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The easiest way to go exploring Australia's outback! From the Toyota LandCruiser GR Sport to the Nissan Navara Pro-4X Warrior, here are the most capable off-roaders from the showroom floor

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These are the best vehicles to buy if you want to go straight from the showroom to the bush.
These are the best vehicles to buy if you want to go straight from the showroom to the bush.

There are quite a few great off-roaders available as standard that could handle a rough bush trip even if you were to drive them directly out of the showroom and into the bush after purchase – think the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, Toyota LandCruiser 70 Series, the Land Rover Defender or even something as fun and as impractical as the Suzuki Jimny.

But increasingly carmakers are going one step further and offering variations of their existing vehicles which have been engineered and geared up to be go-anywhere beasts – or at least they're marketed as such.

Here are three of the more notable recent examples.

Ford Ranger Raptor

On paper, the Raptor is a punchy power-and-torque beast purpose built for rally-style driving on dirt tracks.
On paper, the Raptor is a punchy power-and-torque beast purpose built for rally-style driving on dirt tracks.

Everything that makes the Raptor such an impractical vehicle for everyday life makes it a great recreational 4WD – not a touring platform per se, but a good-time off-roader.

This ute has a 3.0-litre V6 twin-turbo petrol engine, producing 292kW at 5650rpm and 583Nm at 3500rpm. It has a 10-speed torque converter automatic transmission and a selectable all-wheel drive system, low-range transfer case, and locking front and rear differentials.

It also has a reinforced chassis, Fox 2.5-inch live valve internal bypass shock absorbers ("state-of-the-art internal bypass dampers [that] adjust electronically up to 500 times a second", Ford states), new shock tower mounts, 285/70 R17 BFGoodrich K02 all-terrain tyres, unique-to-Raptor upper and lower control arms, and a Watt's link equipped coil-spring rear suspension.

Ford even offers 17-inch beadlock-capable wheels as options.

On paper, the Raptor is a punchy power-and-torque beast purpose built for rally-style driving on dirt tracks.

It has a kerb weight of 2475kg, light and sporty steering, a gutsy engine ready to rescue you from your mundane existence at the drop of your right boot.

The suspension is unreal – you simply can't fathom how good it is until you feel it in action at gloriously high speeds on a dirt track's most severe lumps and bumps.

It has 272mm of ground clearance, a wading depth of 850mm, and approach, departure and rampover angles of 32, 27 and 24 degrees respectively.

The Raptor has selectable drive modes, one of which is Baja Mode – priming the engine to a monster howl, 10-speed auto and shocks for optimal off-road performance and even the exhaust adopts full attitude in this setting.

This is a petrol ute designed for a whole lot of fun.

Nissan Navara Warrior

The Pro-4X Warrior is a ready-made adventure machine.
The Pro-4X Warrior is a ready-made adventure machine.

This well-equipped and popular ute has signalled a massive step forward for Nissan in terms of how a positive high-quality collaboration can yield massive benefits to customers.

The Navara Warrior variants – SL and Pro-4X – are the result of a collaboration between Nissan and Melbourne-based vehicle engineering firm, Premcar, which is also involved in the upcoming Patrol Warrior.

The Pro-4X Warrior auto has a 2.3-litre four-cylinder twin-turbo-diesel engine and either a six-speed manual gearbox or a seven-speed automatic transmission. It has a part-time 4WD system with high- and low-range 4WD, and a rear diff lock.

Steering has a nice lightness to it, low-range gearing is good (2.717:1) and there's plenty of torque across a nice spread of revs.

It has 260mm of ground clearance (up 40mm, with springs and tyres making up 15mm and 25mm respectively), a wading depth of 600mm, and approach, departure and rampover angles of 36, 19 and 26.2 degrees respectively.

Any engineering work, as part of the $9360 worth of extras on the Pro-4X Warrior, is all covered because Premcar has matched Nissan's five-year/unlimited km warranty for all of its Warrior enhancements.

This includes the ute's 100kg GVM upgrade (over standard), 30mm-wider tracks (to 1600mm), and revised suspension with new spring rates and dampers – and the fitment of accessories – including a winch-compatible bull bar with integrated light bar, a Warrior-specific tow bar, a larger 3mm steel bash-plate, and Cooper Discoverer All Terrain AT3 275/70R17 tyres.

The Pro-4X Warrior is a ready-made adventure machine and though it's no Raptor it's still a solid barrel of laughs off-road.

Toyota LandCruiser GR Sport

The GR Sport is built for purpose. (image: Glen Sullivan)
The GR Sport is built for purpose. (image: Glen Sullivan)

The 300 Series GR (Gazoo Racing) Sport is one of two latest-generation top-of-the-line LandCruiser variants aimed at broadening the buyer appeal of the renowned 4WD. (The other is the Sahara ZX.)

The GR Sport has the 300 Series' 3.3L V6 twin turbo diesel engine – producing 227kW at 4000rpm and 700Nm at 1600-2600rpm. It has a 10-speed torque converter automatic transmission, full-time dual-range 4WD, and front, rear and centre diff locks.

It also has E-KDSS (essentially an electronic active swaybar), and the bolted-on off-road effectiveness that comes with being part of the long-time LandCruiser 4WD heritage.

The GR Sport is 4995mm long, 1990mm wide and 1950mm high. It has a listed kerb weight of 2630kg. It sits atop a new separate chassis, and has a lower centre of gravity and a wider wheel track than a standard 300 Series.

It has a listed ground clearance of 235mm, wading depth is 700mm, and approach, departure and rampover angles are 32 degrees, 25 degrees, and 25 degrees respectively.

Off-road driver-assist tech includes crawl control, downhill assist, hill-start assist, the aforementioned multi-terrain select, a four-camera multi-terrain monitor with panoramic view monitor, active traction control, and electronic front, rear and centre locking differentials.

Underbody protection – including steel bash plates – is adequately substantial.

The GR Sport is built for purpose: visibility is good all around; steering is light and precise; and throttle response is good, giving the driver plenty of control in difficult off-road conditions.

Worth mentioning

What's impressive about Australia's aftermarket industry is that – as well as established formal collaborations between carmaker and aftermarket companies producing builds – i.e. Ford and ARB – there are always products being designed and produced for upcoming and just-released vehicles. Case in point: a new TJM-equipped VW Amarok, which was unveiled at the recent National 4x4 Outdoors Show in Melbourne.

TJM showcased a new range of its custom accessories for the Amarok.

Equipment fitted to the VW ute included an Outback bullbar, 9500lb winch, off-road side-step protection, XGS Suspension upgrade, Uniden UHF radio, RB6 rear protection towbar, Yakima LockNLoad Platform, Maxtrax off road traction boards and Black Bear 21-inch all-terrain tyres. TJM's latest Ultima light bars were fitted to the bullbar and roof rack.

TJM showcased a new range of its custom accessories for the Amarok.
TJM showcased a new range of its custom accessories for the Amarok.

The Amarok has certainly drawn a bit of attention from industry heavyweights, so does this mean TJM is looking at formal partnering opportunities with an OEM?

Greg Kelly, Chief Executive Officer of Aeroklas Asia Pacific Group (owner of the TJM Brand), said: "Aeroklas and TJM have been developing products for the automotive industry for several decades and we have the capability and experience to collaborate with the right partners to develop 'Flagship vehicles'."

"We are always open to new opportunities and would consider each opportunity on its merits."

What I reckon

Many 4WD enthusiasts would rather research, hunt down and cherry-pick their own aftermarket accessories and custom-design their off-road vehicle than have it given to them, all done up and ready to go. That's understandable.

But what's also understandable is the appeal of a ready-made, re-engineered adventure-travel off-roader that could be driven straight out of a car yard and into the Simpson Desert. The overwhelming convenience factor is undeniable.

Ultimately, the more positive collaborations/partnerships/(whatever you want to call them) that develop – in the factory or aftermarket – will only benefit 4WD enthusiasts because it means more choice, more variety of top-quality products and fitments, and better, safer touring vehicles.

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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