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If we'd been writing a list of the most exciting cars due in the coming 12 months even a handful of years ago, four-wheel drives would be lucky to have rated a single mention. Back then, it would have been all about hot hatches and exotic supercars; a kind of Fast and Furious of incoming metal that prioritised speed above all else.
But somewhere along the way, our tastes changed. Tough became the new cool, and capability outstripped pure performance. Just look at Australia's new-car sales in 2017; top of that very long list? The Toyota HiLux, with 47,093 units moved (35,297 of which were 4x4s). And second? The Ford Ranger, with 42,720 sales (36,932 were 4x4s).
It's a trend that shows no signs of slowing down, and the car companies know it. And always ones to make their customers happy (and make money hand-over-fist in the process), those same car companies are rolling out tough off-roaders at an incredible pace.
So to help you sharpen your shopping lists, here's our picks for the five best off-roaders arriving in 2018. To make our list, there's just two caveats; they must be all-new or significantly updated modes, and each must arrive with low-range. Oh, and they have to be awesome. Which all of these are.
Well, the covers were finally pulled off the 2018 Ranger Raptor at an event in Thailand in February, and we're pleased to report its macho appearance lives up to the hype.
Powered by a 2.0-litre twin-turbodiesel good for 156kW/500Nm (though rumours of a twin-turbo V6 continue to swirl) paired with a 10-speed automatic, the dual-cab Raptor will arrive around the third quarter of 2018 wearing a price tag tipped to hover around $80k.
Performance focus aside, the Ranger Raptor remains a proper off-roader, with what Ford claims are best-in-class ground clearance (283mm) approach, departure and ramp-over angles. New Fox Racing Shox dampers front and rear, coil springs and its solid rear axle, along with three new off-road drive modes (Grass/Gravel/Snow, Mud/Sand, Rock/Baja) go someway to justifying the three years of development that has gone into the Raptor.
Enter, then, the HiLux Rugged X, a new top-tier model that will sit above the SR5 (along with its new siblings, the Rogue and Rugged).
The Rugged X gets a tough new look, complete with alloy bash plate, snorkel and winch-ready bull bar, but also nabs some stylish design touches like a new grille, LED DRLs and front and rear recovery points.
We won't know much else until closer to the Rugged X's Q2 launch date, other than it will clearly start north of the SR5's $54,440 asking price, and will likely share its 2.8-litre turbo-diesel engine.
The original off-roader is back for 2018, with the Jeep Wrangler getting what plenty consider an overdue overhaul. But this is more than a nip-and-tuck - this is an all-new Wrangler.
That the existing Wrangler is capable off the road isn't really in question, so the focus this time around was making it more liveable in suburbia. And that was exactly the kind of news that had the purists nervous, but the good news is that Jeep is promising the 2018 Wrangler will be just as tough as ever.
Expect a Sport, Overland and Rubicon version, and a choice of two engines; a 2.2-litre diesel and 2.6-litre petrol V6. The solid axles remain, and the fold-down windscreen and removable roof functions have both been made easier to operate.
The core numbers are predictably impressive: 44-degree approach angle, 27.8-degree break-over angle and ground clearance of around 276mm. All in a car that's easier to manage in the city than ever before.
The new Wrangler will launch toward the end of 2018, with Jeep keeping mum on pricing for now.
The first shipment of three-pointed-star-badged utes will arrive around April in a 13-strong range of trims and variants, although the one we really care about won't arrive until later in the year. But it'll likely be worth the wait - that one will be called the 350d, and will be powered by a 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6 good for 190kW/550Nm.
That engine will be matched with a seven-speed auto and arrives with a rear diff lock, full-time 4WD with low-range, 222mm of ground clearance and, according to Mercedes, the ability to cross 600mm of water. That's depth, not length. The latter being singularly unimpressive.
Pricing is yet to be confirmed for the V6, but expect it to start well north of the current range-topper's $65k.
First things first, there's no extra performance. It instead gets a carry-over 2.8-litre turbo-diesel good for 147kW/500Nm (440Nm in manual guise). What it does get, though, is an overhauled road presence thanks to a widened tracks, a taller ride height (and extra 20mm ground clearance) and a redesigned front end compete with tow hooks and a bash plate. The SportsCat+ ups the ante again, with its fatter wheel arches and bonnet bulge.
Both the SportsCat and SportsCat+ claim better approach (32 degrees) and departure (24 degrees) angles than the standard Colorado, and the latter also gets a rear swaybar that automatically decouples when in low-range so as not to impact off-road ability.
Now it must be said, if off-roading is your thing, you probably won't be taking the shiniest and most expensive Colorado (pricing is expected to start from $60k), and so you'd likely get more capability from a non-HSV model. But you won't look as good doing it as you will in one of these.