TOP 6 OFF ROAD SUVS AUSTRALIA: $15,000–$45,000
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If you’re going to head into the wild on a four-wheeled adventure, you may as well do it in style. Here’s Gumtree Cars’ guide to the best off road SUVs Australia, compiled into six 4WD vehicles with off-roading reputations, as high as their ground clearance.
JEEP WRANGLER (2007–2017)
Jeep’s little off-roader is an almost unstoppable force. And with a decent used-car budget, there’s nothing stopping you from jumping into a recent model-year of the JK-generation first introduced in 2007.
Naturally, this new Jeep Wrangler features all the trademark design cues – seven-slot grille, round headlights, square body and trapezoidal wheel arches – linking it to its heroic World War II ancestor.
Compared with the previous (TJ) model featured in our Best Off-roaders Under $10,000 article, however, there’s a body that’s stronger and also bigger – bringing increased interior passenger and cargo space.
The JK Wrangler also introduced a four-door variant called the Unlimited – making the Jeep even more practical – and a new turbo-diesel engine. The 2.8-litre diesel offers extra pulling power and fuel-efficiency over the also-new 3.8-litre V6 petrol (which was replaced in 2012 with a 3.6-litre gaining the diesel’s five-speed auto).
Jeep increased the Wrangler’s ride height to make it even better at clearing obstacles in conjunction with its helpful approach and departure angles aided by its short front and rear overhangs.
Sport and Renegade models are terrific off-road, yet the Rubicon takes bush-bashing to another level with its more extreme wheel articulation, lockable front and rear diffs, and an even more serious 4WD system.
There are always special-edition models to look out for, too.
Regardless of model, the Jeep’s on-road manners remain… Well, let’s just politely say the Wrangler is best enjoyed away from the bitumen.
Image credit: Which Car 4×4 Car of The Year
LAND ROVER DISCOVERY 4 (CIRCA 2010–2013)
The number ‘4’ indicates the fourth generation of Land Rover’s family off-roader, even if this is more of a major upgrade of the Discovery 3 than an all-new vehicle.
Apart from rounding off the edges of the 3’s set-square exterior design, the 4 brings improvements to interior quality and presentation. (The British 4×4 brand had also tried to fix all the reliability gremlins that had afflicted the previous ‘Disco’.)
New on the engine side, joining the carryover 2.7-litre turbo diesel, is a 3.0-litre diesel with extra potency (600Nm v 440Nm), and a 5.0-litre V8 petrol replacing the previous 4.4-litre unit.
Diesel is very much the way to go if fuel economy is a greater consideration than outright performance (and a nicer-sounding engine). The Disco 4 is a heavy vehicle at about 2.5 tonnes, and the V8 is a thirsty beast (while a supercharged V6 petrol also in the mix at one stage isn’t much better).
Regardless of engine, the Land Rover Discovery 4 is great for towing – up to 3.5 tonnes. And it’s superb off road, equipped with electronic air suspension that can increase ground clearance by 12.5cm, permanent all-wheel drive, and the clever Terrain Response system that allows the driver to tailor the vehicle’s traction-control settings for different surfaces, whether mud, rocks or sand.
Then there’s the Disco’s big, seven-seater interior complete with theatre-style seating to give those in the second and third rows a better view out. Plenty of equipment across the trim grades, too.
Stretch to the higher reaches of the $15K-45K budget and you can access Series 2 models introduced in 2013. Upgrades includes an eight-speed auto for diesel engines, which now comprised a 3.0-litre V6 for the TDV6 and a more powerful 3.0-litre V6 for the SDV6.
LAND ROVER DEFENDER (2007–2013)
Unlike the Disco, there’s nothing family-oriented about this Landie. The Land Rover Defender, as the original Land Rover has been known since the early 1990s, is a chore to drive around town with its wide turning circle and slow steering, and its cabin ergonomics are famously poor. So, why has it made our ‘best off road SUVs Australia’ short list?
Because; this is a vehicle revered globally for its no-nonsense, no-frills approach to four-wheel-driving – and a model virtually unchanged since 1948, when some Brits set out to build a better version of the Willys Jeep (and a successful vehicle export).
The Defender unites a super-strong chassis with super-long wheel travel.
A variety of body styles and wheelbases are around: Crew Cab Chassis ute (the longest), the mid-size four-door 110, and from 2002 a short-wheelbase, two-door 90 was introduced (around the time Land Rover was starting to improve the Defender’s build quality).
Forget petrol engines as the Defender is a diesel-only proposition. For 2008, a 2.5-litre five-cylinder unit was replaced by a 2.4-litre four-cylinder with direct injection and more torque.
From 2012 until the Defender production ended in 2016, the sole engine was a smaller-again, 2.2-litre but featuring the same power and torque.
RANGE ROVER (2002–2011)
As much a Land Rover icon as the Defender. And as much a king of the off-road as it is king of the road.
Some might say you also need to be royalty to afford one, but that’s not the case on Gumtree where the model for so long regarded as the world’s best luxury SUV is a realistic purchase.
We’re not talking about 20th-century versions, either.
Whether your budget is at the lower or higher end of this article’s $15K–445K budget, you can jump into (or climb up into, we should say) a third-generation Range Rover that was produced from 2002 and truly cemented this model as a highly desirable, highly luxurious SUV.
Development of this model coincided with BMW’s ownership of Rover, which was encouraging news for buyers hoping the German luxury brand’s quality would rub off on Land Rover. (Some owners may well say it didn’t rub off enough.)
It pays to, well, pay attention to model years as engine options (along with other incremental updates) change across the third-generation’s life cycle up to its 2013 replacement.
A BMW V8 was replaced by two Jaguar V8s (one supercharged) in 2005, and the original diesel (also from the BMW X5) was replaced in 2007 by a much stronger twin-turbo diesel badged TDV8.
The new diesel coincided with a new Vogue name to help buyers distinguish it from the Range Rover Sport that shared some engines but was quite different (and quite a bit cheaper).
TOYOTA FJ CRUISER (2013–2016)
This retro off-roader inspired by the 1960s–1980s FJ40 LandCruiser finally made it to Australia in 2011 – six years after debuting in the US.
A good reputation for bush work and reliability was effectively a shoo-in from the start as the FJ Cruiser used the underpinnings of the Toyota Prado underneath.
Skip to post-2012 models, as this budget allows, because from March 2013 the Toyota adds some great new features.
There’s an off-road low-speed cruise-control system (borrowed from the main LandCruiser), which allows the driver to focus on steering only. And a secondary fuel tank gives owners greater confidence for venturing further off the beaten track.
The extra, bigger tank doubles the FJ’s fuel range: important because the Toyota’s V6 likes to gulp petrol (premium stuff, at that) at a fairly rapid rate, especially when being worked hard.
The V6 has plenty of muscle at least for tacking steep hills and dunes.
The FJ’s interior doesn’t win any design or quality awards but it is functional, with the exception of the rear doors that could be opened only from the inside.
The Toyota’s on-road handling – tuned for Australian conditions – is certainly better than the Wrangler’s.
Production ended in 2016, but not before 11,000-odd Toyota FJ Cruisers were sold here.
TOYOTA LANDCRUISER 200 SERIES (2007–2012)
Now for the true descendent of the FJ LandCruiser – the Toyota LandCruiser 200 Series on sale since 2007.
Bigger, stronger and more advanced than the 100 Series it replaced, this is a model that has reinforced the LandCruiser’s legendary status.
Its reputation as one of the off-road greats is also cemented by the introduction of Crawl Control – a low-speed ‘feet free’ cruise-control system for challenging terrain – as well as a clever, Aussie-designed Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System.
To help negotiate wildly uneven surfaces, KDSS – not available on the base GXL or 2011’s workhorse-focused GX – can effectively disengage the LandCruiser’s anti-roll bars to allow significant variance in suspension travel between the left and right wheels.
Then they’re back in use to give the Toyota better body control for normal roads.
Fortunately, there are two engine choices to help propel the big Toyota: a V8 petrol or a particularly mighty 4.5-litre twin-turbo V8 diesel. Braked towing capacity for both? An impressive 3.5 tonnes that makes a cinch of pulling caravans or small boats.
Gargantuan dimensions make the LandCruiser a rather cumbersome beast in the city, though they also enable a spacious interior that seats up to seven passengers depending on model.
The LandCruiser’s price tag was as huge as its size when new – more than $100,000 in top-spec Sahara guise – but up to $45K has the potential to get you into a model as late as 2012.
If the Toyota badge isn’t posh enough for you, there’s always Lexus’s twin-under-the-skin LX570, which was a close contender to make our best off road SUVs Australia list.