Top five four wheel drives for families
So, you want a brand-new 4×4 wagon with genuine off-road capability and that’s friendly for the family? It’s amazing what you can pick up for less than $50k - and most of them are powered by economical turbo-diesel engines that are well suited to long-distance touring, and all of them with genuine off-road capability.
The Isuzu MU-X is a ute-based 4×4 wagon, in this case, based on the reliable D-Max platform. Both MU-X and D-Max are closely related to Holden Trailblazer and Colorado respectively, albeit with different drivelines.
The Isuzu MU-X has a 3.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine that makes a claimed 130kW of power at 3600rpm and 430Nm of torque from 2000-2200rpm. The standard transmission in the base-spec MU-X is a six-speed manual gearbox, mated to a part-time shift-on-the-fly 4×4 system with high and low ratios. An automatic is available.
The MU-X has reasonable ground clearance for off-road driving and good low-range reduction. Features such as electronic traction control, hill-start assist and hill-descent control aid off-road capability, but the absence of a rear diff lock as fitted to some competitors is a drawback.
The MU-X offers similar interior packaging to the Trailblazer, with generous third-row seating and good cargo space when the seats are folded flat. Interior styling is unique, with a different dash design and climate controls.
Standard equipment on the MU-X LS-M variant includes 16-inch alloy wheels, self-levelling LED headlights, daytime running lights (DRLs), remote central locking, cruise control and manual air conditioning, while on the safety front it scores ABS and traction control assist, six airbags, reversing camera and rear parking sensors.
The MU-X is a lot of 4×4 wagon for the money. It’s economical, comfortable and capable, even if it feels a bit ‘stripped-out’ compared with its siblings.
Based on the Colorado ute platform, Holden’s Trailblazer LT is a seven-seat 4×4 wagon powered by a 2.8-litre turbo-diesel which makes a claimed 147kW of power at 3,600rpm and a whopping 500Nm of torque at 2,000rpm. The engine is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission, which in turn is mated to a two-speed transfer case with part-time shift-on-the-fly 4×4 and a limited-slip rear differential.
On-road performance is impressive, and the Trailblazer offers a compliant and well-controlled ride. Off-road capability is good, although the Trailblazer’s traction control system is not as effective as some of its competitors.
For those with a junior footy team to haul around, the Trailblazer offers good interior space, with a generous third row that puts some other seven-seater wagons to shame. The seats fold flat when not in use, providing plenty of cargo space.
The Trailblazer is well equipped considering its sub-$50k starting price, and standard gear on the LT includes 17-inch alloys, roof rails, fog lights, LED daytime running lights and side steps. As you’d expect at this price point, the air conditioning is manual and seats are cloth-covered, but what you might not expect is six-way power adjustment for the driver’s seat, and comfort and convenience items such as a 7-inch colour touchscreen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, six-speaker sound system with steering wheel controls, rear park assist, reversing camera, multi-function driver’s information display, cruise control, remote central locking, alarm and engine immobiliser.
Mitsubishi Pajero Sport
Another ute-based 4×4 wagon, the base-spec Mitsubishi Pajero Sport GLX is a bargain at just $45k. This five-seat 4×4 wagon is well equipped for the asking price and is loaded with standard features that far exceed expectations at this price point.
The Pajero Sport has a 2.4-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine that produces a claimed 133kW at 3500rpm and 430Nm at 2500rpm. A smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic is standard, as is Mitsubishi’s excellent Super Select II 4WD, providing selectable full-time 4WD for on-road use, which provides the security of added traction in wet weather.
Despite its small capacity, the Pajero Sport’s engine delivers good on-road performance, no doubt thanks in part to the excellent eight-speed auto. On-road handling is lively for the class, and although initial compliance is a little firm, the Pajero Sport rides well over bumpy roads.
As mentioned, the GLX is surprisingly well equipped for the money, with standard gear such as 18-inch alloy wheels, chrome grille and door mirrors, side steps, fog lights, LED headlights and DRLs, and roof rails. Other appointments include climate control air conditioning, 7-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, steering wheel audio controls, remote central locking, cruise control, three 12V power outlets and engine immobiliser. Safety equipment includes airbags all-round, traction control, stability control, trailer stability assist, hill start assist, reverse camera and parking sensors.
If you don’t need seven seats and you’re willing to forgo a few active safety features and luxury appointments, the base-spec Pajero Sport GLX is a fantastic 4×4 wagon, and it represents excellent value for money.
Toyota repositioned its slow-selling Fortuner last year, and the base-spec GX model now starts at just $42,590 with a six-speed manual gearbox or $44,590 with the six-speed auto. Even the mid-spec GXL slips under the $50k price barrier at $47,490 for the manual and $49,490 for the auto.
Fortuner has the same running gear as the HiLux on which it’s based, which means a 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine making a claimed 130kW at 3,400rpm and 420Nm at 1,400-2,600rpm in manual guise or 450Nm at 1600-2400rpm for the auto. Both transmissions are mated to a two-speed transfer case with shift-on-the-fly part-time 4×4.
On-road performance is best described as adequate, although the engine is one of the most refined in the class and it works particularly well with the six-speed auto transmission. Ride and handling are well sorted, and it’s not hard to see that Toyota has invested in local development when it comes to suspension tuning.
The Fortuner offers good off-road capability with reasonable ground clearance and an effective electronic traction control system. All models come standard with a rear diff lock, but engaging it switches off the electronic throttle control (ETC), which limits its effectiveness somewhat.
Despite its keen pricing, even the base-spec Fortuner GX is reasonably well equipped, with standard equipment such as 17-inch alloy wheels, side steps, seven seats, 7-inch touchscreen display, cool box, auto headlights and reversing camera. The GXL adds Toyota’s Intelligent Manual Transmission (I-MT) (manual model) that rev-matches downshifts, paddle shifters (auto model), a 4.2-inch multi-information display, satnav, smart entry and start, privacy glass, fog lights and Downhill Assist Control.
Here’s an oddball inclusion to the others on this list, as the four-door Wrangler wagon’s body sits atop live axles which give it greater wheel articulation and is better suited to more serious off-roading. It also has a powerful 3.6-litre V6 petrol engine mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission so it’s no slug.
The engine makes a claimed 209kW of power at 6400rpm and 347Nm of torque at 4100rpm, which is enough to propel the Wrangler's brick-like aerodynamics down the highway at a reasonable clip.
On-road ride and comfort are better in this newly updated Wrangler, and the longer wheelbase of the model exhibits much better manners than its short-wheelbase sibling. Off-road the Wrangler shines, with impressive ground clearance, good axle articulation, sufficient low-range reduction, and an effective traction control system.
Standard features include cruise control, air conditioning, nine-speaker sound system, large infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, offroad maps, 240-volt socket, LED headlights, Bluetooth and 18-inch alloy wheels. Unique to Jeep, the roof can be unmounted which, depending on your intended usage, will be fantastic for an adventurous family. But there's no seven-seat option here and it is the most expensive on this list, starting at around $60k.
However, if you want a seriously capable, old school four-door off-road wagon that delivers a lot of fun, comfort, and stands out, the Wrangler is it.
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