If you’re planning on heading off road, you want a vehicle that’s capable of handling anything that crops up.
With the number of ‘soft roader’ vehicles – SUV’s that look the part but aren’t really built of tackling serious off-road terrain – available for sale in Australia on the rise, it is often hard to tell what will go well off-road.
Aside from talking with family and friends with similar cars or reading car review sites on how specific models perform, we’ve put together a guide on the basics of what to look for in a genuinely off-road capable SUV.
As soon as you start to head away from the flat surface of the road, the critical thing to have is a vehicle with solid ground clearance to make sure that the undercarriage is kept away from rocks, erosion ruts or other hard ‘bumps’ that could damage the engine or other vital components.
Sufficient ground clearance is critical in allowing you to traverse soft sandy patches or deep rutted sections of road without getting the underside damaged or bogged. SUV’s with limited ground clearance will often ‘belly out’ – that is – the main chassis of the car will rest on the ground, while the wheels can’t get traction. This is one of the worst ways to get bogged, as it is a more difficult & tiresome recovery to dig out away from the chassis.
While you don’t have to go for a huge, traditional 4x4 that can cross a desert; having a drive train system that powers all four wheels (even part time) is essential when you’re getting away from bitumen.
There are two main systems available for SUVs to go off-road, All Wheel Drive (AWD) and Four Wheel Drive (4WD). AWD is usually a lighter system that drives through two wheels (usually the front), only engaging the other axle when it starts to lose traction. 4WD is commonly used on heavier duty vehicles that can lock themselves into using all four wheels full-time.
The team at Creek to Coast took a look at both systems, and took a ride off road to test them out. You can watch their comparison investigation and see it in action.
Your fuel tank decides how far you can go in your SUV, especially off road. The general rule is that a petrol-powered car can send more power to the wheels, but a diesel engine can do much more work, especially at low speeds.
For example, if you get to a steep hill, a car with a petrol engine will have to rev hard to get to the top but a diesel-powered vehicle can tackle it head on because the power is delivered at lower revs per minute (RPM).
Petrol also gives you worse fuel economy off road, you will find that diesel vehicles can go further because they have larger tanks and better fuel economy. In everyday life, you can have a look at the fuel consumption stickers - standard on all new cars - to estimate how much you'll be paying for fuel in your budget.
If you’re serious about getting off-road, having a transfer case with low range gearing is a must. A low range gearbox lets you select full-time four-wheel drive for a number of different situations, in either high range or low range gearing.
When you’re faced with a rough piece of terrain, you don’t want to go charging across at full speed and damage your vehicle. Low range gearing lets you slow the vehicle to a crawl, but sends enough power to keep it moving.
Another problem is that many people get overconfident with their abilities that they can get stuck off road, and low range can be a saviour to deliver enough power and torque to get your vehicle out from a standing start.
To choose your next off-road vehicle, see the team at your nearest Motorama dealership who can take you through all the features of some of Australia’s best selling SUVs, and once you think you're ready to go – make sure you talk to the service consultants to get your car in perfect shape before you head off on your next adventure.
Message/Ask a Question Latest Specials Book a Service Search for your next car