DIRTY DOZEN

You want a new 4x4? Here are 12 of the best buys on the market.

WORDS FRASER STRONACH

DRIVEN 4X4 BEST BUYS

You want a new 4x4? Here are 12 of the best buys on the market.

Whether youíve got $20K or $150K to splurge, thereís something for you.

NEW 4x4s come in all shapes, sizes and prices.

Here at 4X4 Australia weíve driven all of them a number of times, so this is our Dirty Dozen, our 12 best Ďnewí 4x4 buys, right down to the specifics of powertrain and spec level. There are eight turbodiesels Ė three of which have two turbos apiece Ė and four petrols. There are no manuals among our preferred variants, but four of them have manual options. The remaining eight are auto-only Ė a sign of the times.

1

SUZUKI JIMNY AUTOMATIC

ENGINE: 1.3-litre 4-cyl petrol POWER: 62.5kW TORQUE: 110Nm GEARBOX: four-speed automatic 4X4 SYSTEM: dual-range part-time FRONT SUSPENSION: live axle/coil springs REAR SUSPENSION: live axle/coil springs KERB WEIGHT: 1075kg GVM: 1420kg TOWING CAPACITY: 1300kg FUEL TANK CAPACITY: 40 litres ADR FUEL CLAIM: 7.4L/100km

PRICE $22,990 ENGINE 1.3-litre 4-cyl petrol

MIGHTY MIDGET

THE JIMNY SIERRA TRACES A DIRECT LINEAGE BACK TO THE ORIGINAL 4X4 CREATED BY SUZUKI NEARLY 50 YEARS AGO.

THE Jimny is an old-school-tough 4x4. Old-school in this case means a separate chassis and live axles back and front, just like a Toyota 70 Series, a GU Patrol, a Land Rover Defender or a Jeep Wrangler.

The Jimny comes with either a fivespeed manual or a four-speed automatic transmission, but in one trim level. For a number of reasons we prefer the auto, but thereís a case to be made for the manual (the $2000 discount, for one).

With either manual or auto you get a 1.3- litre four-cylinder petrol engine that claims a very modest 62.5kW at a heady 6000rpm and 110Nm that doesnít come onstream until 4100rpm. The Jimnyís engine features double overhead cams, four valves per cylinder and variable valve timing on the inlet side, and it was introduced to the Jimny in 2005.

Offsetting the low power and torque numbers is a kerb weight of just 1075kg, so in terms of power-to-weight thatís the same as having a 2150kg 4x4 with 125kW, which is not unusual. However, the engine still needs plenty of revs to give its best, which doesnít help the otherwise good fuel economy.

The manual is the pick for on-road driving, but the auto comes into its own offroad Ė particularly for rock climbing, given the gearing multiplier effect of the torque converter helps overcome the modest crawl ratio and the lack of engine torque at low engine speeds. The auto also works better in sand and has the advantage of longer highway legs.

The Jimny ticks all the basic boxes when off-road: light weight, decent clearance, generous wheel travel (thanks to its front and rear live axles), steep approach and departure angles, a tight turning circle and good visibility. The newly fitted electronic traction control (from 2015-on) helps off-road and is a welcome addition.

The Jimnyís light weight makes for a fun on-road drive, but its relatively narrow track and tall stance are limiting factors when pushing on. Surprisingly, for a very light 4x4 with front and rear live axles, ride quality and general stability are both better than expected.

The Jimnyís big limitation is its size. It seats just four, and if youíre going away for a bush weekend thereís really only room for two people plus luggage. The small 40-litre fuel tank and 95RON fuel requirement are also limitations you need to be aware of.

Still, the Jimny is a fun-filled, highly practical, down-to-earth 4x4 thatís great value for the money. Plus itís supported by a wide range of aftermarket enhancements.

2

VOLKSWAGEN AMAROK TDI420 CORE

ENGINE: 2.0-litre 4-cyl bi-turbo-diesel POWER: 132kW TORQUE: 420Nm GEARBOX: eight-speed automatic 4X4 SYSTEM: single-range full-time FRONT SUSPENSION: independent/coil springs REAR SUSPENSION: live axle/leaf springs KERB WEIGHT: 1989kg GVM: 3040kg TOWING CAPACITY: 3000kg FUEL TANK CAPACITY: 80 litres ADR FUEL CLAIM: 8.3L/100km

PRICE $45,990 ENGINE 2.0-litre 4-cyl bi-turbo-diesel

WUNDERKIND

THE AMAROKíS EIGHT-SPEED BREAKS ALL THE RULES, BUT ITíS BRILLIANTLY CLEVER AND CAPABLE. AND IN CORE SPEC, ITíS DIRT-CHEAP.

JUST in case you werenít aware, the Amarok comes with two different gearboxes mated to their own 4x4 system. The six-speed manual comes with conventional dual-range, part-time 4x4. On paper this traditional 4x4 system looks like the pick, given the automatic doesnít have a twospeed transfer case. But thatís not the case Ė far from it, in fact.

Importantly, the low first gear of the eight-speed auto and the torque converterís high stall ratio help counter the lack of lowrange gearing. The 4x4 system mated to the auto transmission also has the benefit of a self-proportioning and self-locking centre differential, similar to what youíll find in a Land Rover Discovery or Range Rover, which delivers off-road benefits as well as the on-road functionality of full-time 4x4.

The Amarok autoís 4x4 system is so clever you can go from cruising down the freeway at any speed straight onto a steep and gnarly offroad climb without touching a lever or a single button. And the Amarok auto will get the job done as well as, if not better than, any other ute in its class. Itís simply astonishing.

If you do get into trouble the Amarok has a driver-switched rear locker to call upon and, unlike the rear locker on the HiLux and the Triton, activating the Amarokís rear locker doesnít cancel the electronic traction control, so itís another win-win.

The Amarok has a smallish 2.0-litre engine, but thanks to its bi-turbo arrangement it still offers power and torque thatís competitive in its class. The engine stands out for its willingness to rev harder than those of its competitors, and itís also strong off idle. Thatís the benefit of having one smaller and one larger turbo.

By modern diesel standards the Amarokís engine is smooth, quiet and refined, while the eight-speed auto is sweet in terms of shift quality, shift speed and shift timing. The Amarokís chassis maintains the same polished performance as the engine and offers precise steering and surprisingly sporty handing.

The Amarok has a big, spacious and comfortable cabin with supportive front seats, tilt-and-reach steering wheel adjustment for the driver, and the widest back seat in its class.

The Core spec is basic yet functional, but the deletion of the 12-volt outlet from the dash-top and another from the tub (both standard on other Amarok models) are notable negatives.

The softer-riding ĎComfortí rear leaf springs (optional elsewhere on Amarok 4x4s) also arenít available on the Core.

At the time of writing the automatic was a Ďspecialí no-cost option, providing a saving of $3000. Thatís almost too good to ignore.

3

TOYOTA FJ CRUISER

ENGINE: 4.0-litre V6 petrol POWER: 200kW TORQUE: 380Nm GEARBOX: five-speed automatic 4X4 SYSTEM: dual-range part-time FRONT SUSPENSION: independent/coil springs REAR SUSPENSION: live axle/coil springs KERB WEIGHT: 2000kg GVM: 2510kg TOWING CAPACITY: 2250kg FUEL TANK CAPACITY: 159 litres ADR FUEL CLAIM: 11.4L/100km

PRICE $46,990 ENGINE 4.0-litre V6 petrol

TONKA TOUGH

MUCH MORE THAN A PRADO IN FANCY DRESS, TOYOTAíS FJ CRUISER OFFERS SERIOUSLY GOOD VALUE FOR MONEY.

YOU better get in quick if you want an FJ Cruiser, as production of Australiandelivered Cruisers will cease in August.

The FJ will still be around in local showrooms for a while after that, but for how long is difficult to say.

The FJ is essentially a petrol Prado but with part-time 4x4 and a shortened wheelbase. It also only comes with a five-speed automatic. The lack of a diesel engine and, to a lesser extent, a manual gearbox has no doubt limited its sales, but that doesnít mean itís not a good thing. When it arrived in Australia in 2011 it took out our annual 4X4 Of The Year award against very stiff competition, and itís still one of our favourites here at 4X4 Australia.

The FJís 4.0-litre V6, complete with variable valve timing on both cams, claims 200kW and 380Nm in typically Toyota-like Ďsoftí tune, where power spread, not peak power, is the name of the game.

The FJ is around 200kg lighter than a petrolpowered Prado, so outright performance and mid-range flexibility are noticeably better. The five-speed gearbox works well with the engine and has a gated shift for Ďmanualí gear selection, rather than the tip-shift of the current Prado.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of all is the FJís modest thirst, no doubt helped by its reduced weight and the engineís soft tune. Combined with the 159-litre fuel capacity, this makes for a decent touring range.

The reduced weight and better mass centralisation, thanks to little rear overhang, also makes for surprisingly good on-road dynamics, despite the soft suspension and some unsettling from the live rear axle on bumpier roads.

As good as the FJ is on-road, it comes into its own off-road thanks to its supple long-travel suspension and superior ground clearance and approach, departure and rampover angles (compared to a Prado). In fact, it has the best approach and departure angles of any Toyota 4x4.

The FJ comes with a driver-operated rear diff lock and, while engaging this negates the traction control on both axles, the driver can reinstate off-road-specific traction control (A-TRC) across the front axle even when the rear diff is locked, which is a major bonus when the going gets tough.

Given the FJ misses out on the third-row seating of the Prado Ė and access to the rear seat is somewhat restricted Ė itís not really a family 4x4. However, the cabin is surprisingly comfortable and plenty roomy for a twoperson getaway. Add in the fact the FJ is well supported by the aftermarket and you have a robust, practical, capable and Toyota-reliable enthusiastís 4x4.

4

MITSUBISHI TRITON EXCEED

ENGINE: 2.4-litre 4-cyl turbo-diesel MAX POWER: 133kW TORQUE: 430Nm GEARBOX: five-speed automatic 4X4 SYSTEM: dual-range full-time (+2WD) FRONT SUSPENSION: independent/coil springs REAR SUSPENSION: live axle/leaf springs KERB WEIGHT: 1965kg GVM: 2900kg TOWING CAPACITY: 3100kg FUEL TANK CAPACITY: 75 litres ADR FUEL CLAIM: 7.6L/100km

PRICE $47,790 ENGINE 2.4-litre 4-cyl turbo-diesel

BANG FOR BUCK

MITSUBISHIíS TRITON IS AUSTRALIAíS THIRD BEST-SELLING UTE FOR GOOD REASON Ė ITíS EXCEPTIONAL VALUE FOR YOUR HARD-EARNED.

IN CREATING the fifth-generation (MQ) Triton, released in early 2015, Mitsubishi didnít try to build a big ute like the Ford Ranger, Volkswagen Amarok, Holden Colorado, or any other new-generation ute released a few years earlier. Instead it took the previous-generation Triton, pulled it apart and put it back together with a whole raft of new or revised parts. The most notable of these are an all-new 2.4-litre engine, new six-speed manual, heavily revised suspension and a slightly bigger cabin. The result is a smaller ute than the Ranger (and friends), with a lower GVM and less towing capacity. The Tritonís relatively short wheelbase also means just about the entire tray is behind the rear axle, which isnít ideal for carrying heavier loads.

However, the Triton has a couple of big aces up its sleeve in the form of extremely sharp pricing and selectable full-time 4x4 in the mid- and topspec models Ė the Volkswagen Amarok auto is the other mainstream ute to offer full-time 4x4.

The Tritonís value for money comes to the fore in the top-spec Exceed model, our pick of the range. For the price of most competitorsí midspec manual dual-cabs you get a five-speed auto as standard, Super Select selectable full-time 4x4 system, a rear locker, keyless entry, pushbutton start, leather seats (with electric adjust for the driver), sat-nav via a seven-inch touchscreen, and a reversing camera. You also get auto wipers and headlights, paddle shifters for the five-speed auto, dual-zone climate, daytime running lamps, sidesteps, and all the safety stuff thatís standard across the rest of the range.

Against competitorsí top-spec dual-cabs youíll save between $6K and $12K.

The Tritonís new 2.4-litre donk is quite revvy given its maximum torque isnít available until 2500rpm, but the auto effectively masks any sense thereís insufficient power at low revs. The engine is relatively smooth, quiet and refined. By class standards the Triton also offers competitive performance thanks in part to its light weight.

On the move the Triton has light and sporty handling compared to most in its class, and it benefits from the all-roads functionality of selectable full-time 4x4. With Super Select the driver can also select rear-wheel drive, which stands this system apart from conventional fulltime 4x4 systems.

The Exceed isnít class-leading when off-road, but its rear locker puts it in front of lower-spec Tritons. The relatively short wheelbase helps in tight situations and the Super Select means you can have 4x4 drive without locking the centre diff, which can be very useful at times.

The Exceedís cabin is nicely detailed and the driver has the benefit of tilt-and-reach steering wheel adjustment, which isnít standard on many competitor utes. All up, the Exceed is great value.

5

JEEP WRANGLER RUBICON

ENGINE: 3.6-litre V6 petrol POWER: 209kW TORQUE: 347Nm GEARBOX: five-speed automatic 4X4 SYSTEM: dual-range part-time FRONT SUSPENSION: live axle/coil springs REAR SUSPENSION: live axle/coil springs KERB WEIGHT: 2073kg GVM: 2540kg TOWING CAPACITY: 2000kg FUEL TANK CAPACITY: 85.2 litres ADR FUEL CLAIM: 11.9L/100km

PRICE $53,500 ENGINE 3.6-litre V6 petrol

AN ESSENTIAL JEEP

THE WRANGLER IS THE MOST OFF-ROAD-CAPABLE JEEP, AND THE RUBICON IS THE MOST OFF-ROAD-CAPABLE WRANGLER.

WALK into a Jeep showroom and youíll see a wide variety of different vehicles all sporting a Jeep badge. Trouble is: appearances are deceptive. Of all the vehicles currently sold as Jeeps, only the Wrangler can be considered a Ďproperí Jeep.

Whatís important here is that the currentgeneration Wrangler dates back nearly 10 years and is nearing the end of its production cycle.

What the next generation Wrangler will bring to the party is yet to be confirmed. Could this be the last Ďproperí Jeep? Only time will tell.

For the off-road enthusiast the standout in the Wrangler range is the Rubicon, which has always been petrol-only. But unlike times past itís now only available as a four-door and with an automatic gearbox.

The Rubicon is mechanically different from the Ďbread and butterí Wranglers thanks to lower diff and transfer case ratios, so even with the five-speed automatic you have an impressively low 53.5:1 crawl ratio. Unlike other Wranglers the Rubicon also comes with front and rear driver-switched diff locks and a front sway bar that can be disconnected (via a dashboard switch) to maximise the front wheel travel.

The Rubiconís front and rear coil-sprung live axles underpin its impressive off-road ability.

They provide generous travel at both ends and, combined with the electronic traction control and extra-low gearing, will get you most places.

If things get tough then disconnecting the front sway bar gives you even more front-wheel travel, and if you still need more help you have the front and rear lockers to call upon. Off-road kit in a stock 4x4 simply doesnít come any better.

What eventually stops the Rubicon is its ground clearance, but this is easily addressed via a bigger wheel/tyre package or a lift kit, given the live-axle design.

On the road the 3.6-litre V6 is smooth, willing and flexible; rapid even at high engine speeds.

Itís all helped by a slick five-speed automatic with Ďmanualí shifting.

The Rubicon does its best work off-road, but it isnít too shabby on-road provided the tarmac is reasonably smooth. At higher speeds on bumpy roads it tends to bump steer, but this is something you learn to live with.

The Rubiconís interior is nicely finished and generally comfortable, but shorter drivers will find the vision over the dash isnít as good as it could be. Bonus points for the removable panels in the hardtop and the fact the hardtop can be removed altogether and replaced with a folddown soft-top. And if you really want the openair feel, you can always remove the doors. This alone makes the Rubicon (and any Wrangler for that matter) unique in todayís 4x4 market.

6

FORD RANGER XLT AUTOMATIC

ENGINE: 3.2-litre 5-cyl turbo-diesel POWER: 147kW TORQUE: 470Nm GEARBOX: six-speed automatic 4X4 SYSTEM: dual-range part-time FRONT SUSPENSION: independent/coil springs REAR SUSPENSION: live axle/leaf springs KERB WEIGHT: 2159kg GVM: 3200kg TOWING CAPACITY: 3500kg FUEL TANK CAPACITY: 80 litres ADR FUEL CLAIM: 9.2L/100km

PRICE $56,390 ENGINE 3.2-litre 5-cyl turbo-diesel

TRUE BLUE

THE FORD RANGER IS AUSTRALIAíS SECOND-BEST-SELLING 4X4, AND ITíS CLOSING IN ON THE EVER-POPULAR HILUX.

THE Ford Ranger PX first appeared in late 2011, and despite carrying over the name of its predecessor it was in fact an all-new ute. Most significantly, its design and development was headquartered here in Australia.

The Ranger underwent a major facelift in mid-2015, with revised front-end styling and interior changes including a new dashboard and larger multi-function touchscreen. More significant were the mechanical upgrades, including a more efficient turbo for faster spool-up, new fuel injectors, changes to the cylinder head, and various other measures to improve engine performance and NVH.

Electric power steering also replaced the previous hydraulically assisted unit, while the electronic control of the 4x4 system was significantly enhanced. For example, when you engage the rear locker the electronic traction control remains active on the front axle, whereas before it was cancelled both front and rear.

Interestingly, none of these changes were made to the Mazda BT-50. Initially the BT-50 was a near identical twin to the Ford Ranger, but itís now notably different and not as good.

Ford also successfully addressed the crook shift action of the six-speed manual with the 2015 upgrade, but our choice is still the sixspeed automatic. For spec level we would then go for the XLT, as it brings sat-nav, a bigger eight-inch touchscreen, dual-zone climate, a centre-console cooler, rear parking sensors, auto wipers, sports bar and a 12-volt outlet in the tub.

The most notable thing about the Ranger is that itís a big ute in just about every sense.

Along with the BT-50 it has the longest wheelbase, the longest cabin and the biggest engine: a 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbo-diesel where smaller four-cylinder turbo-diesels are the class norm. It also has a class-leading GVM and tow rating.

On the road the engine delivers effortless performance without having to rev hard, and it has a particularly relaxed and smooth gait at highway speeds. The engine mates nicely to the six-speed auto.

By ute standards the Ranger handles and rides well on-road, while the new electric power steering makes for much easier lowspeed manoeuvring both in car parks and in tight off-road situations.

The Ranger is right up there at the pointy end of the field when off-road, thanks in part to its recent revisions. If you want a big ute that can do it all, itís hard to go past the Ranger XLT auto.

7

FORD EVEREST TREND

ENGINE: 3.2-litre 5-cyl turbo-diesel POWER: 143kW TORQUE: 470Nm GEARBOX: six-speed automatic 4X4 SYSTEM: dual-range full-time FRONT SUSPENSION: independent/coil springs REAR SUSPENSION: live axle/coil springs KERB WEIGHT: 2407kg GVM: 3100kg TOWING CAPACITY: 3000kg FUEL TANK CAPACITY: 80 litres ADR FUEL CLAIM: 8.5L/100km

PRICE $60,990 ENGINE 3.2-litre 5-cyl turbo-diesel

LOCAL HERO

THE CURRENT 4X4OTY MAKES THIS LIST OFF THE BACK OF GREAT VALUE FOR MONEY AND A BROAD SPECTRUM OF CAPABILITIES.

JUST in case you didnít know, the Everest is essentially a wagon version of Fordís highly successful Australian-developed Ranger ute.

Aside from the obvious body change, there are coil springs in place of leaf springs for the rear axle, disc brakes instead of drums at the rear, and an active full-time 4x4 system rather than the Rangerís part-time system. The wheelbase has also been reduced from the Rangerís extraordinarily long 3220mm.

Our pick of the three-model, all-automatic range is the mid-spec Trend, which is the 4X4 Of The Year winner.

For an extra $6000 over the still well-equipped, base-spec Ambiente, the Trend gains adaptive cruise control, forward-crash mitigation, lanekeeping assistance, projector headlights with auto high-beam on/off, daytime running lamps, auto wipers, front parking sensors and a power tailgate. You also get a premium audio system, a much bigger touchscreen (eight-inch instead of 4.2) and sat-nav as a $600 option, which is not available on the base spec at all. Thatís plenty of kit for just $6K.

Mind you, you also get 18s instead of 17s.

The Everest runs Prado tyre spec in 17- and 18-inch sizes, so tyre availability is good.

Meanwhile, the jump to the top-spec Titanium is a significant $16K, but for that you get 20s, which you definitely donít want if you are planning to take your Everest to the bush.

The Everest shares the 2015 face-lifted Rangerís 3.2-litre inline five-cylinder diesel engine, but with AdBlue pollutant-reducing technology and a touch less power. The five-cylinder design is a little lumpy at idle but smooths out nicely at highway speeds, where it has a relaxed gait quite different to competitor four-cylinder designs. Itís strong at low revs and doesnít need to be revved hard to give its best.

Despite the Everestís hefty weight and liveaxle rear suspension it feels quite sporty through corners, and the electric power steering, which is exceptionally light at parking speeds and when off-road, firms up nicely at higher road speeds.

Active full-time 4x4 is also a major benefit on allroad, all-weather driving.

The Everest could do with a tad more clearance and wheel travel when driving off-road, but it does have the benefit of a driver-switched rear locker, which doesnít cancel the traction control across the front axle when engaged.

The Everest offers a spacious and comfortable seven-seat cabin thanks in part to a wheelbase Ė while shortened from the Ranger Ė that matches a Land Cruiser 200. The amount of luggage space behind the rear seats when the third row is deployed is impressive. Not so good is the vision from the driverís seat or the lack of tilt-and-reach steering wheel adjustment.

8

LAND ROVER DISCOVERY TDV6

ENGINE: 3.0-litre V6 bi-turbo-diesel POWER: 155kW TORQUE: 520Nm GEARBOX: eight-speed automatic 4X4 SYSTEM: dual-range full-time FRONT SUSPENSION: independent/air springs REAR SUSPENSION: independent/air springs KERB WEIGHT: 2558kg GVM: 3240kg TOWING CAPACITY: 3500kg FUEL TANK CAPACITY: 82.3 litres ADR FUEL CLAIM: 8.8L/100km

PRICE $69,630 ENGINE 3.0-litre V6 bi-turbo-diesel

ENDURING BENCHMARK

NEARING THE END OF ITS LIFE, LAND ROVERíS DISCOVERY REMAINS THE BENCHMARK IN SO MANY WAYS.

LIKE a number of vehicles in the Dirty Dozen, the Discovery is a former 4X4 Of The Year winner. In fact, the Discovery has been a habitual 4X4OTY winner, the last time when the TDV6 you see here was released in 2012.

Back then it was called Discovery 4 Ė now itís just called Discovery to distinguish it from the Discovery Sport, effectively a thirdgeneration Freelander.

Either way, the TDV6 is the latest iteration of a vehicle line that goes back some 13 years to the original Discovery 3 (the 4 being just a development of the D3ís basic platform).

The TDV6 is the entry model in the Discovery line-up and is comfortably the pick of the range for a number of reasons. First up, just about all the features that donít come standard with the TDV6 can be added as options, with only a handful of high-end entertainment options unavailable, including rear DVD and digital TV.

Most importantly you can add leather, thirdrow seats, sat-nav and a rear auto-locking differential, among other options Ė most of which are standard on the more expensive SDV6.

The SDV6 also comes with a more powerful version of the Discoveryís 3.0-litre bi-turbo-diesel V6, which offers 183kW and 600Nm versus 155kW and 520Nm for the TDV6.

But hereís the rub: the SDV6 and the TDV6 engines are mechanically identical and only differ in tuning software. A Land Rover dealer isnít about to do the tune-up for you, and theyíll probably say it will void your warranty. However, it can be done Ė and itís not hard. Plus, youíre not tuning the engine beyond what itís designed for Ė something thatís not the case with most diesel engine upgrades. Either way, the low-tune engine mates beautifully to the slick ZF eightspeed gearbox to produce a relaxed, adequately powerful and refined powertrain.

Unlike the Prado and 200 Series, the Discovery has height-adjustable air spring suspension, so itís relatively low on-road ride height doesnít compromise off-road clearance and vice versa. In fact, the Discovery works beautifully both on- and off-road. However, the rear-locker option is a must for anyone who wants to fully utilise their Discoveryís off-road potential.

Complementing the Discoveryís broad spectrum of on- and off-road capabilities is its big, space-efficient cabin that remains a standard-setter in functionality.

As ever, the Discoveryís small fuel capacity and wheel and tyre spec are practical shortcomings. The former can be addressed relatively easily, the latter not so. But still, the Discovery is a great 4x4. Letís hope its replacement due next year is at least as good.

9

NISSAN PATROL Y62 Ti

ENGINE: 5.6-litre V8 petrol POWER: 298kW TORQUE: 560Nm GEARBOX: seven-speed automatic 4X4 SYSTEM: dual-range on-demand FRONT SUSPENSION: independent/coil springs REAR SUSPENSION: independent/coil springs KERB WEIGHT: 2800kg GVM: 3450kg TOWING CAPACITY: 3500kg FUEL TANK CAPACITY: 140 litres ADR FUEL CLAIM: 14.4L/100km

PRICE $69,990 ENGINE 5.6-litre V8 petrol

POTENT PATROL

THANKS TO A HUGE PRICE CUT LAST YEAR, NISSANíS UNLOVED V8 PATROL NOW LOOKS LIKE GOOD SHOPPING.

LAST year Nissan slashed nearly $30K off the top-spec Ti-L model in its Y62 Patrol V8 range, which had been on sale for a few years and not impacted the sales charts.

At the same time the base-spec ST-L was dropped and the price of the mid-spec Ti, effectively now the new base model, was cut $24K to $69,990. That puts the Ti $23K cheaper than a petrol 200 VX and $28K cheaper than a diesel 200 VX (the VX being the closest 200 Series spec-level to the Patrol Ti).

Put another way, $69,990 for the Patrol Ti makes it $3K to $4K cheaper than a petrol or diesel Prado VX, which is astonishing given what the Y62 offers.

First up, the Y62 is a big 4x4. Drive it back-toback with a 200 and the Y62 almost feels like a bigger class of vehicle. The second-row seat is especially generous compared to the 200 and its luggage space is also notably larger.

The Y62 offers a 5.6-litre V8 that makes the 4.6-litre (petrol) V8 in the 200 seem a bit limp-wristed. The numbers tell part of the story (298kW/560Nm versus 228kW/439Nm), but the other part is that Nissanís V8 comes from an engine family with serious motorsport credentials. This includes the V8 used by Nissan in its local V8 Supercars and the V8 that dominates the LMP2 class in international sports car endurance racing (Le Mans 24 Hour, etc).

The Y62ís 298kW makes it one very potent 4x4 on-road, and for those who like V8s itís a much more vocal engine than the 200ís rather subdued 4.6.

To help keep all this performance and a fair bit of weight (2800kg) in check, the Y62 has something very special in the suspension department: Hydraulic Body Motion Control (HBMC). HBMC is a far more sophisticated suspension system than whatís under a 200, even one with KDSS.

HBMC is a fully independent coil-spring system with active dampers that limit on-road bodyroll but also maximise off-road wheel travel, and all without mechanical sway bars. The system works brilliantly. The Y62 corners much flatter than a 200 on-road yet can still keep up with a 200 off-road, even if it needs more under-engine protection for very rocky going.

At $69,990 the Ti is very well-equipped, but the big downside is that the Y62 is thirsty. The always-conservative official ADR fuel number, 14.4L/100km in this case, probably tells you all you need to know. On our last test we averaged 17.7L/100km. The time before that, with more low-range work, it registered 21.3L/100km.

The upside is that thereís a 140-litre tank, so the range is still okay. And with the $23K to $28K saving over a 200 VX, thatís a lot of free fuel before you hit price parity.

10

TOYOTA PRADO VX

ENGINE: 2.8-litre 4-cyl turbo-diesel POWER: 130kW TORQUE: 450Nm GEARBOX: six-speed automatic 4X4 SYSTEM: dual-range part-time FRONT SUSPENSION: independent/coil springs REAR SUSPENSION: live axle/coil springs KERB WEIGHT: 2400kg (approx.)

GVM: 2900kg TOWING CAPACITY: 2500kg FUEL TANK CAPACITY: 150 litres ADR FUEL CLAIM: 8.4L/100km

PRICE $73,990 ENGINE 2.8-litre 4-cyl turbo-diesel

MR AND MRS POPULAR

THE PRADO IS AUSTRALIAíS BEST-SELLING 4X4 WAGON FOR GOOD REASON. MANY GOOD REASONS IN FACT.

OTHER than a short period back in 2014 when Jeep Grand Cherokee sales were peaking, the Prado has long been Australiaís best-selling 4x4 wagon.

Before the rise in popularity of 4x4 utes it was Australiaís best-selling 4x4 overall.

The Prado is now the default Land Cruiser, given the 200ís ritzy pricing (and possibly larger size) is not to everyoneís liking. In many ways, not least in size, the Prado is todayís 80 or 100 Series Ė in their day the most popular 4x4s.

The Prado is a proper Land Cruiser, a 150 Series to be precise. Thatís something often not acknowledged and even denied Ė just because itís smaller than a 200 doesnít mean itís a lesser vehicle.

The big question is: What Prado from the nine-model range is the pick? Discounting the three petrol models, there are two ways to go with the diesel. If youíre planning on building a bush tourer then the five-seat GX, probably in manual, is the only way to go. However, if you want more of a generalduties, day-to-day family 4x4, then we think itís worth bypassing the popular GXL auto and going for a VX.

Trouble is the VX is an additional $12K over and above the $61,990 GXL auto, which seems like a lot until you drive the two back-to-back. The VX offers far sportier and flatter on-road handing and better offroad performance, thanks to longer and more supple wheel travel. The difference is the VXís Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS), a brilliantly simple hydromechanical system that automatically adjusts the tension on the suspensionís sway bars. KDSS is standard on the VX but unfortunately unavailable on the GXL, even as an option.

The VX also ups the ante with leather, heated front- and second-row seats, electric seat and steering wheel adjustment, powerfold third-row seating, auto headlights and wipers, a 17-speaker premium audio system and front parking sensors. You also get 18s instead of 17s, but the tyre spec is still very bush-friendly.

Compared to the previous 3.0-litre diesel, the new 2.8-litre diesel is noticeably quieter, smoother and more flexible, but it doesnít offer a significant jump in outright performance.

As ever, the Prado cabin is comfortable, roomy and nicely detailed, especially at the VX spec. Practical features, such as the 150-litre fuel tank, are all supported by an extensive dealer network. Plus thereís a vast array of aftermarket enhancements available.

11

TOYOTA LAND CRUISER 200 GX

ENGINE: 4.5-litre V8 twin-turbo-diesel POWER: 195kW TORQUE: 650Nm GEARBOX: six-speed automatic 4X4 SYSTEM: dual-range full-time FRONT SUSPENSION: independent/coil springs REAR SUSPENSION: live axle/coil springs KERB WEIGHT: 2640kg GVM: 3350kg TOWING CAPACITY: 3500kg FUEL TANK CAPACITY: 138 litres ADR FUEL CLAIM: 10.3L/100km

PRICE $76,500 ENGINE 4.5-litre V8 twin-turbo-diesel

TOUGH LOVE

THE GX IS NOT ONLY THE LEAST-EXPENSIVE 200 SERIES, ITíS THE MOST BUSH-READY.

WHAT list of best 4x4 buys wouldnít include the 200 Series, the crown jewel in Toyotaís extensive range of off-road vehicles? Trouble is, which 200, given they are priced almost like crown jewels? Go for a top-spec Sahara and youíre at $120K even before on-road costs.

For our money the base-spec GX is the best value and is particularly attractive as a starting point for a 4x4 tourer. Mind you, itís still expensive compared to a 78 Troop Carrier or the slightly cheaper 76 Wagon. If you go for the base-spec Workmate 76 you can save $18K over a 200 GX.

However, comparing the 200 to a current 76, 78 or 79DC doesnít do any sort of favour to the 200. Sure, they are both Toyota Land Cruisers, but they feel like they come from different worlds, such is the huge gulf between them. The 70 drives like a thirdworld truck, while the 200 drives like a firstworld luxury 4x4. The 200 is light years ahead in comfort, refinement, ride and handling, engine performance, and the ability to cover huge distances without unduly fatiguing the driver or passengers. Itís also well ahead in active and passive safety.

The 70 is a more rugged and ultimately more capable off-road workhorse, but itís badly compromised by its way-too-short highway gearing and single-turbo V8 diesel, which isnít nearly as efficient as the 200ís twin-turbo V8. Throw in the 70ís blunt front aerodynamics and an engine that revs unduly even at modest highway speeds, and itís no wonder it can drink fuel like it has a petrol V8 under the bonnet Ė and at a rate 15 to 20 per cent greater than a 200!

The GX didnít arrive until late in 2011, some four years after the 200 range debuted and itís effectively a stripped version of the popular 200 GXL. You still get the 195kW/640Nm twin-turbo 4.5-litre V8 diesel complete with the sweet six-speed auto and the full raft of electronic chassis systems including stability, traction and crawl control. The GX also has front, side and curtain airbags.

Gone from the GXL are the third-row seats, carpet floors, proximity ignition key with push-button start, alloy wheels and horizontally split rear tailgate. In their place the GX has five seats, vinyl floor coverings, a conventional ignition key, steel wheels and rear Ďbarní doors. The GX then gains a factory snorkel, the only 200 thus equipped. And with the third-row seats and other things gone, it has a higher payload than other 200s. Much bigger load space, too.

12

RANGE ROVER SPORT SDV8

ENGINE: 4.4-litre V8 bi-turbo-diesel POWER: 250kW TORQUE: 740Nm GEARBOX: eight-speed automatic 4X4 SYSTEM: dual-range full-time FRONT SUSPENSION: independent/air springs REAR SUSPENSION: independent/air springs KERB WEIGHT: 2398kg GVM: 3200kg TOWING CAPACITY: 3500kg FUEL TANK CAPACITY: 105 litres ADR FUEL CLAIM: 8.7L/100km

PRICE $145,310 ENGINE 4.4-litre V8 bi-turbo-diesel

KINGíS CARRIAGE

FEW PEOPLE HAVE $150K TO SPEND ON A NEW 4X4, BUT IF YOU DO, THEREíS ONLY ONE CHOICE.

THERE are no surprises that a Range Rover of some description has made the Dirty Dozen list. The question is: which Range Rover? For our money itís the Range Rover Sport SDV8, which is not only the pick of the vast Range Rover/ Range Rover Sport line-up, but itís better than any 4x4 or SUV from Audi, Bentley, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus or Porsche.

The RRS SDV8 was our 4X4OTY two years back, so it joins the other 4X4OTY winners on this list.

For those who donít know their Range Rovers, the SDV8 designation means it has the 4.4-litre bi-turbo-diesel V8, one of a vast array of engines available in the RRS or indeed the RR itself.

The distinction between the Range Rover and the Range Rover Sport is important here, too. In effect thereís little mechanical difference between the two as they share platforms and most of the multiple powertrain options. The key difference is in the body. The Range Roverís is longer, taller and wider than the sleeker and, for most, more handsome body of the Sport.

That this second-generation RRS can claim to be a proper Range Rover sets it apart from the first-generation Range Rover Sport, which was built on a Discovery 3 platform.

Key to this generation of RRS (and RR) is the all-aluminium monocoque construction, which brings considerable weight savings over both the steel separate chassis of the first-generation RRS and the steel monocoque of the previous-gen RR.

At 2400kg, the RRS Sport is still heavy but doesnít feel it due to impeccable road manners and the effortless and ample power of the 250kW/740Nm diesel V8.

The SDV8 is one of three diesels on offer, the other two being 3.0-litre V6 diesels in different states of tune. Thereís also a dieselelectric hybrid and four petrol engines, two supercharged V6s and two supercharged V8s, the most potent of which, the SRV, makes a mighty 405kW. Thatís a truckload of fun, but itís another $75K over the SDV8 Ė and itís thirsty.

The SDV8 is the complete package.

On-road itís a luxury car with sports car performance and frugal economy, yet offroad itís amazingly capable and will scramble up a gnarly hill with the best of them. The wheel/tyre spec isnít the most practical, but at least in this generation of Range Rover and Range Rover Sport thereís been a move towards higher-profile tyres for any given wheel size, a welcome move in terms of offroad functionality.