Jenny Jewell has just returned from a holiday in South Africa, where she had a great time driving a Toyota Condor.

Jenny Jewell has just returned from a holiday in South Africa, where she had a great time driving a Toyota Condor. She found this 4x4 to be just the right size, at seven seats, and liked its no-nonsense Tonka Toy styling and remarkably clear dashboard. Indeed, Jenny liked it so much that she wonders whether it would be possible to import one into the UK. If not, what are the alternatives?

Outside South Africa - or Indonesia, where it is built - few people have heard of the Condor. In the UK, we have the smallish RAV4 and the largeish Toyota Land Cruiser, and the Condor would fit somewhere in between. Toyota UK were interested to learn from us that the Condor existed, but confirmed that there are no plans to import it.

The problem with such an unusual import is that there won't be a manufacturer's warranty, insurance will be higher and servicing parts may be difficult to find. All these problems can be overcome (there are specialist insurers, and there are warranty companies who will offer cover for unique vehicles), but they will raise costs.

In South Africa, I found a company willing to sell a Condor. The cost of the vehicle alone, once the rand exchange-rate had been calculated, was more than £20,000.

However, Intercar (020-8203 3399)‚ which has been in the business of bringing unusual Japanese cars to the UK for more than 20 years, could do better. Simon Lerner had never been asked for a Condor before, but reckoned he could supply it for about £14,000 plus taxes. So is there anything else closer to home that would suit Jenny?

A car for the head

For a simple, solid and understated 4x4, Jenny ought to take a look at the overlooked and underrated Isuzu Trooper. Those who know, who mostly live in rural areas, swear by their Troops. Although the Isuzu may not have the image of the better known off-roaders, a Trooper has masses of real off-road credibility and, most important, ability.

On and off the tarmac, it performs strongly and confidently. The diesel engines are very strong, and the petrol V6 is certainly very nippy. In practical terms, it is hard to fault because there is definitely more room inside a Trooper than, say, an old-model Discovery. OK, so it may not be as pretty as the shapely Shogun, but it ought to be a lot more affordable. Even so, the Trooper has always held its value well and has not been subject to the recent fashion fluctuations in the 4x4 market.

While it is not the cheapest new 4x4 option, a well-looked-after Trooper is always the wise buy. Running costs are a tad higher than for similar sized 4x4s, but that might just explain why a properly maintained Trooper is all but indestructible.

A brick shaped Trooper from the early 1990s will cost about £5,000, while an X-registered example is £14,995.

A car for the heart

There's no shortage of basic but well-equipped off-roaders from the Far and the Near East. We've got the Hyundai Terracan and Santa Fe, the SsangYong Rexton and the Tata Safari. The Rexton makes for a budget alternative to a Range Rover or Lexus RX, but it may be a little bit too flash for Jenny.

We would actually point her in the direction of the Kia Sorento. This is a large 4x4 that matches the style and equipment package of a Lexus, but at the price of a Freelander. There is a choice of a 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine and a 2.5-litre diesel.

There are two versions of these models, an XE with part-time four-wheel-drive (which is probably the most appropriate), and a full-time 4x4 badged as the XS. The standard equipment list is massive, and includes self-levelling suspension, alloy wheels, four airbags and even roof rails.

Porsche tuned the suspension and that means that it's fine to drive on the road, although some find the ride a bit harsh. If Jenny ever goes off-road, it is very capable. With prices starting at £18,995, Jenny will get a lot of 4x4 for the money.

* CAR CHOICE: Please write to Car Choice, Features, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, or e-mail James Ruppert at carchoice@independent.co.uk, giving your age, address and contact number, and details of the type of vehicle in which you are interested.

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