After careful consideration; I came up with four vehicles which, in my opinion, fit the bill better than any other choices; based on your stated criteria of durability, safety, and with fuel economy in the range you specified. These 4 vehicles have different combinations of price, power, fuel economy, and features. But I consider their durability and safety to basically be similar. They are:
2012 Toyota RAV4 4dr SUV 4WD (2.5L 4cyl 4A)
2012 Suzuki Grand Vitara 4dr SUV (2.4L 4cyl 5M)
2012 Nissan Xterra X 4dr SUV (4.0L 6cyl 5A)
2012 Suzuki Equator 4dr Extended Cab 6 ft. SB (2.5L 4cyl 5M)
Here is a link to an Edmunds detailed comparison of these 4 vehicles:
The Nissan Xterra is the most powerful, highest priced, and is designed for the heaviest duty use.
The Toyota RAV4 is the only vehicle in the group with 4 wheel drive. It also gets the best fuel economy. All the rest have rear wheel drive. The $25,000 price limit prevented adding the 4 wheel drive option (when available) on the other vehicles. Actually, 4 wheel drive may add unnecessary complexity; if you don't need to drive through loose dirt and sand.
The Suzuki Grand Vitara SUV and Suzuki Equator Pickup both have manual transmissions; which I selected for their greater durability. Those two Suzukis also come with a 7 year, 100,000 mile powertrain warranty. The other two vehicles have 5 year, 60,000 mile powertrain warranties. and are not available with a manual transmission.
The Suzuki Equator pickup is basically a Nissan Frontier, with slight styling changes, a lower price, and a longer warranty. Warranty service has to be done at a Suzuki dealership; which are relatively uncommon. If the convenience of a local dealership for warranty service is important to you; the Nissan Frontier, at a slightly higher price and with a shorter warranty, might be preferable.
The Toyota RAV4 and the Suzuki Grand Vitara have the most car like ride qualities; while the Nissan Xterra and Suzuki Equator ride more stiffly, like a truck.
I strongly recommend test driving any of these vehicles which appeal to you; in order to gain a more accurate perspective of what it actually is like to drive one. If you can test drive it on an unpaved or rough road; that would be even better.