Words Dean Mellor
Everyone has a budget when it comes to buying a new 4x4 wagon. Here are our top five picks no matter how little or how much money you have to spend, split into five price points.
The criteria for inclusion? The vehicles must be 4x4 wagons with genuine off-road capability, so you won’t find any all-wheel drive SUVs on this list.
Here’s how to get the best bang for your bucks…
Under $25k: Suzuki Jimny Sierra ($22,990 drive-away)
If your budget is limited but you’re not willing to settle for anything other than a brand new 4x4, then you’d better get yourself down to your nearest Suzuki dealer and start haggling over the price of a Jimny.
The Jimny Sierra starts at a low $22,990 with a five-speed manual transmission and $24,990 with a four-speed auto. It’s a pretty basic bit of kit but is surprisingly capable off-road, and it’s better than you might think on it, especially if around-town commuting is on the agenda.
The little Jimny measures just 3675mm long and 1600mm wide, so it’s easy to squeeze into small parking spots or manoeuvre on tight bush tracks. While its 1.3-litre four-cylinder engine musters just 62.5kW and 110Nm, the Jimny only weighs 1075kg, so it will keep up with traffic in the city, and will happily cruise at 100km/h on the open road. Expect a bumpy ride on rough roads, as the short wheelbase results in a fair bit of fore/aft pitching.
The Jimny is has a part-time 4x4 system, separate body on chassis construction and live axles front and rear with coil springs. The combination of good low-range gearing, electronic traction control, decent ground clearance and impressive approach, ramp-over and departure angles provides the Jimny with plenty of off-road potential, and its light weight results in impressive performance in soft sand.
Jimny owners will have to learn to pack light as there’s not a lot of interior space; there’s seating for four but if you want to get away for a weekend or longer then you’ll have to fold away the back seats to squeeze in your luggage.
Under $35k: Suzuki Grand Vitara Sport ($33,489 drive-away)
For those with a $35k budget it’s hard to go past the five-door Suzuki Grand Vitara Sport. The current-shape Grand Vitara has been around for almost nine years, first being launched to market way back in 2009, but there have been many significant upgrades and changes along the way, including the deletion of the V6 petrol and four-cylinder turbo-diesel engines from the line up, leaving just the 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine.
Claimed peak power and torque is a rather modest 122kW at 6000rpm and 225Nm at 3800rpm, and the engine can be mated to either a five-speed manual or four-speed auto. Yep, the Grand Vitara’s driveline is hardly cutting edge, but it does feature a full-time 4x4 system with a lockable Torsen centre diff, as well as a two-speed transfer case and electronic traction control.
With a hybrid monocoque/ladder-frame body and fully independent suspension, the Grand Vitara provides a good combination of on-road comfort and sporty handling. Wheel travel isn’t fantastic for off-road use, but the electronic traction control provides adequate grip when the Grand Vitara lifts a wheel in the air.
The compact and light Grand Vitara is very manoeuvrable in tight spaces thanks to a 10m turning circle. Despite its dimensions it offers a surprisingly spacious interior, with seating for five and a 398-litre cargo space. With the rear seats folded the cargo area expands to 1386 litres.
Standard equipment on the Grand Vitara Sport includes 18-inch alloy wheels, multi-media system with satnav, USB and Bluetooth connectivity and climate control air conditioning. Safety gear includes six air bags, ABS with EBD and BA, electronic stability control, reversing camera and fog lights.
It might be a little dated compared to the current crop of small SUVs, but the Grand Vitrara will leave those ‘soft-roaders’ in its dust once you steer off the highway.
Under $45k: Mitsubishi Pajero Sport GLX ($45,000)
The Mitsubishi Pajero Sport GLX is listed at bang on $45,000 and it represents amazing value for money when you consider the mechanical package and standard equipment on offer. And if that ain’t cheap enough for you, Mitsubishi has recently been offering drive-away deals on Pajero Sport GLX as low as $42,990.
Based on the Triton 4x4 ute platform, but with a coil-spring rear suspension, the Pajero Sport is powered by a 2.4-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine that’s mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Mitsubishi’s Super Select II 4WD system provides selectable full-time four-wheel drive, and a reduction of 2.566:1 results in impressive low-range gearing.
With a claimed 133kW at 3500rpm and 430Nm at 2500rpm on tap, the Pajero Sport offers lively on-road performance. The eight-speed auto is a gem, providing almost imperceptible shifts and a ratio for every occasion. Ride quality is on the firm side but the suspension works well over a variety of surfaces and the Pajero Sport offers lively handling.
An effective traction control system combines with the excellent low-range gearing to provide good off-road capability, but in GLX spec the Sport misses out on a rear diff lock, so it’s not quite as impressive as the higher-spec GLS or Exceed. The Pajero Sport has a reasonable 218mm of ground clearance and while approach angle is good, departure angle isn’t, so care has to be taken when dropping off rock shelves or exiting gullies.
In GLX trim the Pajero Sport is a five-seater, and for those who don’t need an extra two seats it offers more cargo space than its GLS and Exceed siblings.
Standard equipment in the Pajero Sport GLX includes 18-inch alloy wheels, traction control, stability control, trailer stability assist, hill start assist, reverse camera and parking sensors, seven-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and climate control air conditioning. You won’t find a better-equipped five-seat 4x4 wagon for the money.
Under $55k: Haval H9 Luxury ($49,990 drive-away)
The Haval H9 Luxury is a Prado-sized seven-seat wagon with impressive on-road performance and genuine off-road capability, along with more standard equipment than you can poke a stick at, yet it retails for a smidge under $50k drive-away! Now that’s impressive.
The Haval H9 has been recently upgraded and its 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol engine now produces power and torque peaks of 180kW and 350Nm. The engine is mated to a super-smooth eight-speed ZF automatic transmission and the Haval H9 has a mode-selectable dual-range full-time 4x4 system with electronic traction control and auto rear diff lock.
Like Prado, the H9 is built on a separate chassis with independent front suspension and a live-axle rear with coil springs. It offers impressive ride quality but gets a little floaty at higher speeds on rough roads. The engine delivers surprisingly strong performance; it’s responsive from low in the rev range develops good midrange torque, but it can get a little noisy if revved hard.
Select the appropriate off-road mode (sand, snow, mud or auto) and the Haval impresses with its off-road capability. The Haval engineers have done an excellent job calibrating the H9’s traction control system for off-road use. Selecting low-range automatically engages the rear diff lock, although this can be overridden if desired.
If you like luxury appointments, you’ll love the appropriately named H9 Luxury. It’s loaded with gear including leather trim, heated/cooled electrically adjustable front seats with massage function, electric fold third-row seats, panoramic sunroof, eight-inch TFT screen, satnav, 10-speaker Infiniti sound system, tri-zone climate control air conditioning and more.
Safety equipment includes ABS with EBD and BA, traction control, stability control, a full complement of air bags, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, front and rear parking sensors, reversing camera, driver condition monitor, tyre pressure monitor, DRLs, adaptive front lighting system and front fog lights.
Spending $50k on brand that’s new to the market might be a little daunting for some but the Haval H9 is covered by a five-year/100,000km warranty, and it comes with five years roadside assistance. The downside to Haval ownership? A limited dealer network and questionable resale value.
Under $65k: Toyota Prado GXL ($59,990)
For those with $65k to spend it’s hard to go past the Toyota Prado GXL. This mid-spec seven-seat wagon might not have the luxury appointments of a Chinese newcomer like the Haval H9, but for those who want to drive into the outback and beyond there’s the reassurance of Australia’s largest dealer network and Toyota’s legendary reliability.
The Prado GXL’s 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine makes 130kW of power at 3400rpm. With the six-speed manual gearbox peak torque is limited to 420Nm at 1400rpm; with the six-speed auto it makes 450Nm at 1600rpm. The auto also has a higher braked towing capacity of 3000kg (2500kg for the manual) and is the pick of the range, adding $3000 to the price, so it still sneaks under the $65k price point.
Prado offers good on-road performance and excellent ride quality, and it has a class-leading 150-litre fuel capacity, which provides an excellent touring range.
The Prado is also impressive off the road, with plenty of ground clearance and wheel travel, good low-range gearing and an effective traction control system. The GXL auto also gets a rear diff lock.
Standard equipment on the Prado GXL includes 17-inch alloy wheels, eight-inch colour touchscreen display, satnav, roof rails and side steps, privacy glass and three-zone climate control air conditioning. The auto also scores colour multi-information display. Safety equipment includes reversing camera, seven SRS airbags, Vehicle Stability Control and Active-Traction Control, Pre-Collision Safety system with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Departure Alert, Automatic High Beam, Active Cruise Control, rear parking sensors, LED headlamps, LED fog lamps and daytime running lights. The auto also has Downhill Assist Control and Hill-start Assist Control.
Toyota has recently sharpened its pencil in regards to Prado pricing, and added more equipment, and the GXL is now better value than ever.