THE shift to soft-roaders has left a clear divide between the can-dos and those that look like they can. But there is still a core group of off-road SUVs, the types of wagons that don’t shy away from rocks and rubble. They’re the cars we’re rewarding with our Off-road 4x4 category.
Each contender must be able to tackle serious bush tracks, beaches, mud holes and more. Importantly, it must be able to get you back again. Our field includes old favourites from Toyota and Land Rover as well as newcomers from little known brands. Big and small, budget-priced and more premium, there’s something for anyone who dreams of one day leaving the blacktop.
GOLD – Suzuki Jimny
SUZUKI has been a stalwart of compact off-roaders and the latest Jimny continues that theme. At $27,990 with an auto transmission, it’s among the most affordable four-wheel drives on the market.
It’s also one owners have been queuing up to own, something that helps with its exceptional 68 per cent Redbook prediction on five-year resale values. Not having to outlay much in the first place and not losing much over the ownership period accounts for the biggest advantage for the tiny Suzuki.
But despite its inexpensive sticker price the Jimny comes with proper off-road hardware. There’s a dual-range transfer case to make the most out of the diminutive four-cylinder, as well as live axles that ensure good wheel articulation.
It’s ultimately not as capable as a Jeep Wrangler or Land Rover Defender, but it’s nuggety, tough and surprisingly capable, its short wheelbase and short overhangs reducing the chance of snags or damage. Being light and nimble also puts less wear and tear on components, helping contribute to cheap servicing.
Where the Jimny falls short is on the blacktop. What it has in character it loses in roly-poly dynamics and average cornering grip. The 1.5-litre engine also needs to be worked if you want to maintain a decent pace.
The equipment list is also skinny. Key active safety systems simply aren’t available and storage is light-on. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are as high tech as it gets.
Oh, and if there’s more than two of you then you’ll want to make sure no one has luggage, because this two-door has either a boot or back seats – not both. But that doesn’t stop it being a great off-roader and one that lays down a terrific canvas for people to build on with modifications and upgrades. The bones are there, the rest left to the imagination of adventurous owners – safe in the knowledge that the whole Jimny off-roading experience won’t cost the earth.
SILVER – Jeep Wrangler Sport S
JEEP’S most iconic model is also its most capable and recognisable vehicle. Priced from $51,190 it’s a mix of proven old-school components and modern technology in a retro-infused body that looks ready for business. The Wrangler gets off to a great start with terrific resale forecasts of 74 per cent. That means annual depreciation averages out to about $2700 over the first five years, among the best of any car on the market.
And while many will limit their Wrangler experience to the suburbs – where newfound on-road maturity quells some of the old model’s wayward ways – they’re doing themselves a big disservice. Because it’s the hardware beneath that makes the Wrangler such a capable car. Excellent wheel articulation and low-range gearing make almost any surface easy to negotiate. It’s an immensely capable car.
The V6 engine of this entry-level S tends towards thirsty, but it needs only regular unleaded, helping keep those fuel bills a tad less frightening than they might otherwise be.
While safety could be improved – the crashworthiness was questioned by ANCAP – that’s less of an issue on bush tracks. And with good connectivity inside it almost allows you to overlook some bugbears, such as the lack of space for the driver’s left foot.
WHEN it comes to icons of the Aussie bush nothing comes close to the Toyota LandCruiser – and it’s the 70-Series that best embodies that go-anywhere mentality. From Bourke to Broome the trusty 70-Series is the weapon of choice with so many farmers, adventurers and others chasing reliable transport.
Ultimately it’s that reliability and tough nature that makes the old school LandCruiser a perennial favourite. It also helps endow it with exceptional 75-per-cent five-year resale prospects, helping offset the substantial $67,400 price of entry.