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What 4×4 or AWD should I buy for $40,000?

With a $40,000 budget this returning Australian wants to buy an off-roader, and has a fairly tight idea of what the 4×4 / AWD needs to do…

QUESTION: I’m an Aussie Pom. That is, I used to live in Australia as a kid, my parents moved to England, I have dual nationality and now… I’m moving back to the good ol’ country in my (late) 50s.

Perth will be my new home from this coming May. My brother and a couple of friends live there, so why not?

When I move over I intend to purchase a new (to me) car. Although it will be my daily driver 90% of the time, I also want to be able to explore some of the further reaches of my new country.

Comprehensive Car Insurance

There are some must haves and some nice to haves.

Must have:

  • Four-wheel drive, off-road, ability. Doesn’t need to climb a mountain, but should be able to cope with a challenging dirt (mud) track.
  • A bit of space for ‘stuff’. Just be me and perhaps one other, so no need to cope with a family, just the tent and any rescue gear I need to carry, such as Maxtrax, extra fuel and loads of drinking water. * Character! Important one this. I want something I can enjoy, both on the tarmac and the gravel. * Reliability. As I may be venturing off on my own from time to time (the misses likes her comforts too much), I’d rather not be breaking down in the middle of nowhere.

Nice to have:

  • I like my toys and I’m a big Apple tech user, so Apple CarPlay would be nice.
  • Like the modern road safety tech, as well. So reversing camera, blind spot cameras, etc. * Nice music is great when travelling, especially on my lonesome, so a good sound system would be great. * Economical. This is definitely a nice to have and not a must have. Would rather use less fuel and spend less on servicing, if possible, but character overrides this every time!

So what have I been looking at? In no particular order:

  • Subaru Forester;
  • Jeep Renegade Trailhawk;
  • Suzuki Vitara 4WD; and
  • Toyota FJ Cruiser.

Very different, heh? I didn’t say it was an easy choice… Oh, and I should say I only have up to $40,000 to spend. Rather spend $35k than $40k, of course.

ANSWER: Okay, the first bit of advice is not to spend $40k on your 4×4 as you need to allow for accessories. Go for say $28k, and leave a healthy $12k for accessories. You’ll need tyres, suspension, snorkel, a cargo system, recovery gear, tools, UHF radio and more. It’s not unusual for people to spend $40k on accessories alone, although you don’t need to go that far. You can save a lot of money by buying a vehicle with a lot of this stuff fitted though.

Now, within the price bracket of $25 to $40k you’ve got a wide range of choices; pretty much anything with low-range will do the job. As there’s only two of you then you don’t really need the carrying capacity and space of a ute, so wagons make sense. Let’s look at your shortlist of four, all of which are very fine vehicles and would do the job you want. However, there are pros and cons.

The Trailhawk is expensive, not that spacious compared to the others, and limited on accessories like snorkels. It is big on toys and safety though. It’s not a great on-road drive either.

The Suzuki Vitara I’d suggest the slightly bigger and more capable Grand Vitara with low range. These are really, really good cars and have a wide range of useful accessories. Good size for two people as well.

The Forester would be the best on dirt roads but the least capable in the rough. Many people tour with Subies, but many find they need to upgrade to something more capable such as… an FJ Cruiser. Now that is a real off-roader, lots of accessories available massively capable and plenty of space for two people. Later models also come with a long range fuel tank.

There’s not really a bad choice in your mix, but if you intend to get into serious long-range or off-road touring the Toyota FJ would be first choice. If you wanted mostly dirt-road and light off-roading the Forester would win. The Grand Vitara is a good mix of the two, and the Trailhawk is what you’d choose if you just loved the features and the looks.

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Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper is a motoring journalist, offroad driver trainer and photographer interested in anything with wings, sails or wheels. He is the author of four books on offroading, and owns a modified Ford Ranger PX which he uses for offroad touring. His other car is a Toyota 86 which exists purely to drive in circles on racetracks, and that's when he isn't racing his Nissan Pulsar. Visit his website: www.l2sfbc.com or follow him on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/RobertPepperJourno/ or buy his new ebook!