Unloved and unwanted – time to grab a bargain
We’re all told that if we want to get out and explore we need to either buy a Toyota or a Nissan and usually it has to begin with a P or LC. But what if the budget doesn’t stretch to that or you just don’t want to follow the masses… and fancy something a little different, a bit left of centre, or something just downright odd? We’ve put together this list of five of the best ‘budget alternative’ tourers money can buy… but we haven’t just picked random names out of a hat – we actually have good reasons for our picks.
For images, videos and the full Unsealed 4X4 experience, read this in our online magazine.
Kia Sorento, 2005-09
The first and best for off-road
The first gen Kia Sorento was the first and last Kia with any sort of true off-road touring ability. It even had the option of a solid turbo-diesel lump. With a traditional ladder frame and good towing capacity of 2.8T, it even has proper low-range gearing to go with its 208mm of clearance in standard form. So when you do want to get off the black stuff it should cope well.
As mentioned before the Kia sits on top of a traditional ladder chassis, and uses either a Hyundai-derived petrol V6 or 4-cyl CRD turbo-diesel (which would be our pick if you’re going to be covering long distances). Later ones come with either a 5-speed auto or manual. All have double wishbone front and five-link rear suspension. The Sorento utilises a traditional 4WD system (2H, 4H, 4L).
The Kia could well be the bargain of the century. Used low-kilometre examples can be found for well under $10K which, after the usual checks and with a good service history, would be an excellent buy. There are also a number of off-road accessories for the Sorento available – such as bars and suspension upgrades.
Hyundai Terracan, 2005-07
A parts bin special that actually works
The Terracan was always somewhat of a Frankenstein 4X4. Sharing a chassis and petrol engine with the Mitsubishi Pajero, and a diesel engine from Mazda, the rest of the running gear also took influences from the former. The body however is all Hyundai. So what you get left with is a 4X4 with solid underpinnings and a slightly quirky look.
With a chassis based on the second generation Pajero (the one that won the Dakar throughout the ’90s) it’s going to be pretty tough under the skin. Powered by either a 3.5L V6 or 2.9L turbo-diesel. The V6 shares its design with Mitsubishi’s 3.5L V6, with both being constructed by the Global Engine Manufacturing Alliance (GEMA); whereas the 2.9L has its origins with Mazda. The rest of the drivetrain also shares a number of design similarities from the second gen Pajero.
The Terracan is great value for money and comes with a good amount of kit in it for a 4X4 of that era. It’s big enough for a family and has all the traits of a solid and reliable tourer. As an added bonus, from inside you don’t have to look at the front…
Nissan R20 Terrano II, 1993-06
What you get when a Patrol and a Pathfinder meet on a warm summer night
Driving in the ’90s, one of the first 4X4s I always wanted was the Nissan Terrano II. Not sure why, maybe it was the oddball looks; but for some reason it was high up on my list. It was probably the first non-green oval 4X4 I really liked, and I still do have a soft spot for it today.
The Terrano II is tall and narrow with IFS front and solid-axle rear. It’s powered by a solid if not overly powerful 2.7L TD lump, which is essentially the legendary 4.2L TD42 with two cylinders lopped off the end. It’s a tough old oil-burner (I’ve seen reports of some with in excess of 400,000km on the original engine); just make sure you keep the cooling system serviced and run an Aussie-spec water pump/fan assembly. Drive is manual only and upfront the Terrano II features auto freewheeling hubs. It is let down by a slightly low towing capacity, though.
It has very good interior space and isn’t overly large so you can manoeuvre it about on the tracks. From all accounts it seems to be a case of if you look after the cooling system it will go on forever and a day.
Suzuki JB/JT Grand Vitara, 2004 onwards
The small 4X4 that thought big!
If you want a small, easy to use 4X4 with more ability than it really deserves then look no further than the JB/JT Grand Vitara. Later versions are better with either the 2.4L four or 3.2L V6. But whatever you do, don’t go for the diesel – servicing costs are high and frequent, and it also only comes in manual guise.
Some liken the little GV to a Pajero that has shrunk a bit in the wash due to its all-independent suspension. But it’s not a true monocoque chassis. The front and rear sub-frames are connected to a traditional ladder frame in the middle (similar to the Land Rover Discovery and Range Rover Sport). The drivetrain is pretty robust and is largely tucked up well out of harm’s way.
The GV is basically a box on wheels much like a traditional old-school 4WD. On the road it feels a little outdated; especially with the 2.4L’s 4-speed auto… but point it at some dirt and it could embarrass a lot of larger 4WDs quite easily. There are a number of accessories available to make it into an even better tourer; and for two people there’s heaps of space inside.
Jeep KJ Cherokee
American build and Italian muscle, mmm…
Yes folks, you read that right. We’re including a Jeep. Jeep has a massive pedigree for off-road vehicles. The KJ was a bit of a change from the norm, going with IFS. But it also came with a diesel option, which gives you a real opportunity to cover some distance. For a couple the Jeep is a great size and it’s also not too bulky on the odd occasion when you have to head back to civilisation.
The Series 2 KJ Cherokee (which is the one we recommend) had a choice of 3.7L petrol or 2.8L diesel engine options. Although the petrol is a solid performer, we’d probably lean towards the diesel (which, although updated, is still being used today in the Holden Colorado – rebadged as the Duramax). It’s a pretty solid lump giving good power and reliability; just make sure you keep the cooling system clear.
The Series 2 KJ Cherokee has IFS and a live rear axle. And are equipped with Jeep’s Selec-trac part-time 4WD system which also has the option of 4-Hi Full-Time mode for on road use with an open centre differential. It also had Jeep’s own limited slip Trac-Lok rear diff.