Why should I buy a 4×4?
1. You live in a rough area. Like Timbuktu. You need a 4×4.
So, the first and foremost reason people should need to buy a 4×4 is because they live in some inhospitable terrain which requires low-range and a rear diff lock to go out for milk. Now, while some may say “That’s me, I live in Sandton! You should see the roads!” the answer is no, this is not you. These are people like our guides who spend 360 days of the year in the Namibian outback, or who farm on the side of a Lesotho mountain. These people need 4x4s.
What you need: You need a mechanical transfer case; one that won’t require 5 technicians and booking a theatre room to fix if it breaks. You need enough ground clearance for a Mini Cooper to fit under your vehicle Italian-Job-style and great wheel articulation. You need real 4-wheel drive and at least a rear diff lock, and if you can disconnect the sway bars on your off-roader, it wouldn’t hurt.
What you should buy: Toyota Land Cruiser, Mercedes-Benz Gelandewagen, Land Rover Defender or Jeep Wrangler Rubicon.
2. You like extreme holidays. Like Namibia. You want a 4×4.
The majority of 4×4 owners, however, don’t live in Timbuktu. It’s far, it’s crawling with rebels and it’s hardly a booming economy. The majority of us live in cities in a somewhat developed African country, and we earn enough money to A) afford a 4×4 and B) afford a holiday that requires a 4×4. If this is you, and you want to go to the sandy beach destinations in Mozambique or conquer a December dune in Namibia; you want a 4×4.
While there may be those who fall into this category and can afford a second car just for the holidays, many need one vehicle that can go to their favourite holiday destination but also take the kids to school every morning (without demolishing their petrol budget). For those, remember that newer off-roaders are lighter on fuel, and whilst their more tech-heavy, if you’re in the big cities, they’re easy to service if something goes wrong with any one of the 15 computers running the automatic gearbox. If you must drive second hand, don’t buy a diesel – there are too many issues with the kinds of diesel different vehicles can or cannot run on across the borders. Second hand diesels can also be problematic, so it’s best to go for a nice and powerful petrol variant in this case.
What you need: You need 4-wheel drive with a low range box. You need decent ground clearance and wheel articulation, but you also need a comfortable ride and space for the kids’ cricket kit. You need some electronic assist programs, like hill ascent and hill descent control, if possible.
What you should buy: Jeep Grand Cherokee, Toyota Fortuner (because of the excellent resale value and simple technology), FJ Cruiser, new VW Amarok auto (no transfer case, but a good crawl gear), Chev Trailblazer, any double-cab bakkie with 4×4 works as an all rounder – especially if you can put your gear on the back, or your kids’ schoolbags. Or for those without families: Suzuki Jimny.
3. You have friends with farms. You want a 4×4. You need AWD.
Every now and then, you have to drive on a dirt road. For this reason, someone has convinced you that you need an FJ Cruiser or a Fortuner. Say no. Because you don’t. As much as we at Leisure Wheels love them off-roaders, and love to advocate buying them, we’re biased. But we’re self reflexive enough to tell you to ignore the dining room of experts, and buy an all-wheel drive. At most. There are plenty of options in this category, as many new SUVs are extremely capable on dirt roads and through the occasional babbling brook, without having extremely heavy and expensive drivetrains.
What you need: You need a vehicle that can switch between all-wheel drive and front or rear wheel drive. You need ground clearance of minimum 170mm, and nothing more than 220mm. You don’t need to pay for something with a transfer case or diff locks.
What you should buy: Subaru XV is a top choice, or BMW X5, Ford Kuga, Toyota RAV4, Nissan X-Trail, Hyundai ix35 or the bigger Santa Fe – and their Kia counterparts. Mitsubishi’s ASX or the Chev Captiva. If you want a big vehicle and have a big budget, look at the Nissan Murano or the new Subaru Forester, coming to SA in a month (we’re thinking early R300k to late R500k). Or for those without families: Daihatus Terios Off-road
4. You like the idea of a 4×4. You have the money. That’s it.
Let’s be honest, a lot of people buy big off-roaders purely because, well, they can. If you want a 4×4 because your neighbour has one, or because if you were ever invited to someone’s off-road track, farm or a trip to Moz, you don’t want to be embarrassed by a vehicle that isn’t capable of getting there. We get it – you have the budget, you want the best. That’s fine.
What you need: Nothing, really. But alright, if you want to keep up with the neighbours, you want the newest technology on the market, an aggressive or unusual look and something that comes in black.
What you should buy: Look at the brand new Range Rover to begin with, or the Evoque if you want something smaller. The Porsche Cayenne GTS that has just hit SA is a superb vehicle, so you’ll be in voque and have a lot of pleasure driving it. For lower budgets the Infiniti FX does make an impression, but won’t do much for you on a 4×4 trail. The Lexus LX570 or the big Land Cruiser VX also fit the bill perfectly, and are capable, though you might be too sorry for them to use them outside of the urban jungle