Big cars going for small prices

No one really needs a big off-roader, but as James Ruppert explains, there are incredible bargains for the canny buyer
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Indy Lifestyle Online

I think we are all pretty much agreed that full-size off-road vehicles are pretty stupid. No one apart from farmers, surveyors or the armed forces genuinely needs big tyres, diff locks, low-range gears and a bumper the size of an RSJ. Funnily enough, though, these fashionable 4x4s are perfect for used-car buyers after an over-engineered bargain. There has never been a better time to buy a big off-roader.

I think we are all pretty much agreed that full-size off-road vehicles are pretty stupid. No one apart from farmers, surveyors or the armed forces genuinely needs big tyres, diff locks, low-range gears and a bumper the size of an RSJ. Funnily enough, though, these fashionable 4x4s are perfect for used-car buyers after an over-engineered bargain. There has never been a better time to buy a big off-roader.

Let's be pragmatic -- these vehicles exist, they can't be uninvented or easily broken up for scrap, but they can be used. As family transportation for weekends away it is a comfy way to travel with lots of room for luggage and a great view. They can easily cope with a low-mile daily commute, provided you have somewhere to park -- and you are getting an awful lot of vehicle for your money.

However, you must be aware of the limitations, because it isn't like driving a car. The responses are slower, the centre of gravity higher and braking distances are longer.

On the cost side, fuel consumption is heavier, repairs more expensive and you should always get an insurance quote before you buy so there are no nasty surprises.

So what models are we looking at? Well let's start with the smaller so-called lifestyle 4x4s which have become the school run staples because of their car-like behaviour. The Toyota Rav 4 and Honda CRV remain in demand and pricey. Then there is the seriously fashionable like the new Range Rover, BMW X5, Mercedes M Class and the Volvo XC90. No one in their right mind should consider paying a premium for these.

That means old, less-hip models go for less, then throw a petrol engine into the mix and suddenly buyers run scared. The perception is that diesel is the only way to drive and they are certainly efficient, powerful and more frugal, but if your mileages are average the amount you save buying a petrol model would make going diesel stupidly expensive.

At the lower end of the market, where depreciation is less of an issue, what should we be shopping for? Range Rovers. Brand royalty when it comes to off-roaders, they set the upmarket, luxury 4x4 agenda and could not be cheaper. The previous model with a 4.6 V8 engine and HSE specification is now between £8,000-£9,000 in the classified ads, but cost £50,000 in 1998. Of course sub-20mpg performance won't please everyone and that explains why LPG (Liquid Petroleum Gas) conversions are so popular. The conversions cost up to £2,000 and the return is half-price fuel.

My favourite Range Rover, though, is the "classic" model built until the early 1990s. It is not a problem to get 1980s examples for £1,000 and under, but a high-specification Vogue with air suspension, and an LSE with a longer wheelbase for more rear legroom at around £3,000 are great value. Many have been LPG-converted so they make even more sense.

Another name that has 4x4 credibility is Jeep. The dated Cherokee is a bit tacky inside, but very comfy to drive and great value, as they are mostly well-equipped. A 1995 4.0 litre is around £3,500 and if you need more space then go for the Grand Cherokee 4.0, which also looks slightly more contemporary. We found a 1995 model at a dealer at £5,495.

However if you don't care about badges, you will save even more. The Ssangyong Musso is quite a mouthful, but it is an imposing Range Rover-like vehicle, pretty ugly in fact, with tough Mercedes engines. Later reborn as a Daewoo, this Korean vehicle has never been fashionable, but huge depreciation means a warranted 1998 model is under £5,000. The even uglier three-door Korando model is even cheaper - at 4x4 Cars and Parts in Northants a 1998 model was £3,999.

Nissan make incredibly reliable and respected off-road vehicles. At the lightweight end, the Terrano II is a decent three- and five-door model, which even in diesel specification is great value. The Crystal Carriage Company in Basingstoke had a very tidy 1996 model at £3,995.

The Ford Maverick is identical to the Nissan. There are 2.4 petrol models in circulation at even lower prices. You can pick up a 1996 seven-seater like the one we saw at Kempshott Cars for just £5,995.

This is rare model and very well equipped, but if you want something bigger, nothing is more imposing than the Ford Explorer. This model had a tough time, dogged by safety controversy in America and has not been the most reliable 4x4. Never mind, it is an imposing sight, comfortable and at rock-bottom prices. Available only with a 4.0-litre petrol engine, you will pay from £5,000 for a 1997 example, rising to a maximum of £8,000.

So far, we have been talking in retail prices. Find a 4x4 that no one wants to buy at a dealer, or go for auction and bid cleverly -- you could pay at least £1,000 less than the usual selling price.

Buying a 4x4 should never be a fashion statement, but it is, and that is great news for those of us who want to buy a lot of vehicle for little money. Who knows? Once you get a 4x4 you might just consider some recreational off-roading or maybe buying a caravan. Because with a petrol-powered, out-of-favour 4x4, the possibilities are endless and the prices are low.

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