R100 000 budget beater test

How low can you go?

R100 000 for a 4×4? Yes siree! But beware: shopping for a 4×4 or SUV in that price bracket is not for sissies. Although there are indeed some great deals to be had, there are also plenty of pitfalls. We look at some cool R100 000 options.

Last  month we took a closer look at the second-hand market to see how much metal we could get for the price of a brand-new Suzuki Jimny. As it turns out, there are thousands of options out there, which meant we accidentally stumbled onto a fairly interesting concept. This time round we scanned the Buyer’s Guide to find the cheapest SUV we could find, which turned out to be the Mahindra KUV 100. Prices start at around R150 000 and for that amount, you get thousands of interesting alternatives.

As we wanted a real challenge, we subtracted an additional R50 000 from our imaginary budget. At this point in time you’re probably thinking that there can’t be many viable options available at that price… and you’d be 100% correct. With R100 000 in your pocket, you can go one of two routes. You can either spend the cash on an old hobby car like a Suzuki SJ, knock-off Jeep or Beach Buggy, or you can invest in a relatively modern, high mileage SUV or bakkie. We opted for the second option, because it makes the most sense. Only two of these vehicles would be able to cope with day-to-day use, but all of them still have enough life left for the occasional weekend off-road trip. The best thing about them is that they may even be better off-road than a brand-new SUV or double-cab bakkie. These cheapies may not be as technologically advanced, but they do have one distinct advantage – one can actually afford not to have any sort of mechanical sympathy.

Imagine looking at the top of a mountain covered with trees, rocks and mud. You’re going to take one look at your brand-new R600 000 Ranger Wildtrak and decide that the reward simply isn’t worth the risk. On any kind of decent 4×4 adventure, one can expect at least one scrape or dent. With a R100 000 car, you can afford not to worry about it, even if it’s just a 4×2. You’ll look at the same mountain, grab the keys and point the steering wheel at the summit. Any kind of mechanical sympathy is left at the bottom, where it belongs. Anything can be achieved, as long as you have enough momentum and zero fear.

With that in mind, we phoned our good friends at Integra Motors in Roodepoort. They had a few vehicles each representing a different segment available for us to test. Our test units were all in relatively good condition, but we’ve done the research on every model and any possible flaws and recalls they may have encountered over the years. For this we used Edmunds.com, which is a worldwide forum where owners can discuss their cars and the service they received from the manufacturer. Oh, and before you send us letters asking why the early 90’s Hilux is absent, it’s because we couldn’t find one. They tend to hold their value rather well, which means the only ones we could find for R100k or less were rubbish, or being stripped for parts. It’s also worth mentioning that there are a few nice V8 Discoverys out there, but they usually sell within a few hours of hitting the showroom floor. This is the R100 000 shoot-out and these are the contestants.


2003 Jeep Cherokee 3.7 V6 Limited
We were actually surprised that you could find this generation Cherokee at less than R100k, seeing as we recently drove a first generation model that cost R60 000. The low price is not a reflection of its overall performance. This generation Cherokee, also known as the Liberty in other parts of the world, was actually a rather nice car. Except for the 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol. That model was rubbish. In any case, the 3.7-litre V6 Limited offers a lot of metal, performance and comfort at the price.  The engine and gearbox combination is rather rudimentary. The 3.7-litre naturally aspirated petrol V6 delivers 150kW and 307Nm of torque, which is fed to all four wheels via a four-speed automatic gearbox.

The gear-box is not the most responsive we’ve ever encountered, but it’s perfectly fine considering its age. It has low range as well, which means it should be a highly capable companion indeed. In terms of luxury, it’s far removed from what we’re accustomed to in modern cars, but at least the basics are covered – climate control, radio, cruise control, sun roof and electric windows. The steering wheel is looking a bit worse for wear, but that’s a cheap and easy fix. On the flipside, the tyres still have a lot of tread left and should be good for at least another 50 000km.

In terms of daily driving, this is one of the better bets in this used line-up. The comfort levels are decent and the interior seems to be holding up well. There’s also space aplenty, so it should serve you equally well on the school run.
The styling was quite controversial when it was new, but we think it has aged rather well. It may not be the best-looking car on the block, but it certainly has the current generation Cherokee licked. Other than that, the only downside is the fuel consumption, which is mortifying to say the least.

All round this car still feels like it has a lot of life left in it, despite the fact that it has over 300 000km on the clock. If serviced regularly, this engine should last for at least another 200 000km.


The specs
Engine 3.7-litre V6 petrol
Gearbox Four-speed automatic
Power 150kW
Torque 307Nm
Fuel consumption Between 15 to 16l/100km on the combined cycle, according to owners
Coolness rating A bit bland back in the day, but old enough to be considered cool by now

What to look out for:
According to Cherokee owners, there aren’t that many major flaws. A few people complained about the cheapness of the interior, which was a fair criticism when it was new, but less relevant now that it’s retailing for less than R100k. When it comes to engine longevity, a few owners complained about overheating and piston problems, but these issues were quickly traced back to poor fuel quality. If you do decide to run one of these things, it’s worth filling it up with the best quality petrol you can find.   There were also troubles with ball joints, but Jeep issued a recall to address the problem. It’s probably a good idea to find out if the previous owner took Jeep up on its offer to replace the parts.


2005 Ford Territory 4.0 TX A/T
The Territory was Ford’s first attempt at stealing sales away from Toyota’s beloved SUV line-up. It failed badly and only a few were sold, which is fairly strange considering it won the Car of the Year award in Australia in the year it was launched. It was bad luck for Ford back then, but good luck to those who are looking to buy a luxury SUV with a powerful engine at less than R100k. Let’s start with the highlight of the package. That creamy 4.0-litre inline six delivers a powerful 182kW/380Nm punch. The four-speed auto is surprisingly snappy, but the lack of a fifth gear or any sort of overdrive means that it will inevitably consume copious amounts of petrol.

At this price range, you’ll only find the rear-wheel-drive TX derivative, which means it’s only really good for gravel travel and slightly more complicated off-roading if you throw all mechanical sympathy out the window. As an occasional adventure vehicle, it should be sufficient. Traction control was standard fitment, so it won’t drift all over the place either. The suspension travel should make it quite comfortable, too.

For daily driving, there’s no better car on this list. The Territory was sold with three rows of seats as standard, with the second and third row folding flat if and when you need it. That means cavernous amounts of space, which, to many, is the ultimate luxury. It’s generously equipped  with air-conditioning, CD player, audio controls on the steering wheel, electric windows, power seats and 30 storage compartments scattered around the cabin. The mileage on this unit is a bit on the high side, but it seems to be in perfect working order. If you can ignore that, it’s a big chunk of luxury at a bargain basement price.


The specs
Engine 4.0-litre inline six petrol
Gearbox Four-speed automatic
Power 182kW
Torque 380Nm
Fuel consumption Around 9.5l/100km on the open road and 15l/100km in the city, according to owners
Coolness rating Not even slightly cool

What to look out for:
In terms of the engine and gearbox, it’s all good news. The 4.0-litre was used extensively in Ford’s line-up here and in other parts of the world, and overall it appears to be a faithful companion. If the previous owner(s) kept to the service schedule, you should have no problems. Having said that, Ford issued a voluntary recall due to possible front brake hose leaks and it’s worth checking if this work was carried out.

The last bit of advice has to do with its family carrying potential. Those of you with kids will know that they have destructive tendencies when it comes to cars, so check the second and third row for cosmetic damage.


2005 Mazda Drifter 2500TD SLE
Few things in life are as useful as a double-cab bakkie. They’re relatively comfortable, can take up to five passengers while still retaining all of that useful space in the back. This is especially true once it’s fitted with a canopy, as this Mazda is. They’re also highly capable off-road, even in 4×2 format. You see, in SA most bakkies come as standard with a rear differential lock. This Drifter
is no different.

Sure, you won’t be able to tackle every obstacle an oke with a full-blown 4×4 can, but you’d be surprised what you can achieve with a diff-lock and the dedication of a lion. Also, there are a few derivatives with a 4×4 drivetrain retailing at around the same price. Drifter prices are surprisingly low, which is probably down to the fact that the Ranger it shared its platform with has traditionally always been a more popular option.

The 2.5-litre intercooled and turbocharged diesel’s power output was lacking even back then, but the 80kW and 257Nm is good enough for most occasions. The five-speed manual is still surprisingly easy to operate considering this car has almost 250 000km on the clock. Specification levels are high thanks to this unit being a top-of-the-line SLE model. The package includes leather seats, air-conditioning, electric windows and a single-slot CD player. The latter is one of those generic units, which means it can easily be removed and replaced with something more modern. We checked and you can get a USB and Bluetooth enabled radio for less than R2 000.

But this bakkie represents so much more than itself. Given our bakkie-mad country, there are hundreds of different double-cabs (4×2 and 4×4) available at this price. Fords, Isuzus and Nissans aplenty – all but the Hilux. All you need to do is search for them, because they are out there. This is merely one great example of what’s on offer.


The specs
Engine 2.5-litre turbocharged and intercooled four-cylinder diesel
Gearbox Five-speed manual
Power 80kW
Torque 257Nm
Fuel consumption Around 11 litres/100km according to owners
Coolness rating Bakkies are always cool. Mazdas are even cooler, because they’re not the obvious choice

What to look out for:
There don’t seem to be any major problems as far as the Mazda/Ford is concerned. In fact, most owners complimented their vehicles for being much lighter on diesel than they were expecting. Having said that, there are reports of the rear diff and axle acting up, but the general consensus seems to be that these faults were as a result of abuse. In other words, a “hold my beer and check this move” mentality. Be sure to have the car inspected for any mechanical faults before signing on the dotted line.


2005 Nissan X-Trail 2.0 4×2
The X-Trail is on this list because it’s one of two options that fulfil the basic everyday requirements for an only car. Out of our two ‘logical’ options, this is the 4×2 model. We’ll get to the soft-road 4×4 choice shortly, but for the record, Nissan sold plenty of these things in South Africa, so if you prefer a 4×4 drivetrain, it shouldn’t be too hard to find one and negotiate the dealer down closer to R100 000.

With around 170 000km on the clock, you might think this X-Trail would feel properly beat. There are a few telltale signs of its age, but the engine, gearbox and interior are in good condition. The clutch is heavier than we remember
and the spare wheel rattles a bit, but those are the only problems we encountered. The engine, which produced 103kW and 192Nm of torque when it was new, feels just as strong now. Without the added weight of an all-wheel-drive system, this 4×2 feels rather sprightly, even by modern standards. The six-speed manual still shifts smoothly, but the heavy clutch would result in a constantly cramping left leg if used in peak hour traffic day after day.

While the fuel consumption is on the high side at 10.5l/100km, it compared favourably with most of the other cars we looked at. Of all the cars here, this one is the best all-rounder for family use. The first generation X-Trail built itself a stellar reputation in the soft-roading sphere and our short test drive on a gravel route reminded us why. If a bit of gravel travel is all you’re going to do, it’s hard to recommend anything else on this list. Reviewers complained about the hardness of the plastics when the car was new, but  10 years down the line, we
understand what Nissan was going for.

The centre console and dash hardly show any sign of ageing. The various storage compartments also induced  a sense of nostalgia. The instrument binnacle was mounted in the centre, which is a good place for it. This also leaves a nice cubbyhole with a 12V charging point right in front of the driver. Nissan must have known about smartphones well in advance, because we can’t think of a better place to keep one.  There’s room enough for five adults and the boot is massive. It’s still a very good car and it would be at the top of our list if it wasn’t for the last model in the line-up.

The specs
Engine 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol
Gearbox Six-speed manual
Power 103kW
Torque 192Nm
Fuel consumption Around 10.5/100km according to owners
Coolness rating Much cooler than the current X-Trail

What to look out for:
The 2.0-litre 4×2 proved to be an ironclad car, but the viscous coupling used in the all-wheel- drive platform usually started acting up after 160 000km. If you’re looking at a 4×4 with more than 160 000km on the clock, it’s worth checking if that specific problem has been sorted already. The only other complaints were a rear bench that can work itself loose after a few thousand kilometres and some owners reported poor stitching on the seats. Both can be easily fixed for less than R1 000, if the previous owner hasn’t done it already.

“It took less than 500 metres and one sharp turn to reveal that this old Scooby has retained its inherent Subaru-ness”


2005 Subaru Forester 2.5 X
We were hesitant to include this Forester in our line-up. It already has 190 00km on the clock and we feared it might shatter our own personal views on how wonderful the Forester has always been. From the first generation, there has never been a bad Forester. Every successive model has been better than
the last.

The full service history provided some comfort, but there was still this nagging feeling that this one car might ruin the Forester for us forever. It took less than 500 metres and one sharp turn to reveal that this old Scooby has retained its inherent Subaru-ness. There’s just something about these cars that we love. Perhaps it’s the sharp steering, or the flat-four exhaust note. It might even have something to do with Subaru’s well-known prowess on the international rally circuit and how the lessons learnt from that were implemented into the vehicles. The 2.5-litre flat-four produced 123kW and 225Nm of torque when it was new and it doesn’t feel as if any of those horses have gone missing. The four-speed automatic allows you to make the most of the available power, and even though it feels fairly dated compared to modern gearboxes, it brought back some fond memories of pre-CVT transmission Foresters.

When it was launched, it was referred to as a soft-roader, but as we’ve learnt over the years, it’s anything but. As standard, it was fitted with a reduction gear and you’d be surprised at how far these things can go. With enough dedication, we reckon you’d be able to tackle grade four obstacles, but be warned, the car will pick up damage. The only real issue is the front and rear overhangs, but a suspension lift should sort that problem. To be perfectly honest, we’d buy this car as a hobby experiment, strip it out and see how far we’d be able to get. If you don’t have the mental age of a 12-year-old, you’ll be happy to learn that there’s loads of space and all the basic luxury necessities are accounted for. The previous owner has also already replaced the ageing radio with a more modern aftermarket unit. It feels solid, sounds good, rides beautifully and is relatively light on juice. Out of all these cars, the Subaru is the one with the most talents.


The specs
Engine 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol boxer
Gearbox Four-speed manual
Power 123kW
Torque 225Nm
Fuel consumption Around 11 litres/100km according to owners
Coolness rating Colder than a polar bear’s martini

What to look out for:
The timing belt has to be replaced at 170 000km and if this hasn’t been done, it could lead to catastrophic engine failure due to the unique set-up of a boxer engine. The biggest problem (by far) concerns the cylinder head gaskets. Several owners had problems at around 100 000km, some earlier. The good news is that this particular issue was almost always fixed under warranty, so it shouldn’t be a problem on a high mileage car. It’s also worth noting that services can be quite expensive if you opt for a turbocharged model.

Integra Group
Thanks to the Integra Group for allowing us to drive its products for a day. The company went out of its way to assist, even going as far as transferring specific vehicles from various other branches to the branch located on Ontdekkers Road in Roodepoort. Integra specialises in new and used vehicles and its line-up ranges from the most basic R100 000 4×4 to the most expensive Range Rover. It also offers new products from JMC, Changan and Chery. In addition to the Roode-poort branch, Integra also has branches in Vereeniging and Centurion.
More information: Tel: 010 590 9916

Text: Gerhard Horn   Photographs: Deon van der Walt