Best 4x4 off-roaders
Few people who enjoy recreational 4x4 driving will take their car into the bush without some modifications, but you need a strong base to start with.
These cars are different shapes and sizes, but the thread holding them together is that they're all focused on going a long way off-road. We’re not talking about a gentle gravel track with a pothole or two that you could get a Corolla down, here - these are hardcore off-road capable vehicles that, even without mods, could make tracks further away from civilisation than some of us would ever dare to drive.
This list doesn't focus on four-wheel drive utes, and instead focuses on 4x4 wagons of various dimensions and at diverse price points. We’ve got some old metal, some new options, and off-road-ready vehicles for singles, couples or families.
Keep in mind that the vehicles listed here are specifically chosen for their off-road abilities… that is to say that in most instances, but not all, there are significant trade-offs when it comes to sealed surface performance. They may also fall short on modern expectations when it comes to creature comforts and safety technology, though that’s not always the case anymore.
All vehicles on this list have low-range gearing and most have more advanced 4x4 features such as rear differential lockers.
But it is fair to say that most, if not all, of these are not going to be suitable for buyers who never plan to go off-roading. There are plethora comfort-focused SUVs that would do a better job for you if you want a vehicle that’s only ever going to get dirty because you park it under a particular tree that the fruit bats like to hang out in.
Here’s our list of the best of the best off-road 4x4 models you can buy new in Australia today, but some other honourable mentions include the Nissan Patrol, Jeep Wrangler and plenty of the dual-cab ute brigade, too.
Land Rover Defender
Pros: Three sizes available, exceptional on- and off-road ability, plenty of amazing tech
Cons: Expensive and keeps getting dearer, questionable reputation for reliabilty, lots of cheaper alternatives
Towing capacity: 3500kg braked
The Land Rover Defender is one of the best on- and off-road SUVs that money can buy, but the problem is that you really do need a lot of money to buy it.
The new-gen model range kicks off with the short-wheelbase 90 range, the mid-sized 110 version with the option of five, six or seven seats, and the new 130 mega SUV, with three rows of seating and ample cargo space to boot.
It may be misleading to say that no other SUV at this kind of money can do what the Defender can do when it comes to off-road capability – but the more pertinent point here is that none can do it with as much poise, comfort, control and ease.
It has permanent four-wheel drive with a low-range transfer case for serious off-roading, not to mention centre and rear differential locks, and an immense array of off-road digital tools to help you find your way in the rough stuff – including multiple camera modes, and a see-through bonnet camera mode which will allow you to see where your tyres are basically going to go.
This is a superb off-roader, with a range of engine choices available, including a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol plug-in hybrid model with an official fuel use figure of just 3.4 litres per 100km, through to four- and six-cylinder turbo-petrol engines, a six-cylinder turbo-diesel, and a firebreathing supercharged 5.0-litre V8 with 386kW and 625Nm.
Land Rover has its battles with reliability - see the JD Power results for evidence of such - but in Australia the British brand backs its models with a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty. Services are due every 12 months or 20,400km for most models in the range, while the V8 version has intervals of 12 months/26,000km. There are prepaid service plans on offer.
Pros: Versatile 4x4 system for on- and off-road, roomy interior, better-than-average ride comfort
Cons: 2.0-litre diesel works hard, third-row not as flexible as some rivals, higher pricing
Towing capacity: 3500kg braked
The new-generation Ford Everest has lapped up plenty of praise since it went on sale, and it has done so because of its startling ability to be both a fantastic family SUV, but also a ready-to-go off-road weapon from the factory floor.
There are multiple different trim levels avialable for the the Australian-engineered Ford Everest – which is based on the spectactularly good Ford Ranger ute, and while there are 4x2 and 4x4 models on offer, all come with rear coil suspension rather than leaf springs as you find in the pick-up truck.
Ford’s local development of the Ranger and Everest models mean it feels like it was made for Australia’s punishing terrain, be that between the roundabouts at school drop-off, or out the back of Bourke on a big school holiday trip with the fam.
There is a superbly comfortable and compliant ride, good noise suppression, and very light and easy steering. Moreover, its full-time 4x4 system is usable on paved roads for better traction in the rain, and comes with various terrain traction modes and an electronic locking rear differential. It also has 800mm wading potential without a snorkel.
With tough truck looks and a usable seven-seater interior with vents in the roof, it balances family use and off-road capability. Don’t need seven seats? The base model comes standard with a five-seat layout.
Unlike the old model, there’s no five-cylinder available anymore. Instead, the new base powertrain is the same 2.0-litre bi-turbo-diesel four-cylinder that was used in the last Ranger Raptor, with 157kW and 500Nm. It’s available with 4x2 or 4x4, and comes standard with a 10-speed automatic transmission. It is offered in the Ambiente and Trend grades, and in Sport with rear-wheel drive.
The range-topping powertrain is a 3.0-litre V6 diesel engine, with 184kW of power and 600Nm of torque, again with a 10-speed auto. You can have it with 4x4 only, and it’s available in the Sport, Wildtrak and Platinum trim levels.
The Everest is backed by a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, plus there are four affordable services to cover the first 60,000km of ownership.
Toyota LandCruiser 70 Series
Pros: Legendarily tough, relaxed V8 diesel grunt, tons of body options
Cons: Minimal mod cons, expensive (but resale values are insane), outdated cabin ergonomics
Towing capacity: 3500kg braked
If you want a more livable LandCruiser, there are a few of those available – the Prado and LandCruiser 300 Series are far better for those who want fewer compromises, but the 70 Series has been around for decades, and has built a legendary status for its capability and ability off-road.
That hardcore 4x4-ing DNA (ancient as it is) underpins the 70 Series wagon, two- and four-door cab chassis, and Troop Carrier. Currently, all versions are sold with a 4.5-litre V8 turbo-diesel engine and a five-speed manual, but for buyers who have been longing for an auto option, there’s the HiLux-sourced 2.8-litre turbo-diesel heading our way soon.
As it currently stands, the V8 offers out a meagre-by-modern-standards 151kW and 430Nm, but the relaxed nature of the engine and the broad torque band (1200-3200rpm) means it makes hard work feel easy-peasy.
With fewer frills than your aunty Fran’s favourite frock, the 70 Series has built a reputation for reliability and unbreakabliity that arguably no other vehicle can match. And while finding one sitting on a showroom lot has become increasingly difficult in recent years, 70 Series models remain extremely common sightings in the bush and the outback of Australia.
Their uncompromising, largely unchanged design that has endured over the past 40 years or so has meant that they are tougher than anything else that you can still buy new.
The single-cab-chassis ute is the biggest-selling model, and the only one that has the applicable maximum safety rating at the time of writing. Families will more likely be drawn to the dual-cab-chassis or five-door wagon (surfers love them, too), and the van-life and overlander crew will really appreciate the 180-litre long range fuel tank capacity of the TroopCarrier.
Off-road gear available in the 70 Series includes diff locks and low range, plus an endless array of aftermarket support for mods and parts.
The LandCruiser is backed by a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, but bear in mind that servicing is due every six months or 10,000km. Maybe that’s part of the reason the old girl has such a strong reputation for longevity.
Pros: Rock solid 3.0-litre diesel, comfortable road manners, practical cabin
Cons: Part-time 4x4 only, engine not as punchy as rivals, not the bargain it used to be
Towing capacity: 3500kg braked
The Isuzu MU-X used to be a bit of a dowdy option for those who just wanted a reliable rig, but the new-generation model has far more tech, equipment and sophistication, and that has lead it to become a sales success story for the small Japanese brand.
The Toyota Prado alternative is based on the D-Max ute, but comes standard with seven seats, and is offered with a choice of 4x2 or 4x4 across three different trim levels.
Just like the Everest, it swaps out leaf rear suspension for more road-friendly coil suspension at the back, but it is still a rugged and off-road ready thing.
It has a renowned 3.0-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder engine with 140kW of power and 450Nm of torque, and all versions of this ladder frame SUV have a six-speed automatic transmission.
However, unlike, say, the Ford Everest, the Isuzu’s old-school part-time 4x4 (without full-time road mode) is a bit of an outdated concept, despite the fact all 4x4 versions come standard with a rear differential lock.
While it is far more off-roadable than the first-gen model when it comes to hardcore craggy crawls, the MU-X has found a heartland in the caravanning scene thanks to its strong towing capacity and earnest engine, while weekend family adventurers will appreciate the roomy third-row space which offers better flexibility than some competitors.
The MU-X is backed by a six-year/150,000km warranty, with servicing every 12 months/15,000km, including a seven year capped-price plan and the same cover for roadside assistance if you maintain your vehicle with the Isuzu network.
Pros: Goes where mountain goats fear to tread, cheap, brimming with character
Cons: Compromised cabin space, slow and lacking refinement on-road, sub-par ANCAP rating
Towing capacity: 1300kg braked
You might be more likely to see them parked in the inner-city suburbs than out tackling the tracks, but the compact, diminutive and characterful Suzuki Jimny is more popular now than ever before with Australian buyers.
In fact, there have been extensive wait times since the new model launched, and with the arrival of a Jimny 5 Door soon, that’s likely to remain a concern.
This is an affordable, ladder-frame, low-range-toting 4x4 with rigid axles and coils at both ends. It is, essentially, an off-roader that you can legally drive on the road.
With 210mm of clearance, a tiny 2250mm wheelbase and negligible overhangs front and rear, plus ample articulation, it’ll take you anywhere – unless a steep hill defeats the weedy engine, or those standard tyres run out of grip. There’s good reason you see plenty of Jimnys getting around with upgraded rubber.
It may feel like a mini monster truck when you’re off-roading in it, but there are some trade-offs when it comes to the road manners of this tiny, light, slab-sided SUV. Its square edges and big windows make it easy to drive around town, but highway driving can result is some almost scary moments - it can be thrown around by bumps in the road surface, and blown around by cross winds and backdrafts from semi-trailers.
The engine is suitable, but not spectacular. It’s a 1.5-litre non-turbo petrol with just 75kW and 130Nm, and comes with a choice of ether a five-speed manual or optional four-speed auto. In fairness the Jimny also only weighs 1095kg (kerb), but a turbocharged BoosterJet engine would change this experience immensely.
The Suzuki Jimny is backed by a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, but requires maintenance every 12 months/10,000km.
GWM Tank 300
Pros: A comparative bargain, off-road chops are great for the money, maximum safety rating
Cons: Underdone payload capacity, lower towing capability than most, annoying tech
Towing capacity: 2500kg braked
This might look like a derivative design based on plenty of the hallmarks of the 4x4s of yesteryear, but under the retro-modern looks, the GWM Tank 300 is a high-tech and highly capable off-road machine.
The Chinese-made off-roader is the first of its type in Australia, beating Toyota to the market with a petrol-electric hybrid with proper off-road underpinnings. And even though that might seem like the headline-grabbing act thanks to its enormous claimed power outputs of 258kW and 615Nm, the non-hybrid turbo-petrol four-cylinder with 168kW and 360Nm is going to be the smart buy, since its up to ten grand cheaper.
Both versions are hampered by an almost laughable payload capacity, however. So familiy buyers, this might not be the right off-roader for you. At between 394kg and 446kg, that’s not going to suit those who don’t know how to pack light, or perhaps aren’t waifs, themselves.
However, there are standard front- and rear-differential locks, low-range gearing, and selectable 4x4 (including on-the-fly capability to lock in the front axle while driving), and the Tank 300 has some of the best quality camera displays on offer for this kind of money – including surround view cameras for on-road parking or off-road slow-speed terrain trudging.
Unlike plenty of others that are this capable, it also has the maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating from testing in 2022, and that should put your mind at ease if this is going to be a family car as well as an adventure rig. Just note that some of the safety tech can be overbearing at times.
GWM backs the Tank 300 with a seven-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, and there’s capped price servicing and roadside assistance on offer, too.
Pros: Great off-road performance, strong engines available, six distinct trim lines
Cons: Not overly sumptuous inside, short service intervals, hard to get
Towing capacity: 3500kg braked
The Toyota LandCruiser 300 Series is one of the country’s most desired new cars, and it deserves to be.
Despite losing its venerable V8 engines with the switch to the new-generation model, the new twin-turbo six-cylinder diesel engine on offer – with more power (227kW) and torque (700Nm) – is a refined, urgent and easy to drive engine, teamed to a full-time 4WD system with low-range transfer case and locking centre differential.
Toyota also offers mutliple drive and off-road terrain modes to adapt to the conditions, as well as Crawl Control and downhill assist control, hill start assist and more – all of which make piloting this large SUV all the easier when it comes to the rough stuff.
It has the requisite towing capacity expectations ticked, too, with a maximum 3.5-tonne braked capability for all of the grades. Speaking of, there is a mix of seating arrangements on offer across the six-variant line-up – the entry-level GX, and top-end Sahara ZX and GR-Sport models all have five seats, while the GXL, VX and Sahara have seven. Keep in mind, the boot space is very tight with all three rows in use.
While the interior has taken a huge step up from the old 200 Series in terms of tech and design, it is still somewhat conservative by modern standards – but rest assured there are some really great family-friendly features, and adventure-ready inclusions, too.
Toyota offers a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty for its model range, but take note that the LC300 needs maintenance every six months or 10,000km.