Gone are the days when the off-road capability was an almost unachievable goal on our car purchase wish list. Today, most African countries have seen tremendous growth in infrastructure over the last decade.
However, most rural areas are yet to fully benefit from these developmental strides as they continue to suffer poor roads.
Consequently, plenty of car buyers are now looking to buy multiple utility vehicles that is competent both on and off-road.
That is because, during an average workweek, the vehicle will probably be used to commute to and from work. After that, it doubles up as a safari vehicle during weekends and holidays upcountry.
Fortunately, today’s technology leaves us spoilt for choice as various models easily meet these requirements. Below we discuss five of the most affordable ones, capable of handling both off-road and on-road journeys.
We also highlight the qualities that make these vehicles stand out.
- Toyota Hilux
The arduous and hard-wearing Toyota Hilux is a pick-up truck that comes in two models.
One is a 3-seater single cabin cab, while the other is a 5-seater double/twin cabin cab. No matter the platform you opt for, the vehicle comes with Four-Wheel-Drive as the standard drivetrain.
Depending on your needs, the Hilux is a workhorse that can serve several purposes due to its engine power and tons of cargo space.
For people wishing to use it solely for the business of hauling cargo across the country, then the single cabin will do nicely.
The double cabin is the better choice for buyers who want a multi-purpose vehicle, from a haulage machine to a commuter vehicle and even a family car.
Due to its 4WD and 31cm worth of ground clearance, the Hilux is at home off-road and can wade into streams up to 70cm deep.
Although previous versions of the Hilux were known to notoriously score lowly on the comfort scale when travelling on the tarmac, the 2021 model is a refreshed and better version of its predecessors.
Aside from the roomier cabin and passenger-friendly cabin, the 2021 model carries an assortment of tech features and offers comfortable rides both on and off-road.
Its infotainment is housed in an 8-inch screen and is both Android and Apple compatible.
As far as occupant safety is concerned, today’s Hilux has an autonomous braking system that kicks in to assist the driver where necessary. The car also features seven airbags.
- Isuzu MU-X
The sturdily built and beefy looking Isuzu MU-X is a large dependable SUV that offers quiet drives thanks to its noise reduction feature.
The car seats seven occupants and comes with a three-row seating configuration. Unlike most vehicles with third-row seating, it offers plenty of room and comfort.
The third row has a generous footwell, thus offering comfort for tall passengers even on long journeys. The two rear rows are ventilated through the roof, and climate controls are accessible both at the front and in the second row.
As far as storage is concerned, the car not only has a lot of cargo room, but the second and third rows easily fold down to provide bonus space when you need it.
The vehicle’s finely tuned suspension system absorbs bumps when travelling at low speeds and stabilizes by stiffening up when on high speeds. That makes for cushy rides whether one is on or off-road.
- Toyota RAV4
Another vehicle that manages to score impressively both on and off-road is the Toyota RAV4.
This 5-seater crossover SUV is aggressive enough to handle moderate off-road terrain while maintaining its ride comfort when on the tarmac.
The car comes with a 205hp 2.5Liter four-cylinder engine coupled with 8-speed automatic transmission. Although it is available in various trims, all its variants enjoy an All-Wheel-Drive (AWD) drivetrain, making off-roading a breeze.
With a consumption averaging at 9.0L/100Kms, the RAV4 brings you low mileage and is ideal for running errands as well as for long road trips.
Being a Toyota, maintenance is affordable, and spares are readily available. The icing on the cake is that the car has decent resale value too.
- Subaru Forester
The Subaru Forester joins the list as a 5-seater crossover SUV with competent handling on all kinds of roads.
Unlike some larger SUVs, Subaru Forester’s modest size makes it agile enough to navigate through city traffic on any regular workday.
Nonetheless, its spacious interior means it also converts into a comfortable family vehicle during your weekends and holidays.
With generous leg and headroom for all occupants, the Forester delivers comfortable rides even on long trips.
Its interior features a chic aesthetic, with a panoramic moonroof and a well-appointed infotainment set-up.
Its intuitive technological and safety features include standard cruise control and lane departure warning systems, and automated emergency braking.
- Nissan X Trail
The Nissan X Trail is a 5-seater with a low body roll when driving on tarmacked roads.
Its intelligent ride control feature is there to reduce oscillations and encourage smooth rides on bumpy roads.
As an off-road vehicle, it comes in AWD and has bonus features such as the hill-start assist mechanism.
It is a system that uses sensors to detect when the vehicle is idling on an incline and adjusts the brake pressure accordingly to allow you to switch to acceleration.
The hill-start assist keeps the car from rolling on an incline and is a nifty feature to have when scaling hilly terrain at low speeds.
While its ground clearance might not be as impressive as that on the Hilux, the Xtrail nonetheless holds its own when off-roading. It also comes with a greater degree of interior comfort.
ABOUT AUTHOR: James Gatheru, a seasoned safari director with tons of experience in the tourism sector across Africa, and the owner of AJKenya Safaris (ajkenyasafaris.com)