I’m going to buy a new 4×4…here’s what I’m thinking

I’m planning to replace my Ford Ranger, and so I’m asking myself the question readers ask me at least once a week; what 4X4 should I buy?

I’m going to start by doing exactly what I advise readers to do, which is to figure out what’s important and what’s not, then make a decision. Now I should say that sometimes buying a car is a purely emotional exercise, and that’s absolutely fine – if you just love a car, buy it, but don’t then pretend logic had anything to do with it. And I’m fortunate to be a motoring journalist so I’ve had the chance to drive a lot of 4X4s in all conditions, which means I’m coming from perhaps more experience than the average buyer.

Anyway, my decision, in this case, is going to be based on logic and rationale, so let’s start with what’s important to me and what’s not.

What I need my 4X4 to do – the must haves:

  1. Off-road capability to do any touring tracks in Australia;
  2. Towing of at least 3000kg;
  3. Payload of 900kg+;
  4. Huge amounts of boot space;
  5. 5-star safety;
  6. Modification potential, aftermarket support;
  7. Relatively low cost to buy and run;
  8. Interior storage options; and
  9. Bluetooth multimedia.

Not so important:

  1. Class-leading on-road handling;
  2. Lots of advanced safety aids;
  3. Extreme offroad capability;
  4. Luxury features; and
  5. All-wheel drive.

The off-road capability criterion will be met by almost any vehicle with low range; just add taller tyres and a 2-inch suspension lift, and we’re away. By “extreme off-road capability” I mean the likes of a Wrangler on 35s…not what I want (from this car anyway, that said, I’d love a Wrangler on 35s!) 

Payload is important – going away with four people for an extended trip and you’d be struggling with less than 900kg, and as I’m a 4X4 tourer, I need to be able to modify the car with kit such as suspension, long-range tanks and a bullbar, so aftermarket support is important.

I have a racecar to tow, and on occasion other trailers so at least 3000kg towing. I’m not overly bothered about on-road handling, as any modern car will be good enough for my purposes, and I have a racecar for my speed fix. A plush ride would be nice, but again, any modern vehicle will do that to my level of comfort, especially once I’ve sorted the suspension. I don’t much care about in-car infotainment systems, only Bluetooth, but every car has that these days. I’d like an all-wheel drive 4X4, but will live with a part-time 4×4 system.

Quite a lot of 4x4s meet those criteria, so the big up-front question is ute or wagon. I’ve owned both, and with my current Ranger ute I’m completely sold on the merits of the service body. So, ute it is – I have a Trigpoint at the moment, and would consider another one for my next ute as while I could switch the body to the next ute, I think it’ll be easier to sell it with the Ranger.

I can’t not have this body now I’ve owned one

The choice of a ute means I’ll be giving up some on-road handling and performance and a little off-road too, but I’m fine with that, leaf springs won’t kill me. 

I’d actually like the simplicity of a petrol, as the only reason a diesel is required is for long range and modern petrols are pretty efficient for range these days; I interviewed a Nissan Y62 Patrol owner recently who told me he crossed the Simpson on one fill, the standard 140L. And while I’m a committed manual driver for my sports cars, I’ll take an automatic for my 4X4.

If I was looking at wagons, then the Y62 Patrol would be high up on the list for capability and performance. I admire the new Defender, but it’s very expensive, lacks boot room, and its sheer breadth of capability means that it won’t be cheap to run, as I found with my Discovery 3. The INEOS Grendaier is a possibility, but a long away off and I think it might be a bit short on boot space. I think the L462 Discovery is a less practical tourer than the previous Discovery 4, and it’s pricey, as well as no meaningful aftermarket support.

So onto the ute, and I’m not looking at the big USA utes such as Rams – not capable enough in the bush, lack aftermarket accessories, too expensive and the payload is too small. I do however recommend them for towing specialists. The Ranger Raptor is interesting, and I actually had a deposit on one ahead of launch but the payload and towing capability isn’t good enough for my purposes. And I need more capability than the smaller utes such as the Great Wall Steed, which isn’t well supported by the aftermarket.

The realistic choices for me are the mainstream dual-cab 4X4 utes:

  • Ford Ranger update;
  • Isuzu D-Max;
  • Mazda BT-50;
  • Toyota Hilux;
  • VW Amarok;
  • Nissan Navara; and
  • Mitsubishi Triton.

So why not just keep the Ranger, as one early commenter asked? It can do the job I need, so it’s a fair question. And I certainly could keep it; despite being a 2012, it’s only got 110k on the lock as I spend a lot of time driving press cars and my own other cars. So in many ways this is because I want to, not so much have a pressing need to. Also, I like to sell cars while they still have life in them, and I’m a car enthusiast so I enjoy driving different vehicles.

Out of the seven above I can thin it down pretty quickly to just a few. I’m not a fan of the Navara as the gearbox mostly ignores manual overrides, and one thing I do want is the rear seat to fold down as in my Ranger PX I store a lot of gear there, and it has pretty slow steering, but do I like the coil suspension. The Amarork is ruled out as I want an automatic with low-range even if the V6 power and all-wheel drive is attractive, and the side airbags don’t extend to the rear seats, plus I’d like to invest in a newer design. As for Triton, never liked its super short wheelbase, although its all-wheel-drive system is appealing and the price is nice.

So this leaves me with D-Max, BT-50, Ranger and Hilux. The Ranger will be significantly updated soon, and I’m wondering if I should wait, but what could Ford offer me? Would it be petrol, all-wheel drive, coil sprung, rear discs and a 1200kg payload? I doubt it, probably still diesel, part-time 4WD and leaf sprung, and if it has all of those things, I probably can’t afford it.

I’m also looking at the lower end of the spec ranges, not the Wildtraks and X-Terrains of the world. Two reasons; value and payload. I don’t need any of the features the top-end utes offer, such as cosmetic flourishes, electric leather seats and even more safety features. I will be ditching the tub, so sports bars are useless to me. I will be running 17-inch stock alloy wheels, so I don’t want lower-profile and heavier 18-, 19- or 20-inch wheels. And, each and every one of those features adds to the tare weight, which deducts from the precious payload. So long as I have central remote locking, cruise control, power windows and Bluetooth I’m all good, and even the most basic models offer more than that these days. Today’s base model is higher specced than yesterday’s flagship, and I’m okay with the basics.

You may be wondering if I’m tempted by the utes factory-modified for offroading. No, is the short answer. The Raptor I love, but it doesn’t have the payload I need. The NP300 Warrior isn’t the best of the utes in my view, and the changes made to the Warrior version are expensive and poorly chosen. The Colorado is no more. The only option would be the Hilux Rugged X, which manages to offer value for its well-chosen set of modifications, so I’d consider it.

I haven’t done the detailed analysis, but right now I’m leaning towards the Isuzu D-Max. It’s a bit cheaper than the Hilux, and at first glance I can’t see any reason to pay the extra for the Toyota. I like the fact the rear seat is configurable, the safety aids rely on windscreen mounted cameras not sensors on the bullbar, the tow and payload figures are good (although you can’t tow the maximum at GVM), and I trust Isuzu to build a tough working truck. As I’m considering the D-Max, the new Mazda BT-50 would be an option too but I suspect it’ll be priced higher and I doubt I’d find any reason to pay the extra, not even for Kodo design language which is unlikely to help me tow or drive up steep hills. Also not sure they’ll offer a cab chassis dual-cab as they don’t for the current model. Still, I’ll take a look when pricing and specs are available.

I took a quick look at the D-Max specs and trim levels, applying my usual logic of “buy the cheapest and look for reasons to spend more”. I’ve listed all the differences in specification below plus prices excluding onroad costs, and then what is important to me. Your view will of course differ. Also listed are weights, and while I’m not considering a manual, those are 10kg lighter than autos.

2021 Isuzu D-Max range walk-through – the Robert View:

SX 49,900 2035kg

  • Tilt & Telescopic Adjustable Steering Wheel 
  • Electric Power Steering 
  • Easy-Clean Vinyl Flooring 
  • 7” Touchscreen Audio with Android Auto & wireless Apple CarPlay Compatibility 
  • Reversing Camera 
  • Black Handles & Mirrors 
  • 17” Steel Wheels All-Terrain Tyres 
  • Halogen Headlights

This is the base spec – I need to look for reasons to buy above this.

LS-M $53,000, 2030kg

  • High-Grade cloth seats
  • Body colour handles
  • LED fog lights
  • 17″ alloys
  • Bi-LED headlights

That’s $3000 for two items I want, 17-inch alloys instead of steels, and LED headlights. I will be able to pick up a set of 17-inch alloys easily enough from people who change their D-Max wheels and offload my steelies to someone who wants them, and while LED headlights would be nice, I’ll add driving lights myself anyway so the LEDs aren’t necessary, certainly not for $3000. And I like black handles.

The higher-specced LS-M is 5kg lighter than the SX, but I’m willing to bet that’s because of the SX’s heavier steel wheels, which I’d ditch for alloys and probably save myself 10kg of mass, and even better, unsprung rotating mass.

LS-U $56,900, 2045kg

  • Carpet flooring
  • 9″ touchscreen
  • Rear parking sensors
  • 18″ wheels
  • Power lumbar driver’s seat
  • Silver sidesteps
  • Dual zone climate control
  • Leather steering wheel

For $6900 more than the SX I get only two items I’d even remotely want, dual-zone climate and a leather steering wheel. I’d ditch the 18-inch wheels for 17s, and the parking sensors probably won’t work with my service body. The sidesteps would go to the tip because nobody would want them.  Losing another 10kg of payload too, not much but every bit counts. I also don’t want carpet – I literally bought vinyl floormats for my Ranger to go over the carpet. So I’d actually need to spend money to, in effect, delete something I’m paying for.

X-Terrain $62,900 2130kg

  • Keyless entry
  • Remote engine start
  • Leather accent seats
  • Front parking sensors
  • Power driver’s seat
  • Grey grille
  • Tonneau cover
  • Tub liner

For nearly $13,000 more than an SX I’m now adding keyless entry and front parking sensors, which may not work with my bullbar. Not worth it, and I’m losing 100kg of precious payload to features too. 

Another good point for the SX is that it comes in a cab chassis, which means no tub – as I’d put a service body on, that’s handy. The weight of the cab-chassis is 1910kg, so that means the tub weighs 125kg. The cost is $48,700 so I’d save $1200 too by not buying a tub, making the difference nearly $15,000 between SX and X-Terrain. In other words, for that money I could buy tyres, suspension, UHF radio, roofrack, siderails, driving lights, front locker (if available), window tint, bullbar and winch…but the accessory list will be another story.

What’s next…

I’m going to get the spreadsheet fired up and do some more detailed on-paper comparisons between some of these utes, and then see if the data shows that my initial views above need to change, or I find any dealbreakers. I’ll also do a range walkthrough for some of the others. And soon as I get of of lockdown I’ll be doing some serious test driving!

Watch this space, and I’m interested to hear from readers who are considering similar options.

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  1. Robert,
    I’m sure a lot of followers would be interested to know why you are changing your Ranger. You refer to “buy the cheapest and look for reasons to spend more”. The cheapest option is probably to keep the Ranger rather than purchase a new vehicle. I am of the crowd that is very reluctant to replace a vehicle that is still doing the job. Your Ranger appears to meet your criteria, so why not keep it and replace it when the new version arrives? Only my view!

      • Fair enough, I understand the, “because I want to”. My vehicle is the same age as yours and has more kilometres, but for the moment I’m keeping it. I understand the idea of selling a vehicle when it still has life in it. I have gone past that point previously and watched any residual value disappear when something major has gone wrong with it. The new D-Max is promising, but I’ll keep watching for your updates. Great work, thank you!

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