Tips, Tricks & Trends

Importable Off-Road SUVs for Under $20,000

There are a few impressive off-road SUVs that never made it to the US. Various regulations also make it difficult and expensive for Americans to import them from abroad. However, once a vehicle’s 25 years old, you can freely import it. At that point, though, many vehicles have become valuable classics. But it’s still possible to find SUVs that can pound gravel, conquer rocky hills, and traverse forests without costing a fortune. In fact, all the importable off-road SUVs listed here cost the same, or even less, than a used FJ Cruiser. And they’ll have better visibility.

Toyota Land Cruiser (80-Series diesels and 70-Series)

Although Toyota sold the Land Cruiser in North America, we didn’t get every kind of Land Cruiser.

1990 Toyota Land Cruiser Prado 70-Series
1990 Toyota Land Cruiser Prado 70-Series | Toyota

The 70-Series was arguably the closer descendant of the original FJ40 than the 60-Series we received. Just as rugged and utilitarian as the first Land Cruiser, the 70-Series still survives in Australia. Used 70-Series Land Cruisers are amazingly dependable, and can be found through importers like Japanese Classics for less than $20,000.

1994 Toyota Land Cruiser 70-Series diesel
1994 Toyota Land Cruiser 70-Series diesel | Japanese Classics

In addition, although the US did receive the 80-Series, we never got the diesel version. Although down on power compared to the gasoline version, it’s more fuel-efficient and delivers more torque. Both of these things are appreciated when the pavement turns to dirt.

1990 Toyota Land Cruiser 80-Series diesel
1990 Toyota Land Cruiser 80-Series diesel | TopRank Importers

Buying an imported Land Cruiser is also one of the few ways to get the SUV for under $20k without buying one with 200,000 miles on the clock.

Mitsubishi Pajero

Sold in the US as the Montero, the Mitsubishi Pajero is a proper off-road icon in its own right. Mitsubishi raced the Pajero multiple times in the Paris-Dakar Rally and even won a few races outright.

The Pajero wasn’t just rally-tough, it also featured some very cool off-road features beyond four-wheel drive. There was an inclinometer gauge, full coil-spring suspension, and even exterior temperature gauges and 4-wheel disc brakes. For a late 80s/early 90s affordable SUV, these were some fairly advanced features. In that way, the Pajero is very similar to the FJ Cruiser.

1994 Mitsubishi Pajero 4WD diesel
1994 Mitsubishi Pajero 4WD diesel | Duncan Imports

The Pajero also came with a diesel, something the Montero didn’t offer. These importable off-road SUVs also often come with desirable add-ons like bull bars and fog lights. Importers like Duncan Imports regularly list the Pajero for under $20,000.

Nissan Patrol/Safari

While the Nissan Patrol (also called ‘Safari’) wasn’t as successful as the Pajero at rallying, it was still a regular Paris-Dakar Rally competitor. Outside North America, the Nissan Patrol is regularly compared to the Toyota Land Cruiser and CJ Jeeps.

1987 Nissan Patrol Paris-Dakar rally car
1987 Nissan Patrol Paris-Dakar rally car | Nissan

This is also an importable off-road SUV that was briefly sold in the US. However, sales stopped in 1969, and only re-started when Nissan introduced a more up-scale version as the Armada. But overseas, the Patrol remains a common sight. Australian sales of the second-gen Patrol lasted for 20 years.

1987 Nissan Patrol Paris-Dakar rally SUV
1987 Nissan Patrol Paris-Dakar rally SUV | Nissan

Also, like the Pajero, the Nissan Patrol featured some fairly advanced tech for a late-80s SUV. HiConsumption reports the ’87-’97 Y60 featured coil-spring suspension, front and rear sway bars, and even power steering. And if you’re interested in a diesel one, know that it was a diesel Patrol that came in 9th at the 1987 Paris-Dakar. It was the Patrol’s most successful race.

Toyota Hilux Surf/SSR

1985 Toyota Hilux | Toyota
1985 Toyota Hilux | Toyota

Toyota’s reputation for reliability stems from vehicles like the Hilux. The Tacoma’s even more rugged, utilitarian sibling, the Hilux has been dropped off buildings and driven through war zones, and kept on truckin’. And while the Hilux name is usually attached to a pickup, Toyota also made a Hilux SUV. Known as the Hilux Surf, or Hilux SSR, it’s known in the US as the 4Runner.

Just like the modern 4Runner, the Toyota Hilux Surf is a tremendously durable and dependable SUV. However, unlike US-model classic 4Runners, importable Hilux SUVs are noticeably easier to find rust-free.

1993 Toyota Hilux SSR-X diesel
1993 Toyota Hilux SSR-X diesel | Japanese Classics

This might also explain the difference in asking price. Hagerty reports that a well-maintained early 4Runner can cost up to $21,000. Meanwhile, an imported Hilux SSR regularly costs less than $20k. And, in what is rapidly becoming a refrain for importable off-road SUVs, you can get it with a diesel. Just to make sure your Hilux SUV is even more un-killable.

Suzuki Jimny

While the second-gen Jimny, sold in the US as the Suzuki Samurai, is occasionally the butt of jokes, it’s actually a fairly competent off-roader in its own right. The current-gen Jimny is proving so popular, Jeep is developing an all-electric rival for it.

Although it never came with a powerful engine, the Suzuki Jimny’s low weight and 4WD system meant it could tackle all but the most extreme trails. But this is one importable off-road SUV that really doesn’t do well on highways. Its lightness also means the Jimny lacks certain features, especially things like airbags. However, that simplicity also makes it reliable and durable.

1992 Suzuki Jimny
1992 Suzuki Jimny | Duncan Imports

The Suzuki Jimny is also one of the most affordable SUVs on this list. Many Jimnys regularly come in at less than $10,000. And it’s easier to find a good-condition imported Jimny than a Samurai.

Daihatsu Rocky

But the Suzuki Jimny isn’t the only tiny off-road SUV ever made. It had a competitor: the Daihatsu Rocky.

1991 Daihatsu Rocky SE
1991 Daihatsu Rocky SE | Duncan Imports

Like the Samurai, the Rocky was briefly sold in the US, but it didn’t last long. While its 94-hp engine was adequate for its small size, SUVs in the 90s started moving upmarket, and increase in size. But the Rocky’s small size does come in handy if, like many SUV owners, you need to find a parking space. And, just like the Jimny, the Daihatsu is a proper off-road SUV.

It’s not imported as commonly as the Jimny, but the Rocky usually sells for under $10,000. It’s fairly basic and utilitarian, but isn’t that what an off-road SUV is supposed to be about?