Which Soft 4WD to choose?

Submitted: Saturday, May 24, 2003 at 23:31
ThreadID: 5105 Views:5688 Replies:13 FollowUps:17
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G'day All and thanks for your time,
At the moment I'm stuck between the choice of two soft 4WD's mainly due to price, fuel economy and I'm very new at off-road travelling. The choice is between a Nissan X-trail and the Subaru Forrester. Firstly I've managed to squeeze the Nissan guys for a good deal and yet to push the Subaru dealer any further and due to space and engine specs the X-trail is coming out on top. We want the vehicle for occaisonal weekend camping in the mountains (nothing too serious as yet) and the trip up to the Fraser Coast - beaching driving. The guys selling these machines will tell you that the vehicles will have no problems with dirt tracks and beach driving. However after reading some reviews and comments by experienced off road drivers, each vehicle has their limitations in each environment. Friends are pushing me towards the higher end of the 4WD market, however the cost is limiting and we would like to crawl in this new environment before we can walk...
If anyone has any comments on this choice I would really appreciate it.

Thanks heaps.
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Reply By: Kev - (Cairns,QLD) - Saturday, May 24, 2003 at 23:52

Saturday, May 24, 2003 at 23:52
Theres a couple of guys who drive the Forester on the Overlander forum and im sure they would be happy to help.
AnswerID: 20970

Reply By: bruce.h (WA) - Saturday, May 24, 2003 at 23:58

Saturday, May 24, 2003 at 23:58
gday tony
dont know much about the xtrail but nissan build good cars
the forester is a very capable 4wd in its range both have limitations which you will only find out when you use it as only then will you be able to compare effectivly it suitabilty to your needs i asume that you are buying new rather than second hand
if so be carefull with your chioce becauceonce you drive it off the show room floor the resale value takes a dive so if you dont like what you buy you may not get your money back for it, may be worth looking second hand 1 or 2 years old & let somebody else take the loss of $$$ you may also be able to get into one of the bigger more capable 4wds , but just atip what ever you buy go do a4wd training course the it will not only save your life but will save you big $$$ as you will not be so easy to miss leed in whats what of 4wding
Regards Bruce
AnswerID: 20971

Follow Up By: GaryInOz (Vic) - Sunday, May 25, 2003 at 06:38

Sunday, May 25, 2003 at 06:38
...and don't be put off by the whole "fuel economy" issue of your softroader, $5000 dollars depreciation in the first year or so on your softroader would buy a LOT of fuel for when you trade up to a larger 4WD. Not to mention the purpose built drivelines on the larger "true" 4WD's. Of the softroaders the Subaru (manual, dual range) would be the better choice as it has everything mounted up high in the engine bay (alternator, battery, air intake) and is also readily modified with lift kits, larger tyres, etc., should you want to go that way. (had a Subaru years ago with extensive mods, could certainly take it most places the larger 4WD would go, either that or we just did'nt know any better LOL!)

I haven't seen under the bonnet f the X-Trail, but have a look at where things are (alt, batt, air intake), they should be nice and high. If you need a warning about what can happen in a "puddle" see the post a couple of days ago on the Mazda Tribute, not a happy camper!!!
FollowupID: 13534

Reply By: AK - Sunday, May 25, 2003 at 08:40

Sunday, May 25, 2003 at 08:40
Think carefully about it your choice as once you start 4x4ing it is very easy to get hooked and then you will be wishing you bought something that was more capable. Trust me I am going through the expensive exercise of upgrading now. But if you want my cents worth go the one with the dual range gearbox, at least then you can go up and steep inclines.
AnswerID: 20981

Follow Up By: Kev - (Cairns,QLD) - Sunday, May 25, 2003 at 13:49

Sunday, May 25, 2003 at 13:49
Yes it would be easy to jump in and then discover what you realy need as its easy to be hooked on the out doors thing. Good advice on the low gearing needed as some dont have it i think (never driven a soft roader).

I would never have a 4wd without low gears, whats the point !
FollowupID: 13550

Follow Up By: Member - Rohan K - Tuesday, May 27, 2003 at 10:12

Tuesday, May 27, 2003 at 10:12
The Forester has "low" range. Its not really very low, but does provide a little benefit, especially on dirt and sand. I don't believe the X-Trail has dual range.Life just ain't that serious.
Rohan (Sydney)
FollowupID: 13734

Reply By: Froilan - Sunday, May 25, 2003 at 09:08

Sunday, May 25, 2003 at 09:08

Have you considered the Jeep Wrangler? Probably one of the most capable (off-road) compact 4wd. Not a soft roader at all as it has good low-range, clearance and other features missing in soft roaders. Same price range as the xtrail and forester.

Some people say spare parts for jeep is expensive, so you may have to check this out.

If kids is not in the equation yet, and long trips to the outback will be a few years from now, then the jeep is a worthy consideration.

I agree with AK, once you're in you're hooked. Get something that is very capable now, an easily upgradable once you want to get serious.
AnswerID: 20982

Follow Up By: Member - Rohan K - Tuesday, May 27, 2003 at 10:42

Tuesday, May 27, 2003 at 10:42
Tony, I second this warning, because I'm suffering. A short story ...

I used to be into 4x4 big time (pre wife, pre kids). I had 2 modified FJ40 Landcruisers (V8's, suspension lifts etc) - loved it. Along came wife. Along came mortgage. Along came kids. Along came bigger mortgage. etc. Bye bye went 4x4s and 4wding.

Now, some 15 or so years later, we decide to get back into camping. Now we need a 4x4 to tow the campertrailer. Now we have a choice - get rid of the daily driver and buy a 4x4 that will do both or keep the daily driver and buy a 2nd hand "serious" 4x4 to perform recreation duties.

6 months ago we chose the first option and purchased a mid-sized V6 wagon 4x4 (Nissan Pathfinder) to provide both daily and recreational needs (just couldn't justify 2 cars then). Now, bitten again by the 4x4 bug, we regret the decision. Its a great compromise vehicle, being excellent on-road and very capable off-road (although it lacks some power when towing). However, it is new, expensive and has some (not many, but some) off-road limitations which means we are less inclined to use it to do what we now want - some SERIOUS off-road playtime.

New car depreciation makes it too costly to change vehicles now (after just 6 months) so we will be "stuck" with the Pathie for a few years before we can afford to "move up". We'll still have fun with it, but will always be a little frustrated that we made the wrong decision.

4x4 is a bit like most things you'll try - the bug will either bite hard or not at all. If it bites hard, you'll want bigger and better very soon, so plan for it.

P.S. don't take this as a bagging of the Pathfinder. Its a brilliant mid-sized "compromise" vehicle performing extremely well on-road and better than most off-road. There are several contenders in that class that are worthwhile looking at, particularly second hand to escape the new car depreciation syndrome.

Happy hunting. Life just ain't that serious.
Rohan (Sydney)
FollowupID: 13742

Reply By: Tony - Sunday, May 25, 2003 at 10:44

Sunday, May 25, 2003 at 10:44
Thanks Guys you've made me think about about a few issues and considerations that never entered my mind. This is getting to be a hard decision and from what I heard from you all, a decision not lightly to step into. The depreciation is always a factor and buying second hand can be a risky situation in some cases as well. I will definitely do a 4WD training course and visit this forum and website regularly as there's a fair to bit to learn. As far as the Jeep Wrangler goes - the soon to be family situation in a couple of years prevents us from going down that path - thanks.

Again thanks for your help.

AnswerID: 20986

Follow Up By: Member - Colin (ACT region) - Sunday, May 25, 2003 at 14:28

Sunday, May 25, 2003 at 14:28
Tony - Good to see you have received some positive feedback, all the points mentioned are relevant. I know very little about other makes, but Subaru seems to come out 'on top' when considering build quality and ability 'off road'. Have a look under the various makes and compare the differences in suspension, some look very fragile. I have said here before, I have not seen anything but Subaru's in the tougher 4WD situations - Cape York, Simpson, Coffin Bay, Canning Stock Route etc. - something to consider even if you dont plan on going to these places. I bought my Forester 2nd hand, saved $10 000 on new price. There are a lot of suppliers of after market gear for Subaru's and Subaru Clubs in every state who are a good source of advise. I you look at my 'My Rig' you will notice that the car is basically standard, with upgraded suspensionn and tyres - no different than the 'real' 4WDs. You dont say where you live but the Qld Web site has a lot in technical info, like a 100 000 km Forester report. link text

FollowupID: 13557

Reply By: Truckster (Vic) - Sunday, May 25, 2003 at 18:12

Sunday, May 25, 2003 at 18:12
Does it HAVE to be new?

As others have said once you are bitten, you will want to deeper into the bush and stuff.

Low range to me is somethign a 4b MUST have. Simple as that, YMMV.

It may be a hard decision now, but once you make it and sitting round your first camp fire with a few ales, it all seems to have been easier.

There are SO many 4b's out there that I'd hate to be buying another(well it would be a GU 4.2 TD Auto ST but they dont make em).

Your talking new, but for that money you could get a VERY good second hand 80 series with loads of extras, a GU with loads of extras, GQ, Jackaroo, etc etc. any of these will wee on a X trail, or Forester. But all depends on your lifestyle. If your not the outdoor type then the Xtrail might be you. but 1 thing,DONT BELIEVE WHAT YOU SEE ON THE COMMERCIAL.

Personally I wouldnt buy a new car of any form. Paying $40-50k on something that WILL get scratched or dented to me is insane.

Get something value second hand and then its not so bad, as you dont have to pay so much to get more.

AnswerID: 21002

Follow Up By: Savvas - Monday, May 26, 2003 at 15:49

Monday, May 26, 2003 at 15:49
Speaking of ads...seen the one with Andre Agassi driving the Kia Sorrento? I wonder if they had to tow it off the set after that jump!
FollowupID: 13656

Follow Up By: Member - Rohan K - Wednesday, May 28, 2003 at 17:32

Wednesday, May 28, 2003 at 17:32
I agree Truckster. I won't be buying another fourbie new. You only make that mistake once!Life just ain't that serious.
Rohan (Sydney)
FollowupID: 13875

Reply By: Member - Richard- Sunday, May 25, 2003 at 21:20

Sunday, May 25, 2003 at 21:20
Before you buy an AWD consider what you are going to do with it and make enquiries with the guys who run off road training. Vic Widman at Great Divide Tours would, I am sure, help you. I consider if these guys are training people to drive them they will know their capabilities. Do not be fooled by the TV adds or by salemen. I have a friend with an Xtrail and one day he wanted to borrow my box trailer to take some rubbish to the tip. It was parked on dirt and it meant he had one wheel on the dirt, one in the gutter and two on the road. It was raining and a slight uphill pull. The wheel on the dirt started spinning and that was it. I do not know why the other three wheels did not pull him out. So much for AWD.
The other thing to consider is storage space. The Xtrail seems to have a reasonable amount of space but the Forrester not a lot. If you are off camping every bit of space helps and unless you buy a Cruiser or Patrol the smaller 4WD are not as big in the back as a Falcon station wagon.
I have a Frontera which suits my wife and I and goes where the big boys go. I can forget however going where the big boys go if I am on my own because I cannot carry all the gear they do, especially recovery gear.
Some thing else to consider is what after market gear is available for it. AWD's and 4WD's generally have a lot of money spent on them to really make them go where the average person with a 4WD wants to go. For example I would like a snorkle for the Frontera. No one makes one. I can fit a second battery but then I cannot fit a heat exchanger for a shower. If I fit a drawer system it will cost $2500 for two _Affordable_Storage_Drawers.aspx and a fridge slide because it will special. You will be amazed how after a few trips these sorts of things become a must.
AnswerID: 21018

Follow Up By: Savvas - Monday, May 26, 2003 at 15:51

Monday, May 26, 2003 at 15:51
Richard .... I have seen a new Frontera with a snorkel. I'll see if I can find the details for you.
FollowupID: 13657

Follow Up By: Member - Richard- Monday, May 26, 2003 at 21:15

Monday, May 26, 2003 at 21:15
Savvas you are gentleperson. I would be internally grateful.
Richard and Leonie, the grey nomads
FollowupID: 13688

Reply By: flappan - Monday, May 26, 2003 at 12:49

Monday, May 26, 2003 at 12:49
Agree with most of the above.

I think the Forrester is a better occasional offroader then the X Trail. I know of someone who has one and it would surprise folks the places it has gone.

The 4by bug is very addictive. Once bitten you will NEVER go back. If you don't wont a full blown 4by (like a Cruiser or Patrol), have a look at something like a Jackaroo, Prado or Pajero. Quite capable offroad, and drive very well on road.
AnswerID: 21064

Reply By: projects - Monday, May 26, 2003 at 19:30

Monday, May 26, 2003 at 19:30
Is there a reason you aren't looking at the Suzuki Grand Vitara? Maybe not quite as refined onroad but certainly much more potential to go offroad. Seperate chassis and a proper low range where as the Forrester although a very good vehicle only has a slightly lower range and that is only available on the manual. Also a lot more in the way of accessories to build a very capable offroader.
AnswerID: 21125

Follow Up By: Member - sacco - Monday, May 26, 2003 at 23:19

Monday, May 26, 2003 at 23:19
Have had GV XL7 for 2 years, driven halfway around Oz plus through Pilbarra, never missed a beat during trip. Reasonably priced new and heaps of extras. Has Suzuki reliability.
FollowupID: 13703

Follow Up By: GaryInOz (Vic) - Tuesday, May 27, 2003 at 05:07

Tuesday, May 27, 2003 at 05:07
...Or Kia Sportage later than 2000 ("longbody version)? $17000-$22000
FollowupID: 13723

Reply By: Tony - Monday, May 26, 2003 at 20:41

Monday, May 26, 2003 at 20:41
Thanks again guys,
Wow where do I go from here? I think a little more research is required and yes Richard I will talk to the guys that instruct in off-road training - good idea. I spoke to couple of mates who put me onto this web site and all they could say was "I told you so." They too have commented on 2nd hand vehicles and also to check out the Vitara as "projects" was talking about. With a little more investigation, a closer look at what is on offer and listening to what you guys have to say I think I'm now in a better position to make a more informed decision. I've just been showing my fiance' the comments that have been generated and she's got the 4WD bug really bad now. I'm thinking I might just have to look around for 2nd hand diesel patrol or landcruiser (also thinking about fuel costs considering I spend close to hour everyday in Sydney traffic?).

AnswerID: 21133

Follow Up By: Truckster (Vic) - Tuesday, May 27, 2003 at 00:09

Tuesday, May 27, 2003 at 00:09
As you say since you spend so much time in Traffic, theres Auto V Man, and Diesel V LPG as Petrols in ANY large 4wd will send you to the wall, no matter how much you earn

good luck! Glad Im not in the market now!

FollowupID: 13714

Follow Up By: Member - Rohan K - Tuesday, May 27, 2003 at 10:16

Tuesday, May 27, 2003 at 10:16
Tony, all the "mid-sized" 4x4s running V6 motors of varying sizes are fuel guzzlers in city driving too. What's more important - fuel economy in the city, or 4WD capability? You need to decide because you can't/won't get both.Life just ain't that serious.
Rohan (Sydney)
FollowupID: 13737

Reply By: herkman - Tuesday, May 27, 2003 at 10:04

Tuesday, May 27, 2003 at 10:04
All the softroaders suggested are good cars, however as this is to be a stepping stone car, then depreciation should be a factor, as really it will add to your costs at the end of the time.

The forester is a good unit, is hard to drive the price down, but have seen some good deals on almost new units, at 150 kms ex Suburu Australia.

We drove the X trail, and was disapointed with it power/torque, but then to be fair we were looking to tow a pop top.

I have found the best way to establish value, is to do a spread sheet, where you list against each make its features, particulairly the ones that are important to you.

I think in the main you will get what you pay for, but the spread sheet will enable you to focus on the units that meet your needs.

Now if the X trail and Pathfinder, were available new here with diesel, that would have changed our focus.

Best of luck, I think in the main, that most 4WD are good products, it is a matter of tailoring the one that suits you and your budget.


Col Tigwell
AnswerID: 21183

Follow Up By: Tony - Tuesday, May 27, 2003 at 21:15

Tuesday, May 27, 2003 at 21:15
Thanks Col - Good sound advice. We're currently checking out the second hand market and can see some larger 4WD (Diesel - Turbo) not that old for around the price we want to spend. Do you know alot about Diesel Engines and what sort kilometers are considered good for a second hand model? One that we saw was a Nissan Patrol ST 3.0 Ltr Turbo Diesel and had about 160,000kms on it.

Thanks again Col.

FollowupID: 13816

Reply By: Johno - Tuesday, May 27, 2003 at 22:15

Tuesday, May 27, 2003 at 22:15
Hi Tony
You seem to have gotten a lot of advice on your query but no-one has mentioned beach driving yet. Here are my experiences. In short, Xtrails are usless on the beach. I spend most summers up at Double island point/Rainbow beach area. And every day I pull a soft 4WD out of the sand. On the actual beach they are fine below the high tide mark (but so is a Commodore). But going through the cuttings to and from the beach they are absolutely useless. I have pulled these things out going uphill, downhill and on the flat, I don't know how they get bogged going downhill, but they do. If they do get going on the soft sand and stop, they are stuffed, can't get going again,bogged to the floorpan. These things get bogged in places where I can stop, get out, have a look, drive around them, stop again, reverse up, hook up a snatch-strap and reef them out. And I drive a 1993 2.6L twin cab Rodeo which most guys here would agree is not a powerhouse. The problems with the soft 4WD's are, not enough gears, not enough power, not enough ground clearance and they are always sold with useless road tyres on them. But they may have a very nice cup holder to make up for it. They are marketed as great go anywhere vehicles but don't believe it, if it ain't got low range don't get it. One other thing, have you noticed how people don't offer assistance to breakdowns on the road anymore? Well its getting like that on the beach too! Two years ago I stopped for a bogged Ford Escape on a flat section of soft sand. Up to the floorpan going no-where bogged. By the time I stopped he had been there for an hour and everyone was just going around him. His wife actually asked a bunch of blokes fishing nearby for some help and they replied that if they were stupid enough to get stuck then they could get themselves out. A bit of digging and two yanks on the snatch-strap and he was out. Twenty years ago if you got bogged everyone would stop, not anymore. Tony, for the thirty odd grand that an X-trail would cost, you could buy a great secondhand low k's "real" 4WD.
Best of luck with your car hunting, and welcome to the off road.
AnswerID: 21241

Follow Up By: GaryInOz (Vic) - Tuesday, May 27, 2003 at 23:15

Tuesday, May 27, 2003 at 23:15
It's the "go anywhere" bit that amuses me...someone forgot to tell the manufacturers that they would really like to "come back" too!

SUV = Strictly Urban Vehicle

Part time 4wd..."It was full time when we left"

AWD = A Waiting Disaster

"On-demand" 4WD... "huh? what? Speak up, I can't hear you?"
FollowupID: 13831

Follow Up By: MarkFC - Wednesday, May 28, 2003 at 07:51

Wednesday, May 28, 2003 at 07:51
Hi Johno

I think that you may be being a little harsh with your comments about X-Trails being useless for beach driving. If anything, this may be what they are best suited to.

I took our X-Trail up to Double Island Point on Sunday, and I didn't have any trouble, and I didn't see any evidence of the 3 other X-Trails, 3 Rav4's, 1 Tribute, I Santa Fe, 3 Forresters, and 2 BMW X5's striking any trouble either. I drove through some reasonably soft sand, and the X-Trail, as always, just floated over the top of the sand. I have had contact with another X-Trail owner who deliberately tried to bog their X-Trail on Stradbroke for an entire weekend, and failed to do so. I think that at some point, patience, common sense, and a little bit of skill has to play a part in how well a vehicle handles various conditions.

Hi Tony

We have had the X-Trail (ST Auto) since Christmas and love it. It is everything that we expected of it. It is my wifes car, and is used 99% of the time for school / shopping etc. We regularly use it for forest trail drives, and beach driving. Like I said above, these vehicles have limitations, so drive them accordingly. I did a lot of homework prior to the purchase, and the Nissan was the winner for me. It has a great engine, excellent power to weight ratio, and a size that suits us. The Forrester and CRV had great build quality, but the Subaru was let down by poor performance, and small interior.

At the end of the day, every vehicle is a compromise, choose what is best for you. It is true that you do get bitten by "the bug", I can't wait for weekends!

By the way, I towed an 8*5 trailer full of garden rubbish to the tip on Saturday, and the X-Trail took it all in it's stride. The combined weight of the vehicle and trailer was 2,600kgs.

Good luck

Mark FC
FollowupID: 13845

Follow Up By: Johno - Friday, May 30, 2003 at 21:01

Friday, May 30, 2003 at 21:01
Hi Mark
No sorry but I don't think that I was a bit harsh on my comments about the Xtrail. I just call it as I see it. Are you a regular beach driver or just the occasional day tripper? Me, I'm on the beach everyday for three or four weeks every Christmass and other times throughout the year for shorter periods. If you really want to see soft 4WD's in action then go visit the Yum Yum man at the Cherry Venture, buy yourself an icecream and watch the entrance to the Liesha track. This little exercise is especially good after a long dry spell and the sand is really soft not just reasonably soft. Take note of what vehicles get bogged, "real" 4WD's or AWD's. Then go down to cutting number one on the North shore and repeat the exercise (this is where the yobbos sit on the hill, god love em)
I was at Double island over Easter and the sand was quite firm at the time from recent rains, so firm that I had no trouble on my heavy dirt bike. In fact I have at times seen two wheel drives tackle the Liesha track. I was talking about SOFT sand and I stand by my earlier comments. Your friend tried to bog an Xtrail and couldn't, are you serious?
Tony please don't get me wrong I think the Xtrail is a great car, but that is just what it is, A CAR with all wheel drive. It is not a serious 4WD.
FollowupID: 14014

Reply By: herkman - Wednesday, May 28, 2003 at 04:16

Wednesday, May 28, 2003 at 04:16
Diesel engines are really the way to go. However a second hand truck would be a good buy, if it has been serviced correctly.

The Patrol is like all cars, it has its short comings, but in most areas are much stronger than its competition.

Diesel engines long term do not like being negleted, and you would be wise to check, that oil and filter changes have been done correctly. The 3 litre engine according to Nissan, is also a bit finicky on oil type, if I recall correctly it needs a CF type oil, as Nissan are keen to hold the soot solids in suspension. Oil changes on the engine are normally 10,000 intervals, but as soon as you get into severe service, which most off road work is, it drops to 5000 kms.

The Forester is a long life motor car, if serviced correctly, and should be much cheaper to run, than a full sized 4WD. You really need to talk to people who own the types of cars you have interest in.

The 3.0 litre turbo is only a fairly new car, and the high milage on it, should not deter you, unless it has been negleted. I suggest a proper mechanical inspection, and not through the NRMA, is the way to go. In your area there should be people who can check, and would have the knowledge to do a proper job. Often the underneath of the car will tell the true story. Old oil leaks not fixed. bashes and scrapes to the underneath, damaged exhausts, all tell the story of a hard life.

The Patrol is a strong 4WD, stronger than many of its competitors, but it does not suffer neglet gladly. Look at the exterior of the car, is there damage to the bodywork, and on the inside look for "tarting up", interior neglet and damage, indicates that the rest of the car may have suffered the same fate.

At that milage, the car should be fairly well priced, and should work out cheaper than the Forester, however the Forester should be much cheaper to run, and if new, will come with a long warrantee.

Hope it all works out for you.


AnswerID: 21260

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