Land Rover Defender (used)
The predecessor of the all-new 2020 version out now; unbelievably tough and agricultural, and not for the fainthearted. A bad one, though they are in the minority, can be nothing but trouble. Production ended in January 2016 after 67 years and over two million produced, although it was only called 'Defender' from 1990, with Ford's DuraTorq power introduced from 2007. As well as the medieval ride and handling, it's the cabin where the old Landie shows its age, with the driver crammed up against the door frame and the heater roasting legs. A proper utility, though, with simple, mend-it-with-a-hammer mechanicals, but not much fun on a motorway. Watch out for rust and tired mechanicals after a hard life towing - £30K buys a good 2013 110 with 35,000 miles.
Ford Tourneo Connect
Do you really need to go off-road? Really? If not this is a charming, spacious and comfortable front-drive van derived utility, with a range of engines including Ford's excellent 1.5-litre turbo diesel (before you scoff, think 62mpg plus), 1,029 litres of space with the rear seats up, and a hose-out interior. It drives well (it's a Ford), the transmissions are terrific and if you slap on a set of Michelin Cross Climates or Bridgestone Weather Controls it'll get you through most conditions you'll meet on the road. Priced from £21,100, with a decent Zetec spec no more than £23,300. It even looks like Postman Pat's van - tempting isn't it.
Classic Land Rover, Austin Gipsy or Champ
A rust-free body, originality and condition are more important than age, although early 1.6-litre, short-wheel-base Landies fetch daft money - £40k plus. They're all slow, they're all agricultural and all terrific fun, though the Austin has a much better ride than the Landie. I've long had a soft spot for the FVRDE Champ with its light-blue Rolls-Royce engine and Alex Issigonis-designed suspension, they are simply spellbinding machines, but they don't have doors so you can fall out. These and the Gipsy can be had for under £17,000 though their steel bodies recycle themselves and parts can be hard to source.
A mini Mercedes-Benz G-wagen, with scant room inside, but wonderful off-road performance partly thanks to light weight and also the full transfer-box set of crawler gears. Cramped (you'd struggle to fit in four adults and luggage space is a paltry 85 litres), but that's part of the fun. Didn't do awfully well in NCAP tests (three stars) and priced at about £16,000 with a noisy and thirsty 100bhp 1.5-litre petrol engine, but somehow it doesn't matter. Did I also mention that Suzuki is one of the most reliable car makers?
Fiat Panda 4x4
These new ones are big and too like proper cars, but they still have a charm if not as great as the Steyr-engineered, Giugiaro-styled original of the 1980s. Comfortable (to a point), reasonably economical and fine in modern motoring conditions. The driveline is a simple wet-clutch-based system, but the kerb weight of 1.1 tonnes means you can go to places far beyond where you'd expect. Petrol twin-cylinder power starts at £15,580, but the full 'Cross' spec with the 1.3 Multijet turbo diesel is £18,300.
Like the Panda, the Duster is another transverse-engined, wet-clutch-based 4x4 off roader that will go most places the Defender can at a fraction of the cost. Based on Renault/Nissan mechanicals, 4x4 versions start at under £13,000 and even the top spec 114bhp diesel 4x4 costs under £20,000, though only manual gearboxes are available. Early ones suffered rust issues but these days they're reliable. Not the most attractive vehicle, but you could literally chuck it away and buy a new one almost four times for the same price as just one Defender.
Yee hah! The all-American (though it's maker is now French/Italian/Chinese-owned) go-anywhere vehicle with terrific authenticity. Its thirst, although better with newer models, and basic spec, which is not a problem in America, can be problematic in the UK. Some suggest that this is the car that Land Rover should have made, it's simple, strong and highly unsophisticated. Prices from £44,000 to £48,000. Great fun in the summer at the beach, but not on a wet motorway and doesn't perform well in NCAP tests, either.
Skoda Octavia Scout
Priced from £30,000, the Scout drives in the wheel tracks of many more expensive four-wheel-drive station wagons such as Volvo's Cross Country and Audi's A6 Allroad. The 180bhp Volkswagen Group 2.0-litre turbodiesel engine is smooth and powerful and the dual clutch transmission works well and gives eyebrow-raising off-road ability. Skoda isn't a cheap option any more, but its cars are well built and classy. Frankly, if you need more off-road ability than this, you probably have a high-vis jacket on, a light bar on the roof and a VHS radio screwed into the dash.
They're not daft, the South Koreans, and now this little firm is free of SAIC's vampire grasp it's aiming at being the Land Rover of the Far East. The Rexton might not be sophisticated, but it tows up to 3.5 tonnes, has a mighty 295lb ft turbodiesel engine and a simple and effective cabin design. The frame is rugged, strong and while the badge has zero boasting appeal, SsangYong offers a longer warranty than Land Rover. Prices start at £29,000 rising to £39,000 for the automatic 'Ultimate' spec.
Mercedes-Benz G-Class (used)
Conceived by the Shah of Iran and launched in 1979, the G-wagen is a hand-built military vehicle with a limousine-quality cabin. With solid axles and separately locking differentials (including the centre) plus great ground clearance and long-travel suspension, a G rivals the Defender in its ability to go absolutely anywhere. Last year's complete redesign kept closer to the vehicle's roots than Land Rover didi with the new Defender. Prestigious and expensive to buy and run (pay at least £20,000), the G-wagen is a love affair you don't need to understand to find compelling.
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