Dubai: Want to go dune-bashing but don’t own/can’t afford a 4x4 vehicle? What if I told you that you can indulge in this popular UAE leisure activity without breaking the bank? Fact is, you can buy a used, reliable, Japanese 4WD for less than Dh10,000 in the UAE, and hit the spectacular desert trails and gorgeous sand dunes this country offers.

What is a 4WD?

The UAE is SUV Central. Although all 4WDs are SUVs, all SUVs are not 4WDs. A real 4WD has two axles providing torque to four axle ends. It is equipped with a transfer case that switches between two-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive modes. For instance, a Honda CRV, which is a small SUV, is good for negotiating some gravel here, a puddle there. But it’s not conquering the Big Red. In other words, it’s not a 4x4 vehicle. Examples of proper 4WDs include the Toyota Land Cruiser (and the Prado), Nissan Patrol, Jeep Wrangler etc. But these vehicles hold their value well, and it is difficult to find even 15-year-old drivable ones for less than Dh20,000. But there are other, almost equally capable off-roaders, that you can buy used for Dh10,000 or less here in the UAE.

So lower the tyre pressure, put the gear in low, and lock up the diffs. It’s time to go off-road!

1) Mitsubishi Pajero (2005 to 2006)

Mitsubishi Pajero (2005 to 2006)-1571912408121

The Mitsubishi Pajero is perhaps the most bang-for-the-buck vehicle you can buy new in the UAE. For well under Dh100,000, you get a mid-size seven-seater that is comfortable, reliable, and, above all, a genuine 4WD. It is the reason you see so many thousands of them plying the roads of Dubai. First launched in 1982, the Pajero became a legend following its unrivalled success in the gruelling Dakar Rally, an annual off-road endurance rally originally held from Paris to the Senegalese city of Dakar. Due to security concerns, the rally has moved to South America since 2009 (and is coming to Saudi Arabia in 2020). The Pajero bagged a record 12 wins in the Dakar. It comes with Mitsubishi’s famous ‘Super Select’ four-wheel drive system that enables the vehicle to tackle challenging terrain without breaking a sweat.

You can now easily buy acceptable examples of the Pajero (model years 2004 to 2006) for Dh10,000 or less. Almost all Pajeros in the UAE are GCC specs, and mileages for the 2004 to 2006 models typically range from 175,000km to 250,000km. But don’t let that stop you from going for it - provided there is a service history. I should know; I have owned a 2006 model for the past 10 years, and have had no major issues. The car now has 230,000km on it but I won’t think twice about jumping into it and heading on a 1,000km drive! With regular maintenance, these cars can last for 500,000km or more.

2) Nissan Pathfinder (2002 to 2005)

Nissan Pathfinder (2002 to 2005)-1571912409461

The current generation Pathfinder has become a ‘soft-roader’, a derisive term off-road enthusiasts use to describe vehicles that are not up to the mark. But the older generation of Pathfinders (pre-2013) were bona fide 4WDs. Like the Pajero, this is another reliable Japanese off-roader that is tailor-made for taking on the rough stuff. There are plenty of perfectly functional ones (again, with high mileage) on the streets of the UAE. Your best bet is a 2004 or 2005 model (known as the R50 series). Like the Pajero, Pathfinders are popular with families, and owners tend to have them over a long period of time. You are best off buying from someone who’s had the vehicle either since new or for five years or more. Again, don’t be deterred by high mileage as long as there are service records. Used spare parts for the Pathfinder are easy to find in the amazing Sharjah Industrial Area.

3) Suzuki Jimny (2000 to 2008)

Suzuki Jimny (2000 to 2008)-1571912411715

This little masterpiece from Japan has been sold in 194 countries, under different names, since 1970. In India, it is sold as the Maruti Gypsy, and has become one of the biggest automotive hits in the country.

The Jimny has a (by UAE standards) tiny 1.3 litre engine. But be not fooled by the size; this reliable vehicle can be almost as off-road capable as the Prado or the Wrangler. It is an old-school 4x4 with solid axles on both the front and rear, and a proper low-range transfer case. It also comes in a ladder frame (a body-on-frame chassis, basically). Since it’s small and light, the Jimny doesn’t need a big engine. And what it lacks in size, it more than makes up in its off-road ability. However, this vehicle is suitable for you only if your main goal is to go off roading; the Jimny is not the world’s most comfortable vehicle for daily driving.

That’s the reason it didn’t sell too well in the UAE – most people who buy SUVs buy them because they want a big family vehicle for daily use, as 90 per cent of the time, these vehicles are used on the roads and not in the desert.

4) Mitsubishi Pajero iO (1998 to 2007)

Mitsubishi Pajero (1998 to 2007)-1571912406114

Like the Jimny, the Pajero iO (not to be confused with its aforementioned big brother) is a small, but capable off-road vehicle. With a 1.8-litre, V4 engine, it comes with the go-anywhere off-road capability, yet decent on-road performance, of the Pajero. The reason it didn’t sell much in the UAE, I suspect, was that the price difference new between this one and the big Pajero was not enough to justify purchasing this. However, good examples of these vehicles can now be bought for well under Dh10,000, and if it is just off-road fun that you are looking for, this is a better option than the big Pajero as it gives much better gas mileage. The compact size also provides good manoeuvrability, and the cabin space is better than what you get in the Jimny. Plus, it also comes with the all-important ‘Made in Japan’ tag.

5) Chevrolet TrailBlazer (2002 to 2008)

Chevrolet TrailBlazer (2002 to 2008)-1571912404066

The only non-Japanese entry in this list, the old TrailBlazer was a decently equipped 4WD that came with the added comfort of very good on-road ride quality. The best versions of the old TrailBlazers in the UAE come in Japanese specs, and can be bought from the Al Aweer market or, better still, from those who have already bought it from there, and registered it locally. While the TrailBlazer might not be quite as off-road capable as the Pajero in the desert, its robust suspension and drive train make it really good for gravel and hard, bouncy trails. A well-appointed ’Blazer is also very comfortable for long drives, while hauling a lot of stuff inside and is especially popular in North America.