Off-roaders for under £15k | Six of the Best

Big, small, V8, four-pot, madcap and modest: our eclectic crop of mud pluggers for nearly nothing(ish)

By John Howell / Saturday, 7 January 2023 / Loading comments

Suzuki Jimny, 2010, 57k, £8,290

This rundown had to offer a broad spectrum of models, from the big and vee-eighty, to the light and flighty. This is the light and flighty offering. The little Jimny might be small and charged with a supermini’s motor – posting just 1.3-litres and 85hp – but it’s a plucky little thing. It has a tremendous reputation for adding up to more than the sum of its parts. Jimny might be an odd name for a rough and tumble rambler, but when you veer off the King’s highway onto a byway, a Jimny will roll up its sleeves and get stuck in – rather than stuck, usually. Part of that’s down to its selectable four-wheel drive and low-ratio ‘box, and partly because its roughly-a-tonne kerb weight means it tends to bob to the surface instead of sinking like a stone – like some of the more ‘proper’ stuff. As a bonus, it’s also reliable and cheap to maintain.

Toyota Land Cruiser Amazon, 2001, 103k, £13,999

The text in the advert might not make an awful lot of sense, but including a Toyota Land Cruiser in this list most definitely does. After all, it’s one of the definitive off-roaders if you don’t want to stall in the back of beyond. And just look around the world, to the genuinely challenging places where a breakdown wouldn’t just be inconvenient but potentially catastrophic. What do you see? Many, many Land Cruisers, that’s what. That’s because of Toyota’s fabled reliability, although to pretend the J100, which was built between 1998 to 2007, is infallible would be a misnomer. The transmissions can suffer from explosive torque converters and the automatic height control (AHC) suspension can be troublesome as well. As can rust, but there’s not a lot else to worry about. If you buy a good’un – and this one would appear to be very good’un – then, if necessary, spend a grand swapping the air springs for coils, you should be good to go. And go, and go and go…

Jeep Grand Cherokee, 2005, 91k, £4,695

We cannot offer you a Willys Jeep or even a Wrangler for this money, but we had to include something from the original off-roader brand with the slatted grille. So how about this Jeep Grand Cherokee? It’s big and spacious, for those that need practicality, and with fully independent suspension and rack and pinion steering it’s less agricultural than its predecessors. As with Land Rover, though, Jeep rarely strays from its remit. It still provides cars that will keep on going when the water levels rise and the pebbles become boulders. In this case, the Grand Cherokee makes use of 20cm of ground clearance plus some gadgets to help achieve that aim, such as electronic front and rear diffs that automatically lock and unlock as required. A Hemi V8 would’ve been the cherry on the top of the Cherokee, but a smooth 3.0-litre Mercedes V6 diesel, which musters not far off 400lb ft of torque, is more than up to the job.

Range Rover (L322), 2010, 60k, £13,995

We could’ve picked a Classic or a P38, and both would’ve represented the most famous luxury SUV brand well. But there’s something rather beguiling about the L322 that makes it, for this money at least, a cut above. For a start, if you want some luxury it is genuinely luxurious. Huge inside, beautifully appointed, and full of the sort of high-tech kit that would blow the brains of owners of older Range Rovers. It’s also, to my mind, the most elegant Range Rover of the lot – I thought that when it was new and still think it today. Of course, there are reliability issues to consider – and no doubt the comments will address this for the umpteenth time. It’s a Range Rover, so yes, it’ll probably breakdown. But most people understand that when they buy them. Just like people who buy Alfas and Citroens, or anything else with an iffy record on that front, so save yourself the keyboard wear and tear. And there are plenty of specialists au fait with the L322 and all its foibles. They might not be able to offer a cheap solution, but they should have a solution. The other reason for choosing this was that, despite its complexity, it’s supremely capable of managing the challenges of tricky terrain. Its independent air suspension improved wheel articulation and its off-road settings helped optimise the drivetrain. It’s got a V8, too, albeit one that runs on diesel.

Land Rover Defender, 1990, 112k, £12,850

Two Land Rovers in this list? Yes, that’s right, and no apologies, either. You must have a Range Rover to make an off-roader list valid, and to leave out the Defender would just be insane. I was happy to stick a Disco in as well, but Cackett told me to get a grip. Anyway, the Defender. What a Defender. One that’s all set for the rough stuff: mud-plugging tyres and no need to worry about scuffing the wheels or scratching the paintwork. It’s described as being finished in its original NATO khaki hue and military spec. That means screw-in side lamps, various cubbies in the bodywork, and ‘bumperettes’ that could slice through a Yaris’s bumper and have you dragging it behind for miles without being any the wiser. It also has a V8, and proper V8 that runs on petrol. If you Google this car, you’ll find a YouTube video of it running. Judging by its smoothness, I’d say those twin SUs are balanced beautifully, and it sounds pretty darn fruity just thrumming away at tick over. It’s a proper thing.

Mercedes-Benz G Class, 2021 (UK registered), 500, £16,995

I’ll be honest, when this SOB was spoken about, the car I wanted on the list above all else was a G Wagen. But then the £15k price cap was set and I thought, “no chance.” And I was right. The cheapest conventional G Wagen is over £20k, but where there’s a will there’s a way. If you can live without a few of the fluffier bits – i.e. windows, doors, roof – you could have this. It’s just over our budget cap, but rules are there to be broken, right? As much as I can see the appeal of all the cars on this list, this is the one I’d pick. It’s ex-Singapore Police stock, looks brand new and shows just 135km. That’s probably because the Singapore Police realised that ordering a G Wagen with no doors or a windscreen was utter madness, which it is. If anyone can come up with a logical explanation, I’m all ears? But as a plaything – and one that isn’t stupid money, either – the bits that are missing add something. I guarantee you two things: firstly, this’ll be more fun than a threesome with some comics; secondly, park it next to a lime-green Miura and the owner will get the hump because no one’s batting any eyelids his way. That’s because this might just be the coolest car on PH.

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