This past weekend, temperatures in the Boston area topped the 90-degree mark for the first time this year, sending the CarGurus team and thousands of other Bostonians to the area’s many beaches to cool off. While many were stuck searching for parking at the most popular beaches, others were able to simply pull up to the beach, let some air out of the tires, slip their car into 4-wheel drive and find a prime spot right next to the surf—with no one else in sight.
This is the going to the beach that I grew up with and one of the primary reasons that I still have a 4WD pickup. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of changing from pavement to sand. You pull up to the beach, make the change into 4WD, and you’re off. Instead of hearing the tires whining against the pavement, you get the gentle sound of them pushing through the sand, with no more pedestrians and bicyclists to watch out for, just shorebirds, sunbathers and fishermen.
Unfortunately, this experience is not one that many get to have, as 4WD vehicles are often considered impractical and, when coupled with the extra cost and lower gas mileage, too expensive. While this can be true with certain models, it’s certainly not true for all. With just a little bit of digging, it’s easy to find a wide selection of beach-worthy 4WD cars priced affordably. That being said, the only digging you’ll have to do is in the sand—we did the legwork and found the 10 best beach cars under $10,000.
10. Kicking off our list is the Land Rover Range Rover. With a reputation for both luxury and rugged off-road prowess, the Range Rover is an exceptional car and more than capable of taking a family of 4, boogie boards and inner tubes down a few miles of beach—in extreme comfort. With the 2014 model starting north of $85,000, how did it make our list? While Land Rover is known for its off-roading abilities, reliability does not fall into the same category, meaning that you can pick up a 2000–04 Rover in the $6,500–$8,300 range. If you don’t mind trading a bit more maintenance for a lot more luxury and ability, an older Range Rover could be just what you want.
9. In the next spot we have the Jeep Grand Cherokee, one of the most capable full-size American SUVs on the market. Launched in 1993 and completely redesigned for 2014, the Grand Cherokee exists in several incarnations, all of which stay true to Jeep’s go-anywhere pedigree. If you’re looking for an SUV that can seat 5 and plow over sand dunes with ease, the Grand Cherokee could be perfect for you, especially if you’re on a budget. With prices for 1998–2004 models varying between $3,600 and $9,900 and parts readily available (due to the vehicle’s immense popularity), the Grand Cherokee is a great choice for those on a particularly tight budget.
8. Our next choice is an entry-level SUV: the Nissan Xterra. Still on a successful production run that started in 1999, the Xterra is an off-road power that has won numerous accolades, including Sport Utility of the Year (Motor Trend, 2000, 2006) and 4×4 of the Year (Petersen’s 4Wheel and Off-Road, 2006). When combined with Nissan’s reputation for reliability, the Xterra’s off-roading abilities make it a steal, with 2000–04 models going for between $5,900 and $9,000.
7. Moving up the list we come to a car that we were surprised to find fit our criteria: the BMW X5. A much sought-after luxury car, the X5 was originally designed to be BMW’s answer to the Range Rover, as it essentially was one. When BMW sold Land Rover to Ford in 2000, they did not actually give up Land Rover entirely, preserving a little piece of it in the form of the X5. Designed while Land Rover was still being ruled by Munich, the X5 borrowed quite a lot from the Range Rover, with many of the cars’ technological systems being similar or identical. Couple Land Rover capability with BMW luxury, and 2000–01 X5s become a great way to cruise the beach in comfort for only $9,300–$9,900.
6. In the sixth spot is one of the most popular trucks to hit the U.S. market: the Chevrolet Silverado 1500/GMC Sierra 1500. GM’s version of the full-size truck, the Silverado/Sierra has earned itself a reputation as one of America’s workhorses, yet that is not all it does. With its Vortec and Duramax engines, the Silverado/Sierra is able haul almost anything, making it suitable not only for getting you to the beach, but also for hauling your boat to the beach, in case you really want to escape the crowds. With prices for 2000–04 Silverados/Sierras ranging from $6,300 to $9,900, a boat could still be in the summer budget as well.
5. While America’s most popular pickup couldn’t make this list (the F-150‘s average used price has not dipped below the $10,000 mark), its little brother did: the Ford Ranger. Produced from 1983–2012, the Ranger was one of America’s most popular compact pickups, until it, like so many others, ultimately succumbed to the king of the market: the Toyota Tacoma. Although it is no longer produced, the Ranger is still an exceptionally capable truck and a great choice for a summer ride. With good looks, 4-wheel-drive and the ability to transport a whole barbeque down the beach, it sets the stage for a great beach season. Selling for between $8,400 and $9,700 (for 2007 versions), the Ranger makes it an affordable beach season as well.
4. Put into production in 1951, our next choice is by far the longest-manufactured model on our list: the Toyota Land Cruiser. Although built by Toyota in Japan, the Land Cruiser is, effectively, a child of the famed Willys Jeep. During the Korean War, the U.S. government needed more Jeeps and ordered Toyota to produce a prototype that would meet the same specifications as a Jeep. Toyota came up with the BJ, which eventually was renamed the Land Cruiser. Over the years the Land Cruiser has changed, becoming more of a luxury SUV while maintaining its deep off-roading roots. If you’re looking for an extremely reliable car that can take you to the beach in comfort and then power across the sand without breaking a sweat, the 1981–1997 Land Cruiser could do that for you to the tune of $8,000 to $9,600.
3. Claiming our third spot is a giant: the Toyota Tacoma. One of the most hard-to-find used pickups, the Tacoma gained notoriety for its unmatched reliability. Suitable for being a commuter’s truck, beach cruiser, work truck or off-road racer, the Tacoma can find a niche almost anywhere. One place where it feels particularly at home is the beach, where its large and wide stock tires allow it to fly over sand without the slightest signs of struggle. In fact, the Tacoma’s wide tread and lighter weight make it one of the best vehicles for beach duty, easily outperforming most, if not all, of today’s pickups and SUVs in that environment. While the 1999 Tacoma can be bought in the $7,600 range, don’t count on finding one. Tacomas have become prized commodities, and owners often refuse to sell them for anything less than a few thousand dollars over their appraised value. If you find a good Tacoma for a good price, don’t hesitate—it will become someone else’s summer ride very quickly.
2. In our runner-up spot is one of the most popular SUVs of recent memory: the Ford Bronco. Produced from 1966–96, the Bronco is famous for its removable rear roof that could turn it from an SUV into a pickup truck. This rear roof is exactly what makes the Bronco our second choice, as it gives you all the versatility desired of a good summer beach car. The removable roof allows you to keep all your things safe and locked, but take it off and you have an instant beach hit. You’ll be able to jump in and out of the car like you would a pickup bed and give your rear seat passengers an open-air experience as you show off your ride next to the surf. If you decide to search for a Bronco, be diligent, as prices vary tremendously. Based on the condition of the car, expect to pay anywhere from less than $1,000 to well over $50,000.
1. When the Allies landed at Normandy 69 years and one day ago, they brought with them a fleet of Willys Jeeps. These Jeeps stormed up the beaches and smashed through the German lines, helping to solidify the beginning of the end for the Third Reich. While employed since 1941 on all fronts by American, Commonwealth and Soviet soldiers, it was at Normandy that the Jeep gained so much of its notoriety. Americans seeing Jeeps charge up the beaches in France and then race across Europe gained Willys (later Jeep) its initial popularity, which later turned it into one of the most successful civilian brands in the U.S. The successor to the original model, the Jeep Wrangler has stayed true to the legacy of the Willys Jeep and provides an excellent on-beach experience (thankfully, the reason a Jeep is good on the beach now is only for pleasure, not out of necessity). With a completely removable top and seating for 4, the Wrangler turns hot, sunny days by the ocean into experiences, allowing drivers and passengers to enjoy all that Mother Nature has to offer from the comfort of their car. With 2000–02 models going for between $6,800 and $9,800, there’s every reason to make this summer a Jeep summer.
What is your favorite beach car?
Used Land Rover Range Rover
Used Jeep Grand Cherokee
Used Nissan Xterra
Used BMW X5
Used Chevrolet Silverado 1500
Used GMC Sierra 1500
Used Ford Ranger
Used Toyota Land Cruiser
Used Toyota Tacoma
Used Ford Bronco
Used Jeep Wrangler