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Looking for SUV suggestions
Disclaimer: I know you can't tell me what to buy (I've seen others say this in other threads). I'm simply looking for suggestions from others who have done research or have experience with SUV's
I currently drive an '03 Ford Explorer. Drove it from 70k-155k (current) miles. It's treated me well minus a few cosmetic failures and something funky with the AC that I've been negligent to fix. As far as the engine is concerned, A+ (though it's annoying that I can't add transmission fluid myself, but I digress).
I don't use it much 'as a truck'.. I probably tow something around 1500-2000 lbs 2-3x a year (helping friends move, carrying a trailer with motorcycle, etc.). The only 'off-roading' I do is driving to/from where I'm building a house which is down a dirt road and occasionally going camping. I have no intention of blazing trails through mud, brush, and trees (though I have done that years ago with this vehicle, but likely will not again). I live in a flat terrain (Florida) so hills aren't a huge issue. I also (rather frequently) carry either kayaks on the roof or mountain bikes. I like the SUV over a truck because I feel more comfortable leaving luggage in the trunk locked up and it's also (seemingly) easier to put kayaks on the roof than in the back of a truck. But I'm open to suggestions there.
What I'm looking for: 1. Something I can carry my hobby items (kayaks, mountain bikes, surfboards, etc.) with 2. Something I can feel comfortable driving down dirt (potentially very wet) roads with and not worry about getting stuck or bottoming out in a puddle. 3. Something that isn't going to get me 12mpg as I do plan to take a 2-3k mile road trip with it (I traveled the southeast for a week with some friends and the gas wasn't too bad, but we did put the 4x4 to some use as we drove down some trails) 4. Something that will be a comfortable daily driver (as I spend about 80% of my driving time going to/from work, friends houses, the gym, etc.). By comfortable I mean - interior features like auxiliary inputs for stereo, power windows... I'm not wanting luxury, but just a few neat bells and whistles. Would also be nice to not have too much road noise. 5. Something with a rugged look (this is a preference, but let's face it... we all like to look good, don't we?). Not a deal breaker, I do prefer something practical and reliable over fashionable and high maintenance.
What I've been looking at is the 2011 Toyota 4Runner, but I've heard complaints about it needing a new transmission, AC issues within a few months, "clanking sounds", hard shifting, etc. Other than that it seems to offer all of what I'm looking for and the reviews primarily ding it for lack of "bells and whistles" and having a "rough ride on the road" I've also looked at a newer version of the Ford Explorer. The drawback to what I've seen with those is reliability. It also doesn't look very rugged (like I said, not a deal breaker)... which as a result I'd feel afraid to take it down a trail and get it scratched up.
I know that's a lot to say... But I like to find something that I like that I can commit to... not something I'll buy for $25k and then regret and have to put $5k of work into it just to "keep it running"
TL;DR - Looking for an SUV that I will drive 80-90% as a "car" but occasionally need towing power and moderate off-roadability, with some nice-to-have interior features.