Tuesday 27 September 2016

Four-wheel drives bounce back

The commercial four-wheel drive market is bouncing back as the economy recovers

Aidan Timmons

Published 09/09/2015 | 02:30

The Ford Kuga can now be bought with AWD to give improved traction and grip on poor roads and in muddy and icy conditions
The Ford Kuga can now be bought with AWD to give improved traction and grip on poor roads and in muddy and icy conditions
Hyundai xi35
Skoda Yeti Forester
Subaru Forester
Toyota Land Cruiser
Mitsubishi Pajero

With the extraordinary volume of Toyota Land Cruisers around the country, you might be forgiven for thinking that the commercial four-wheel drive market is a one trick pony.

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As good as the Land Cruiser is, and it is a mighty machine, there is actually a healthy supply of commercial SUVs worth considering.

True, some are more up to the task of transporting livestock and cattle feed about the place than others, but there is something in the market for everyone if you know where to look. We will start by looking at the 'crossovers'.

We'll start with the smaller ones.

Hyundai ix35

A key selling point of the ix35 commercial is its price.

It's extremely appealing with entry level Celebration models costing €27,495.

The two-litre diesel has better towing capacity and more low-down grunt.

In the main, the ix35 is well-equipped to tackle on-road duties, with the 1.7 diesel engine only coming as a two-wheel drive option.

The ix35 is soon to be replaced by the Tucson and the passenger version looks like a more substantial machine.

Ford Kuga

Forget front-wheel drive and opt for the 4WD Zetec version at €33,970.

The Kuga has a punchy 2.0 TDCi engine and a respectable 1,600 litres of stowage space.

If you don't quite need all of that extra room, the Kuga can be ordered as a four-seater commercial instead.

Ford's four-wheel drive system might not tackle tricky cambers on slippery terrain quite as effortlessly as others but it's a capable setup nonetheless.

However, best of all is that Ford is running a promotion offering five years warranty with the Kuga Utility.

And who can put a price on peace of mind?

Skoda Yeti Sherpa

This is probably better suited to predominantly on-road use. However, at €25,000 for a two-litre diesel, four-wheel-drive Active model, the Yeti Sherpa might make sense for the farmer with small, scattered land-holdings who has more on-road than off-road work for it.

The Ford Kuga, Hyundai ix35 and Skoda Yeti Sherpa are solid crossover options

MID-SIZE COMMERCIALS

Hyundai Santa Fe

Only those who have been elbow deep in silage for the last few years will be unaware that Hyundai is setting the fox among the chickens with their vehicle range.

The Santa Fe is a brute.

It has grown up since older versions but the front and rear overhangs still require a delicate approach to heavy off-roading. It is still a predominantly on-road focused vehicle.

It has permanent four-wheel drive, a well rounded 2.2 diesel engine, and a top notch interior.

Features that help with stabilising weaving trailers and keeping composed on steep descents are only two among a host of safety gadgets that can be fitted.

However, at €41,995 it is priced similarly to a long-wheel-base Land Cruiser and for many people there is only one winner in that fight.

Mitsubishi Outlander

This has to be one of the best-value commercial four-wheel drives on the market.

The Outlander Business has Mitsubishi's world renowned four-wheel drive capabilities, an efficient 2.2 diesel engine strong enough to tow two tonnes, a payload of 665kg, and a heap of safety features; all for a starting price of €29,950.

Throw in a comprehensive five-year warranty and it makes a lot of its competitors look a smidgen expensive.

However, how about this for one from left field? An Outlander PHEV Business. It's an automatic transmission petrol hybrid electric vehicle.

"A what?", I hear you say. Well, basically you charge it up at home for what it costs to boil the kettle, drive it for around 50km on batteries only, and then run it on a two-litre petrol engine that is capable of charging the batteries back up again.

If you spend a lot of time on the farm and cover frequent but short distances then this could be a cost effective solution to fuel costs. You will pay €40,650 for all of this eco-friendliness but you get cutting edge technology and an automatic gearbox.

Subaru Forester

Not many people know that you can get a commercial version of the Forester.

It has appeared and disappeared on Subaru's price lists over the last 12 months but it is back on it again and there is quite a lot to get excited about.

Firstly, the Forester is a decent size. It does not have a split folding boot like the Outlander but there is no loading lip so you can push and shove bags of stuff or what have you into the back with ease.

It's also a little lower to the ground than the likes of the Pajero or Land Cruiser.

The front overhang is a bit long but the rear is compact and overall neither is so severe as to render the Forester a purely on-road commercial.

Subaru make a tremendous Symmetrical All-wheel Drive system and the Forester is capable of towing two tons. €34,000 will buy the entry level model which is a little shy on creature comforts but what it lacks in goodies it makes up for reliability and long-term sturdiness.

LARGE COMMERCIALS

SsangYong Rexton W

SsangYong has been back in business in Ireland for a while now and their Rexton is like a 'show house' in the commercial four-wheel drive world.

It comes loaded with kit. Leather upholstery, multifunctional steering wheel, Bluetooth, cruise control; it has it all. It's not typically perched atop buyers' shopping lists but at under €35,000 and with five years or 150,000km warranty, it's hard to knock it as a value-for-money option. Despite only having a two-litre diesel engine, the Rexton can still manage to tow 2.6 tonnes.

Mitsubishi Pajero

The Pajero's 3.2 litre diesel engine is as old as the hills but it's a reliable unit that stands up to the strictest of tests. The short wheel base (SWB) version is generally more popular in the farming world because it makes reversing a trailer into tight spaces an awful lot easier.

If you are a dab hand at that kind of thing then the long wheel base (LWB) version has a greater towing capacity of 3.5 tonnes. Costing a shade under €41,000 for a long-wheel-base commercial, the Pajero is a decent buy.

The interior could do with some modernising but it will take a fair amount of abuse before showing any signs of wear. It can tackle motorway jaunts and boggy boreens equally well. Mitsubishi won a heap of World Rally Championships in its day so the four-wheel drive system won't shy away from slippery off-camber angles.

Toyota Land Cruiser

This is the benchmark; the one all of the others try to emulate and beat. The engine is a four-cylinder three-litre diesel that has recently been overhauled to produce a little more power than before; 190bhp now. The manual gearbox feels fluid despite having longish throws between each one. Finding the right gear is easy work.

Like the Pajero, the SWB is less awkward to manoeuvre when towing a trailer and the LWB, despite costing €2,000 more to buy new, tends not to hold much of this premium on the used market.

The present model launched in 2011 to mixed opinions but it has grown on loyal 'Cruiser' followers so residuals tend to be among the best in the business.

SECOND HAND MARKET

What to look for in a used  four-wheel drive commercial

Used commercial four-wheel-drives are a mixed bag of the immaculately clean and dog rough, so expect values to vary depending on mileage and body condition.

Treat a full and verifiable service record with the credit it deserves. Inheritance is a touchy subject at the best of times so whatever you do, don't inherit someone else's problems.

If you are planning on giving the vehicle a bit of hard life, perhaps hunt down a commercial that has been predominantly used on the road.

Another benefit of buying something that has seen more tarmac than muddy fields is that the suspension parts will likely have less wear. Depending on your budget, a suspension overhaul can run to a substantial amount of the purchase price of a used commercial.

The last of the old model 2010 registration Toyota Land Cruiser is probably the safest bet, but they don't come cheap and a good one won't hang around in a dealership for too long.

The Pajero is a cost effective choice. It is as tough as old boots and the 3.2 litre diesel engine is a steady machine. You won't have to pay much of a premium to purchase a long-wheelbase version of either the Pajero or Land Cruiser. The new price differential gets seriously diluted over the years as the SWB has broader appeal.

The Land Rover Discovery III is getting on a bit and high mileage examples might require some serious remedial work. The Land Rover Discovery IV is so rare it is barely worth mentioning. The market for commercials hit the skids in 2008 and is only now recovering so the name of the game is to keep on the lookout for a clean and well-maintained machine.

I usually advocate buying from a main dealer because they tend to provide some warranty. A commercial four-wheel-drive should be thought of as a revenue generator. If it is off the road, you can't make money. Be sure to regularly service the vehicle and don't let a brand's reputation for reliability stop you from taking good care of it.

Indo Farming

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