Top 5 4x4s for off-roading
Australia is very much a playground for off-road enthusiasts. From camping to sand dune fun, there’s no shortage of outdoor adventures to have. The massive popularity of 4x4 SUVs and utes show how much Aussies love getting away to picturesque destinations in our own backyard. So if you’re thinking about leaving your daily driver at home to hit the trails in a true adventure machine, here’s our ultimate guide on the top 4x4s to go off-roading.
What is a 4x4 and why is it different to AWD?
In a 4WD system, power from the car’s engine is distributed to all four wheels. 4WD systems can be full-time (where all four wheels are powered) or part-time (where power is usually sent to one axle). These modes can be manually controlled or automatically on some newer 4x4 models.
4WD and AWD systems work very similarly but what makes a 4WD system a ‘true 4WD’ is a dual-range transfer case. Think of a transfer case as a supplementary gearbox behind your actual transmission that does the job of turning a two-wheel drive to a four-wheel drive. It’s controlled with a secondary shift or electronic dial, which extends gearing ranges for on-road or off-road driving. By combining low-range gearing with locking differentials and good ground clearance, the system limits slipping and controls wheelspin when you’re driving through bogs and getting through rough terrain. For this reason, true 4x4 systems are recommended to get the most out of your off-road experience.
What should I look for in a 4x4 car?
When you're choosing a 4WD car, it's essential to think about the type of off-roading adventures you're planning. “Whether you're into trail rides or gearing up for some serious hill-climbing and stream-crossing action, this consideration holds the key to finding your perfect 4WD match.” says Peter Willis, Carma Director of Buying.
“For light off-roading, choosing something with rear differential locking, good ground clearance especially in the front and rear, and switchable drive modes is a solid starting point” adds Peter, “the next level would be muddy terrains, stream, and hills that you’ll need more gear like all-terrain tyres, snorkels, rock sliders, all kinds of tough protective add-ons.”
The small but mighty: Suzuki Jimny
As a pocket-sized adventure machine, the Suzuki Jimny is having a moment in the off-roading world. Whether it’s roads, track, or trail, the robust 4x4 is built to tackle the harshest weather and terrain. It’s equipped with all kinds of offroading essentials such as hill hold control, hill descent control and 4WD with low range transfer gear all on a rigid ladder frame that offers solid foundation for wherever you’re headed.
The all-rounder: Ford Ranger
If you’re looking for a ute to go off-roading, the Ford Ranger is a winner. It’s Australia’s top selling ute for a reason, with great performance delivered by twin-turbo V6 engines and Fox suspension springs. With highlights such as rear differential locking, advanced driver assist tech, and up to 800mm water wading, the rugged ute is highly practical and versatile for all kinds of outdoor adventures. The Ford Ranger Raptor in particular, is the ultimate lifestyle ute with a refined balance of a comfortable tech-laden cabin and impressive off-road performance.
The iconic one: Jeep Wrangler
Jeeps are the embodiment of off-road adventure, and a Jeep Wrangler is probably the most iconic of them all. With such a strong 4WD reputation, you can expect stellar 4x4 systems, heavy-duty suspension, and robust features such as rock sliders and underbody skid plates. Interior features like easy-to-clean cabins with drain valves and utility storage packs also tells you the Wrangler definitely isn’t afraid to get a little dirty on the trails.
A legend for a reason: Toyota Landcruiser 70 Series
We wouldn’t be able to get away with this 4x4 guide without mentioning the Toyota Landcruiser. With such a legendary reputation as a tough 4x4 wagon, the Toyota Landcruiser 70 Series has a long history of off-roading excellence. The zero-frills design inside and outside have barely changed in over thirty years, which makes up a huge part of its classic rugged charm.
On off-roading tracks is where the Landcruiser shows its true character, with active traction control, front and rear differential locks, and excellent ground clearance taking on challenging terrain head on. If classic looks aren’t for you, there’s plenty of off-roading choices such as the Toyota Landcruiser Prado or Landcruiser 300 Series to choose from the massive Toyota range.
For family road trips: Isuzu MU-X
The Isuzu MU-X is a medium to large SUV that’s a rock solid hauler and family adventure car. Based on the Isuzu D-Max workhorse ute, the MU-X is everything you need for a family road trip out to the trails: a turbo-diesel engine, ladder frame, part-time 4x4, and rear differential lock. You won’t be doing any serious off-roading across streams or muddy hills, but the MU-X will take you and your whole crew to where you need to go comfortably.