Car Buyers' Guide: Reader seeks tough, practical workhorse

By Jack Biddle

Nissan XTrail 2005
Nissan XTrail 2005

Dave is a regular reader of this column and is hoping we can help provide some much needed advice with his current dilemma.

He is ready to move on from his mid-1990s Nissan Terrano which has travelled a grand total of 220,000km (140,000km of which are his). His must-have list for his next set of wheels include a vehicle which has travelled less than 80,000km, no older than 2005, will comfortably tow a light garden trailer, has a minimum of 2-litre engine size, SUV-like styling, ability to climb over Arthurs Pass from the west side and provide the same excellent long-term reliability as the Terrano.

"I think I need 4WD or as a minimum requirement, rear wheel drive only, due to the type of driving I do. Diesel is out because of the punitive relicensing fees, plus I don't believe a vehicle fitted with a Constant Variable Transmission (CVT) will go the distance," adds Dave.

Vehicles he has considered so far include a Nissan X-TRAIL manual, Toyota RAV4 (non-CVT) and the 2005-06 Subaru Legacy.

The Budget: $10k-$20k

Overall I think you will be very lucky to find any half decent suitable vehicle at the lower end of your budget that has travelled less than 80,000km. Plus, if you go for petrol then don't expect to find a vehicle with the same claimed fuel consumption as the more modern fleet of a similar size.

Nissan X-TRAIL (2006)

A vehicle I have always held in high regard. It's roomy, practical and reliable. It will tick most, if not all, your boxes. Manual transmission may be harder to find but ideal if you can locate one as you will benefit from lower fuel consumption. Plus the X-TRAIL provides the option of 4WD if and when required.

Subaru Forester (2006)

Upsides are the renowned All -Wheel-Drive capabilities which may be perfect for your driving needs. Downsides include having so many different options to choose from including turbo charged engines which, personally, I would avoid. In addition, this generation of Subaru was produced from a time when fuel consumption was seemingly never a high priority for the brand overall, however, finding a model with a manual transmission may help the wallet in that regard. Make sure items such as cambelts have been replaced when due as it's a cost you should try to avoid for as long as you can.

Suzuki Grand Vitara Ltd (2008)

These vehicles were built tough and would handle most, if not all, your requirements with ease. They don't have the same car-like handling characteristics that the more modern SUVs have due to their very robust chassis design, but they would still offer a nicer drive than the old Terrano for sure.

Because the market has moved more towards SUV-style and occupant comfort, rather than hard-core outdoors practicality, the Grand Vitara has fallen away a little in popularity so can be purchased with low kilometres, high specification levels and lower prices than many other options.

Engine sizes can vary but I think the more powerful 2.7 V6 would be a better bet than the 2l.

Driven recommends
You need to consider looking at the different options at the higher end of your budget if you want the lowest odometer and best safety features possible. Living on the West Coast of the South Island where conditions can be very harsh at times, it may also be a good idea to seek opinions from the local garages on which make/model of vehicle they would recommend.

Due to a production error, last week's Car Buyers' Guide incorrectly stated: "I have seen engines on late model vehicles with great reliability records that have failed because of regular oil changes." This should have read: "I have seen engines on late model vehicles with great reliability records that have failed totally due to the complete lack of regular oil changes." This has been corrected in the online version which can be read at

- NZ Herald

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