterra

Silver 2004 Nissan Xterra XE 4WD

SUVs are, at this point, all about luxury and safety and tons of space, but they weren’t always. Back when SUVs were just becoming the next big thing, Nissan made the fun four-wheeling Xterra. And these things were made with only one thing in mind: fun. Alright, jumping your Xterra in the desert might be a little too much fun! 

But, the Xterra is built with the call of the wild at heart, and today, the funky looking Nissan Xterra is one of the best deals in 4x4s ever! It was marketed as: “Everything you need, nothing you don’t.” What that means is this is one stripped down, no-nonsense land crawler. And simplicity means one thing, reliability!

This is one rig that won’t leave you stuck in the mud. Rugged four-wheel drive, a beefy 3.3-liter V6, a roof rack, tons of space inside, a huge aftermarket following, and even a ton of modability. Think of it this way: it’s basically the 350Z of off-roading!

And it doesn’t take long to find an Xterra that comes in under the $5,000 mark! And many more with some sweet off-roading upgrades! Pro tip: try and get the supercharged SC model for an extra 30 horsepower to help you make it to class on time, and for having a little fun while you’re at it. We found a supercharged 2004 Xterra for under $4,000 bucks! I’m actually considering buying one of these to replace my Land Rover. I mean, a supercharged 4×4 that’s built to last? Sign me up.

Acura MDX

Grey 2005 Acura MDX in parking lot

So, you want your first SUV to be fun, and fast, and cheap. But more than anything, you want it to be reliable. You’re broke! You probably don’t want to be fixing a truck when you’re paying off school loans and rent. Well, good news, nothing is more reliable than Honda. Ladies and gentlemen, the Acura MDX.

The first Acura MDX hit the marketplace in 2001 and it made huge waves! Back in the day, this was pound-for-pound the best bang for your buck. It was the fastest SUV in its class, something that stood the test of time and is still kicking ass!

You’re looking at 240 VTEC-powered ponies galloping out of its V6 engine. Yeah, that’s right! It’s got VTEC! That means the MDX is super capable! Add that to a solid 8 inches of ground clearance, a variable all-wheel drive system when things get rocky, lots of room for you and your friends, and decent gas mileage for an SUV. The MDX is as good a choice today as it was when it released!

And good news, they’re cheap! We were able to find quite a few examples under $4,000, and even a fully-loaded one with navigation!

Lexus RX

Blue 2007 lexus rx350
Top Speed

Who else is as notorious for reliability as Honda? Toyota, duh! Makers of the most luxurious on the list, the Lexus RX350! If you’re a fan of how comfy and fast the MDX is, but you want something that makes a bigger statement than a sedate Honda, look no further than this luxurious soccer mom ride with its beautiful curves, luxury interior, and throwback clear taillights. 

It’s definitely an option to consider if you’re a person of more refined tastes. But seriously, hear me out, because it’s actually a great first SUV! It’s built on a modified Camry platform. You know, the Camry, one of the most reliable cars in history. So, we have a car that looks great, will never let you down, and has a ton of room for friends and fun. What’s not to love?

Plus, there are plenty of affordable examples for sale, and if you want to be ballin’ on a budget, you can snag a 2008 for under $5,000! And the best part? With that shiny L-badge on the front, no one will know you spent so little on it! Now, pro tip: this is essentially the same SUV as a Toyota Highlander, so either one will serve you will and last for miles.

Chevy Tahoe

Black 2008 chevy tahoe in driveway

Honda, Nissan, Lexus. Okay, okay, the Land of the Rising Sun is pretty good at making some reliable and roomy rides. But as a representative of the bald eagle nation, I say we absolutely need to toss in my favorite American option! And of course, everything is bigger in the USA! The big, bad Chevrolet Tahoe is definitely the biggest option for your first SUV. You can fit 8 people comfortably in one. Hell, make that 9 people if you find one with the front bench seat!

And the Tahoe is seriously fast, by far the fastest SUV on this list. Most Tahoes are equipped with huge V8s. It’s no wonder the USA police forces own so many of them! The Tahoe has been the go-to SUV for government and business use for decades. This means that there are tens of thousands for sale at any given moment!

This also means that you can find Tahoes outfitted for some cool stuff. For example, an ex-police K9 unit with a custom cage for a dog. How neat is that! I was able to find a few clean examples for sale for less than $3,000, even one in great condition! This is definitely one of the best deals in SUVs you can get!

Mercedes-Benz M-Class

Silver 2008 Mercedes-Benz M-class
Concept Carz

Now, of course, we’ve saved the best for last. Sure, you’ve got $5,000 in your pocket for a ride, but you want to look like $50,000. The Lexus is a stunner, but this next option is one that will definitely fool people into thinking you’re rich. The Mercedes-Benz M-Class. That’s right, for less than $5,000 you can be bombing down the Autobahn.

Blitzing the community college parking lot, going mach schnell in a Mercedes. Are these German jokes working? Anyway, made from 1998 to 2005, the M-Class was the budget Mercedes for the masses. But even if it was the budget Benz, it came packed with goodies. It was the first SUV to feature electronic stability control. It had front and side impact airbags, and an advanced electronic all-wheel drive system that killed it in snow and off-road use. And, for the Coors Light crowd, good news, the M-Class is actually made in America!

Some used models come in just under $5,000! We found a $4,500 silver ML320 that looks like it’s in decent condition with under 100,000 miles!

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