Land Rover Discovery 3 diesel for the serious four-wheel-driver, BMW X5 diesel for the luxury 4WD buyer and Nissan X-Trail for the recreational 4WD motorist.
They are the winners of the three 4WD categories in Australia's Best Cars awards, decided by state motoring organisations, including the RAA.
The judges consider safety, price, running costs, comfort, performance, security and retained value. Design, function and on-road ability - and in the case of 4WDs, offroad ability - also are scored.
The awards have 12 categories, with three finalists short-listed for each category. Three of the categories are for 4WD vehicles.
The Recreational 4WD category was won by the newly-updated Nissan X-Trail 2.5-litre four-cylinder. The ST version with CVT automatic transmission, priced at $33,990, came in ahead of Honda CR-V and Toyota Kluger.
“Off-road, the new X-Trail shows why it is rated at the front of the recreational 4WD pack,” says the judging panel. “Nissan's intelligent All Mode 4x4 system is controlled by the twist of a centre console knob, which allows the driver to choose between front-wheel drive and fully automatic four-wheel drive.
“A centre differential lock is also provided for improved off-road performance. Two new worthwhile standard features are a hill-descent control and a hill-start assist.”
The Luxury 4WD award was won by BMW X5 three-litre diesel with a six-speed automatic. Priced at $86,800, it beat the Lexus RX350 (which won in 2006) and the Lexus RX400h hybrid version.
Judges noted the Lexus beat the BMW in standard features, and that BMW charges heavily for options. Yet the BMW scored consistently high in all areas, coming tops in braking, handling, security and trebling the Lexus score in 4WD ability. “It's a moot point as to how much off-road work the X5 will do. But when called upon, it can deliver in spades,” say the judges. “Like many diesel engines, the three-litre oil-burner is powerful (160kW), flexible and frugal (potentially under 9 litres/100km) and puts out a tree-stump-pulling 500Nm of torque at 1750rpm.”
The All-terrain is the category for more serious 4WDs, this time won by the Land Rover Discovery 3SE with the 2.7-litre V6 diesel and six-speed automatic. Priced at $74,990 it beat Mitsubishi Pajero VRX diesel and Toyota Prado GXL diesel, which each cost less.
Judges say “prospective buyers can rest assured that once comfortable with the dollars, they will have one of the best-engineered 4WD vehicles on the market. At full suspension height, the approach and departure angles, as well as the overall ground clearance, will handle the worst bush tracks, while the degree of selectable suspension control means it does not dance around at higher speeds on corrugated roads.”
Australia's Best Cars judges say buyers do not have to compromise between off-road capability and on-road comfort and performance.