Car buyer's guide: SUVs with an X-factor

By Phil Hanson

Toyota's awesomely Tonka-like FJ Cruiser. Photo / Stuart Monroe
Toyota's awesomely Tonka-like FJ Cruiser. Photo / Stuart Monroe

The dilemma

So it's goodbye to the Pajero, whose three-year lease is about to expire and hello to ... well, that's the problem.

Tracy and Neale, double income, two dogs, have enjoyed their diesel Exceed SUV, which has been reliable, comfortable and fuel thrifty.

But there were two problems.

One was that, despite tax advantages, they disliked seeing their lease payments vanishing like rent, even though they can now buy the wagon for around $30,000, well below market value.

They think they'd like to buy, rather than lease, whatever replaces the Mitsubishi.

Both work in design, she in fabrics, he in typography, and the second problem was that they thought the Pajero lacked character; in typographical terms, they had good old Helvetica, but hankered for DeconStruct.

"So please, Buyers' Guide, point us in the direction of some SUVs with x-factor." Oh, and near-new would be good, to lessen the sting of depreciation.

The budget:

About $60,000

THE SHORTLIST

Jeep Wrangler Unlimited

This is a four-door version of the famous Wrangler whose lineage goes back to the battlefields of 1941. It's available in several versions including Sport, Renegade and the off-road-oriented Rubicon, and motor choices are a 2.8-litre diesel (but not on the Rubicon) or a 3.8-litre V6 petrol. Plenty of recent Unlimiteds are available for around the $50,000 mark. For value, the Jeep is pick of the trio. It's certainly distinctive and reasonably practical, although the carpet in the back will collect and cling to every loose hair from the fur-children. The V6, particularly with the four-speed auto, chews through petrol, so maybe look for one of the diesels.
From $49,000

Land Rover Defender 110

If you want distinctive in a classic sense, along with great capacity and a pooch-friendly cargo bay, the long-wheelbase Defender ticks the boxes. It's available with a six-speed manual only and diesel only; the current 2.4-litre engine is a version of one used in the Ford Transit van. Although the 110 is much the same size as the others, its turning circle is the widest and can be a bit of a burden in town. It's the only one with full-time four-wheel-drive, which makes it sure-footed and brilliant for towing. Relatively few are on the market and they hold their price well.
From $65,000

Toyota FJ Cruiser

Only on sale here since early this year, the FJ Cruiser was designed as a "retro-mobile" for the US market, paying homage to the original FJs that once roamed the toughest places on the globe - including our own farms and forests. Built on a lengthened version of the short-wheelbase Prado chassis, the V6 petrol-only FJ Cruiser embodies Toyota's core values of build quality and reliability, and the hard-surfaced cargo bay is pooch-ready. The FJ Cruiser performs, rides and handles better than the other two but is quite partial to its petrol and there are blind spots. Those on the used market are likely to be ex-demonstrators with heaps of unused warranty.
From $64,000

- NZ Herald

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