Times are so tough, some of our cabinet ministers are apparently contemplating scaling down from their Mercedes AMG models to more reasonable ML500s and ML350s. For us Average Joes, the tight economic climate is even a bigger squeeze. So we decided to do something different – and see how much 4×4 we could get for R250 000.
The critically wounded rand has hit car manufacturers and importers hard in recent times. Vehicle prices have escalated, new model introductions have been delayed and new car sales are dropping at an alarming rate. Essentially, a brand-new 4×4 is a luxury few Joe Soaps can afford these days. As a result, second-hand sales are escalating and buying habits are changing. These days you set a budget and see what you can get at the price, whether it’s a brand-new compact SUV, or a slightly used double-cab bakkie. Segments are a thing of the past and brand loyalty is for fools.
With that in mind, we devised a simple test. We used our long-term Suzuki Jimny, which is a popular option for people who want to enter the 4×4 market with a limited budget, as the benchmark. It sells brand new for R250 000 – so that was our virtual limit. Next we had to find some suitable pre-owned 4×4s that sold for R250 000 or less. To do this, we searched online, using the various used car dealer sites. They are mostly easy to use: you simply state your parameters, such as maximum price, and the computer spits out lists and lists of pre-owned vehicles. If you buy second-hand, the options are legion. We tried to steer clear of the obvious though, like the Fortuners and the Rangers and so on. Instead we looked for interesting alternatives.
We also asked racing and rally legend and 4×4 Mega World Zambesi manager, Hannes Grobler, to drive all the vehicles and give his opinion on which one he would park in his garage, if it was his R250k in the game.
The champion of new
This little 4×4’s success is directly linked to its retail price, which remains impressively low considering market conditions. There’s nothing else on the market that offers this much off-road ability right out of the box. It’s also easy to drive, relatively frugal and equipped with the basic entertainment and comfort niceties. The Jimny essentially opens up a world of adventure motoring-related activities at a budget that suits most people, but it does have its limitations. Unless you’re single and sans children, you can’t buy a Jimny and use it as your daily transport.
The boot is only big enough for one bag and the lack of rear doors makes it rather difficult to get into the rear bench. Not that you’d want to, because the lack of space will soon result in cramps and swearing. This Jimny represents the ‘new car purchase’ in this test. Buying new has its advantages. Nothing beats the smell of a new car, not to mention the high you get from driving a new car straight from the dealer floor. The new price also includes a manufacturer’s warranty and, usually, a service plan. On the flipside, a new car is more expensive and, more often than not, it will lose a chunk of its value as soon as you leave the dealership floor.
Not that a used vehicle purchase is without disadvantages. It may be cheaper, but if you do get a service plan as part of the deal, it may be just the last bit of it.
Interestingly, a warranty might still be on the cards. Manufacturers tend to offer fairly extensive warranties these days, with Kia currently in the lead with its seven-year/200 000km offering. A used purchase also requires more legwork than simply buying a new car. Deciding what you want is only half the battle. Once you have a car in mind, it’s a case of driving around and inspecting the various options. During this process you’ll likely spot another interesting option you forgot about.
To get a decent used car takes at least a month of shopping around, whereas a new purchase is done and dusted in a single afternoon. You decide what you want, pick a colour and a few short weeks later it arrives. The biggest feather in a used car’s cap is the sheer amount of metal and number of cylinders you get at a relatively low price. For the same amount of money as a brand-new Suzuki Jimny, you can get a V8 powered behemoth or a chunky Land Cruiser 100.
In order to showcase the difference between new and used in terms of metal for the money, we invented an utterly irrelevant measurement, which shall be known as R/kg.
It basically shows how much each and every kilogram costs. The lower the score, the more car you get at the price. For the record, the Jimny achieves an adequate score of R176 per kilogram.
Motorsport legend Hannes Grobler is renowned for calling a spade a spade. The manager of the Zambesi 4×4 Mega World branch is obviously a car nut, but he also doesn’t mince his words when it comes to off-road gear and 4x4s. If you need any 4×4 accessories and an expert opinion, contact Hannes @ Tel: 012 548 2371 or mail [email protected].
Model year 2016
Price (new) R251 900
Rand per kg R176/kg
Mileage 7 959km
Toyota Land Cruiser 100 4.5 GX
It’s hard to believe that such a desirable 4×4 now retails for the price of a new Suzuki Jimny, but that’s the power of depreciation. What struck us is how desirable the Land Cruiser still is. Perhaps it’s because it looks more expensive than it actually is, but it might have something to do with its ability to conquer tough terrain while keeping its occupants as comfortable as possible. And unlike the Jimny, you can afford to take more than one friend along. With a 100, you can have up to six friends.
The styling is rather sedate, but it has aged reasonably well. Unlike other SUVs from that era, you simply can’t tell that this vehicle is 16 years old. Thanks to an aftermarket bumper and snorkel, this Land Cruiser looks more than ready to get down and dirty in the hands of its next owner. It’s easier to tell its age from behind the wheel. A new Land Cruiser is equipped with LCD screens, terrain response, electric everything, satellite controls on the steering wheel and climate control. This Land Cruiser has… ehm… power steering.
Okay, and air-conditioning, electric windows and a CD player/tape deck.
Fortunately, this won’t matter to those of you interested in this car. Like us, you’ll be more intrigued by the rear and centre locking differentials and long-range fuel tank. Its previous owner also took it a step further by adding spotlights, tow bar, a winch, snorkel and the heavy-duty replacement bumper.
The mileage is on the high side, but the 4.5-litre six-cylinder petrol is one of the most dependable engines ever made. Even if it does go wrong, you can likely buy replacement parts at any spaza shop in Africa. Keep in mind that Toyota designed this engine for longevity instead of outright performance.
The claimed power back in its heyday was 165kW/387Nm and it doesn’t feel as if any of those horses have escaped over the years. The shift actions from the five-speed manual still feel positive in both high and low range. And fuel consumption? Like any Land Cruiser petrol owner would say: yes, it uses fuel.
After more than a decade it feels as solid as the day it left the dealership floor. It may not have been the most interesting car Toyota ever made, but it was made to last. Like the Jimny, this is not a car you buy to replace your daily drive.
It’s appetite for fuel and size would make it a tiresome day-to-day companion. As a hobby or towing vehicle, however…
Why we want it: Toyota reliability, size, off-road ability and comfort.
Why we don’t: Fuel bills, 300 000km on the clock.
Model year 2000
Price (new) R405 635
Rand per kg R99/kg
Mileage 306 092km
“Out of all the cars here, this is the one that feels its age. You can tell it’s 16 years old from the power delivery, slow gearshift and the interior. It’s known for reliability, but I’d be hesitant to buy any car with 300 000km on the clock. At some point, something is going to go wrong.”
Hummer H3 V8
Okay, so the Hummer H3 turned out to be a rubbish idea. The world never really took to the H3, which is based on a Chevrolet Suburban chassis and drivetrain, when it was introduced back in 2009. Not long afterwards, GM revealed that the Hummer brand would be dismantled and the rest, as they say, is history. These days, one can actually consider owning a Hummer, for one very good reason: at R250 000, it’s less than half the price of what it cost new. We’re more than willing to forgive and forget the two major flaws at this price. For the record, we’re talking about the over-the-top drug dealer styling and the horrendous four-speed automatic transmission.
The amount of luxuries you get is surprising. It misses out on a few modern touches, like Bluetooth connectivity and a USB port, but that’s it. This 4×4 has park distance control with a reverse camera, leather seats, automatic headlamps and a six-disk CD changer with seven speakers and a sub woofer.
The driving experience is, however, dominated by that huge engine hiding under the bonnet. It’s a massive 5 328cc mule that delivers 224kW and 434Nm of torque. If you want, you can prod the beast with a stick. It will reward you with a deep V8 bellow. The Jimny can’t do that. When the going gets tough, it might even be better than the Suzuki. With permanent four-wheel drive, low range and lockers in the front, middle and rear, it’s virtually unstoppable.
Thanks to the low-down torque provided by the V8, you don’t even have to work it that hard to conquer tough obstacles. This particular H3 is one of the best examples out there. It’s clean and it has no visible signs of abuse. There is, however, one major flaw that still needs to be discussed and unlike the other two, this one is a deal breaker. After Hummer was axed, General Motors promised backup for 10 years. We’re now more than halfway through the 10 years and it might be difficult to find someone to look after the H3 once 2020 rolls in. You can always find a mechanic with a can-do attitude, or import the parts from the US.
The Hummer’s V8 also did duty in the Chevrolet Colorado, so there should be no shortage of parts. No other vehicle on this list is quite as interesting as the Hummer. Buying it new was a terrible idea, but the second-hand version almost makes sense. If you have to have an H3, have this one… it’s about a million times better than the H3 3.7 five-cylinder, which is just not good at all.
Why we want it: It’s rare, luxuriously equipped and a better conversation starter than the Jimny. Who doesn’t want a V8 in their life?
Why we don’t: Who can afford a V8 in their life? It seems as if servicing is going to be a major issue in the coming years.
Model year 2009
Price (new) R541 886
Rand per kg R106/kg
Mileage 106 890km
“A lot of fun, but I don’t want to be the one paying for the fuel.”
Jeep Wrangler Sahara 3.8 V6
The Wrangler Sahara and Jimny are two variations of the same theme. In other words, both forgo practicality in order to build a highly capable off-roader with compact dimensions. That’s where the similarities end, however. The Wrangler uses a large 3.8-litre V6, which is good for 146kW and 315Nm of torque. This power is fed to the wheels via a four-speed automatic. It’s not fast, but it is a lot faster than the Jimny. And it makes a nice sound, too. The only problem we have with a second-hand petrol Wrangler is the fuel consumption, which is nearly three times what you’d expect from a Jimny. At the end of the day, the owner has to decide whether the extra cost of fuel is worth it.
This particular Jeep has an ace up its sleeve and it has nothing to do with the low mileage and the fact that it’s in pristine condition. With a price tag of R230 000, it’s actually cheaper than a brand-new Jimny. At this point, you may be wondering what’s wrong with it. If something is too good to be true, it usually is.
Fortunately, a quick check online revealed that used Saharas simply retail for that much. Interestingly, this Wrangler did have only one lady owner and it has never seen a gravel road, let alone a 4×4 trail. The interior is as clean as the day it rolled off the showroom floor and it is surprisingly rattle free.
Compared to the Jimny, this Wrangler’s interior is massive. It’s still a pain to get passengers into the second row, but unlike the Jimny, they actually fit once they’re there. It’s fairly basic compared to modern standards, but every piece of equipment you might need is present and accounted for. A USB port would have been nice, but it’s definitely not a deal breaker. The great thing about the Sahara is that it’s the same sort of 4×4 as the Jimny, just nicer. It will appeal to the same sort of person, whether he/she is buying it as a daily vehicle, or hobby car.
Why we want it: Legendary off-road ability, rugged looks, powerful V6 engine and you can remove the roof.
Why we don’t: Fuel consumption. And fuel consumption.
Model year 2010
Price (new) R349 990
Rand per kg R110/kg
Mileage 60 620km
Local company Toyscom sells a small off-roader called the GS Moon, imported from China in parts and assembled here in SA. Think of it as what a Jimny would have been if Suzuki threw every conceivable comfort out of the window.
It may look like Noddy’s weekend car, but it’s a dead-serious off-roader. It’s roadworthy as well, which means it can be used daily or on weekends only. Obviously it’s severely compromised, but you can have a brand-new Moon for R100k less than a Jimny.
The top speed is limited to 110km/h, but what it lacks in overall usability, it makes up for in 4×4 ability. With diff locks front, centre and rear and a ground clearance of over 300mm (claimed), there aren’t many places this little buggy can’t go. Luxuries include seats, seatbelts and an MP3 player/radio mounted in
the glovebox. While it may look like a toy, it’s definitely not one. The engine is
800cc large and borrowed from the Chery QQ.
Don’t let that put you off, however. Toyscom does a much better job with this engine than Chery ever did, as proven by Hannes, who started driving it sideways as soon as its wheels touched gravel. As an alternative to Jimny ownership, the GS Moon doesn’t really stack up, but it’s worth checking
out if you’re in the market for a hobby vehicle.
Why we want it: Virtually unstoppable off-road, loads of fun and
a conversation starter of note.
Why we don’t: It’s a Noddy car.
Model year 2016
Price (new) R150 000
Rand per kg R283/kg
The practical options
When we first started phoning around for cars, the Fortuner wasn’t on the list, for one very good reason – it wasn’t interesting enough. A Jimny is a conversation starter, while the Fortuner is simply, well, a Fortuner. After chatting with a few dealers we changed our minds. Whenever a particular 4×4 on our wish list had already been sold, the dealers would offer us a Fortuner. “It’s worth a look at your price range,” they’d tell us. We’re inclined to agree, especially if you happen to be in the market for a car that’s going to be used for the school run during the week and getaways over the weekend.
Our friends at Investment Cars in Centurion supplied us with a Fortuner and a Trailblazer. These two models offer the best compromise between off-road ability, comfort, space and safety. Both are backed up by a large dealer network, so servicing and parts shouldn’t be a problem. Both the Fortuner and Blazer’s mileagess are fairly high, but both have a full service history, which means they still have a few hundred thousand kilometres left. The best thing about the Fortuner and Trailblazer is how modern they still are. The Fortuner has the usual niceties and rear seat entertainment, but it’s the Trailblazer that stands out in this regard.
For the low price of R240 000, it offers Bluetooth connectivity, cruise control, multiple airbags, on-board computer and park distance control. Unfortunately, Trailblazers are few and far between, but Fortuners are abundant. They retail from as little as R150 000, but it’s worth keeping an eye out for a model with a full service history and relatively low mileage.
After a day of driving, inspecting and comparing, we sat down for a coffee with Hannes. “It all depends on what you need,” said Hannes after we asked him what 4×4 he would have, if he had to put his own cash on the table. “If you need something for the whole family, it would have to be one of the bigger vehicles. Some people just want a new car and there’s no denying how solid the little Jimny is. Personally, however, I’d buy the Wrangler. This unit feels brand new and it’s more comfortable, spacious and powerful.”
Thanks to the dealers who responded to our request to take part in this comparison. Jacaranda Motors: jacarandamotors.com; Tel: 012 335 8889 Auto Investments Centurion: Tel: 012 653 6462 Toyscom: toyscom.co.za;
Tel: 0861 393 288