We have the older version Ford Escape 4cyl 4x4 with a North Shore Rack (4 bikes rack) for light duty offroad use. (Alpinehiker has seen it.)
Check the Lemonaid books, the Escape is highly rated compared to other small SUVs.
It has been a good vehicle, other than the satellite radio antenna, the second one has died now that it is out of warranty.
Looks something like this:
For more serious offroad and road trips we have an E-350 Econoline (7.3L PSD) with a 4x4 conversion and a North Shore Rack 6.
I went through the death wobble issue with the van (friggen scary when it happens), it is a known issue with almost all solid axle 4x4s. Had to replace a bunch of worn parts and have the alignment set up by a shop that is used to working on heavy duty trucks. Took some research to find out what actually had to be replaced.
Previous to this combo we had a Jeep YJ 4cyl/4spd and a 3/4 ton Dodge van. Commuting in a Jeep with a manual trans sucked. Towards the end small parts of the Jeep were falling apart eg seat belts, window cranks, door linkage, water leaks.
For regular commuting we are using an older Civic, it has been great for racking up the KMs on.