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The best 4x4's

The best 4x4's

Want to explore some of the more remote parts of Australia?

There’s no shortage of options to take you across what is some of the most unforgiving and isolated terrain in the world.

While there are lots of SUVs that look ready for the Big Adventure, the reality is most are based on passenger car underpinnings that work fine on the bitumen but don’t cope too well with corrugations, washouts, sand and mud.

For that you need a vehicle that’s been designed for proper off-roading.

Many have a dual-range transfer case, allowing access to a separate set of lower gear ratios for rock crawling and soft sand. But it’s not mandatory; there are examples of highly capable off-roaders that have just a regular transmission.

Similarly, some will nominate live axles or a ladder frame chassis as a must-have to get down and dirty. But, again, there are examples that will work very well in challenging conditions with other solutions.

So, now that the rules are being stretched and massaged, we thought we’d help out with some of the better options if you do want to get the tyres dirty.

Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk

Mid-sized SUVs usually don’t bother too much with going off-road, but the Cherokee Trailhawk is a rare exception. It gets Jeep’s “trail rated” badge, which certifies the car in various off-road situations, including water crossings, ground clearance and traction on slippery surfaces. The Cherokee Trailhawk is not as adventurous as some other Jeeps, but it has a clever traction control system and some added height for getting over things. The V6 engine is lusty, albeit thirsty-ish. Plus there are some flashy red tow hooks up front for if you do get stuck.

Toyota Prado

For many the Prado is the perfect off-roader if you can’t afford the leap to a LandCruiser (it even has the LandCruiser badge on its rump, to capitalise on all that goodness the big Toyota 4WD has built up over decades). There are seven or eight seats and some serious pedigree in the way it deals with rugged roads. What it loses in on-road manners – it’s a somewhat ponderous machine – it more than makes up for with capability elsewhere. The option of a larger fuel tank (cars with the spare wheel mounted on the rear have the bigger tank) makes remote driving and big trips that little bit easier. Handy for towing, too, where the additional fuel use means you won’t have to stop as often.

Mitsubishi Pajero

Once a family favourite, the Pajero is no longer – at least on the new car showroom of a Mitsubishi dealership. But it is still a great second-hand buy, teaming genuine off-road ability with great value. The Pajero was one of the first to employ independent suspension in a proper off-roader, something that added to its on-road driving appeal. While it’s not quite as adept as some of the more serious 4x4s over really challenging obstacles, it’s still thoroughly capable and eats up dirt roads beautifully. The Pajero didn’t get much love in the 2010s, but its bones were still solid, something that makes it a popular choice for adventurers. Some Pajeros sold in 2019 and 2020 also came with a seven-year factory warranty, which adds to the long term peace of mind.

Jeep Wrangler

The Wrangler is the car that defines the Jeep brand. Little wonder it’s also the most capable of all the Jeep vehicles. Much of that comes down to its core and basic design. Underneath there are live axles front and rear (instead of independent suspension) for maximum wheel articulation, which helps with getting over rocks, logs and ridges. While Wranglers can feel unwieldy on a freeway, they somehow feel more at home the tougher things get. It’s a 4WD that demands to be driven somewhere other than the bitumen. Be wary of cars with lots of modifications because it could signal that the example you’re looking at has done some very serious off-roading. That’s where the Cars24 team can help out; all cars are thoroughly checked and certified before being offered for sale.

Jeep Grand Cherokee

The Grand Cherokee is smaller than most of the large SUVs on the market, but for some people its size is just right. Moreso once people delve into its ability, particularly towing. The Grand Cherokee can tow up to 3500kg, which matches the maximum capacity of a LandCruiser or Range Rover. Yet it’s not as heavy and cumbersome as those around town. The five-seat body instead suits couples or small families looking to get out and explore. While the Grand Cherokee will tackle some pretty serious tracks, it doesn’t have the wheel articulation for the really gnarly stuff. While there are various engine options, the 3.0-litre turbo diesel is best for those looking to tow or head off-road.

Mitsubishi Pajero Sport

Not to be confused with the regular Pajero, the addition of the Sport moniker means a smaller body with less space. Peel away the body work and there’s a lot of Triton ute beneath the Pajero Sport skin. That means good wheel articulation and Mitsubishi’s Super Select 4WD system, which allows you to switch between two- and four-wheel drive on the run and also send drive to all four wheels on any surface. But the 2.4-litre engine gets some additional gear ratios, for eight in total.

Ford Everest

Utilising many of the underbody components of the Ranger – a ute with thoroughly impressive off-road credentials – the Everest starts from a good base. It adds more comfort and space courtesy of its SUV body, which has three rows of seats and a practical layout. A 3.2-litre diesel suits the car nicely, the swift pick-up well suited to off-road work. There’s also a 2.0-litre twin-turbo diesel with more grunt and a 10-speed auto. But the Everest’s real talent is in its ability to deal adeptly with Australia’s worst roads. Much of its development work was done locally and it shows with a 4x4 that is nicely controlled over bumps and well behaved on the bitumen. That it’s also a highly capable off-roader cements it as a terrific all-rounder.

Holden Trailblazer

Initially known as the Colorado7 – or seven-seater with Colorado ute underpinnings – Holden’s off-road SUV was rebranded as the Trailblazer in 2016. By then Holden engineers were also having more of a say in how the Trailblazer drove, improving its on- and off-road manners, especially the way the 2.8-litre turbo diesel meshed with the six-speed auto. Despite some plasticky finishes inside the Trailblazer had a healthy list of standard equipment and is decent value these days, especially now that the Holden brand has been retired.

Isuzu MU-X

Isuzu only does two non-truck models in Australia: the MU-X SUV and D-Max ute. Both share the same basic structure, engine and dashboard, which keeps things simple! What the MU-X lacks in glitz and glamour – the interior layout is basic but with a utilitarian feel - it makes up for in ability. A stout 3.0-litre turbo diesel isn’t the most powerful in its class but delivers torque when you need it. And the MU-X has a reputation for doing many rough kays without trouble.

Subaru Outback

OK, so the outback is essentially a Subaru Liberty with some higher-riding suspension and styling tweaks. But there’s also plenty of thought gone into what is a very easy car to live with. Granted, it’s not going to tread where a LandCruiser or Wrangler will go, but if driven carefully an Outback can get over some surprisingly challenging terrain. It makes going to the snow or poking your nose down a dirt track that little bit easier. And with the car-like underpinnings underneath it makes the Outback a surprisingly versatile and easy to live with wagon in the suburbs and out in the country.

Ford Ranger Raptor

The Raptor may be a tough truck that stands out in the suburbs but it’s also a tough truck that lives up to those looks when the going gets rough. Its suspension system is completely different to any other Ranger and enormous mud terrain tyres may be a bit slippy on a wet road but make up for it with puncture resistance and gravel grip. The Raptor also has additional ground clearance and does a better job of keeping extremities out of the way when attacking steep angles or obstacles. It’s a very serious off-roader that also happens to drive well on-road and look great doing it.