Originally Posted by habacomike
I'd get a capable 4wd. Could be a truck, a true off-road 4x4 (Wrangler, FJ, 4-runner, etc.). Don't get something that has too long of a wheelbase or is too big to maneuver.
Something I've wondered about since the first came out: I see you're fond of the 4-door Wrangler Unlimited. It has always struck me that it is an awfully big vehicle. If I want a "capable 4x4," I want a small one. It's gotta fit places. If I'm looking for serious off-road, I'm looking at the 2-door Wrangler. The 4-door is just too big.
I understand it's a compromise. You want to carry more people, more stuff, or both. But it seems to me you're giving up a significant part of what you bought a Wrangler for, while still putting up with the miserable highway ride, handling, noise, gas mileage, assembly quality, etc.
Also understand that I have nothing against large vehicles, except they are difficult to maneuver and they have to be fed. My daily driver is a 3/4-ton Chevy 4x4 (which, for whatever it's worth, is great in snow, when the 4WD is engaged). It's great for skiing and it has construction site cred. But if I want to go someplace really tight or nasty, I'll walk or take my mountain bike or ATV. The pickup is too big and too expensive. Although the Unlimited is certainly better off-road than the big truck, it still has some of the same issues. It's big and expensive. I wouldn't want to drop $30K on it and then promptly bend it.
Now, back to your original programming...
There's a lot to be said for pickups.
Regarding the Tacoma, try before you buy. It's strictly part-time 4WD, which means that by the time you can engage it, things may have already gotten out of hand. And like all pickups, it's almost worthless in 2WD when it gets slippery. Mine has enough torque to spin the rear tires on wet pavement at less than 2,000 rpm. Even with a cap on it that weighs a couple hundred pounds.
The back seat on the 4-door Tacoma is pretty small. Very tight for adults.
Gas mileage is so-so. Not what you might expect from a lighter V-6 truck.
Still, the Tacoma fits places that the American full-size trucks don't.
You might want to look at a 1/2-ton 4-door Ford with the turbo V6. I don't know the price range in the states - they're expensive here in Canada. But...they are said to get fuel mileage in the 20s on the highway, they make plenty of power and torque, they're available with part-time/full-time transfer case, the back seat is big enough for actual people, and they have lots of towing capacity.
The optional transfer case has the usual 2Hi, 4Hi and 4Lo modes, and it also has an auto 4WD mode that can be engaged on pavement but which engages the front end if any slip is detected. The one in my Chevy has nearly 175,000 miles on it, and it works well, eliminating the normal pick-up tendency to swap ends when things get slippery.
There's also a lot to be said for Subies. They're tougher than they look, and seem to withstand a lot of abuse, at least in some examples. They're comfortable on the road, and can be driven on remarkably bad roads. I'd buy one in a minute if I didn't already have a pickup that I routinely use to haul stuff that wouldn't fit in the Subie. (If I had a Subie, I'd get a little 4x8 trailer for those home improvement projects, etc.)