11 boxy off-roaders that are enduringly fashionable
We all coo over the sleekness of an aerodynamically-optimised design, but there remains something endearing about a good old box on wheels that can take you further than the average urban crossover.
The market offers a number of such contributions to the genre, with varying degrees of capability over treacherous terrain. Keep reading if retro-themed, outdoorsy-aspirational motoring has piqued your interest as we take stock of what is available locally — with special appearances by models we wish were sold here.
Confusing nomenclature aside (the original title of BJ40 was changed for our market), this Chinese contender seems to have a few tricks up its sleeve. According to the manufacturer, the five-slot grille design was inspired by the Great Wall of China — not making this up. There are no prizes for guessing which product inspired the overall direction for the B40 (pictured above). It offers 210mm ground clearance, four-wheel drive and a choice of a petrol or diesel engine. The cage framework is purported to be tough enough to withstand a 50m roll. Pricing ranges between R549,500 and R629,500.
Not sold here, unfortunately, but in its domestic market the Bronco seems to rival the iconic Mustang for mystique. Ford really does love the allure of all things equestrian, it seems. On paper, the Bronco could hold potential for the market (if right-hand drive production was a reality), taking the fight to long-established peers. It has all the ingredients for terrain-mashing exploits — there is even the option of a Sasquatch package, which throws in 35-inch tyres and heavy-duty Bilstein shocks.
GMC Hummer EV
Forget the H1 and shrunken-down H2 from before, this time the military-inspired machine has gone entirely electric. There are some wacky, wild elements to the reinvented Hummer. Like a claimed sprint time under four seconds (impressive for such a heavy barge) and a crab-walk function that allows the vehicle to drive along diagonally. The outputs General Motors lists on its website are just crazy. How does 735kW and more than 15,000Nm sound? Like a typographical error, we know, but that is not the case.
Good news if you have been following the story of Ineos Automotive and its Grenadier — the model is coming to SA. Pricing is expected to kick off at R1,395,000, while three retail and service partners have already been finalised in Gauteng, Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. The Grenadier is powered by BMW-sourced six-cylinders and has an interior with drain plugs, in case you need to hose the floor out. Global sales begin in July 2022.
Yes, the American Jeep Wrangler is a veritable institution. Tracing its lineage back to the Willys MB of 1941, the contemporary Wrangler remains true to the founding ethos of toughness, simplicity — and hangs onto the open-air appeal of the original, thanks to removable panels. The Wrangler is to Jeep aficionados what the 911 is to Porsche fans: the purest representative of the line-up. You’ll pay upwards of R749,900 to get into one.
Land Rover Defender
There was an understandable amount of scepticism when Land Rover said it was rebirthing the famed Defender. How could they authentically translate the spirit of the old vehicle into a modern representative without losing its essence? Well, by the accounts of most critics and owners, it was a job well done. Their new-generation Defender, since its reveal in 2019, has earned a place on the most-wanted lists of many enthusiasts. It boasts levels of comfort, quality and digitisation that its forebear could only dream of — owing its architecture to the D7 platform of the Discovery. Prices start at R1,127,200.
The outgoing version of the Thar is one of the most rudimentary vehicles money can buy. And probably one of the worst on tarmac, but quite capable off it. A new Thar is destined for SA, sporting a comprehensively redesigned exterior and an interior with far more in the way of creature comforts and ergonomic orientation. It also looks more like a Jeep Wrangler than before. While it is easy to dismiss it as a blatant imitation, remember Mahindra has a kinship with the American firm traced to 1954: it began its automotive foray by assembling the CJ3.
One often forgets about the side of Mercedes-Benz that is not responsible for opulent, swanky chariots. The side of their business responsible for tough-as-nails creations like the Unimog, a hardy brute with diverse application from mining to agriculture. While the G-Class has been assimilated into the Mercedes-Benz passenger cars portfolio, its progenitor, the Geländewagen, was bred for military use. But you are more likely to spot the modern G-Class around the battlefields of Sandton now, particularly in G63 guise, packing a thundering V8 replete with side pipes. A more conservative and frugal G400d is also part of the range, with a base price of R2,651,840.
The Pajero is what you would describe as long in the tooth. But so are many other cars on this list. The appeal of a competent overlanding machine partly lies in its simplicity and robustness, after all. The company still sells the well-proven off-roader in SA, starting at R779,995 for the short-wheelbase version and nearly R100,000 more for the long-wheelbase.
The lovable, compact Japanese warrior is often described as a giant slayer among overlanding vehicles, shaming models that are larger and pricier. Just like how the Mazda MX-5 is regarded as the distillation of what a no-frills sports car ought to be, the Jimny is held in similar esteem from the off-roading perspective. Its diminutive size and light weight helps it saunter over obstacles like a plucky mountain goat. Switchable four-wheel drive — with low-range —extracts the most out of its 1.5-litre, four-cylinder petrol motor. Pricing is keen too, at upwards of R313,900.
Toyota FJ Cruiser
Suicide doors are one of the novelties boasted by the hugely capable FJ Cruiser. Inspired by the FJ40 of the 1960s, the current version features dual fuel tanks and a crawl control function (cruise control for off-roading) and is powered by a beefy 4.0-litre, petrol V6 motor. It is listed on the Toyota website at R745,000.