The 4X4s you can trust to get you Outback and back again, and what to steer clear of…
Sometimes I get asked, “Why do you need that great big car? It’s not fuel-efficient, it’s difficult to park and it cost more to register than my Barina.” While all of that may be true, it totally misses the point. And I’m generally a pretty polite person so I resist the temptation to reply with a disparaging remark about Barinas and a fundamental lack of self-respect…
As you’d be well aware, the reason we own 4X4s is because of the destinations and experiences they open up to us. You just can’t properly soak up everything the Outback has to offer in a Commodore; you need two diffs to get to what I like to call the ‘real Australia’. It’s something most people just won’t get – until they experience it for themselves.
Of course, that means having a well set-up vehicle. Now don’t get us wrong, you can modify pretty-much any 4X4 to capably tour the country; but some are a little more suited to the task than others. Think of it as being like having two people bake a cake for you. They both have the same basic ingredients to work with, but Gordon Ramsay will probably give you a lot nicer cake than that drunken bloke who you found sleeping in the supermarket car park.
Here’s how to get your own little slice of Gordon… with less swearing.
$10K-$20K IN YOUR SKY ROCKET
Yeah, you can get cheaper rigs, but this is a good jumping-off point for most capable tourers.
In this price bracket, you could probably find a newer GU Patrol; but for our money, buying an older GQ Patrol and pocketing the spare change for fuel money or off-road accessories makes plenty of sense. Hold off until you find a diesel TD42-powered GQ, with no rust (check the roof gutters, inner guard on the driver’s side under the battery and the rear sliding windows for corrosion) and you will have a friend for life. Parts and knowledge for these vehicles are everywhere, and they are super-simple to work on, making them ideal tourers (if you can cope with rattling windows and creaky doors, that is).
80 SERIES LANDCRUISER
It must be said (and I’m a Patrol driver) that the 80 Series is a much nicer vehicle to drive compared to the Nissan. They don’t have the same solid driveline reputation as the Nissan, but they make up for this with cabin ergonomics and the overall driving experience. The pick of the litter is a factory turbo-diesel powered 80 Series, either the 1HD-T or 1HD-FT; however the naturally aspirated 4.2L 1HZ is a solid performer if you aren’t in a rush. As is the 4.5L petrol powered 1FZ-FE – however these engines chew the juice when worked hard (i.e. being switched on).
LAND ROVER PERENTIE
This one might seem a little strange, but when you look at what you get for your money a Perentie adds up to a solid touring vehicle. Galvanised chassis? Check. Bombproof Isuzu truck engine? Check. Gun racks instead of cup holders? Check! Examples can be picked up ex-auction for under $10,000, and the rest of your money can then be spent accessorising the Landy to actually be driveable. Fit a hard top from a Defender ute, turbo-charge the motor and install power steering; you will then have one wild ride with genuine history. “Did your truck serve in a war? Mine did.”
90 SERIES PRADO
Solid, reliable and capable; but as inspiring as a Coldplay album on repeat.
Agricultural, yet iconic.
The HiLux will get you there and home every time.
The underdog to the HiLux,
yet better priced and from most reports a very solid base.
Small, tiny, minuscule. But cheap enough you could almost buy one new in this price bracket.
So comfortable, so capable and so cheap. That third point could be for a reason, though…
$20K-$40K BURNING A HOLE IN YOUR WALLET
Let’s get a little more modern, and a little (not a lot) more luxurious.
The thing about Tritons (and Mitsubishis in general for that matter) is that they’re a bit underrated in the Aussie market. They’re one of those quiet achievers that can handle a hell of a lot of tough kays without a worry, and without attracting the price tag of some of the bigger names in off-road touring. Tritons have always been over-engineered; featuring strong diffs, an excellent transfer case, grunty little turbo-diesel and decent suspension and interior ergonomics. They’re not as polished as some of the other utes on the market, but they can be had relatively cheaply, leaving more cash in the kitty for the essential mods.
GU Patrol (4.2TD)
Look, I know that a lot of folks have got great service out of their ZD30 engines, and plenty of people are putting out high power reliably from their four-pots. But in my mind, for that peace of mind in the bush you get from that “can fix it with a shifter and some cable ties” mechanically injected diesel, the TD42 GU is still one of the most bulletproof 4X4s out there. Every mod from turbos, to suspension to ute-chops has been done a million times now and if you can conceive of an idea for a touring weapon, there’s every chance someone has already done it, making them one of the easiest vehicles in the country to build to suit your needs. I don’t think I’ve ever been on a trip where I haven’t come across at least one tough GU in the bush. There’s a good reason for that I reckon…
1HD-FTE LandCruiser (75 or 100)
Ok, this one is not so much a specific model, but a specific engine. The 1HD-FTE 4.2L turbo-diesel found in the LandCruisers is commonly accepted as one of the best engines ever put in a 4X4. They came out in the 100 Series and the later 78/79 Series utes and Troopies, and there is no shortage of people who still prefer them over the V8 diesels in the newer Cruisers.
It’s a straight-six, with 24 valves, direct injection, SOHC, is torquey as a tugboat, is fantastic for towing, getting into the fat part of the torque curve at 1200rpm and is generally capable of half-a-million kilometres without needing to be opened up. It has an electronically controlled fuel pump but is not common-rail injected, making it, in many minds, the perfect blend of old and new tech. As far as 4WD touring engines go, it’s hard to beat.
NAVARA STX 550
Navaras have been mentioned a few times in this article, but the STX 550 has that gorgeous V6 turbo diesel that just transforms them from a decent tourer into an absolute track eater, and they’re available on the second-hand market for a reasonable price these days too.
Not quite a full-size wagon, but tougher than the majority of “SUVs” out there. Definitely worth considering if you’re looking for “one 4X4 to do it all”
While the bigger cab models are still commanding a premium, the single-cab Effies dip into this price range, and occasionally bigger versions will pop up under $40K. With that ripping 7.3L V8 turbo diesel, these things are built for long distance touring.
JEEP GRAND CHEROKEE
Great comfort, powerful and economical turbo-diesel engine and that beaut Jeep ability to be taken as far as you like mods-wise, these are definitely underrated and can be had cheaply used.
$40K-$50K – COMFY AND CAPABLE
New or used? This is the question…
At first it might seem that your choice is endless in this price bracket, and to some extent it certainly is, so here are our top three comfy and capable 4X4s:
ISUZU MU-X LS-U
Possibly the underrated king of the touring wagons. They’re great value, simple and very reliable. In fact they’re the complete opposite of our next choice.
LAND ROVER DISCOVERY
There are plenty of post-2010 examples out there, and by now most of the little personality traits have been fixed. Only let down by wheel size.
MITSUBISHI PAJERO SPORT GLX
If you need the technology but don’t trust a used Disco (and if you can stomach the looks – at least from inside you can’t see the rear) the Paj Sport is your choice. Good on-road and very accomplished off it.
150 SERIES PRADO
Some of them don’t even have a million kilometres on them. They offer solid reliability; and thanks to their twin tanks, heaps of range.
JEEP GRAND CHEROKEE
Much like the Disco and most of the faults have been fixed. Just don’t leave it in reverse.
NW/NX MITSUBISHI PAJERO
The granddaddy of monocoque 4X4s. Showing its age, but still good value and excellent reliability.
The base GX just about falls into this price bracket. It’s good but you don’t get a lot of kit for your cash. And brown velour went out with the ’70s.
FORD RANGER XLS
It’s the only ute here, but this special comes with heaps of extras to make it very good value.
$50K-$70K… YOU CLEARLY HAVE A BETTER CREDIT RATING THAN US
Keeping up with the Joneses has never been so affordable.
JEEP JK WRANGLER RUBICON
Love them or hate them, you can’t deny that straight out of the box, you won’t find a more capable, cooler or more modifiable four-wheel drive than the Jeep JK Wrangler Rubicon. This is a traditional four-wheel drive in every sense of the word, with solid axles, coil springs and a rigid ladder-frame chassis. The Rubicon is the pinnacle of Wranglers, and features a swag of off-road goodies such as twin-locking differentials, super-low transfer case reduction gearing, and a front swaybar disconnect at the push of a button. One potential negative point with the Rubicon? It is not available with a turbo-diesel option. Having said that, the 3.6L Pentastar engine is a very solid performer, and is not short of fans the world over.
79 SERIES TOYOTA LANDCRUISER DUAL-CAB
Sure they are agricultural, but V8 turbo-diesel power for the win! This is the dual-cab ute we had been hoping (wishing, praying) that Toyota would build. With a braked towing capacity of 3,500kg, when you combine that with the grunty 4.5L turbo-diesel V8 engine, this is a vehicle that will pull large loads effortlessly. While there are better choices in terms of fuel economy, and overall ergonomics, you can’t deny that the dual-cab LandCruiser will be one very sought-after four-wheel drive for many years to come.
V6 VW AMAROK
They are new, we have driven one… and boy howdy do they hoot along! The new V6 turbo diesel powerplant is smooth, quiet and powerful. But it isn’t just the engine that makes the new VW Amarok a great touring four-wheel drive. For starters, the rear end now features disk brakes instead of drums, so the stopping ability matches the power figures. The interior has been improved too; with some of the best factory-fitted seats we’ve had the pleasure of parking our rear ends in.
ST-X NP300 NAVARA
For the first time in a very long time (since the Ssangyong Musso?) we have a dual-cab with coil springs in the rear.
2016 TOYOTA HILUX SR5
The latest ’Lux is a genuine leap forward for the brand; it just feels ‘tight’.
GU Y61 NISSAN PATROL
You can still buy the GU Patrol, but not for much longer. If you are a fan of simple, rugged and full-size wagons, the GU could be a winner.
Much like the MU-X wagon, the D-Max is a solid, no-frills workhorse that gets the job done without fuss.
A quick look on-line shows Unimogs from around $35,000. Think of what you could do with a Unimog and $25,000 in your hand?
$70K PLUS… SERIOUSLY, CAN WE BORROW A FEW BUCKS?
Ahhh, if money were no object…
This really is dream team stuff, but let’s not get silly – it still has to work in the bush.
What list would be complete without the German uber (no, not the black-market taxi) wagon. Factory-fitted lockers, built to take on the world, what more could you ask for? Performance to match a sports car? No problem, check out the AMG.
TOYOTA 200 SERIES
Yep, the humble 200 Series drops right into this price bracket. It’s big and reliable and designed to cover continents.
FORD F150 RAPTOR
It’s big, it’s brash and it will make light work of just about anything you throw at it. And let’s be honest, if you can afford to buy it you can afford to run it.
FORD EVEREST TITANIUM
I’m in two minds whether to include this here or not, as it might not actually be a 4X4… either way it’s a great vehicle which is comfortable as well as having enough room inside.
LAND ROVER DEFENDER
You try and find one of the last ones for under $70K. It’s like driving a vintage car only less comfortable and with rattles. But you know what, it’s just gotta be done (providing you’re fit or know a good chiro).
NISSAN Y62 PATROL
It’s big, heavy and petrol powered, but with heaps of room inside and a few choice mods it’s a great tourer. It’s not even as thirsty as you might expect.
RANGE ROVER VOGUE SVR
It sounds like a Spitfire, and goes like one too. You can travel in supreme comfort with its air suspension. If the SVR is too much however, you can always opt for a diesel option and still get all the luxury but with added fuel economy.
If the 200 Series isn’t swanky enough for you, then maybe the LX570 is the go. It’s got more bling than a Gold Coast gentleman’s club, but can actually back it up in the rough stuff.
PURPOSE-BUILT AND PROUD OF IT
Want something that’s jump in and go and to blazes with the cost? Look no further.
SLR COMMANDER 4X4
Be honest now, if the idea of a twin-locked, monster tyre sporting, driveable luxury apartment doesn’t appeal to you on some level as a tourer, you may want to check yourself for a pulse. Based off a MAN twin-turbo diesel with 1,150Nm of torque, the Aussie-built SLR Commander 4X4 camper is pretty much the pinnacle of off-road touring vehicles.
The idea behind these things is giving you a platform that you can take over the roughest terrain in complete comfort and stay in accommodation that’s nicer than most inner-city apartments. It offers real ‘all over the world’ travel capabilities too, with the design brief including being able to fit the vehicle in a shipping container.
And oh yeah, the Commander also features drive-in storage for a quad bike. Because let’s face facts… who hasn’t at one point been at camp and thought to themselves ‘how good would having an ATV be right now’? You know I’m right…
Want your cake and be able to eat it too? Why not look at converting your ute into a turtle and carry your home with you on your back? Lance Campers are designed to offer a heap of comfort while maintaining the practicality of a slide-on. They offer a few different options to fit a range of utes, but if you want the best you’ll need to invest in a full-size ‘truck’ like an F250, RAM or GM. Yeah, it’s not exactly cheap; but when you factor in the cost of a 200 Series and a large caravan, it’s actually not too shabby an option… and arguably capable of being taken to a lot more places.
Look, I really have nothing against caravans or trailers in general. I tow one on most of my trips myself; but let’s be honest, if you want something that requires pretty much zero set-up time, is capable of getting anywhere in Australia and allows you to travel in more comfort than a first-class ocean liner, then you need to check out the Iveco 4X4 Daily-based Earthcruiser.
These things are pretty much pure unadulterated touring wrapped up into a great looking package. 37in rubber, triple diff locks, super-low crawling gears and a walk-through camper that looks like a five-star hotel on the inside. I want one.