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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


Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper