Ultimate Guide To Choosing The Best SUV or 4WD For Towing In Australia For 2022

What’s the best SUV for towing in Australia? A lot of people will say that you can’t go past the iconic Toyota LC200. Yet, this is not entirely true.

While the LC200 is a hugely capable 4WD, it has surprising limitations in the context of towing – especially in stock form.

Controversial, I know.

To add more drama to the story, the Australian consumer now has the option of RAM trucks which, apparently, “eat utes for breakfast”.

But how much of this is hype, and how much reality?

Speaking of utes, Aussies can also choose from the usual menu of double-cab Rangers, Hiluxes and D-Max’s.

Finally, the eccentric weirdos who got bullied in high school, but ended up becoming tech executives on $300K+ salaries, there are Audis and Land Rovers.

Which of these SUVs and 4WDs is best for towing a large caravan in Australia?

Let’s find out.

The Wrong Way To Choose A Towing 4WD.

The manufacturers’ 3,500 kg towing ratings are mostly false.

While almost every manufacturer has jumped on the “big 3.5-tonne towing capacity” bandwagon, you must realise that this figure is relatively meaningless in the context of heavy towing.

It merely offers a starting point for your evaluation.

Not all vehicles are equal in terms of GVM, GCM and rear axle loads, therefore a 3,500 kg BTC (Braked Towing Capacity) will mean different things, depending on how those other factors stack up for a particular 4WD.

Unfortunately, most people get unstuck because they, through no fault of their own, follow the manufacturers’ implied logic:

  • Can my 4WD tow 3,500 kg? Check.
  • Does my van weigh less than 3,500 kg? Check.

Job done. Let’s go touring.

Right? Wrong.

There’s a lot more to this story. Rear axle loads, GCM, TBM, ATM and GTM must all be taken into account.

Then there’s a myriad of other nuances:

  • wheelbase and rear overhang
  • engine power
  • safety
  • interior quality
  • reliability

All of those will impact your experience of towing a heavy load through the Australian outback.

Inevitably, you will have to make hard decisions. Buying a towing, touring 4WD is an exercise in making tradeoffs because you, your other half and Sir Isaac Newton have diametrically opposing needs.

Expect to compromise on at least one (but likely a few) of the following:

  • Your 4WD’s equipment levels.
  • Your caravan’s equipment levels.
  • Your budget (as in, you’ll need to raise it).
  • Your choice of 4WD.
  • Your choice of caravan.

In some ways, your job is to buy the least bad 4WD possible. I’m here to help you make the most of this tricky situation.

Why I Wrote This Guide.

Once upon a time, I towed a huge caravan from Sydney to Esperance and back – without realising that I was overweight.

Why?

Because I had followed that same car manufacturer marketing-inspired logic that I described above:

  • I knew that my 4WD (Land Rover Discovery 4) was rated to tow 3,500kg. The van’s empty weight was about 2700 kg (800kg of wiggle room, right?)
  • I had also assumed that I had quite a bit of usable payload available in the car because I travel without kids and, by most touring standards, my 4WD had a moderate amount of modifications (bullbar, winch, standoff bars, awning, 2nd spare tyre and recovery gear). No drawers, no 2nd battery, no tools, no fridge, no underbody armour.
  • I wasn’t worried about TBM (Tow Ball Mass) because the Jayco Silverline that I had rented for the trip had a relatively low unladen TBM (about 170kg). These Jaycos’ TBM is relatively difficult to push beyond 250kg because of limited water carrying capacity (2X80L tanks) and the absence of a drawbar-mounted toolbox.

And yet, in hindsight, I realise that I was probably about 180kg over my GVM and 135kg over my maximum rear axle load.

I Recently Bought A New Caravan.

And I wasn’t going to repeat my mistakes of the past.

The caravan is a 21.6 Jayco Silverline. Almost exactly the same make and model as I had rented for the Esperance trip a few years ago. A bulky, moderately heavy van with an ATM of 3265 kg.

But this is an interim van.

My wife and I recently placed an order for a 20.6 Zone Offroad. A serious offroad caravan with the potential to get seriously heavy. ATM is 3500 kg (and can be upgraded to 4000 kg).

I’m bloody excited about the Zone. But that’s a story for another day.

Point is, I wanted to get the van weights 100% right and ensure that we had a touring vehicle capable of taking us offroad, deep into Australia’s national parks.

This is how this article was born.

I started reading Toyota and Land Rover fanboy forums, as well as Facebook groups dedicated to caravan travel – only to find dozens of other confused and alarmed motorists, many of them new to towing.

I also found a lot of people who, like me, just relied on low-resolution metrics – GVM, towing capacity and GCM. A few people were very cluey, but their expertise was limited to their own little niche – e.g., they knew that their particular SUV + caravan setup was legal.

Worryingly, I also found downright incorrect advice, spouted by “experts” who loved their car’s brand so much that they imagined capabilities that the car didn’t possess. I’m looking at you, AULRO (Australian Land Rover Owners Forum).

I started taking copious amounts of notes and at some point decided that I should shape them into a blog post, in case they’d be of benefit to someone else.

I wanted to understand the entire picture, so I researched the shit out of this topic. My overarching question was – if I decided to sell my Discovery 4, what would I buy instead?

Here are the fruits of my labour. Enjoy.

Which Type Of Explorer Are You?

Before you start purchasing gear, you need to understand your needs.

I’ve broken down most caravan-borne travellers on Australia’s roads into 4 distinct categories. Each has a distinct level of hunger for aftermarket accessories and payload expectations.

Ideally, don’t buy a 4WD or a caravan or visit ARB until you understand where you fit on this table.

The Adventurous CoupleThe Adventurous Family
The Civilised CoupleThe Civilised Family
Different people have different payload needs.

Civilised.

You rarely stray off the tarmac. You mostly stay in caravan parks, on powered sites, with the odd night offgrid. You enjoy visiting towns for their wineries, restaurants and beaches.

While you do travel on unsealed roads to get to national parks, they tend to be in OK condition, with moderate corrugations and washouts.

Your needs don’t place huge payload demands on your vehicle. Equipment-wise, you need the essentials:

  • bullbar
  • roof racks
  • awning
  • LT tyres (optional)

Aftermarket equipment that you’ll need to add to your vehicle will weigh between 100-200 kg.

Adventurous.

You dream of traversing the GRR and dragging your caravan onto pristine WA’s beaches. While you do stay in caravan parks up to about 60% of the time to recharge and relax, your heart is always thinking about the next offgrid adventure.

You sometimes unhitch the van to drive far into national parks and spend a night sleeping in a swag beside your car.

Your needs place significant payload demands on your vehicle. Equipment-wise, you need the works:

  • bullbar
  • roof racks
  • awning
  • winch
  • recovery gear
  • fridge, 2nd battery & drawers
  • LT tyres
  • compressor
  • sill protection (optional)
  • bash plates (optional)
  • water tank (optional)
  • long range fuel tank (optional)

You’re likely to add between 350 – 550 kg of aftermarket equipment to your vehicle.

Couple.

Predictably, there are two of you. About 150 kg of husband and wife, flesh and bones. Or husband and husband. Wife and wife. All the power to you.

You don’t need to carry much stuff inside your caravan. Just your clothes, some books, kitchen equipment, maybe a generator and spare solar panels.

You will end up with a caravan with an ATM between 3000 and 3500 kg.

Family.

There are 3-5 of you. Two parents and a number of kids, weighing in between 200kg and 300kg.

In addition to all of the human cargo, you carry a lot of stuff. Kids’ bikes, toys, weird kitchen appliances, spare supplies of canned food .. and the list goes on.

You can get away with a caravan with an ATM of 3300 kg, but you’ll be more comfortable in one with an ATM that’s between 3500 and 4000 kg.

Who Is This Review For?

Every 4WD brand has its blind, devoted zealots.

Take a quick look around 4WD and caravaning Facebook groups and you’ll see them spouting firm, but largely unsubstantiated dogma:

  • “Land Rover is the best”.
  • “Buy a Toyota can’t go wrong” (why do they always forget to punctuate?).
  • “Nissan is better than Toyota in every way”.

Truth is, the reality is rarely that black and white. None of those platitudes are real.

The world is a complicated place. Nuance is important. Car ownership is an emotional, as well as practical, experience.

If you don’t like wrestling with nuance and prefer to stick with oversimplification, you’ll probably find this 4WD review frustrating to read.

But if you want to go deep down the rabbit hole to find the best 4WD for you, I hope you keep reading.

I’m here to strip back the folk myths, the unsubstantiated forum opinions and the brand marketing bullshit to reveal the truth behind this question – which is the best 4WD in Australia for someone who wants to tow and explore?

I’ve done my best to remain as objective as possible. Even though I love my D4 and clearly have a soft spot for Land Rovers, I have zero desire to drive a 4WD that’s not fit for my purposes.

By the way, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Feel free to provide your perspective in the comments section below.

Check Your 4WD’s Payload Capacity.

You need to start here.

Take your 4WD’s maximum allowed weight (GVM) and subtract its Kerb (empty) weight.

You’ll get the Payload (PLD) figure. In other words, the maximum amount of weight you can add to the car.

By the way, different manufacturers define kerb weight differently. For example, some view it as a fully fuelled car without a driver while others view it as a car with 90% fuel and with a driver.

I’ve done my best to find this out and equalise the final score by creating a Real Payload (REAL PLD) figure, which offsets any variations in the definition of “kerb weight” AND includes the following:

  • 150kg for passengers
  • 15kg towbar
  • the car’s full fuel load

If the car has 2 fuel tanks, I’ve only included the weight in the primary tank, so as not to unfairly penalise the car for its additional fuel carrying capacity.

Tow bar weights do tend to vary between 10kg and 30kg, but I decided to average this out to 15kg, so as not to overcomplicate the dataset.

I believe that the Real Payload (REAL PLD) is the most useful figure because it:

  • Levels the playing field, allowing us to compare apples to apples.
  • Offers a baseline for the most common touring scenario (2 adults).
  • Ensures you’re never above GVM after filling up with fuel.

Voila.

VEHICLETOW CAPGVMGCMKERB
(100% FUEL)
PLDREAL PLDREAL PLD W/300KG
TBM
Ineos Grenadier350035007000UNKUNKUNKUNK
Toyota LC200 VX3500335068502740610445145
Toyota LC300 VX3500328067502630650485185
Land Rover Discovery 43500324067602649569404104
Land Rover Discovery 5 SE3500326067602372888723423
Land Rover Defender 110 P300 SE 7-seat3500328067802375909744444
VW Touareg 170 TDI3500285063502157693528N/A
Toyota Prado VX3000299059902245745580
Toyota LC 70 Dual Cab GXL35003300680021751125960610
Mitsubishi Pajero Sport GLS 4WD3100277555652060715565265
Ram 1500 DS Warlock II4500345072372630820655355
Ram 1500 DT Limited4500345077132749701536236
Ram 250045004495126953660835670370
Ram 350045005352128373660169215321232
Chevrolet Silverado Trail Boss4260322168042469752587287
Chevrolet Silverado 1500 LTZ4500330071602540760595295
Ford Ranger XLT 3.235003200600021781022862
Isuzu D-Max LS-U3500280059002155645485
Toyota Hilux SR53500305058502110940780
Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk3500294960992340609444144
Jeep Gladiator2721293556562242693528
Nissan Patrol Ti-L3500350070002861639474174
Audi SQ73500320064402405795630330
Payload (PLD) is official payload, calculating by subtracting kerb from GVM and assumes a full tank of fuel. Real Payload (REAL PLD) assumes a full tank of fuel and includes a 160kg allowance for 2 passengers and a tow hitch. Real payload with a 300 kg tow ball mass (REAL PLD W/300 TBM) assumes a full tank of fuel and includes a 160kg allowance for 2 passengers and a tow hitch, plus a 300 kg tow ball mass attached.

Check Your 4WD’s Maximum Rear Axle Rating.

This is the most overlooked factor. It’s also one that’s easiest to exceed. Rumour is, this is also the one that cops tend to check.

VEHICLEFRONT AXLE LIMITREAR AXLE LIMIT
Ineos Grenadier16002150
Toyota LC78/79Unknown2300
Toyota LC20017001950
Toyota LC30016301930
Land Rover Discovery 4 14501855
Land Rover Discovery 515001900
Land Rover Defender 110 D300 SE 7-seat15301900
VW Touareg 170 TDIUnknown1480
Toyota Prado VX14501800
Toyota LC 70 Series14802300
Mitsubishi Pajero13601600
Ram 1500 DS Warlock II17701770
Ram 1500 DT Limited 18601860
Ram 2500 Limited27222740
Ram 3500 Limited27223175
Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Trail Boss17241724
Chevrolet Silverado 1500 LTZ17241724
Ford Ranger XLT 3.214801850
Isuzu D-Max14501650
Toyota Hilux SR514501700
Jeep GladiatorUnknownUnknown
Jeep Grand CherokeeUnknownUnknown
Nissan Patrol Y6216502030
The rear axle load is the easiest to exceed.

I can’t stress this enough. Your rear axle capacity will be the first one to let you down, but it’s the one manufacturers like to talk about the least.

It’s also subject to what I call the “rear axle tax”, which is additional weight imposed on your rear axle by the TBM (Tow Ball Mass) due to weight transfer from the front vehicle to the rear.

Practically speaking, it means that a 300 kg TBM will place about 435 kg of weight on your rear axle (not 300 kg!).

How to calculate this rear axle tax?

For a very simplified calculation, simply add 45% to your TBM.

To get a precise figure and to understand where it comes from, watch this video by Robert Pepper:

Now that we understand our payload departure points, expectations and the biggest payload killers, let’s rank each 4WD from best to worst.

1. The Toyota LandCruiser 300.

TJM-equipped LC300.

Best for:

  • Adventurous Families.
  • Adventurous Couples.
  • Touring extremely remote country.

The LC300 has taken the #1 spot in my review of Australia’s best towing vehicles for 2022 – because it provides a robust, comfortable and capable platform.

Recently released, its reliability is yet to be fully proven on Australian roads.

But, given its similarities to the LC200, and coupled with Toyota’s reputation for choosing reliability as the guiding principle, I’m confident that it not leave too many offroad explorers stranded by the side of the road.

Let’s take a closer look.

Pros.

Halleluya. The LandCruiser finally has a decent interior. But beware – “decent” is a relative term.

It depends on your point of reference.

If you jump into the Cruiser after driving a double cab ute or a 200 series you’ll feel smothered in luxury. But if you compare it with a late-model Land Rover, you’ll feel like you’re inside a clean, well-run detention centre for white-collar criminals.

Jokes aside (can’t wait for the comments!), the LC300’s interior is good. It’s comfortable, contemporary, well organised and built from not-too-cheap looking plastics.

In VX and Sahara guise, it’s about on par with the one in my Land Rover Discovery 4. But my Disco’s interior dates back to 2012. You’re about 10 years behind Land Rover in terms of interior design, Toyota. Really?

The GX and GXL interiors, meanwhile, are very basic. With these you get either synthetic fabric or synthetic leather seats, which are a great idea – until your entire backside start to swim in sweat on hot days. Hashtag breathability. Hashtag underrated.

GR Sport definitely wins the best interior award.

You get an Alcantara-esque finish on the A-pillars, deletion of chrome and cheap faux woodgrain, real leather, a larger 12.3 inch centre display and subtle, yet prominent “GR” accents everywhere.

It’s an interior that I can get excited to be in.

GR Sport also gets KDSS, which is Toyota’s attempt to bridge the on-road and off-road worlds. It disconnects the anti-roll bars offroad to improve wheel articulation.

(It also gets adaptive dampers, but these are almost certainly redundant if you decide to upgrade the car’s GVM).

Externally, the blacked-out grille, deletion of chrome and bold “TOYOTA” lettering look decidedly mint. The GR Sport is already the best-looking model in LC in history, and will look even better with an aftermarket front winch bar, a lift and a decent set of wheels.

I expect to start seeing a lot of very sexy GR Sports running around, very soon.

The engine is a massive step forward. While I do lament the loss of the LC200’s burbly V8, I am excited by the addition of 50Nm and 32kW that the new V6 provides.

Sequential turbo design is a lot more in step with contemporary standards. The engine fan is controlled electronically rather than via a belt drive from the engine, which improves fuel efficiency.

Bloody torque. 700Nm is a very, very decent amount of grunt in a car that has a kerb of about 2600kg. You’ll feel it when towing, when climbing steep forest tracks and when pushing through soft beach exits.

Twin factory lockers are available, but only on the GR Sport model. Another reason this is my pick of the bunch.

Cons.

Dust ingress through the airbox filter was a known weakness in the 200 – and it’s already proving itself to be one on the 300. The 300’s airbox is even less well-engineered – and owners are already posting photos of dust on the clean side of the filter in owners FB groups.

This is completely unacceptable. Looks like aftermarket air boxes will be the norm for 300 owners, like they were for serious 200 owners.

Toyota’s traction control has improved in recent years, but it is still quite imprecise in its action compared with that of Land Rover.

(Land Rovers’ Terrain Control is able to lock wheels on the same axle in a way that very closely mimics that of an axle lock, while Toyota allows huge amounts of slip).

The pricing is very cheeky – and I believe is driven by the need to differentiate the car from the Prado and the 79 series, rather than by levels of real value and technology. Bottom-spec GX and GXL versions are now $100K cars. This much dough for a 4WD with a vinyl interior? C’mon.

By the time you spec your 300 with enough fruit to make it into a car that you’ll actually be excited to look at, drive and own, you’ll be staring down the barrel of a $130K++ bill.

Toyota is cashing in on people’s loyalty to the brand, but in a market that’s becoming increasingly competitive, it’s a risky game.

Overall.

Toyota has a tough job on its hands. It has to build a car that will please farmers, rural folks, Byron Bay soccer mums, grey nomads and young guys with no assets but enough cash flow to afford the lease payments.

Very different crowds with different appetites.

It’s a tall task indeed, which means Toyota will disappoint everyone. At first.

After the initial wave of outcry subsides, every one of those demographics will embrace the 4WD as their own. “Legendary”, even.

Just like they did with the 200 series.

And the 100 series.

And the 80 series.

It’s not that Toyota drivers are irrational. It’s just that they don’t love change. And yet, the world is at the threshold of the most sweeping set of changes in history, so are being skull dragged along while lamenting “the good old days”.

The LC300 is destined to become Australia’s default choice for folks who want towing ability that’s coupled with reliability, safety, comfort and performance.

Not because the LC300 is outstanding in any way. John Cadogan somewhat harshly, but pointedly, described it as the King of Mediocrity:

Try impressing this guy.

I’m a little bit more merciful.

The LC200 was certainly mediocre and bland. So is the mine-spec LC300 GX.

But as we move up the LC300 hierarchy, the models become interesting enough to justify those weekly lease payments. Exciting, even.

Technologically, the LC300 is my Discovery 4 with a Toyota badge. It’s a torquey twin-turbo V6 with traction control, a huge amount of internal space, a good interior and about 600kg of payload. Minus the tailgate.

What about the reliability factor?

Look, I agree that Toyotas are certainly less likely than Land Rovers to let you down in a catastrophic way, at the worst possible time.

But, like always, nuance is important. The farm-spec 79 series and the Hiluxes certainly are bulletproof, but that’s because they have zero features that can actually break.

The big Land Cruisers are complicated vehicles.

The 200 series was pretty reliable, but had its share of known issues.

The 300 series is even more complicated than the 200, and we’re yet to see how it fares. I don’t expect huge and frequent breakdowns, but I do think that a lot of Toyota fanboys will need to come to terms with events like limp modes.

Which LC300 variant should you buy for towing & touring purposes?

If it is the maximum payload that you’re after, opt for the GX or GXL versions, which offer 785 and 700 kgs respectively. But what you gain in payload you miss out on nice little touches that make you get excited about paying $100K for a car, like a good-looking exterior and a comfortable interior.

The GR Sport is my personal pick of the range – because it ticks the most boxes that I need in a touring, towing 4WD.

That being said, I am fully aware that the GR Sport, with two passengers, one full tank of fuel and 300kg on the tow ball only has 190 kg of payload left.

It’s not much.

If you have kids and/or plan to add barwork, you’ll need to look into GVM upgrades.

These, by the way, are still in development for the LC300. But it is highly likely that they’ll closely mimic the LC200 offering, which is currently offered in these levels:

  • 3650 kg
  • 3900 kg
  • 4200 kg
  • 4495 kg

I wouldn’t bother with entry-level, el-cheapo 3650kg GVM upgrades, which either re-rate your existing gear or do “springs and shocks”.

An AEV / JMacx 4200kg upgrade is one of the best on the market for the LC200, and I fully expect it to be available for the LC300 soon. An update from Jmacx MD, Jason McIntosh is here:

GVM upgrades for the LC300 are around the corner.

With this upgrade, you’ll be federally approved to legally tow 3500 kg when loaded up to the maximum of 4200 kg.

In other words, the upgrade effectively raises your GCM to 7700 kg.

Just as importantly, it raises your rear axle load to an eye-popping 2700 kg.

You can see this upgrade on the walkaround of this 200 series. This particular build also has engine, storage and electrical upgrades by Pro Touring Concepts:

Pro Touring Concepts will transform your stock LandCruiser into a purpose-built touring and towing vehicle without cutting corners.

Specifications.

Angle TypeDegrees
Approach32
Ramp-over21
Departure25
The angles are good without being outstanding. An aftermarket front bar and a suspension lift will improve them.

The LC300’s ground clearance is an average 235mm. It will serve you well for moderate beach work and weekend excursions into national parks, but if you plan to tackle any reasonably adventurous terrain you’ll need to invest in a suspension lift and a tyre upgrade.

On paper, the GX variant wins the payload battle by a long shot. You’ll have 325kg of payload left after you load the car with a full tank of fuel, two passengers and a 300kg TBM.

VariantTotal PayloadNet PayloadW/300 TBM
GX785625325
GXL700540240
VX650490190
SAHARA650490190
SAHARA ZX670510210
GR SP650490190
The total payload is GVM minus Kerb. Net Payload is GVM minus Kerb minus 160kg allowance for passengers and a tow hitch. W/300 TBM is Net Payload minus 300kg of tow ball mass.

Theoretically, this is enough to fit a bull bar, winch, second battery, fridge, drawers, compressor, LT tyres, roof rack, awning and recovery gear. Basically, almost everything you need in a decent touring setup.

Would the suspension cope well with the extra weight, especially on rough roads and tracks? In other words, can you avoid a GVM upgrade?

I’m not convinced, but happy to be proven otherwise. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

Meanwhile, the premium VX, Sahara and Sahara ZX variants, as well as my pick, the GR Sport, have 190-210kg of payload. This leaves much less payload headroom and almost guarantees that you’ll need a GVM upgrade.

Should you stick with a wagon or convert it to a canopy?

This is a huge topic that I’ll need to unpack in a separate blog post.

For now, I’ll say that if you do decide to go down the canopy route, you’ll need to include a chassis extension. This will help with reducing the load between axles and reduce the rear overhang.

Pro Touring Concepts as well as PCOR (part of Justin Montesalvo’s Patriot Campers empire) are the best in this game. Budget about $35-40K.

Prices.

There’s an LC300 for every budget. Well, almost.

ModelDriveaway Price
GX$97104
GXL$109494
VX$122506
Sahara$140566
GR Sport$148546
Sahara ZX$147496
Charging $97K for a poverty-pack GX with no lockers and a mine-spec interior is pretty cheeky in my opinion.

You’ll also need to budget for GVM upgrades and touring equipment.

An el-cheapo “springs and shocks only” GVM upgrade will set you back $5-$10K. I don’t recommend this. You’re just kicking the can down the road.

Expect to pay about $20,000 for a good one, plus another $5,000 if you decide to upgrade the engine and brakes to cope with the extra weight.

This means all up, your GR Sport will cost about $175K. Before you start adding accessories. Wowsers.

If you’re not careful, by the time you finish your build, you won’t get much change out of $200K.

(A chop and a chassis extension, if you do decide to go down that route, can add another $20-30K).

If you don’t have that much dough to set on fire, you have some fallback options.

Get a GXL ($109K), add the GVM uprade ($20K), add aftermarket lockers ($3K) and some essential touring upgrades ($10K). You’re up for about $142K all up, give or take.

If you need to shave a few more grand off, get one of the lesser GVM upgrades, but make sure that it:

  • Increases your GCM. Without this, you’re stuck in a zero-sum weight game between your tug and your caravan. For every kilogram that you load your 4WD above its original GVM, you’ll have to take one kilo off the caravan. Pointless.
  • Improves your rear axle load by a substantial margin. Some GVM upgrades only give you 50 kg more rear axle capacity. Also pointless. Get the rear axle upgraded to at least 2150 kg – because you’re much more likely to hit your rear axle load before you hit your GVM when towing a heavy van.

2. The Land Rover Defender.

Fantastic aftermarket gear for your Defender is available, but mostly through US-based manufacturers.

Best for:

  • Adventurous couples.
  • Touring moderately remote country.

The Defender is built on an all-new aluminium monocoque platform called D7. According to Land Rover, the chassis is three times stronger than the next best in the market.

It’s also very light, which makes the car extremely light at kerb weight. In fact, the Defender’s kerb weight is about 250 kg less than that of the LC300 and a mind-boggling 490 kg less than that of the Nissan Patrol.

Pros.

The Defender has very comfortable 1st and 2nd row seats. Arguably better than those of any other 4WD on the market. You sit tall, supported, with great visibility and plenty of knee room.

The approach, ramp-over and departure angles are excellent. At 38, 28 and 40 respectively, they’re some of the best in the business. They’re almost up there with those of a Jeep Wrangler.

The short rear overhang on the Defender is an advantage because it reduces the amount of rear axle tax that the car’s engineering will inflict on you.

The official payload figures are mental. At 909 kg, the Defender has the highest payload of any 4WD wagon on the Australian market by a substantial margin. (For comparison, it’s almost 30% more than the LC300 VX’s 650 kg).

In reality, you’ll max out your 1900 kg rear axle max weight limit long before you use up your payload.

(By the way, the 5-seat Defender’s rear axle capacity is 1800 kg while the 7-seater’s is 1900 kg. This paper gain of 100 kg is nice, but keep in mind that 56 kg of this increase will be taken up by the additional seats. You could remove them, but in NSW you’ll need to pay an engineer about $500 to re-certify the car as a 5-seater. In Queensland, you can get away with it because “temporary” seat removals are allowed .. forever).

Air suspension gives you the best of both worlds when it comes to clearance and handling manners.

In on-road mode it gives you a very average 218 mm of ground clearance. However, it ensures great handling and a low centre of gravity when driving around town, which is where you’ll be at least 80% of the time.

At the push of a button, you can raise the car to offroad mode, which gives you a very respectable 290 mm. If you belly out, the car will give you an additional 30 mm again. If you’re still stuck, it will give you another 30 mm through super-extended mode. By that point, you’ll have an almost ungodly 350 mm of ground clearance.

What other stock car on standard wheels can do this?

(By the way, a $500 aftermarket tool (LLAMS) gives you a manual override to all these height modes, plus the ability to lower the car to bump-stops if you ever need to squeeze into a tight carpark).

Air suspension gives you optimal ride quality, regardless of payload. This is very different to coil or leaf sprung vehicles, which need to have springs optimised for a certain weight, and leave you with a compromised ride (either too bouncy or too saggy) unless you’re carrying that weight.

Last but not least, with independent suspension at both ends, your ground clearance stays consistent, with no diffs, axles or leaf spring packs hanging down and waiting to snag you.

Cons.

The Defender’s rear swingout spare tyre will annoy you. It gets in the way when hitching up and can’t always be opened with the van attached. This makes access to the back of the 4WD during quick roadside stops tricky.

I don’t love the swingout gate design, either – because it unnecessarily reduces the size of the boot opening. There’s something infinitely more practical about a large, top-hinged hatch door, preferably with a tailgate.

But these are minor quibbles.

Let’s talk about the big elephant in the room. The difficult topic of Land Rover’s reliability.

Are Defenders industrial-grade lemons, just waiting to explode and leave you stranded?

Not all, but some definitely are.

I have a saying:

“Japanese 4WDs let you down a little bit, every day. Land Rovers let you down in a massive way, every now and then.”

This saying is based partly on my personal experience of owning a Land Rover and partly on observations that I’ve made in owners’ groups.

After all of these experiences, and after hearing countless stories from other LR owners, I have formulated an approach for buying Land Rovers.

(It’s not bullet-proof, but it is likely to help you mitigate risks to an acceptable level).

The first rule is – don’t buy a Land Rover model that’s within the first few years of its life cycle.

Buy one that’s been in production for at least 5 years.

Give them a chance to iron out the bugs.

I bought my D4 in 2015 – one year before the model’s production was stopped. By that point, the car has been in production for 6 years. If you count the D3 which was, engine and transmission aside, almost the same car, the production run at that point was 16 years.

I recommend that you do the same thing.

Finally, let’s remember that technology is constantly improving and will trickle down into every 4WD, whether we like it or not.

Ten years ago Land Rover upset “serious” offroaders by introducing independent air suspension, terrain control modes, electronic traction control and high-output, low displacement engines. Today, these are standard features on most modern, “serious” 4WDs.

Overall.

The Defender has solid offroad and towing chops, but is yet to prove itself in the reliability stakes.

We need to watch it closely for another 1-2 years. If it proves to be reliable it will be, hands-down, the best touring & towing 4WD on the Australian market by a very long shot.

During this time we’ll also see an increase in the availability of aftermarket parts.

There’s an Australian company that’s already offering subframe lift kits in 2″, 4″, 5″ and 6″ variants, which will allow you to fit up to 36″ tyres. Not that you would when towing, but y’know. Just saying.

The car comes standard with 32s, so a bump to 33 inches would strike a nice balance between adding more clearance and preserving road manners.

Land Rover dealers will only offer you 19″, 20″ and 21″ wheels, clad in road-biased tyres. These are borderline useless in the context of offroad touring.

You could upgrade the tyres to AT, but keep the large rims.

This is a common modification among LR owners who limit their 4WD adventures to moderately soft sand, moderately harsh tracks and unsealed, but reasonably maintained, roads.

If you want to push beyond those limits, you’ll need to equip the car with aftermarket 18″ rims. The additional sidewall height will give you additional peace of mind and the ability to go further into national parks, explore rougher roads and traverse softer beaches.

Aftermarket options are available from TuffAnt – and are specifically designed for Land Rovers.

Meanwhile, check out this wild American Defender on 35s:

The crazy departure angle and the short rear overhang help hugely with offroading and towing.

In case you’re interested in why the Defender beat the Discovery 5, take a look here.

Specifications.

Angle TypeDegrees
Approach38
Ramp-over28
Departure40
Shut up and take my Jeep Wrangler. The Defender’s angles are insane. These figures are for a stock car in Offroad mode. Even better angles are possible in Extended mode or with the addition of height rods as well as electronic suspension override kits (e.g., LLAMS).

The wheelbase of the Defender is 3022mm.

The wading depth of the Defender is class-leading at 900mm.

The Defender’s ground clearance in Offroad mode is 290mm. This drops to 218mm in Road mode.

Prices.

The 110 D300 SE, the only variant that you should be considering for offroad touring, starts at about $118K driveway.

Your actual driveway figure will be higher because Land Rover is notoriously good at tempting you with expensive options.

Some of these are a must (Terrain Response II, active rear diff, Tow Pack and nice leather seats).

Your final driveway figure will be about $140K.

Aftermarket accessories are obviously extra. A subframe lift starts at about $8K through New Defender Mods. By the time you add tyres, barwork and other bits, you’ll be at about $160K.

3. The American Heavy Duty Trucks (2500/3500 RAMs, Chevs & Fords).

A GCI Traytec canopy (pictured) transforms your heavy duty truck into a tourer.

Best for:

  • Adventurous Families.
  • Instagrammers.

Wannabe male Instagram influencers, rejoice.

Until now your Instagram future looked bleak. No one watched your dodgy campsite cooking videos or liked your gym selfies.

Your girlfriends, meanwhile, had it easy.

Every photo of their bikini-clad bodies gained likes, followers, creepy love confessions, brand sponsorships and sweet external validation.

But that’s about to change.

Enter the man’s equivalent to a perfectly shaped, framed and photographed female butt.

The 2500 / 3500 Yank Tank.

Point, shoot and upload. Instant notoriety. Instant respect. You’re now an influencer! Perhaps it’s time for you to quit your day job and become a perpetually smiley YouTube lifestyle pioneer?

Hashtag living your best life. Hashtag dare greatly. Hashtag forge your own path. Hashtag inspire others.

But jokes aside, if you need to tow a caravan that’s heavier than 3.5 tonnes AND carry a healthy amount of payload in the vehicle, this is your best bet.

Your badge options are synonymous with large-displacement pushrod V8s:

  • RAM
  • Chev
  • Ford

The first two are sold in Australia through RAM Trucks Australia and General Motors Specialty Vehicles. Ford, meanwhile is currently available only through independent conversion shops like Harrison F Trucks and American Car Company, but there are rumours that it will be available through Ford dealers very soon.

What’s the difference between the two models?

Well, the 2500 and 3500 are mechanically and visually identical, apart from the 3500’s heavier-duty rear axle and suspension:

  • 250/2500 – optimised for towing heavy loads. A lot of people don’t realise that it can tow more than the 350/3500! It can’t carry much payload while doing so, however.
  • 350/3500 – optimised for payload and towing. Can carry a large payload while towing a heavy load.

Pros.

The biggest selling point of the car is 1152NM torque unleashed by its 6.7-litre engine.

Get this – In the case of the RAM, the max speed of its Cummins engine is only 3200 RPM and the max torque peaks at 1700RPM. It means this thing barely turns over.

This, coupled with a heavy-duty rear axle, translates into legitimately impressive towing capacity AND payload capacity.

The heavy-duty trucks have great interiors that are almost identical to the ones in the latest 1500s.

Cons.

The truck’s size and weight will prevent you from going into some fun places. If you option it with a canopy, you’ll be sitting at about 4.5 – 5 tonnes with passengers, fuel, water and some camping stuff in the back.

You’ll need a light truck license to operate one of these in Australia – and this comes with a set of pre-requisites like zero blood alcohol level.

The visibility to the front is poor because of its monster hood.

They sit very tall, making them not easy to get in and out of. You will need a set of side steps.

It’s not easy to park.

Leaf springs are great for carrying huge weights, not so great for handling and everyday driving comfort.

I’m not a greenie by any stretch of the imagination, but I am becoming increasingly aware that we need to do something about climate change. In a world where Europe has decided to ban the sale of all internal combustion cars by 2030, purchasing a 6.7-litre V8 diesel 4WD in 2022 seems .. jarring.

Certainly, big Toyota and Land Rover 4WDs aren’t exactly carbon-neutral, but their engines are half the size. Surely we should take this into account?

Overall.

Rams 2500/3500s are very specialised. They’re great as touring cars for big, open roads – not as a daily driver.

But if you’re planning to do a lap of Australia with 2-3 kids, they’re perfect, because children rapidly amplify your payload needs – both in the caravan and in the truck.

Their bikes, toys, school stuff and personal belongings quickly add up, and combine with larger demand for spare food and water to quickly push your caravan into the 4-tonne range.

Your truck, meanwhile, needs to have enough payload and rear axle capacity to carry you, your partner, the kids, restrainer seats and increased TBM. That’s 550-700 kg already. If you are on the Adventurous side, you’ll need to add at least another 200 kg to account for winch(es), barwork and other accessories.

(Your only other viable option in this scenario is a chopped, massively GVM-upgraded Toyota LandCruiser. Each option has its pros and cons. The Toyota will be more nimble and usable in traffic while the 2500/3500 will give you more towing/carrying flexibility).

The 2500/3500s will tow up to 6,000kg via a gooseneck attachment, but these are very rare in Australia. A more meaningful figure for you is a 4500kg towing capacity via a 70mm towball.

What about modifications?

Well, there are not many 4WDs that will be able to snatch or winch you out if you get bogged. Your truck’s 4.5 tonnes, if resting on chassis rails in soft sand or in mud can effectively weigh twice that amount. Make sure you’re equipped well enough to minimise your chances of getting stuck. Also, have strategies for self-recovery if you do get stuck.

First, this means suspension lifts and wheel upgrades. These considerably improve the truck’s approach, ramp-over and departure angles.

Specifications.

Fun fact. Did you know that in the US, the RAM 3500 has an eye-popping 16.8-tonne towing capacity?

Ground clearance of 2500/3500 RAMs is 222 mm.

Angle TypeRAM 2500/3500
Approach23
Ramp-over22
Departure26
Average numbers, but did you expect anything else? A suspension lift and larger tyres will significantly improve these figures.

Prices.

Expect to pay $165K driveway for a RAM 2500 and $170K for a 3500. In Australia, both are offered in Laramie trim only.

In addition to the cost of the truck itself, remember budget $10-30K for a canopy (GCI Traytec and PCOR do amazing stuff), electric upgrades and kitchen.

A suspension and associated parts will set you back another $15K.

All in all, a fully kitted out 2500/3500 will burn a $180-220K hole in your wallet.

4. The American Half-Tonners (150/1500 RAMs, Toyotas, Chevs & Fords).

The RAM 1500 Limited is sex on wheels with a great interior, air suspension and 22″ rims. Definitely better suited for chewing up highways than the Glasshouse Mountains.

Best for:

  • Civilised Couples.

These are marketed to unsuspecting Australians as the ultimate towing vehicles. They “eat utes for breakfast”, if you were to believe the propaganda.

Is it true?

Well, yes and no.

Most utes in Australia can carry about 1 tonne of payload. The 1500s, meanwhile, can carry about 700-800 kg, depending on spec.

In fact, they were originally designed to only carry 500 kg of payload, hence the stateside nickname “half-tonner”.

Regardless of what a salesman tries to tell you, 1500s are not towing monsters. In the USA, they’re sold as daily practical cars to working-class people.

Because of this, they have less payload capacity than the Prado or the mighty Pajero Sport. Yes, really.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Pros.

If you and your partner want to tow a 3-3.5-tonne van and stay mostly on the tarmac (I’m looking at you, Civilised Couples), the 150/1500s are a great choice.

Much better than a double-cab ute.

Sure, their payload is about 25% worse than that of utes (and is more in line with that of 4WD wagons), but payload is not your priority.

Your priority is the ability to tow your big van in comfort, safely and confidently.

All the power to you.

Just keep your TBM at around 300 kg, make sure that you don’t overload the relatively modest rear axle ratings (don’t forget the rear axle tax!) and you’ll be fine.

Compared with a traditional Aussie double cab ute, you’ll do The Big Lap with a very torquey, big, lazy engine to keep you moving along and a long wheelbase to keep you stable. You’ll also have a nicer interior to spend your days in.

For this purpose, my personal pick would be the $149K RAM Limited.

You get supportive front seats wrapped in beautifully stitched leather, Harman Kardon stereo, sunroof, a huge centre touchscreen and a mountain of cabin storage nooks.

You also get 210-litre Rambox storage system in the back, but don’t get too excited – you won’t be able to fill much of it while towing. Maybe you’ll get away with a set of MaxTrax and some snorkelling gear.

The Limited’s 22″ wheels and low ground clearance make it strictly a blacktop / mild unsealed road cruiser – and an expensive one at that.

If I was on a stricter budget and/or wanted to go further offroad, I’d choose the $113K Chevrolet 1500 LT Trail Boss. It has a more dated, but practical interior (that is due for a massive update later this year) and misses out on luxuries like seat leather.

However, it is some $30K cheaper – and gets a standard factory rear diff lock, offroad-biased 18″ tyres and underbody protection. Factory suspension lift kit gives you a very impressive 260mm ground clearance.

Australia is also about to get the mental, supercharged, 6.2-litre Hellcat-powered RAM TRX. I love the idea of it, but I don’t know if I could live with its 14.7m turning circle and 25-35L / 100 km fuel usage. There’s poor fuel efficiency and then there’s “I think I have a hole in my fuel tank”.

Cons.

Big does not mean strong. I’ve done enough martial arts to know that this is true for humans. The same is true for the 150/1500 range of vehicles.

Remember that in the US, the 150/1500s are considered “Light Duty” trucks.

For all their size and brawn, the 150/1500s have very light rear axles. You will exceed that rating before you exceed the GVM, GCM or BTC.

Allow me to demonstrate, using the RAM Warlock II as an example. The figures for other makes and models will vary slightly, but the conclusions will remain the same:

  • Weigh the truck. Of its 2630 kg kerb weight, roughtly 1430 kg sits over the front axle and remaining 1200 kg over the rear. The front bias is caused by that heavy V8.
  • Calculate the remaining rear axle capacity. The car’s 1770 kg rear axle limit will leave you with (1770 minus 1200) 570 kg of weight that you can add to the rear of the car.
  • Attach your van. Assuming a 350 kg TBM (and remembering to include a 1.45X rear axle tax multiplier), you eat into that figure by 508 kg. You’re now left with (570 minus 508) 62 kg of rear axle capacity.
  • Freak out. Remember that you haven’t added any passengers, accessories or cargo yet. The truck is empty, but fully fuelled.

By the time you and your partner sit in the (middle of the) truck, your combined mass of about 150 kg will be divided between both axles, putting you 13 kg over the rear axle’s legal limit.

These weaknesses become very apparent in this eye-opening video by the MD of Jmacx, Jason McIntosh, who has spent the last couple of years trying to figure out how to give these cars more carrying capacity:

Not as tough as it looks.

Here’s a summary of Jason’s points:

  • RAM Australia cooks the books by rerating the 1500 DS’ stock GVM – without making any chassis or suspension upgrades. In the US, these cars are rated at 3100 kg GVM. By the time they land in Australia, they’re rated at 3450 kg – a 350 kg increase. This means your stock RAM 1500 is already pushing the limits of its intended limits.
  • Rear wheel bearings are very weak. They’re not designed for carrying heavy loads.
  • Stock brakes are very weak. Brake failures are common when towing or carrying heavy loads.
  • GVM upgrade requires more than “shocks and coils”. Jason recommends upgrades to upper control arms, hubs, rear axle and brakes.
  • The DT models have a 90 kg higher rear axle load rating, but their axles are mechanically identical to the the one in the DS.
  • The DT models have better brakes.
  • These trucks are not as unbreakable as they look. If you push them, they’ll break. Don’t push these cars beyond their limit.

By the way, I don’t love the idea of buying a new, converted car from an importer and relying on it to take me into the middle of Australia.

Some of these import/conversion shops have already gone bust. I’ve heard stories of others doing shonky work.

There are some companies doing great work, but it’s not easy for you, the consumer, to gauge quality through their marketing alone.

Do your research.

The last thing you want is to be stuck with a US-built low-volume import with poor or non-existent service support.

RAM Australia and GMSV are factory-backed operations that will be able to support you if something goes wrong. But Fords and Toyotas are still imported largely through smaller, independent, low-volume operators – and you need to make your decisions about their support on a case-by-case basis.

VDC gets great reviews on Facebook groups for their work on Ford F trucks. Harrison also has a good reputation.

Also, keep in mind that if something goes mechanically wrong, not all mechanics will be able to help you out. Some will steer clear of your car and refuse to work on it because of a lack of familiarity.

Last but not least, remember that these trucks are bulky.

If you live in a house on the Gold Coast, it’s less of an issue. The streets are wide and the traffic that you contend with is (mostly) good. But if you live in an apartment in Melbourne, you may find that using the truck as your daily is a frustrating exercise.

Overall.

These are big, comfortable, practical, lazy touring vehicles that can eat up a mile after mile.

This is why they’re so popular in the USA.

The Ford F-150, for example, has been the best selling car across the pond since 1978. You’ve read right. Not the best selling truck. Not best selling Ford.

Best-selling vehicle.

This gives you an idea of how battle-tested and proven this concept is.

But before you buy one of these monstrosities you have to make sure that all your numbers stack up.

A lot of people buy the 1500s because they want to tow and “not worry about weights anymore”. They resist moving up to 2500 / 3500 trucks because they want to stay on a car license and be able to park in the city.

In doing so, they push these vehicles too far.

They also fall for marketing hype that does not translate into practical benefits.

For example, the RAM 1500 has a claimed 4500 BTC, but in its pre-2021 DS guise, it was a gimmick because the car’s GCM of 7250 kg meant you’d have about 100 kg of payload left after hitching a 4500 kg trailer.

In other words, you’d be doing The Big Lap solo.

Since the release of the DT model with its whooping 7713 GCM, the 4500 kg towing claim looks more valid, but only on paper. In reality, the DT has the same rear axle as the DS. RAM Australia have given it a 90 kg higher rating, but it’s still the first figure that you’ll exceed when towing.

If you want empirical proof, follow my calculations in the previous section, but this time using a 400-450kg TBM (don’t forget to add 1.45X rear axle tax). You’ll quickly see that a 4500 kg caravan’s TBM will blow the truck’s rear axle capacity even before you add fuel and passengers.

The full weight chart of all Ram 1500 models is here and Ram’s own specifications sheet is here.

The Silverado 1500 is much of a muchness.

Despite its imposing size and the GMSV’s attempt to pitch it as “the ultimate towing machine”, its rear axle is rated at 1724 kg. The “muscular stance” and “chiselled hood” don’t change the fact this axle’s rating is 206 kg less than that of the LC300 and 176 kg less than that of the often-mocked Land Rover Defender.

Hell, it’s even the humble Prado’s 1800kg rating beats it!

The Chev’s 3300kg GVM is also comparative to the Discos and Cruisers out there, but its party trick is the 7160kg CGM, which allows the big Chev to theoretically tow a 3860kg trailer at GVM. While that’s certainly impressive in theory, I’m willing to bet that in reality, the max rear axle loading will prevent you from doing so.

What’s my overall verdict?

The 1500 models don’t have the rear axle capacity to put them into a “league of their own” when towing. They’re great tow vehicles, but demand that you are very sensible in what you tow – and what you add to the car. Just as you would with any other vehicle.

You need to keep your TBM in the vicinity of 300 kg in order to stay legally compliant and mechanically sound.

What GVM upgrade options are available?

There are none available for the DT – yet. I expect that they’ll start appearing in the second half of 2022.

The DS, which has been on the Australian market for a few years now, has a very comprehensive 4.2-tonne GVM upgrade available from Jmacx. For $21K you get an upgraded rear diff, upgraded brakes with braided brake lines, stronger wheel bearings, rear airbags as well as the usual coils and shocks.

For an additional $6K Jmacx will install an even stronger rear diff with a locker. A number of shock options are also available.

I’m waiting for Jmacx to come back to me on rear axle capacity for this upgrade, but I’m expecting it to be in the vicinity of 2100 kg.

This additional 330 kg of wiggle room isn’t much in the grand scheme of things, but is enough to give you some of the following:

  • tow a caravan with a heavier TBM (about 350 kg)
  • add some kids to the 2nd row
  • load more gear in the back of the tray

Specifications.

VariantChev Trail BossChev LTZRam Warlock IIRAM LimitedFord F150
Approach Angle30212522
Ramp Over Angle23202122
Departure Angle23221923
Ground Clearance260235240221
Wheelbase3760375035693672
The Chevrolet Trail Boss is by far the most offroad-friendly 4WD in this line-up. The ground clearance is better than that of the LC300 and the angles are about on par.

Angle TypeWarlock IILimited
Approach2525
Ramp-over2122
Departure1923
The angles are predictably poor.

Long wheelbase combined with long bumpers translates to poor angles. If you plan to do any offroading at all – and plan not to leave your bumpers on the trails – you’ll need a suspension lift.

Prices.

The Ram 1500 Limited is about $149K driveway while the Chevrolet 1500 LT Trail Boss is $113K driveaway.

GVM upgrades for DS models are common and start at about $5K for “springs and shocks” only. These overlook the weakest part of the vehicle – the rear axle and its small wheel bearings.

A serious GVM upgrade from Jmacx starts at $21K. In addition to springs and shocks, it upgrades your diff, wheel bearings and brakes.

5. The Nissan Patrol.

The Nissan can be a good-looking 4WD with a few modifications. Delete chrome, add a 2″ lift and 35″ tyres and you’re ready to turn heads.

The patrol is the underdog of this pack. It certainly has flaws, but then again, what 4WD doesn’t? The 10-year old design is still marching on strong despite its age.

Pros.

The sound of that V8! It’s very punchy and sounds great.

The price. Compared with $150K+ Land Rovers and $120K+ Land Cruisers, the Patrol is a relative bargain.

You can either keep it relatively stock and pocket the savings or spend the money on some very cool aftermarket upgrades, like a Harrop supercharger.

The Harrop blower costs about $15K and produces sub 7-second 0-100km/hr dashes.

If you opt for the poverty-pack Ti, you’ll part with about $80K by the time you pay the on-road costs and tick the box next to a few options. The Ti-L model give you more fruit as standard, but don’t expect much change out of $100K.

The interior space is cavernous. Plenty of space to put your drink bottles, maps, books, iPads and phones.

The exterior facelift is pretty good. The Patrol’s doesn’t look like a 10-year-old car and looks particularly good when the chrome grille is blacked out and the front bumper is replaced with an aftermarket front bar.

The rear boot space is enormous, with 1413 litres of capacity. You’ll never be able to fill it with a caravan sitting on your towball, but it will swallow beach chairs, tables, Webers and kids toys on occasions when you leave the van behind.

There’s something uncomplicated and powerful about the Patrol that makes it interesting to me. Philosophy-wise, it reminds me of HSV Holdens from the 1990s. While they didn’t excel at much apart from grunt, they didn’t pretend to be anything they were not. They were simple, effective road weapons that went fast and sounded like cars should sound.

Cons.

The 7-speed automatic gearbox tends to hunt for gears when towing a heavy caravan and can feel like no gear is 100% right.

Hardcore Nissan fanatics will tell you that this is because “there are a lot of gears”, but .. no. It’s because the gearbox isn’t smart enough to pick the right gear. There’s no shortage of cars on the market with 7-, 8- and even 10-speed gearboxes that work seamlessly.

As a workaround, some owners tow only in manual mode.

The factory rear diff lock has a dumb feature that switches it off at speeds above 15 km/hr. There are plenty of times when you may want it to remain locked at higher speeds. A lot of owners solve the issue by installing an override switch that goes directly to the diff lock solenoid.

The traction control system is pretty effective, but its controls are fiddly and unintuitive.

The centre screen is rubbish and doesn’t have connectivity with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.

Hitching up is difficult because of the low resolution of the rear view camera.

The OEM rear control arms are made from stamped steel and are the first thing to break on the big Nissan. Even if you don’t plan to carry massive loads or do nasty offroad tracks, it’s a good idea to replace these as part of a GVM upgrade. You’ll sleep better at night. More on GVM upgrade options for the Y62 shortly.

Speaking of suspension upgrades, you can upgrade the GVM, but you can’t upgrade the GCM of 7000 kg. This means you need to keep your car under 3500 kg if you want to tow a 3500 kg caravan.

The fuel economy is woeful. Expect 25-30 litres per 100 km when towing a heavy caravan. Because you’re relying on power, rather than torque, the direction of the wind will have a huge impact on this figure. Ditch the caravan and you’ll get about 18 litres / 100 km on the combined cycle.

Turning circle and large size make is clumsy around towns.

The dashboard is woefully dated. It reminds me of an Akai stereo that I had as a teenager back in 1995.

The Nisan’s interior leaves a lot to be desired. Glossy woodgrain and puffy seats really hammer home that 1990’s chic.

(Yep, Akai back then was an electronics manufacturer. Not to be confused with today’s Acai “superfood” that will allegedly fix your gut health).

When it comes to towing, the Patrol is competent without being outstanding. It has enough power to pull a large van, and feels reasonably sure-footed when doing so.

It will carry a 350 kg TBM, but in case you’ve owned one before, you’ll know that in the not-so-distant past, Nissan slapped the Y62 with a special (and quite rare in the automotive industry) payload tax for TMBs above 250kgs.

In a nutshell, if you placed 300kg on your tow ball, you had to reduce your GVM by 70kg. This figure increased exponentially with every additional kilo on the tow ball.

I reached out to Nissan Australia for clarification and was told that, magically, this TBM tax has now been removed due to “misinterpretation”. Helpfully, they even sent me this note:

Misinterpretation?

Now, before we chuckle and assume that this habit of misinterpreting reflects the intelligence levels of your typical Patrol owner, I will point out that Nissan’s instructions were, indeed, ambiguous at best.

Moreover, the same confusion has existed for years among Discovery 4 owners as well.

In the interest of not segueing too far off the main topic, I’ll skip the full story, except to say that Land Rover provided an equally rubbish set of instructions – and in that worrying instance, a lot of owners were led to believe that a “free” TBM of 150 kg was already included in their car’s GVM. In other words, their 350 kg TBM counted as only 200 kg.

(If you have a lot of spare time and/or a passion for watching people’s confirmation biases leading them to imagine things that don’t exist, check out this 16-page thread on AULRO) for all the gory details).

In any event, in its stock form, the Nissan boasts a moderate 474 kg of Real Payload, which is about on par with the LC300.

To be fair to the big Nissan, its massive 140L fuel tank does compromise its payload figure. Most SUVs here only carry about 80 litres of fuel.

That being said, I’m willing to bet that, due to its thirst for fuel, you will be filling the car’s tank to the brim every time and only getting the typical 500 km of range out of it. It’s not an “expedition” tank; it’s what this SUV needs to get to the next petrol station.

Overall.

The petrol V8 powered Patrol is a beast.

Carsguide has recently done a full review of it, so I’ll spare you the full and gory breakdown of its quirks.

To summarise, the suspension is neither here nor there, the gearbox is not always in the right spot and the steering is not always precise. It’s pretty good for the price, but if you’re used to driving late-model cars, it feels like a step back in time.

If you don’t care much about the obnoxious fuel consumption (climate change is just a hoax that Bill Gates is using to rob you of your freedoms, right?), can accept its average on-road driving manners and the hideous “grandpa meets cougar” interior woodgrain pattern, you can enjoy the car.

Despite its weaknesses, the big Nissan is a good touring platform.

You can’t have its GCM upgraded, but you can have a GVM upgrade in one of three levels:

  • 3680 kg. This group axle mass upgrade improves your GVM by 180 kg by combining the capacity of both axles. It’s not much at all, but can be enough to get you across the line. It also makes exceeding individual axle capacities very easy when near GVM, so be careful.
  • 4085 kg. Created by Ontrack 4X4 in Melbourne, this upgrade consists of a 2″ lift, 35″ tyres, upgraded front LCAs, upgraded billet rear LCAs and new upper control arms all around. Nissan’s approach and departure angles aren’t great, and the lift will help a lot.
  • 4200 kg with a chassis extension. Created by ASG in Towoomba, this chop looks very promising. I’m not sure how this modification will impact GCM because there’s not much info available online. I’m in the process of finding this out and will report back as soon as I know something.

I was to buy one, I’d add the mid-level upgrade and combine it with the same upgrades that Josh from the Travelling Campers has done. Check out his setup:

These YouTubers are travelling Australia in a very nicely specced Y62.

In addition to the GVM, he has also done the following:

  • Front diff locker. A front locker will give you better traction and make you less reliant on momentum to get over obstacles. Net result – less chances of breaking something, which isn’t hard in a heavy, powerful car.
  • Diff gear change. Bring the diff ratios back to standard, to offset for the larger tyres.

Finally, if you do decide to buy this 4WD, do the world a favour and invest in a woodgrain and chrome delete.

There’s a company called EC Offroad near Brisbane that will do this for you. For about $6K they’ll bring the Y62’s cabin into this century by deleting the chrome and woodgrain, replacing the tacky, dysfunctional old centre screen with a 12″ unit and installing a digital dash.

Make the world a better place. Say no to chrome and woodgrain.

Would I buy one?

It doesn’t escape me that, with all the upgrades that this car needs to modernise it, it would cost in excess of $130K.

In one way, I’d be paying a shit load of money for a car that is showing its age – both mechanically and aesthetically.

But, in another way, I’d be paying $130K for an extremely competent tourer that will tow a large van all day long and make me smile each time I put the right boot in. All with a soundtrack to match.

The more I think about the extra $30K-70K I’d need to spend on a Toyota, a Land Rover or a Yank Tank, the more I like this car.

Specifications.

The Patrol has a factory-fitted e-locker on the rear diff. Somewhat unusually for a “real Aussie 4WD”, it also has independent suspension all around.

Angle TypeDegrees
Approach37
Ramp-over27
Departure31
Angles are surprisingly good for something of Nissan’s size.

Its wading depth is a respectable 700mm and its wheelbase is 3080mm.

The ground clearance is 272mm. Pretty good, big Nissan!

Pricing.

Expect to pay $80K driveaway for the base-spec Ti and about $100K for the premium Ti-L.

Budget another $15-25K for suspension upgrades and that woodgrain/chrome delete.

All in all, the 4WD will cost you $95-130K.

6. The Toyota LandCruiser 78/79.

Iconic, tough, versatile, but agricultiral.

Best for:

  • Adventurous couples.
  • Folks on a budget.

Proven reliability. Big, lazy V8. Endless modifications are possible. What could possibly go wrong?

Pros.

Out of the blocks, the 70 series should be a towing monster. GVM of 3300 kg, combined with a tare weight of 2175 kg, produces a mind-boggling payload of 1125 kg.

Because Toyota includes fuel in its kerb figures, this payload figure already includes 130 litres of fuel onboard.

Wowsers.

The first problem, of course, is that these figures are quoted by Toyota for a tray configuration. There aren’t many 70 series running around with only a tray on the back. By the time you add a canopy with all of its associated bits, you’ll chew a decent chunk off that payload figure.

Then we have the front and rear axle loadings of 1480 kg and 2300 kg, which total 3780kg. That is 480kg more than the GVM, so you have considerable load flexibility front and rear.

The massive 2300kg rear axle load means that you can add a heavy TBM and have a lot of wiggle room to play with.

The stock V8 comes massively detuned from the factory and a mild dyno tune will bring its power to very respectable levels.

A 70% increase in torque can be achieved through tuners like Ultimate Diesel Tuning. Keep in mind that if you do tune the 79, you’ll need to upgrade its clutch; the stock clutch won’t be able to handle the extra grunt.

The vinyl floors and lack of electrics make the 79 easy to hose out.

Cons.

The 79 was never designed as a touring, towing 4WD. It was originally designed as a mine vehicle. It’s not a practical car. It’s not a comfortable car. The seating position is awkward and the seats are woeful.

This is not a highly maneuverable vehicle. It does not absorb corrugations well. The turning circle is huge at 14.4m, which makes it difficult to drive in the city and offroad.

The 2-speaker stereo can’t cope with the NVH levels.

Next time you see a jacked-up 79 on 35-inch tyres, take a look at the gap between the ground, the diffs and the springs. It’s not great.

The LC79 is prone to getting hung up on the massive leaf pack that sits below the rear axle, lower than the already low diff. On the front, you also have a large diff hanging down, waiting to snag on something.

To make matters worse, the front and rear tracks are different in width. This is because the front diff was widened to accommodate the 4.2L V8.

You will need to add 35-inch tyres if you plan on taking your rig on soft sand and/or offroad tracks. This is typically done in conjunction with a portal axle installation, which lifts the diffs and corrects the rear track at the same time.

Back to the V8 for a moment, it makes a meaty, throaty noise, but don’t be fooled – the car doesn’t go very fast. Fuel consumption is not great either.

Strength of the chassis is a lot worse than the vehicle’s appearance leads you to believe. For context, the LC200’s chassis rails measure 190mm X 90mm vs 140mm X 50mm in the 70 series.

Overall.

“It’s reliable!” Well, yes – because it has no features. There’s nothing to break.

Will you look forward to spending days in it? No.

You can learn to tolerate it, and a lot of (mostly young people on a budget) do, but it’s not what people of age and with some cash in their wallets want.

Thankfully, the 79 series are almost endlessly customisable and upgradeable. If you have a soft spot for an old-school Toyota and have some cash to burn, you can build a powerful, strong, practical and comfortable rig.

GVM upgrades and chops are widely available – and are almost a must if you’re serious about adding a usable canopy. Moving the 79 series’ rear axle back will create a much more balanced, better handling, more safe and practical rig.

Specifications.

Summary.

Prices.

Price of the 70 series went up in 2021 by about $2-5K. Expect to pay between $70-80K, depending on spec.

Prepare to pay more in order to bring the car up to touring car levels of comfort and capability.

You’ll want to upgrade the seats. You’ll also want to tune that V8.

Jmacx recommends that you also replace the manual transmission if you’re planning to tow heavy loads. Widening the rear diff is also a good idea. You’ll also need stronger rear springs and shocks to prevent sagging due to TBM.

All in all, don’t expect to get much change from $100K. If you decide to add a canopy, add another $5K if you’re on a shoestring budget and up to $25K if you want head-turning and highly functional PCOR gear.

GVM upgrades and chassis extensions are obviously extra – and will set you back another $15-25K. This price seems like a lot until you realise that it will include suspension modifications, rear axle and diff upgrades, upgraded rims and tyres as well as new brakes with braided brake lines.

All in all, your 79 series towing, touring rig will cost about $120K, give or take $10K, depending on your preferences.

7. The Utes (D-Max, Amarok, Ranger, Hilux, Navara, BT-50, Triton).

The 2022 Ford Ranger looks great.

Most Aussie 4WD utes are now rated to tow 3,500kg. If that’s the case, why would you fork out another $60,000 on a ‘full-size’ SUV for caravan towing duties?

Pros.

Huge payload, brah.

Cons.

Let’s start with an uncomfortable truth. Dual-cab utes look like a good tow vehicle with their large payloads until you realise that a lot of them can’t tow their max weight when the vehicle is near GVM.

In more practical terms, it means you can’t legally tow a 3,500kg van with any of the 4WD utes available on the Australian market – if you wish to leverage much of the car’s available payload.

Even more pointedly, if you tow 3,500kg with any of the utes, you’ll have about 240kg (Hilux) – 322kg (Ranger) payload left before you hit GCM.

You could push back at me and say “Well, that’s all the payload I need, Steven, thank you very much. I only plan to add myself, my partner and a bullbar”.

That is a reasonable argument – but purely from a legal compliance perspective.

From a physics perspective, you’re in a bit of trouble.

Essentially, you’re planning to attach a 3,500kg weight to the back of a car that weighs about 2200kg. There’s a huge mass discrepancy here, and one that’s not mitigated well by the ute’s relatively skinny rear tyres, lightweight rear end and long rear axle to tow ball distance.

(As a quick segue, the distance from your rear axle to the tow ball is one of the most important factors in ensuring trailer stability. The shorter, the better – because the moment arm that exerts a force on your rear tyres reduces).

Then there’s the issue of towing a 3500kg weight with a 4-cylinder engine. You’ll be placing a lot of demand on it. While it will certainly pull the weight, it will not give you the performance you’ll always want when pulling out onto highways, overtaking and climbing hills.

Pinched visibility. Poor interiors. High NVH.

Tinny, rackety engines that have to work hard.

Overall.

The real sweet spot for towing with utes is the 2,000kg-2,500kg mark. Maybe 3,000kg if you firmly belong in the “Civilised Couple” category and:

  • upgrade the rear springs to restore the steering geometry
  • add a mild engine tune to help

If you want to push beyond 3,000kg, the car will do it, but not in a way that will always feel comfortable, confident and safe.

The van will push your ute around, the car’s lack of torque will make exits on to highways hairy and the suspension’s sag on the rear will translate to poor steering. The boys at 4WD action did a great review of this – check it out:

Yes, you can spend $15-25K on suspension, power and brake upgrades, but in my opinion, you’ll still be trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

Moral of the story?

Utes can tow 3,500kg on paper. But in the real world, doing this will put you behind the wheel of a barely legal, dangerous rig – all the while putting a huge strain on your car’s mechanical components.

Specifications.

Summary.

Prices.

Quick summary here.

My Controversial Recommendations.

First up, know what your vehicle weighs – especially when it’s fully loaded. Most people will be shocked when they run their rig over a weighbridge.

Remember, the GVM of a vehicle includes everything you’ve packed, the accessories fitted, the fuel and the occupants.

Slow down when on a dirt road or track.

Hitting any whoopty-doo, creek, gully or gutter at speed is bound to cause issues. The damage mightn’t be noticeable immediately, but it certainly will be further down the track.

What Do Towing Acronyms Mean?


KERB WEIGHT – This is the vehicle’s weight, with a full tank of fuel. Some manufacturers deviate from this and include the weight of the driver, as well.

GVM – Gross Vehicle Mass. In other words, the most your 4X4 can weigh. It will vary between models and trim levels, but will always be included on the VIN plate.

GCM – Gross Combined Mass, the maximum weight your vehicle and trailer can add up to. Ideally, it should ideally be the GVM and braked tow rating added together, but often it isn’t, which puts a lot of manufacturers’ 3500kg tow rating claims on very shaky ground.
ATM – Aggregate Trailer Mass. The total weight of your caravan.

GTM – Gross Trailer Mass. ATM minus the Tow Ball Mass (TBM).

TBM – Tow Ball Mass. The weight exerted by the caravan on your vehicle’s tow ball. Eats into your payload and must be accounted in your GVM calculations.

PAYLOAD – Difference between the GVM and the
kerb weight of a vehicle. The more payload, the more TBM, passengers, fuel and accessories you 4X4 can carry.

AXLE LOAD – How much weight your vehicle’s individual axles can handle.

BRAKED TOW RATING – How much weight your vehicle can legally tow. This figure is the one most commonly cited by manufacturers – and yet, is the most misleading because it provides no context for how this weight impacts other critical metrics.

What Does Kerb Weight Actually Mean?

In case you’re actually curious about how different manufacturers define kerb weight, this section is for you.

ToyotaThe mass of the vehicle in running order unoccupied and unladen with all fluid reservoirs filled to nominal capacity, including fuel and with all standard equipment.
Land Rover“Unladen weight”, as Land Rover calls it, includes a 75kg driver and 90% fuel.
RamFull fuel, but no driver.
ChevFull fuel, but no driver.
FordIncludes the vehicle with a full tank of fuel, without occupants, luggage or cargo and with all standard equipment.
JeepUnclear. But because of its American heritage, the brand refers to it as “curb” weight. I assume it to be full fluids, full fuel, but no passengers.
MitsubishiKerb weight is the total weight of a vehicle with standard equipment, all necessary operating consumables (e.g. motor oil and coolant), and a full tank of fuel, while not loaded with either passengers or cargo.

8 comments

  1. What a great article Steve, the best I’ve read regarding suitable tow vehicles for large off-road caravans. I’m currently towing a 20’6 OR Zone which are lighter than most but still heavy once you add all the gear and water.
    While you covered just about all the vehicles I’ve considered for an upgrade ( current tug is 200 landcruiser) you didn’t mention the Ford F-150. They weigh around 500Kg less than Ram etc,(aluminium body) front and rear axle rating of 2177Kg and I’m advised by the converters they can tow 4000kg with minimum 1000kg payload. I’d be very interested to hear your views.
    Regards
    Brett

    1. Thank you for the input, Brett. You’re right, I overlooked the F150 completely, having assumed it’s similar in spec to the Rams and Chevs. If the rear axle is indeed 2177kg, that is very, very promising. I’ll take a closer look and report back.

  2. Great article Steve.

    Have just started at looking at a new tug for our 2200kg Coromal Van.
    Currently dragging the van with an Amarok, 2015. It tows very well, and is super comfortable, compared to the BT-50 and the D-Mux.

    ps..”Check Your 4WD’s Maximum Rer Axle Rating” Your missing the ‘a’ !! l

    1. Thanks for spotting the error, Mike – fixed! 2200kg isn’t too heavy in the grand scheme of things. I agree, VW is the best ute out there, but what are you looking to replace it with?

  3. Hey Steve,

    Seriously considering the Amarok TDI550 V6 Core 4Motion.
    Any feedback on this as yet ?

    1. Right, you’re sticking with VW. Great. The V6Core is a great balance of features and cost, but if you can stretch the budget by about $10K, get one of the 580-powered variants, like the Black Edition.

      While the V6Core’s 550Nm engine is already heads and shoulders above 4-cyl ute alternatives, the 190kW/580Nm engine is in a class of its own when it comes to towing and off-road work. Grin inducing stuff.

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