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Live axled or manual transmission 4X4s on sale in Australia: February 2017

You want a ‘traditional’ 4X4?  Then buy now… Here’s a guide to the few remaining live-axled or manual transmission 4x4s on sale in Australia.

UPDATED: April 2016: removed Nissan Patrol GU which means we lose not only a manual optioned 4WD, but a live-axled wagon and ute.   UPDATED: March 2016: removed Mitsubishi Challenger which has been replaced by the automatic-only Mitsubishi Pajero Sport, and Land Rover Defender which has been discontinued. Added Toyota Fortuner.  

UPDATED: September 2016: added Great Wall Steed, manual diesel, Foton Tunland, Tata Xenon.  

UPDATED: Feburary 2017: added Ram, F-250

Live axles certainly have their place in the offroading world.  They make vehicles easy to modify, are simple and strong.  They also offer unparalleled suspension flex. But with the advent of electronic traction control, suspension flex has become less important, and at the same time the market demands better onroad handling.   Then there’s the fact live axles are heavy, and with all that combined the death of the live axle isn’t far off.  

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Manual transmissions are also dying, and for good reason. Autos are easier to drive, better on and off-road, smoother, offer more ratios and now better fuel economy.  There’s no practical reason to buy a manual any more – but I would for a fun car, especially a sports car, because for me changing gears is part of the enjoyment of driving.  However, I’d take autos for touring vehicles or city commuters any day. There are also some reliablity arguments for manuals which are explored here and in the comments below.  

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So this post is here to track the number of vehicles with live axles front and rear you can buy on the Australian market, and those 4WDs with manual transmissions.  As time goes on the numbers will dwindle to nothing – let’s see how long it takes.

Vehicles with live axles front and rear

  • Land Rover Defender (wagon/ute) no longer available. Replacement not known, and it may not include a manual version.
  • Iveco Daily 4X4
  • Toyota 70 Series (wagon/ute)
  • Suzuki Jimny
  • Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen
  • Mercedes-Benz G-Class Professional
  • Nissan Patrol GU (wagon/ute)
  • Jeep Wrangler
  • Ram 2500/3500 (via Ram Trucks Australia)
  • Ford F-250 (via Performax)

The Defender is now gone, the 70 can’t be far off either, despite recent updates, and the Patrol Y61 GU has finally been discontinued, completely replaced by the Y62.    It is an interesting question as to how long the G-Wagen will last as it’s expensive to build and low volume.  The Jimny has had a stay of execution thanks to introduction of stability control, but its aged chassis can’t continue forever and the vehicle needs an overall major update.   We do know the next Wrangler will retain live axles, and it is our bet that this will be the very last dual-beam-axle vehicle to be sold in Australia.   Buy these cars while you can!

Low-range 4WDs available with a manual transmission

Not all trim grades and engines are available with manuals (or autos).

Wagons

Utes

* Only available with a manual.

Great Wall Steed review

  • dilligaf

    In the “wagons” its the 76 series 4 door and 78 series Troopy. The 79 series belongs in the “ute” section.

    • Fixed, thanks. Didn’t have the vehicle in the ute section at all. Changed.

  • Fred

    Another difference I have noticed between the Solid front axle and IFS is the amount of body roll when crossing over large ruts.

    An IFS vehicle will fall into the ruts resulting in sometimes dramatic body roll while the wheel travel in the solid front axle vehicle helps to keep the body of the vehicle relatively level compared to a IFS vehicle.

    On steeper climbs this does become a safety issue with the IFS vehicle at greater risk of rollover than the solid front axle vehicle.

    • Andrew Riles

      I have noticed that too…much prefer solid axles for serious offroading purely for this reason….

      Didn’t realise the list of manual 4WD wagons had gotten so short though….

      • trackdaze

        Discovery manages this with cross linked airbags that mimic live axle articulation.

        Apologies if its been mentioned typical of independant suspensions ground clearance tends to be higher under the diffs. So a live axled vehicle will become diffed out in situations were driving through wheel rutts is the only option. At speed though ground clearance is variable under the diff.

        One thing to mention with the independants that lift a wheel or two is there can be a mechanical traction advantage to applying the total vehicle weight to one or two wheels Not in every situation on every surface. But on some surfaces where extra force helps a Tyre to bite down can be better than averaging the weight across the two.

        A finely calibrated traction control systems may have a roll limiting feature that will releive traction to the wheel on the ground should it sense a roll

        • Excellent point:

          “One thing to mention with the independants that lift a wheel or two is
          there can be a mechanical traction advantage to applying the total
          vehicle weight to one or two wheels Not in every situation on every
          surface. But on some surfaces where extra force helps a Tyre to bite
          down can be better than averaging the weight across the two.”

          Good to see an open mind on this subject capable of analyzing pros and cons.

        • Andrew Riles

          Thanks for the explanation trackdaze…..hadn’t considered weight distribution across the tyres in that sense….and had heard about the crosslinked bags on the Disco, from what I can see, there are very few (if any) factory 4WDS with IFS/IRS that can outflex it…

        • Rod

          Ground clearance is variable under the diff of an IFS at low speed as well. When the axles articulate (which admittedly they tend not to do much) the wheels moving up into the body see reduced clearance under the diff. So this is not only something that happens at speed but is important for offroading as well.

          • True and it reduces if there is no articulation on hills. Case in point; IFS Pajero Sport did not scrape when ascending, did scrape on the way back down.

  • Andrew Riles

    Robert, I’m a little surprised the Fortuner isn’t on the manual box list, given the more expensive Prado is, and thought that the Suzuki Grand Vitara was still eligible too…

  • CogitoErgoZoom

    You can buy a vehicle [in my opinion THE BEST stock HARDCORE on sale] off the shelf fitted with front/rear live axles, super low range, huge ground height, triple diff locks, single/double cabin[seats 4 in the rear!] all for ~$80k

    Hint hint its Made In Italy 🙂

  • CogitoErgoZoom

    You can buy a vehicle [in my opinion THE BEST stock HARDCORE on sale] off the shelf fitted with front/rear live axles, super low range, huge ground height, triple diff locks, single/double cabin[seats 4 in the rear!] 24 fwd gears!, all for ~$80k

    Hint hint its Made In Italy 🙂

    • Andrew Riles

      Iveco Daily??

      • CogitoErgoZoom

        Thats it, series 2 out soon

        • Didn’t include light trucks, or tractors…

          • CogitoErgoZoom

            I believe you can drive it on a std. car license, its under 4500kg

          • Andrew Riles

            Some versions you can….GVM choices of 4495kg or about 5200kg I believe….

            Haven’t got as far as riding in one, let alone driving it, but no argument on their capability…..the light truck design limits their appeal for me (and I suspect many others) though….

  • troll

    ssangyong rexton also has rear live axle

    • It does, but it’s automatic-only. This post is about live axles front and rear, OR manual transmissions in a 4WD.

  • Andrew Riles

    Robert, while you are adding the budget utes, what about the Foton Tunland and Tata Xenon?? Both are diesel manual only like the Great Wall 4×4 utes….

    • Added, thanks. Also clarified that this post is about front and rear live axled vehicles only. It’ll be a while before the IFS/live rear design leaves us.

      • Andrew Riles

        Cheers….

        Agreed on the IFS/live rear being around for a while, seems ute makers in particular are in no hurry to change that….

  • Rod

    I disagree completely that there is “no practical reason to buy a manual anymore”.
    For serious bush work they will always have their place.
    I see the improvements in efficiency with autos and I know they have clear advantages in mud and sand. The engine braking issue can be sorted with electronics (bit risky after five creek crossings but ok).
    So tell me Robert, when did you last roll start your auto due to three flat batteries 10km from the nearest set of wheel marks? Two weeks ago for my Range Rover.
    When did you tow a disabled auto with engine trouble out of the bush? I did this yesterday for our broken down Landcruiser 79 series ute as it was a manual.
    If you have a sudden breather failure in a creek crossing because of a branch that flicked up three km ago, will it still get you out to swap out the oil on dry land at the other side (hint: no).
    Unlikely you say? This all happens out there and drivers who spend time in the bush will all know this sooner or later.
    It’s entertaining reading sweeping generalisations from motoring journalists and sometime you’re on the money, but this one indicates you don’t really do enough bush driving to understand why manual transmissions should have a place out there for many years to come. As such you would be best to qualify your statements accordingly, rather than claim to know all about it.
    It is good though to see you are across why live axles are handy out there. I too lament there passing but will watch, for example, the new defender roll out with interest.

    • Hello Rod. I’ve had to do all of those things at some point, although with different cars. For example, keystarting my way out of deep water in first low n my first 4WD. I don’t claim to know all about it either, that’s a claim made on behalf of many journalists by readers that disagree with them.

      To refer to your points:

      Flat batteries are much less of an issue now with better batteries and management.

      You can tow auto 4WDs with the transfer case in netural, or slowly for a short distance without (the owner’s manual should say).

      And yes damage/reliability is a potential issue, but it’s a pretty small chance. The same reliability argument can be used for part-time 4WD with FW hubs vs AWD, lockable centre diffs vs centre clutches or pretty much any design feature you care to name. I don’t see auto transmissions stranding too many people.

      All that said, I agree with your basic point, and I’ll amend the article. I was thinking more from a driving perspective than a robustness perspective at the time.

      We don’t know for sure, but I’d be shocked if the new Defender wasn’t fully independent.

  • Erik

    Thanks for creating and updating this article, a nice change of pace from the usual city focused articles. You even call them 4x4s! Just like their owners do, (have you ever heard a 4wder refer to their car as an SUV? So why do nearly all journalists?) Thumbs up!
    Don’t believe the glossy brochures that say modern autos now have better economy than manuals, those figures are pure fantasy, out in the real world manuals still achieve significantly better mileage for the same vehicle. My manual consistently beats its official mileage by a good 10%, never met an auto owner whose been able to achieve anywhere near what their manufacturers claim.
    IMO adding complexity in suspension or transmissions only adds things that can go wrong, heard of many people having to crawl back to civilization in limp mode because some silly little sensor got some schmutz on it, then have expensive repairs to do. Roothies story about the brand new Range Rover he was road testing up Cape York is a classic, he tells it well too, at least Land Rover picked up the bill for that one.
    I’ll stick with manuals and at least live rear axle as long as they can still be bought:)

    • Agreed, no offroader in Australia would EVER refer to their vehicle as a SUV. It’d be my truck, fourby, 4WD, 4X4, possibly “rig”.

      Autos do get better economy than manuals now as they’re as efficient, and often have more ratios – up to nine. However, there are times when the manual can still beat the auto. I have beaten the ADR figure in several autos.

      Stay tuned for an article on 4X4 design principles…I think you might agree with it a bit 🙂

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper is the editor of PM4x4, an 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. Visit his website: www.l2sfbc.com