Price guide: $26,000 - $28,000 plus on-road costs
The Suzuki Jimny is very much a continuation of the classic line of small off-roaders which have built Suzuki its well-deserved reputation for dependable capability since 1970. There’s the separate chassis, something really only seen in pick-ups, with live axles front and rear, plus an actual transfer case lever, a manual transmission option, and a part-time 4×4 system. Any one of these would be unusual in 2019, but the combination is almost unique except for the venerable Toyota LC70, which has a leaf-sprung rear end compared to the Suzuki’s coils. Even the Jeep Wrangler JL won’t offer a manual transmission, and most off-roaders have moved to full-time 4X4 with push-button range selection.
There’s no clever centre clutch, no torque-biased front and rear, just the simple and basic part-time 4WD system. The two gearbox options are the five-speed manual and the four-speed automatic - the manual is easy to shift, however, the auto is easier to drive, particularly at very low speed uphill given off-idle torque isn’t the top strength of the Jimny.
The big feature of the Jimny is that it is tiny: the tare weight just 1075kg, payload 360kg and the GVM (Gross Vehicle Mass) a mere 1435kg. But it’s shorter and narrower than either the Toyota Yaris or Hyundai Accent, so you’re not going to get a whole lot of room. Even if you remove the rear seats there’s less room in the back than you’d find in something like a Prado. But that’s what the Jimny is, you can’t have small-car advantage without small-car disadvantage.
Where it counts, it’s by far the most fun off-roader there is on the market, now and into the foreseeable future. It has a level of feedback and involvement you just don’t get from larger, more complex vehicles, and therefore you get the satisfaction and thrill of driving achievement.
Toyota LandCruiser 70 Series
Price guide: $65,000 - $75,000 plus on-road costs
The LandCruiser 70 Series is our number-one pick as a bush wagon thanks to its inherent simplicity, off-road capability and unequalled parts and service back up.
The LC70 was launched way back in 1984 but it has been significantly upgraded over the years. There are currently two options for those after a wagon: the 76 Wagon and the 78 TroopCarrier. Both models feature a tough separate chassis and live-axles front and rear, with coils up front and leaf springs at the rear.
While the Troopie has been around for decades, the 76 Wagon wasn’t launched in Australia until 2007. Both are these days powered by a 4.5-litre V8 turbo-diesel engine that makes a claimed 151kW and 430Nm from a low 1200rpm. The only transmission option is a five-speed manual gearbox and the LC70 runs a part-time 4×4 system with two-speed transfer case.
All 70 Series Cruisers have a straightforward driveline, with a five-speed manual gearbox and part-time 4X4 system. The LC70 offers impressive off-road performance thanks to good ground clearance, plenty of axle articulation, good chassis flex and impressive low-range reduction. The upper-spec GXL variants are equipped with front and rear diff locks, providing even greater off-road capability.
When it comes to touring comfort, the LC70 is pretty basic. Workmate variants have vinyl floors and seats, while GXLs score cloth seats and carpet. Even air conditioning is optional. A revision to transmission ratios in 2016 resulted in more relaxed highway touring, thanks to a taller fifth gear, and LC70s are now equipped with ABS, vehicle stability control (VSC), active traction control (A-TRC), hill-start assist control (HAC), brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution.
The 76 Wagon has a decent-size 130L fuel tank, while the Troopie Workmate makes do with a 90L tank. The Troopie GXL, however, scores two 90L fuel tanks for one of the best touring ranges on the market. The Troopie offers way more cargo space than the Wagon, but only two doors, so can be a less practical option for those travelling with kids.
Nissan GU Patrol
Price guide: $15,000 (2006) - $40,000 (2016)
Nissan retired the GU Patrol in 2016 much to the disappointment of those who had come to love its combination of simplicity, strength and off-road capability, which made it an ideal candidate as a bush rig.
The GU Patrol was launched in 1997 with essentially the same separate chassis and suspension as its GQ predecessor, with live axles front and rear, and coil springs.
The most-recent models were powered by the ZD30 3.0-litre four-cylinder common-rail turbo-diesel engine that made a claimed 118kW and 380Nm of torque from 2000-2400rpm. This engine has a chequered history, but for those after a reliable bush-rig the earlier model TD42T mechanically injected six-cylinder turbo-diesel engine is a much better bet. From 2003 the TD42T was equipped with an intercooler and it developed a claimed 114kW/360Nm; hardly impressive output by today’s standards but with this engine reliability and simplicity are the name of the game. If you can make do with 91kW and 272Nm, the naturally aspirated version of the TD42 diesel is also a good option, and there are several aftermarket turbo and intercooler kits to suit it. Both the TD42 and TD42T were retired in 2006, so finding low-mileage examples is no easy task, but if they’ve been properly maintained this shouldn’t present a problem.
The Patrol has a part-time 4×4 system with two-speed transfer case and manually locking hubs on DX models and auto-locking hubs on ST models. It offers plenty of ground clearance, excellent axle articulation, and is well suited to the demands of off-road driving. Having been on the market for an impressive 19 years, there are lots of aftermarket accessories to suit the GU Patrol.
The interior of the Patrol offers good space and comfort. Equipment levels are dependent on model grade. The DX was all vinyl and cloth, while the ST offered velour, carpet and power windows.
While it can’t quite match Toyota for servicing and parts back up, Nissan still has a good presence in rural and remote areas. And as many parts are the same as those used in the older GQ Patrol, which has been around since 1987, you should have no problems sourcing bits and pieces if you get into strife in remote areas.
Land Rover Defender
Price guide: $20,000 (2000) - $80,000 (2016)
Tracing its lineage back to the original Land Rover of 1948, the Defender has a long history of its own with the nameplate first being used as early as 1990. Much to the disappointment of enthusiasts the world over, the Defender ceased production in 2016.
This tough as guts bush rig is the perfect example of form follows function, with a tough separate chassis and aluminium body, live axles front and rear, and long travel coil springs all-round. There have been several diesel engines used in Defender over the years, always mated to a manual transmission with a full-time 4×4 system, lockable centre diff and two-speed transfer case.
For bush tourers the Defender 110 Wagon is the pick of the range, although plenty still opt for the short-wheelbase Defender 90. The Defender was initially powered by a 2.5-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine (200Tdi), which was replaced in 1995 by the updated 300Tdi. With no electronics, many enthusiasts swear by these older engines, and recommend them as the pick of the breed for serious global overlanding. A five-cylinder turbo-diesel (Td5) was launched in 1998 and it featured electronic unit injection, then in 2007 the Defender was fitted with a 2.4-litre four-cylinder Ford turbo-diesel engine mated to a six-speed manual gearbox. A 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel was fitted from 2012.
Over the years the Defender also scored technology upgrades, including the introduction of electronic traction control in 2000, and a redesigned interior with more effective air conditioning in 2007. Nevertheless, all Defenders have a narrow cabin and cramped driving position, but for those who can live with these compromises the 110 is a great long-distance tourer; it offers a good payload capacity and a cavernous cargo area.
Anyone who’s driven a Defender in anger will agree that off-road capability is up there with the best, thanks to excellent low-range reduction combined with good low-rpm torque and good axle articulation. A 75-litre fuel tank (in the 110) doesn’t sound like much but all of the turbo-diesel engines offered over the years have proved economical.
Like the LandCruiser 70 and the GU Patrol, a long model lifespan means there are plenty of aftermarket accessories available for the Defender.
Toyota LandCruiser 105
Price guide: $20,000 - $30,000
Many enthusiasts reckon the HZJ105 LandCruiser was the last genuine bush wagon from Toyota other than agricultural 70 Series.
Manufactured from 1998 to 2007, the HZJ105 was the last LandCruiser to be fitted with live-axles front and rear with coil springs all round, and it was available only in lower grade Standard or GXL spec levels.
The Standard is pretty basic with vinyl seats and floor covering, skinny steel rims and a basic barn-door arrangement at the back. But that’s the kind of trim you want in a bush wagon. The GXL was a little fancier, with eight cloth-covered seats, carpet, optional four-speed auto transmission and horizontally split two-piece tailgate.
Power comes from an asthmatic 1HZ indirect injection, naturally aspirated 4.2-litre six-cylinder diesel, which makes a modest 96kW at 3800rpm and 285Nm of torque at 2200rpm. Performance ain’t great but the 1HZ is incredibly reliable and relatively easy to fix if something does go wrong. It also takes well to fitment of an aftermarket turbo and intercooler, and plenty of examples on the used-vehicle market will have been subjected to such an upgrade.
The LandCruiser has an auxiliary fuel tank that stretches capacity out to a handy 145-litres, but expect fuel consumption in excess of 12.5L/100km, or more when fully laden and driving off-road.
Payload ranges from 700-900kg depending on spec level/transmission, which is pretty handy for a bush wagon that will likely see duty on extended trips.
Sourcing parts for the HZJ105 is easy; the 1HZ diesel engine has been around for a long time and it has seen service in various other vehicles including the LC70 and Toyota buses and trucks.
The 4×4 aftermarket makes just about everything you can think of to suit the HZJ105 LandCruiser, and many examples on the secondhand market will be loaded to the hilt with gear, from protection equipment to suspension kits to long-range fuel tanks and more.