What do you buy when you’ve got the taste, but not the budget?
Have your cake and eat it too. Champagne on a beer budget. Getting more than you bargained for. Shoestring luxury. You want a cheap project or touring 4X4, but the idea of a 95 Series Prado puts you to sleep… we know your pain only too well.
Sure, the Prado is probably the most logical, reasonable and rational option. But you want something exciting in the driveway – something that brings more to the table than a Camry with a transfer case. We spend more time reading up on obscure and odd 4WDs than we care to admit, so we thought we should finally put all of that hard work to good use. Here is our list of budget luxury 4WDs to tempt you. Kiss goodbye that productivity; it’s time to hit the classifieds!
Didn’t know about these? Don’t worry, many don’t. It was Jeep’s big seven-seater 4WD option between the years of 2006 and 2010, sitting above the Grand Cherokee in terms of size and pecking order.
A spiritual successor of the Grand Wagoneer, the Commander is actually based on the unibody Grand Cherokee. It’s noticeably bigger though, and has a fair amount of tech and spec included. You’ve got a 4.7-litre V8 that was shared with the Grand Cherokee; but if you’re keen on petrol, look for one with the big Hemi donk. In for a penny, in for a pound. If you’re keen to go touring though (or are just rational), look at the diesel. It’s a Mercedes motor with healthy power figures and good economy. In fact it’s still the same base V6 diesel that Mercedes uses today. The fact that these units are pretty rare is a bonus for some, and their relative anonymity means you might be able to snag a bargain.
They’re a bit of a dark horse, with good space and a solid level of inclusions. Get a good model, and you’ll have a unique and effective off-road tourer.
Even though there aren’t many around, you can source upgrades and accessories in Australia. 3.5-tonne towing, too!
Quadra-Drive II uses brake traction control and electronic LSDs for good off-road capability.
Ground clearance isn’t great from factory, but this can be solved via the aftermarket.
The looks are, well… unique.
Not many on offer means it’s a bit harder to shop around.
Years made: 2005-2010
4.7-litre petrol V8, 170kW @ 4,500rpm, 410Nm @ 3,600rpm;
3.0-litre diesel V6, 160kW @ 4,000rpm, 510Nm @ 1,600-2,800rpm;
5.7-litre petrol V8, 240kW @ 5,000rpm, 500Nm @ 4,000rpm.
Prices when new:
Prices now: People are asking around the $15,000 mark these days, give or take a little.
A Volkswagen Touareg isn’t a proper 4WD? Well, let’s lay down some facts first. The Touareg has low range, locking centre and rear diffs, off-road traction control and stacks of ground clearance from air suspension. There’s a 3.5-tonne towing capacity, as well.
It’s based on the same platform as the Audi Q7 and Porsche Cayenne. Along with being a nice on-road drive, they did engineer proper off-road capability as well. There’s a wide variety of engines available – but definitely the most awesome is the 5.0-litre V10 diesel. It makes 230kW @ 3,750rpm, and a delicious 750Nm @ 2,000rpm.
The Touareg has enjoyed a very long production cycle, coming out way back in 2002. It has continued, largely unchanged, until facelifts in 2007 and 2010. There are plenty out there on the market, and you can bet your bottom dollar they have seen bugger-all hard work off-road.
Everyone will underrate your vehicle off-road, and lots will just think you’re a gun driver.
17-inch wheels mean you have tonnes of options for good off-road tyres.
Need power for towing? Buy a V10, and laugh at all those pesky small V8s.
Most don’t have a full-sized spare, so you’ll need one (and room to accommodate it).
Proper off-road accessory options are slim to none… you’ll have to be creative.
Years made: 2002-2007
2.5-litre, five-cylinder diesel, 128kW @ 3,500rpm, 400Nm @ 2,000rpm;
3.0-litre V6 diesel, 176kW @ 4,000rpm, 550Nm @ 1,500-1,800rpm;
4.9-litre V10 diesel, 230kW @ 4,000rpm, 750Nm @ 2,000rpm;
3.2-litre V6 petrol, 162kW @ 5,400rpm, 305Nm @ 3,200rpm;
3.6-litre V6 petrol, 206kW @ 6,200rpm, 360Nm @ 2,800rpm;
4.2-litre V8 petrol, 228kW @ 6,200rpm, 410Nm @ 3,000rpm.
Prices when new:
Prices now: Cheapies are well under $10K, but prices start at $20K (and go up) for a good V10.
Range Rover L322
Early examples of these units are now available below the $20K mark, and many are well within the striking range of 15 grand. And when you compare what you get with LandCruiser or Prado for similar money, it’s an outrageous amount of car for the dosh. Even by modern standards, the L322 is bona-fide high-end luxury. The ride, interior and overall refinement are top-shelf.
Obviously, it’s not all apples. The engines are great, but gearboxes are heinously unreliable. Treat the gearbox in early diesel models with the utmost of distrust. There will be plenty of electric and electronic niggles as well. If you’re willing to do a lot of the work and basic repairs yourself, the Rangie gives you unequalled bang for buck. But it’s also a roll of the dice: If you get a bad one, you’ll wish you’d contracted facial herpes instead.
Great choice of engines – both silky and powerful BMW-sourced petrol and diesel donks.
A heavenly ride and great NVH levels for a 4WD, even by modern standards. Stupid comfortable seats.
The full-time 4WD system is great for on-road manners, but it’s really capable off-road as well.
Ironically, the most off-road they have probably seen is the manicured gravel driveways at the local polo fields.
The gearboxes are very unreliable – especially with high kilometres and hard work.
Parts and servicing are a little expensive – especially if you’re not doing the grunt work yourself.
Chasing constant electrical niggles can break your soul, or empty your pockets stupendously rapidly if you pay someone else to do it. Take my word for it.
Years made: 2002-2005
4.4-litre petrol V8,
214kW @ 5,400rpm,
440Nm @ 3,600rpm;
2.9-litre diesel I6,
130kW @ 4,000rpm,
400Nm @ 2,000-2,750rpm.
Prices when new: $115,000-$162,000
Prices now: Don’t spend more than $20,000 for a good example, we reckon.
Range Rover Sport
Yes, there’s a difference here. The Range Rover Sport is based on the Discovery 3 platform, so it has a completely different engine, gearbox, chassis and suspension setup. This is good news – because the Discovery platform is proving to be quite reliable in the long run, and there is much cross-pollination with parts and accessories to take advantage of.
You can get a naturally-aspirated or supercharged petrol V8 and an awesome diesel V8, but the vast majority have a 2.7-litre turbo-diesel V6. There are two big things on these high-kilometre units that you need to worry about: You’ll need a new timing belt at 100,000-150,000 kilometres (an expensive procedure). While you’re there, think about the oil pump as well. Servicing the gearbox can also be quite costly, because the plastic sump plate is a throwaway item (until it’s replaced with a metal unit).
There are tonnes of them on the market, so you can bargain hard.
A smooth and frugal diesel engine actually returns great economy.
Airbag suspension is actually fairly reliable, and not as expensive as you’d think to repair (if you’re smart about it).
It’s more Discovery than Range Rover mechanically, so ask yourself if you aren’t better off with a more practical Discovery.
Major services and big repairs of high-kilometre models are invariably expensive.
Years made: 2005-2009
2.7-litre diesel V6, 140 kW @ 4,000rpm, 440Nm @ 1,900rpm;
3.6-litre diesel V8, 200kW @ 4,000rpm, 640Nm @ 2,000rpm;
4.4-litre petrol V8, 220kW @ 5,500rpm, 425Nm @ 4,000rpm;
4.2-litre supercharged V8, 287kW @ 5,750rpm, 550Nm @ 3,500rpm.
Prices when new:
Prices now: As little as $14,000, but right up to the mid-30s as well.
Take a LandCruiser 100 Series, give it heaps of luxury additions, and you’ve got yourself a Lexus LX. Other markets do the same thing to the Prado, but we don’t get that option in our neck of the woods. But when you’ve got a cheap luxo-barge based on a tough and reliable ’Cruiser, you’ve got to be onto a good thing.
The fact that they are so similar means there are accessories galore available for the Lexus. You’ve only got the option of a petrol V8 mill; no 1HD-FTE here unfortunately folks. It’s a smooth, luxurious motor however. If you can, shop around for a five-speed model (2002 onwards).
Along with the swish interior, the biggest difference over a peasant-spec Toyota is the suspension: Think twice before throwing an $800 lift kit into one of these… you’ve got adjustable height control, a hydraulic system that controls body roll in the corners, and adaptive shock absorbers to maintain couch-like comfort at all times.
They are cheap; you’re getting a whole lot of car for the money.
It’s 95% LandCruiser at the end of the day – so parts, accessories and knowledge are easy to come by.
Save for the front diff, the driveline is smooth, stout and reliable.
Like a 100 Series, the front diff is notoriously weak. Fit an airlocker and a solid pinion spacer to fix it.
Torsion-bar front suspension isn’t particularly cool.
Lots of electronic stuff will give more scope for headaches down the track.
Years made: 2002-2005
4.7-litre petrol V8, 170kW @ 4,800rpm, 410Nm @ 3,600rpm.
Prices when new:
Prices now: Start at $10,000, and start creeping up from there.