Australia is a big country and a great one to explore. However, it takes a great four wheel drive vehicle to reach all corners of this wide brown land.
Many car shoppers want to know what the best SUV money can buy for their price-point is and more often-than-not, the buyer in question wants a versitle family car with five or seven seats that has a high driving position and gutsy off-road look about it. If, however, you desire your wagon with genuine off-road capability, it's not always easy to separate the pretenders from the real deal.
These days there are plenty of butch-looking SUVs that aren't meant to venture beyond bitumen or, at best, loose gravel roads. Some SUVs don't even have four-wheel drive. Here we've compiled a list for folk who want all the benefits of a high-riding wagon with the equipment and ability to plunder rocky and rutted terrain. If you've never tried off-roading, it's a fun way to spend the weekend and adds a whole new dimension to motoring.
It's worth noting that many dual-cab pick-up utility vehicles have off-road capable variants too, but we will focus on 4WD wagons here.
Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon
Jeep's heritage is beyond question, with the original 1941 Willys Jeep being a genuine wartime hero that evolved into today's Wrangler. Here, again, you'll find ladder-frame chassis and live axles front and rear. The Rubicon version is the most hardcore, named after Jeep's off-road trail where legends are honed. Only one engine is on offer for the Rubicon. It's a 209kW 3.6-liter V6 petrol. A 2.8-liter diesel has been offered on other variants. An all-new Wrangler is set to be introduced from 2018 with aluminum panels and new, more efficient engines.
Ford's Everest SUV is a product of the T6 program that was entrusted to Ford Australia and spawned the Ranger ute. The wagon-bodied Everest scores a plusher interior and plenty of driving aids including switchable 4x4 modes to suit various terrain types. A gutsy 3.2-litre turbo-diesel five-cylinder is standard, hooked up to a six-speed automatic transmission. Power output is 143kW and torque is 470Nm, with resultant fuel economy of 8.5L/100km on the average cycle. The flagship Titanium comes with a panoramic sunroof, active park assist and adaptive cruise control.
The mud-sluggin' MU-X recently underwent a facelift, making it more appealing to buyers. There's still a 3.0-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder that returns 8.0L/100km, with power rated at 130KW and torque lifted from 380Nm to 430Nm. A new six-speed auto makes for smoother shifting, while the infotainment system is upgraded to a more modern touch-screen setup.
Land Rover Discovery
The fifth generation of a British off-roading legend is more modern and sophisticated than ever. The things that made the Disco great are still there such as the Terrain Response system and three-row theatre seating, but a trio of new engines is now available to choose from. A 2.0-litre turbo-diesel kicks things off with 132kW and 430Nm, slurping a mere 6.2L/100km. Next up is the SD4 that ups the ante to 177kW and 500Nm via a twin-turbo setup, with only a slight consumption penalty at 6.4L/100km. The top dog is a 3.0-litre V6 diesel that manages 190kW and 600Nm with finesse and still manages to drink only 7.2L/100km. With eight-speed autos and four-wheel drive across the board, genuine off-road ability is guaranteed.
Suzuki Jimny Sierra
With a lineage that can be traced back to 1970, Suzuki is the undisputed master of fun, go-anywhere compact 4x4s. The Jimny's credentials are very impressive; ladder-frame chassis, live axles front and rear plus lockable four-wheel drive modes. This little unit is very serious and can squeeze in where heavier wagons flounder. An economical 1.3-litre engine is paired to either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic, resulting in average economy of 7.4L/100km. Better act fast though, as Suzuki are only allocating 100 units to Australia for 2017 before an all-new version is expected to land next year.
An Australian fave, thanks to its chunky styling, excellent build quality and rugged terrain abilities. The Prado recently received a new 2.8-litre turbo-diesel, with 130kW and 450Nm. There is a six-speed automatic or a surprisingly slick six-speed manual that is actually rather enjoyable and easy to live with. Sound system and interior appointments will please many a family, with most versions managing great off-road prowess, though the top-line models with extra diff locks take the crown here.
Toyota Landcruiser 70 Series Wagon
The 70 Series is a rolling tribute to the old 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' adage, the body of this old battleaxe is not much different from the one in 1984. Except the 1984 model didn't have the safety features and reinforcements of today, or the indestructible 4.5-litre turbo-diesel V8 that makes 151kW, and 430Nm from a lazy 1200rpm.
From one extreme to the other, spartan warhorse to battleship enterprise with the Lexus LX570. Starting with a LandCruiser 200 base, adding a throaty 270kW 5.7-litre V8 petrol and cutting-edge off-road technology, the LX570 now has a layer of Lexus finesse that instils it with its own upper-class character while electronic wizardry and heavy-duty running gear helps you forge a path into any forest.
Another old-school entry, with the 1970s-era Gelandwagen that has become the car to be seen in if you're an ultra-rich rap artist. Still, with live axles front and rear and a ladder-frame chassis and cinder-block aerodynamics, the new G-Class has all the luxury of a modern 'Benz plus the latest engines from 3.0-litre diesels to a twin-turbo V8 – or even a V12 if you're abroad. A far cry from the utilitarian original but just as capable.
The most upper-crust SUV (until the Rolls-Royce Cullinan arrives) pushes new boundaries for the British, Volkswagen-owned luxury brand. Using Audi know-how for the platform and core suspension components but a distinctly handcrafted interior makes for a unique driving experience unlike any other. The SUV features a twin-turbo 6.0-litre W12 engine or the brand's first diesel V8. A plug-in hybrid is on the way too.