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Reader help: I need a smallish seven-seat SUV that works on sand

This reader is looking for a seven-seat SUV that’ll handle sand driving and come in at less than $25k.

Hi Practical Motoring,

I’ve been reluctant to do this but I keep going around in circles re: a new, used car and I wondered whether you might have five minutes to impart wisdom in my direction…Two weeks ago I wrote-off my 2004 Td5 Disco in a towing accident and I’m looking for a replacement for less than $25K.

I don’t need a large 4×4 (like the Discovery) but I occasionally would use seven seats and occasionally hit Fraser Island, so a large 4×4 seems to be the only option for me; but, I’m wary of driving a large 4×4 for such occasional trips, when most of the time it will just be my commuter.

I’ve looked at ‘softroaders’ (Santa Fe, Outlander etc.) but I think they’d struggle on Fraser. I’m tempted by a Subaru Outback due to reliability and lightness but only five seats and long overhangs limit off-road capability and the Forester’s too small; is there any 7-seater equivalent…(not that I know of).

I’ve thought about the MU-X but again they’re getting towards the ‘heavy behemoth’ end of the spectrum when most of the time I’d just be commuting. Also thinking of a VW Caddy 4Motion. It frustrates me that lightweight, high-riding 4WDs just don’t appear to exist…

Any advice would be most appreciated. 

Hi there and thanks for your email,

You’re right, offroad-capable smaller SUVs with seven seats are a bit of a rarity, and $25k would mean a second-hand car. But offroad-capable SUVs do exist. There’s several examples, for instance, the Mitsubishi Outlander proved its worth offroad on our test. The Hyundai Santa Fe can also work on sand. I ran a previous generation model as a long-term tester, and here it is below pulling a Nissan Patrol out of trouble:

img_2881-2 Both cars are available for less than $25k secondhand.

The VW Caddy 4Motion might get a front-drive biased all-wheel drive system, but it lacks the ground clearance of other seven-seat SUVs and wouldn’t work as well on sand as other options.

For readers wanting something newer, also consider the Discovery Sport with its 5+2 configuration. And to move up a little bit how about a Pajero Sport? It’s towards the smaller end of the medium 4WDs, would go very well on sand and is now available as a seven seater.

The tip for softroaders on sand; drop tyre pressures to 14psi, and option the smallest rims you can find, so 17-inch not 19-inch. Switch off stability control, lock any centre clutches and away you go. They don’t match bigger 4WDs, but they can be effective.

Here’s the Santa Fe doing a bit more offroad work, including travelling all over Victoria’s Little Desert:

img_3071-leadlow img_3181-desert

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4 years ago

Had a 2007 Outlander 3.0 six cylinder AWD that we often took to the beach at Kurnell in Sydney, as well as various tracks in country NSW. It handled the beach and the sand very well actually, better than I expected, and we never once got bogged. I had H/T tyres on it. Having said that, I’m not sure what Frazer Island is like.

4 years ago
Reply to  Steve-O

The front beach is a highway inland and north of indian head are where softroaders and soft drivers come unstuck.

Andrew Riles
Andrew Riles
4 years ago

My experiences with soft roaders on sand has not been good….both on Stockton Beach, and on both occasions the AWD system overheated and shut down, reverting the vehicles to FWD… our case it was a first gen X-trail, and a first gen XC90, though I have heard stories of other vehicles doing it too….

Is this still an issue with any AWD vehicles, or has further development of their AWD systems meant this no longer happens??

While I can’t comment on its ability in sand, I’m otherwise a big fan of the Santa Fe model pictured, aside from its foot-operated handbrake I have found it a hard car to fault, even compared to the XC90…..

Steve Bekkers
Steve Bekkers
3 years ago

a mate of mine has a 2009 Santa Fe and I am constantly amazed at how well it goes off road. Ok he has fitted 31″ tyres and this has no doubt made sand and rocks a doddle. Lots of times he has had to recover his mate’s 79 cruiser… Plus it is economical and sweet to drive on the road.

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper