The Greatest 4X4s & SUVs Ever: 70 Years of Wheels

It's the segment that may be detested by some, but one that's also kept plenty of car makers afloat. And can we really imagine a world without this lot?

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In celebration of Wheels magazine's 70th birthday, we're running through the 70 greatest cars of all time – defined not by sales or talent alone, but simply as our writers past and present see it.

To follow the series, hit our Greatest Cars Ever main story here.

After rounding up the greatest sports cars, it's time to consider the workhorses of the roads - both urban and country - the 4x4.

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🥇 Toyota LandCruiser


  • As close to indestructible as passenger vehicles get


  • Toyota has realised quite how much customers will pay for the privilege

If you're tackling the toughest country in the world, buy a LandCruiser. Generations of Aussies aren't wrong.

Whether you're passing through Cameron Corner or the Empty Quarter, vehicle choice becomes elevated above the superficial and becomes predicated almost purely on substance.

Since 1951, that vehicle has increasingly been the Toyota LandCruiser. It wasn't always that way though. The original BJ was born from US Korean War contracts, but its successor, the FJ25 was the first to be sold in Australia.

It wasn't a great vehicle, plagued by front axe and gearbox issues, as reported by the Thiess contractors who drove them on the Snowy Hydro project. What made the LandCruiser great was Toyota's response.

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By 1981, the 100,000th LandCruiser had been sold in Australia.

Genchi genbutsu roughly translates as 'go to the source' and Toyota's philosophy was to dispatch engineers to Australia to discover for themselves exactly what was going wrong, flying parts back to Japan for analysis and rapid redesign.

By 1981, the 100,000th LandCruiser had been sold in Australia. Toyota still goes to the source, realising that the model's success in Australia offered an unprecedented data feedback opportunity to make the vehicles even better.

So much so, in fact, that by 2005, its local market research demonstrated that “52 percent of Sahara turbo-diesel buyers considered no other vehicle when making their purchase, while 40 percent of Sahara petrol V8 buyers considered only that model before buying". Nowhere else in the market do you find that loyalty. It's been very hard earned.

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🥈 Jeep Wrangler


  • Still crazy after all these years


  • Australia never got the 392 Rubicon with its 6.4-litre Hemi

We don't need to retell the story of the Wrangler here.

As pivotal to Jeep's brand identity as the 911 is to Porsche, the Wrangler will likely be the first production car to trace a clear and unambiguous bloodline for a century come 2041 from the wartime Willys MB through to the first Wrangler-badged model. Strangely, AMC tried to play down that link when the Wrangler launched in 1986.

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🥉 Land Rover


  • A Land Rover will get you where you need to go


  • But a LandCruiser will get you back too

The greatest use of surplus wartime aluminium ever devised?

It has to be between the Land Rover and Sputnik, although given that the latter only lasted 22 days and the former some 68 years, we'll side with Solihull over Korolev. They've survived the Korean War, the Suez Crisis and the Gulf War. Survived British Leyland too, which deserves some sort of medal.

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BMW X5 (1st gen)


  • BMW was so confident of its dynamics that the X5's launch was at Road Atlanta raceway


  • How many millions of tonnes of extra CO2 have resulted from the SUV craze?

It's true, the BMW X5 wasn't the first premium SUV.

Launched in 1999, it was beaten to the punch by the Mercedes ML (1997), the Lexus RX (1998) and, if you really want to tease out that thread of logic, Grand Cherokees and Range Rovers. The X5 was different though. It handled. Objections to owning a high-riding vehicle vanished and, for better or worse, the SUV boom started right here.

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Range Rover (original)


  • 3dr Range Rover occupies a far smaller road footprint than a current Nissan Qashqai


  • Designer Spen King hated the fact that it became a status symbol

In 1971 a pair of Range Rovers drove from the tip of Alaska to the tip of Argentina.

Doing so required the first vehicular crossing of the Darien Gap, an inhospitable knot of swamp, jungle and mountains on the border of Colombia and Panama. It took 96 days at an average of a mile a day.

How many cars can do that and be displayed at the Louvre as an "exemplary work of industrial design"?

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Porsche Cayenne Turbo


  • 28cm of air-sprung ground clearance and a Nordschleife lap time to shame a 964


  • The styling was challenging and has only become more so with age

If the BMW X5 warmed us up to the idea of a sporty SUV, Porsche's 331kW Cayenne Turbo hammered home the notion.

The original 2002 Cayenne Turbo was nobody's idea of a good looking car, but 0-100km/h in 5.3 seconds combined with genuine off-road ability to produce a runaway sales success. Every Porsche sports car built today owes its existence to the Cayenne project.

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Ford Territory


  • Interior stylist Marcus Hotblack has possibly the coolest name in vehicle design


  • The Barra Turbo engine was binned for the 2009 SY II

“Australia only built one world-class vehicle and that was the Territory,” a Ford engineer noted, anonymously, at the launch of the current Ranger.

The first SUV to win Wheels COTY was developed for A$500m; good value given that Alfa spent 16 times that much on the ill-fated Giorgio platform. Unfortunately the shoestring budget didn't come close to covering export homologation.

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Volvo XC90 (2nd gen)


  • Longer, wider, lower and more dynamic than its predecessor


  • The ride's a bit nibbly without air springs

If you're buying a large SUV for your family, what's the key priority?

Come on, this is not a hard question. Yep, safety. And if you wanted safety, the Volvo XC90 earned some formidable spurs, scoring one hundred percent in Euro NCAP's Safety Assist category and was the first vehicle to net a maximum score in two AEB tests. Who said sensible couldn't be stylish?

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Jeep Wagoneer


  • Designer Brooks Stevens was also responsible for the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile


  • You could still buy them in 1991

The first deliberate lifestyle SUV? You're looking at it right here.

First launched in 1963, the Wagoneer preceded the Range Rover by seven years, and built upon the germ of an idea created by the Willys Jeep Station Wagon. Jeep tried to replace the Grand Wagoneer with a smaller and cheaper XJ Wagoneer in 1983, but the US market enacted a New Coke-style hard reject.

Nissan Qashqai (J10)


  • The 1.5-litre diesel model could travel 1350km on a tank of fuel


  • Nissan's Sunderland plant had to kill the Primera to free up line space for Qashqai

If you're sensing a theme here, well spotted. The Nissan Qashqai didn't invent the compact crossover genre.

The Honda HR-V had already done much of the heavy(ish) lifting there. But the British crossover, dubbed Dualis when it first made landfall here, absolutely nailed the brief. A huge success, Nissan hoped for 100,000 global sales a year. It more than doubled that in Europe alone.

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To follow the series, hit our Greatest Cars Ever at the link below.

Editor Wheels
Wheels Staff


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