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Is Jeep about to lose its 4WD crown? New Toyota Prado, and rivals from Mahindra and GWM, will corner the off-road SUV market | Opinion

Off-road SUVs are popular, and brands like Mahindra and GWM have noticed, meaning Jeep's position as the 4WD king is threatened.

For a few years now, Jeep's foothold in Australia has been slipping.

With an overall ongoing sales performance that could be politely described as lacklustre, it seems the Jeep brand – that is oh so popular in its nation of origin, the good ol' USA – is actually on a sustained downward spiral here.

In fact, according to VFACTS figures, Jeep sunk to a new-sales low here in the first half of 2023, topping out at 32nd position in terms of sales – and that's its lowest ever.

To the end of August, Jeep Australia's sales sit at 3311 units, making the brand less popular than Land Rover (5315 sales YTD), Porsche (4201 sales YTD), Ram (5075 sales YTD) and SsangYong (4282 sales YTD).

Also, adding to Jeep's woes are the fact there are a few vehicles already here or coming that threaten the carmaker's precarious position and off-road image even more – by way of having a deeper heritage and better reputation in Australia, or by simply being much cheaper.

Here are three notable examples.

New Toyota LandCruiser Prado

It’s the first all-new Prado in 14 years and, geez, does it have people excited.

The 2024 Toyota LandCruiser Prado was unveiled in early August and it's set to land in Australia in mid-2024.

It's the first all-new Prado in 14 years and, geez, does it have people excited.

The Prado – or the 250 Series as it's known in other markets – has an identical wheelbase to the 300 Series, so 60mm longer than the current Prado's wheelbase.

It measures 4925mm long, 1980mm wide and 1870mm high, so it's 100mm longer, 95mm wider and 20mm taller than the current-current-men Prado.

This is not the 300 Series' baby sibling any more.

It has Toyota's latest-generation TNGA-F body-on-frame platform, which is shared with the 300 Series, new Lexus GX and LX.

The new-gen line-up will feature five powertrains globally, however, Australia will only get a 48-volt version of the current model's 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine (150kW and 500Nm), with identical power and torque outputs as the existing engine. The new hybrid engine will be matched to a new eight-speed torque-converter automatic transmission.

It measures 4925mm long, 1980mm wide and 1870mm high.

It will have full-time all-wheel drive, a low-range transfer case, a centre diff lock, an electronic locking rear diff and a button-operated swaybar disconnect system – not Toyota's KDSS – aimed at yielding improved wheel travel while off-roading.

Inside, it will have a 12.3-inch multimedia system with wireless Apple CarPlay.

In true Prado form, it will have seating for five or seven passengers – the more you pay, the more seats you get.

There will be two exterior body designs available globally: one retro-style Prado with round headlights and one with a modern grille and rectangular headlights. Australia will only get the Prados with the rectangular headlights. (Check out the photos and let us know in the comments section which look you prefer.)

Towing capacity is tipped to have been boosted from 3000kg to 3500kg (braked), but this is unconfirmed.

Prices have not been released yet, but bank on something around the $85,000 mark.

GWM Tank 300

The Tank 300 petrol has a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine.

There are two variants in the GWM Tank 300 petrol-only range: the Lux ($46,990 drive-away) and the Ultra ($50,990). Those pricetags represent big savings over other similarly-equipped petrol 4WD wagons, such as the Jeep Wrangler, and any diesels near that price are entry-spec variants.

The Tank 300's standard features list includes a 12.3-inch touchscreen multimedia system (with Apple CarPlay & Android Auto), Nappa leather accented seats, heated and cooled (front) seats, power adjustable driver's seat (eight-way) with lumbar adjustment and massage, as well as a comprehensive suite of driver-assist tech including AEB, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, tyre pressure monitoring, front and rear parking sensors, a 360-degree surround-view camera and more.

This is a boxy, straight up and down 4WD that has a 2106kg listed kerb weight.

The interior either has Comfort-Tek leather seating (Lux), or Nappa leather seating (Ultra) and beyond those soft-touch surfaces the Tank 300 has a practical and comfortable interior.

The Tank 300 petrol has a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine, producing 162kW at 5500rpm and 380Nm from 1800 to 3600rpm. It has an eight-speed torque-converter automatic transmission and a part-time four-wheel drive system with 4WD high range and 4WD low range.

This is a boxy, straight up and down 4WD that has a 2106kg listed kerb weight. (Image: Byron Mathioudakis)

The Tank 300 Ultra petrol has a listed fuel consumption of 9.5L/100km and uses regular unleaded fuel.

It has the maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating from testing in 2022.

Braked towing capacity is listed as 2500kg.

This is a surprisingly refined vehicle to drive on-road and rather capable off-road.

The Chinese-made GWM Tank 300 Ultra petrol is a comfortable and capable 4WD, packed with standard features, purpose-built for an adventurous lifestyle and it's well priced in a very competitive medium and large SUV market.

It's difficult to ignore the Tank 300 because it makes a strong case as a value-for-money buy in Australia's increasingly pricey SUV realm.

Mahindra Scorpio

This proper body-on-frame 4WD wagon has a lot of appeal, on paper at least.

The Mahindra Scorpio Z8L is another well-priced off-roader.

This proper body-on-frame 4WD wagon has a lot of appeal, on paper at least – six seats, a low-range transfer case, an automatic rear diff lock and plenty of standard features for $45,990 driveaway.

It's available in two trims: the Z8 ($41,990) and the aforementioned Z8L ($45,990).

Standard features in the Z8L include an 8.0-inch touchscreen multimedia system (with wireless Apple CarPlay & Android Auto), wireless phone charger, a 12-speaker Sony stereo, dual-zone climate control, front camera (intended for off-road use), front and rear parking sensors, and a six-way power-adjustable driver's seat.

It's 4662mm long (with a 2750mm wheelbase), 1917mm wide and 1857mm high. It has a listed kerb weight of 2100kg and a 12.6m turning circle.

It has an 8.0-inch touchscreen multimedia system, leather trim, a cooled glove box, sunroof, and six-seat layout (with two captain's chairs in the second row).

It has 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic wipers and projector LED headlights, push-button start, keyless entry and a tyre pressure monitoring system.

The Scorpio is a step in the right direction for Mahindra.

The Scorpio has 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine, which produces 129kW at 3500rpm and 400Nm at 1750-2750rpm. It has a six-speed automatic transmission, an auto-locking rear diff, and part-time 4WD with a dual-range transfer case.

Official fuel use is listed as 7.2L/100km on a combined cycle.

The Mahindra Scorpio Z8L does not have an ANCAP rating because it has not been tested. It has six airbags (front, front side and curtain), electronic stability control, front and rear parking sensors, a tyre pressure monitoring system, as well as trailer sway and roll over mitigation, hill hold control and hill descent control.

It lacks a lot of driver-assist safety tech that's onboard a lot of other vehicles at this price-point, and even vehicles that are cheaper.

The Scorpio is a step in the right direction for Mahindra; it's reasonable on-road – satisfactorily comfortable and refined – and it's also a capable 4WD.

There are some issues with it – including a lack of driver-assist tech – but it's a good value-for-money prospect, and one that might seem appealing if cross-chopped against any Jeep.

What I reckon

Jeep will hold on, but for how long is anyone’s guess. (image credit: James Cleary)

I like Jeeps – well, I like the Wrangler Rubicon and Gladiator Rubicon – and it'd be a crying shame to see the carmaker sink to new lows in Australia.

It's a company with a long and proud 4WD heritage, but circumstances are working against Jeep; it's battled service-related challenges to its reputation on our shores, a tough market seemingly indifferent to Jeep products, as well as significant sales slumps in recent times.

And the likes of the upcoming Prado, as well as the arrival of more feature-packed and cheaper vehicles (like the GWM Tank 300 and the Mahindra Scorpio Z8L), will only serve to rattle Jeep's cage even more.

Jeep will hold on, but for how long is anyone's guess.

Marcus Craft
Contributing Journalist
Raised by dingoes and, later, nuns, Marcus (aka ‘Crafty’) had his first taste of adventure as a cheeky toddler on family 4WD trips to secret fishing spots near Bundaberg, Queensland. He has since worked as a journalist for more than 20 years in Australia, London and Cape Town and has been an automotive journalist for 18 years. This bloke has driven and camped throughout much of Australia – for work and play – and has written yarns for pretty much every mag you can think of. The former editor of 4X4 Australia magazine, Marcus is one of the country’s most respected vehicle reviewers and off-road adventure travel writers.
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