recommendation for small, light 4WD

Submitted: Monday, Mar 10, 2003 at 17:00
ThreadID: 3742 Views:23854 Replies:10 FollowUps:8
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I have some friends who currently have a soft roader, a RAV4. Now that we're starting to do trips together, the limitations of the RAV4 are quickly becoming very obvious to them. They're thinking of changing over to a "real" 4WD with proper low-range, but not willing to go for a full-sized truck as most of thier running is still round the city so economy, ease of parking, etc. are important. What would be a good alternative (doesn't have to be new)? A Suzuki? Even a Pajero is too large for them to consider. I'd like to be able to point them in the right direction for a small eco-style 4WD that can still go up tracks that aren't too severe. I know there probably isn't too much choice in the "tiny" part of the market. They're not into the 'serious' 4WD lifestyle, but still need something more capable than the RAV4.
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Reply By: AK - Monday, Mar 10, 2003 at 17:17

Monday, Mar 10, 2003 at 17:17
We faced this same situation 12 months ago, the only compact 4x4 with low range we could find was the Suzuki grand Vitara and Mitsubishi iO. ( the next size up was the Holden frontera & Mitsubishi challenger) We ended up going the Suzuki grand vitara and have been very happy with it. It is only when you need to put a lot of camping gear in the back or doing hardish type off roading do its limitations become obvious. The biggest killer on the suzuki is ground clearance and a poor selection of tyres due to the funny size 235/60/16. The car will never go the places some of the bigger cars go but would be more capable the the rav4. We find our suzuki to be easy to park / drive good on fuel 30mpg on high way and great for the type of 4 x 4 driving we do.
Hope this helps
AnswerID: 14786

Reply By: chopper - Monday, Mar 10, 2003 at 17:56

Monday, Mar 10, 2003 at 17:56
you can't go wrong with a troopy, you could carry the little car in the back.

How about a wrangler??

Or maybe a dual cab ute like a Navara or Triton.

Lets face it, they once thought that the RAV would be suitable, now they want something with a little more ability, in a few years they'll face the same dilemna all over again.

guess it depends on how good a friend you are and how much you like pulling them out of trouble when they decide to 'go a bit further' each time.

So, How about a wrangler.
AnswerID: 14791

Follow Up By: plexus - Monday, Mar 10, 2003 at 17:59

Monday, Mar 10, 2003 at 17:59
Wrangler might be the go; it's the right size for them - forget about things like Tritons or Navaras. Only thing might be fuel economy and ease-of-driving; one of them's got a crook shoulder. I'll look into it.
FollowupID: 8941

Reply By: GaryInOz - Monday, Mar 10, 2003 at 19:28

Monday, Mar 10, 2003 at 19:28
An often overlooked vehicle is a Kia Sportage. Useful 4 Low of about 2:1, shift on the fly, 4-5 seater. The basic underpinnings are that of the South Korean equivalent of a Jeep (also complies with US Military Vehicle specifications ie. passes their "torture test").

Earlier ones did have an achilles heel with the vacuum mechanism that engages the front hubs but that has been rectified with a redesign early in 2000 (new longbody model). Also the engine is not that powerful 94 kw/175Nm pulling 1.6 tonne, but is quite happy to sit on 100 k's + on the open road and tow moderate sized trailers and vans (400kg unbraked/1800kg braked).

Spring lifts are available (Ironman Suspensions, Pedders, King Springs) for added offroad capacity as are "Poly bag" helper springs.

Power assisted everything, A/C, 5 speed manual or 4 speed auto, am/fm radio with cd, fridge outlet in rear compartment.

The interior room compared with a SuzukiGV/Pajero Io/all double cabs comes out in favour of the KIA. Only the Suzuki XL-7 is larger (not by much) but is $10-15000 more expensive.

Fuel economy for the KIA Sportage is about 11-12 l/100 km, about the same as the Suzukis. (over the first 3000 km mine has averaged about 12 L/100 Km 2200 km city + 800Km country)

Best thing is that they are now being "run out" at about $23 000 + ORC (man) to make way for the new Sorento (also worth a look, about $38 000 + ORC).

Disclaimer: I do not work for KIA. I made my decision to purchase a Sportage after several months of research while looking for a "real" 4x4.
big enough for 1-3 full sized adults and eqipment. I have owned it for three months with no problems so far.

Future plans are to install a 2.5 L Mazda turbodiesel (KIA engine is a Mazda derivative) Needing further investigation....
AnswerID: 14795

Reply By: GPA - Monday, Mar 10, 2003 at 19:36

Monday, Mar 10, 2003 at 19:36
have a look at the Subaru Forrester - they are quite capable - from reviews, more so than the Vitara. A guy at work has one and is very happy with it - both on the track/beach and around town.
AnswerID: 14796

Follow Up By: GaryInOz - Monday, Mar 10, 2003 at 19:48

Monday, Mar 10, 2003 at 19:48
Been there, done that. 4 Low is only 1.2:1, although I do appreciate they are very competent offroad if they are anything like the MY81 Wagon that I used to own. Mind you I did put a 2" lift kit under it, shaved the heads, Weber carbie, twin ("header") pipes back to behind the gearbox, Munroe-Wylie air shockers in the rear.
FollowupID: 8946

Follow Up By: Member - Des - Wednesday, Mar 12, 2003 at 11:38

Wednesday, Mar 12, 2003 at 11:38
Agree with GaryInOz.

Forester is a very good car, nice to drive, excellent on dirt/gravel roads, handy off-road (especially sand). But on rough steep or rocky tracks, in standard form I think Vitara is significantly better. Separate chassis, proper low ratio gears, more rugged components, better underbody protection, live rear axle, much better approach/departure angles. Same is true for Grand Vitara.
FollowupID: 9023

Reply By: Suzuki Viagra - Monday, Mar 10, 2003 at 19:55

Monday, Mar 10, 2003 at 19:55
Go the Vitara if the RAV is too soft to do what you want. But if you only need a LITTLE bit better than what the RAV4 can do, then maybe you could get it modified a little to suit your needs - it all depends on what you really want out of it.

Minor modifications make a really big difference on these types of 4wd's.

Even a Vitara is gonna show it's limitations in some conditions without a little bit of help (they have notoriously short suspension travel at the back but that's easily fixed with $100-150 worth of new longer travelshocks), although it is a hell of a lot more capable than the RAV4 even without that.

Any Softroader or small 4wd is gonna have big limitations compared to a Landcruiser or Patrol, but many of us don't want to deal with the $$$$ that 15mpg fuel economy makes.

You see, softroaders are aimed at people who think they need a 4wd to drive on a gravel road..... and with things like Feroza, Terios, Vitara and Jimny trying to compete with RAV's, CRV's and Foresters for mainly inner urban sales many people expect they're all much the same. Any of the first 4 will kill your RAV off road, but have to be built down to the same price point as 90% of them will never see dirt anyway.

There isn't much else that is in the price range, size and age you're looking for - Pajero would be the next step up from the Vitara, unless you wanna try out Terracan's and Santa-Fe's. I'd definately choose the Vitara.

If you wanna see some of what a Vitara is capable of, you can look at some new pictures I put up today on

I got bogged - no hiding it and not ashamed, but I went first, went everywhere and often had to send the MU (a Jackeroo to you guys) back cos he wouldn't make it through where I could even on my balding tyres.

PS the MU avoided every mudhole while I deliberately drove through all of them. Having said that he's owned the car less than a week.....

PPS I got through the same mudhole on the way out with no problems
AnswerID: 14797

Follow Up By: Colin - Monday, Mar 10, 2003 at 23:29

Monday, Mar 10, 2003 at 23:29
An MU is in fact a grey import version of the Frontera, not the Jackaroo. Most MU's have the 3.1 litre Turbo diesel engine from the previous mdodel Jackaroo. This is the most significnat difference to the Frontera.
FollowupID: 8955

Follow Up By: Suzuki Viagra - Tuesday, Mar 11, 2003 at 18:22

Tuesday, Mar 11, 2003 at 18:22
Yeah - the body is based on the Frontera (or more the point the Frontera is based on the MU - the MU has been around longer). There are differences though - the MU has Dana diffs and Jackeroo style engines (2.8 or 3.1 Turbo diesels for instance).

There's no question that the body looks very similar to the Frontera (although there are differences) but underneath it's much much tougher. Not just the engine but the whole driveline is heavier.

The MU also has the 31" tyres standard, protectors under the tank, sump etc depending on the model (year and whether it's a wagon or a ute).
FollowupID: 8983

Reply By: woddonnee - Monday, Mar 10, 2003 at 22:25

Monday, Mar 10, 2003 at 22:25
We looked at a few smaller vehicles before deciding on the patrol, including the new slightly larger suzuki (stretched vitara), it seemed like a pretty well turned out vehicle. Was pretty impressed overall with the xtrail (less so with the interior) but no low range, probably more the urban 4wd?
AnswerID: 14804

Reply By: Member - Colin- Tuesday, Mar 11, 2003 at 00:28

Tuesday, Mar 11, 2003 at 00:28
Plexus - your friends selection criteria is restricted.
The choice in - "a "real" 4WD with proper low-range, but not willing to go for a full-sized truck as most of thier running is still round the city so economy, ease of parking, etc" - is very slim. My suggestion is a Forester. As mentioned, the Kia is certainly normally overlooked (a couple of years ago Subaru Aust gave a comparison/demo of all the light 4WD's for the WA Subaru Club, and the Kia came out on top!). Suzuki is OK but they look 'soft and low'!? The only other car with full time 4WD and a low range is Subaru (I think the Xtrail has a select mode) - Forester is the best 'off road' Subaru as it has better approach and departure. I am a little biased owning a Forester (and several earlier Subaru's previously), but I have only ever seen any of the other 'light 4WDs' in the Woolies car park!! (IO, Xtrail, Honda, Rav4 etc) - never on the CSR, Carawine Gorge, Rudal River NP, Tanami track, Bendethera (Duea NP) on the beach at Coffin Bay NP etc etc. There is also a good choice in after market gear available for Foresters - springs, lift kits, sump guards, LSD, lower ratio gear sets etc. I notice Trakka have even trialed a camper 'conversion' for the Forester -

Good luck with the search
AnswerID: 14808

Reply By: Member - Andrew O - Tuesday, Mar 11, 2003 at 13:01

Tuesday, Mar 11, 2003 at 13:01
One car not mentioned is the Pathfinder - smaller than a pajero, better handling etc than the challenger / frontera, and still quite a capable 4wd - and a definite improvement on a RAV. If you're going to change, might as well spend a little more and make it worth while! The smaller 4WD's such as the GV soon come with physical space problems when it comes to an extended trip (ie more than a long weekend). If it were my money, and I was only looking for extra capability, the Kia would be the go, next leve up from there, the Pathy would bes suit your criteria.
AnswerID: 14842

Follow Up By: GaryInOz - Tuesday, Mar 11, 2003 at 15:42

Tuesday, Mar 11, 2003 at 15:42
That was about what I concluded after three months looking. Kia is good for two adults +/- 2 kids with reasonable room left for equipment. Capable of towing a small/medium trailer or van if necessary for longer trips.

The Jimny/GV/Io is way too short in the back to pack anything but a toothbrush.
FollowupID: 8976

Reply By: Wombat - Tuesday, Mar 11, 2003 at 16:15

Tuesday, Mar 11, 2003 at 16:15

We have just gone through a similar exercise and found that the mid range 4WD which seemed to fit the bill was the Nissan X Trail. It has the pedigree of the big boys yet in a compact package. 2.5 litre is small enough for efficiency but coupled with great electronically controlled 4WD it's big enough to get out of most trouble spots.

We have owned a Vitara and loved it when it was new, but were really starting to dislike it after 70000km. Any half serious off roading takes its toll.

Just traded our 3yo Triton dual cab on a new Triton as we need the carrying capacity . . . but if we size didn't matter we would have gone for the X Trail.

Hope this is some help.
AnswerID: 14849

Reply By: Suzuki Viagra - Tuesday, Mar 11, 2003 at 18:42

Tuesday, Mar 11, 2003 at 18:42
I've noticed the Suzuki has got a few more squeaks and rattles but assumed that was a combination of the Soft top, a 15 year old car with over 200,000k's and the sort of abuse I pile on it both on and off road..... Any of the non-TANK (Patrol/Cruiser/Land Rover) 4wd's would be the same - I'm sure Wombat will find out something similar when he's had his X Trail for a few years. This is one of the few advantages of the big tanks - all the weight finally comes in handy.......

Given how I've treated the Suzuki I'm very happy with it.

Having said that the X Trail is seriously worth a look - I was interested in one of these myself. For what you're explaining the Pathfinder is gonna be too big and too expensive to run (I was seriously looking at these recently but got put off by the fuel costs too). The Suzuki XL7 is also gonna be too big, but the normal Grand Vitara Wagon should be fine.

iO was dropped by Mitsubishi for being too "real 4wd like" - might be worth considering but are very small. These might suit your needs for off road capability and dealers are running em out cheap (Mitsubishi is dropping them shortly for the Outlander which has no Low range). they're also cheap 2nd hand as a near new model.

I'd skip the Outback/Forester. 1.2 to 1 is not worth the effort of installing the extra weight and complexity of a transfer case (although if you could get a rockcrawler for it then there may be a point). Anyway these have far less ground clearance than you need if you're ditching a RAV4 due to it's lack of off road ability....

The Kia Sportage has a reputation for quite a lot of problems with some dealers - my wife had a friend who regretted the decision to buy one and the dealer WOULD NOT repair anything under warranty, likewise anoter friend had the same issues - so be careful with these. It seemed the distributor would also not come to the party - both traded theirs in in disgust after threatening legal action and finding out how costly the company was prepared to make it for them. Longer term they're not gonna be up to it - try driving an Asia Rocsta now and see (Asia Rocsta is a Mazda engined 4wd built by Kia in the Late 80s to Mid 90s). They're truly crap.

Even without 4wd loads, Mazda engines tend to be weak and smoky with age anyway - fine for new car buyers, but not for trade in later. I'd say that Mazda are the worst mechanical build quality (although really good paint quality) out of all the Japanese cars. Second hand Mazda technology sold to the Koreans..... Hmmmmm
AnswerID: 14856

Follow Up By: GaryInOz - Tuesday, Mar 11, 2003 at 20:10

Tuesday, Mar 11, 2003 at 20:10
In fairnesss I agree with your comments about the Kia but they are only applicable to vehicles made before 2000 year model (1st year of the longbody version). It was at about this time that Hyundai took over the management of Kia (before purchasing it outright), and the quality of the vehicles improved markedly along with the attitude progressively of the distributors and dealers in Australia and overseas.

The Mazda engine the Kia uses (F3) is really only the basic block of the Mazda F3 significantly strengthened (more internal webs, upgraded cooling/oil channels, and oil cooled pistons), with stronger crankshaft and conrods to withstand the MIL-SPECs on serviceability. The DOHC head is from the Mazda 626 AWD turbo (with appropriate "detuning" of the cam profiles down to normal atmo operation) using the same quality of materials as the turbo. Basically bulletproof, but like all EFI engines subject to the same "Check Engine" problems as the rest of them. The original Mazda version of the F3 was only used in the early 90's 626 AWD turbo.

And of course the Ford Courier is second hand Mazda technology sold to the Americans...
FollowupID: 8989

Follow Up By: Suzuki Viagra - Thursday, Mar 13, 2003 at 08:30

Thursday, Mar 13, 2003 at 08:30
We have owned a "Second hand" technology car Hyundai Excel and had no problems with it, but also a Daewoo Nubira (New Holden Engines in Secondhand Opel chassis) which we did have problems with.

Ford Courier/Mazda Bravo and other such badging issues should be kept aside (where the car badges are different but the body and engine are identical).

The Sportages were 1999 and 2000 models - build date may have been 1999 in both cases, or may not have been.

One thing that my friend was considering when we looked at Rocstas was the availability of other Mazda Fuel injected Turbo engines to replace the piece of crap that was in it. Fine for an early 90's Rocsta at about $4000 but I'd be really unhappy if I had to consider that on a $20000 Sportage.

KIA no longer performs any support for purchasers of the Rocsta - I wonder if this policy will be followed with the Sportage at some point in the future?
FollowupID: 9117

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