As more modern cars join the classic canon, now is the time to look at which SUVs are emerging as the classic cars of tomorrow.
With younger buyers coming into the older car market, tastes and trends change, so yesterday’s SUV is set to be tomorrow’s collectable car.
We’ve looked at which SUVs are about to earn their spurs as blossoming classics and we’ve listed them in chronological order:
Nissan Patrol (1980)
While Toyota FJ Land Cruiser prices have gone stratospheric in recent years, the third generation 160 Series of Nissan Patrol remains under the radar. That’s good news for anyone looking for a serious off-roader with classic credentials. The 4.2-litre petrol and diesel engines are desirable for how understressed they are and they give superb off-road pulling power.
The Patrol is not as opulent inside as a Range Rover, but later models gained more comforts so are the ones to aim for unless you want an apocalypse-beating 4x4. Check rust hasn’t eaten into the chassis, but otherwise this long-lived generation of Patrol will soldier on forever. Prices from £8000.
Isuzu Trooper (1981)
This might be going out on a limb, but the first generation Isuzu Trooper is a big SUV worth seeking out now before prices rise. You may ask why and we’ll tell you that as Toyota Land Cruiser FJ values rocket, its alternatives will be pulled up as buyers look for cheaper alternatives. Few are more sturdy and ready for adventure than the Trooper.
Don’t expect much in the way of refinement from this off-roader that lasted from 1981 to ’91. Do expect faithful hound reliability and basic but easy to work on mechanics. Officially, it was imported to the UK from 1987 in three- and five-door forms, but earlier imports are nothing to fear. There aren’t many out there, but they cost from £5000.
Daihatsu Fourtrak (1984)
Daihatsu recognised there was a gap in the 4x4 market for a car that could do everything a Land Rover Defender could but was more comfortable and cheaper than a Range Rover. This resulted in the Fourtrak, though on-road manners were tempered by leaf springs all-round and solid axles. Still, this made it exceptionally good in the mud.
A second generation model arrived in 1993 with new chassis and coil-sprung suspension. This is the one we’d root out as it comes with a Toyota-sourced 2.8-litre turbodiesel that’s slow but built to last forever. Prices are cheap for Fourtraks and we’d find a second generation car with seven seats to take friends and family along. Second-generation models are available from £8000.
Suzuki Vitara (1988)
Suzuki absolutely nailed it with the Vitara. Where the earlier SJ models that now enjoy full-on classic credibility were very basic, the Vitara offered hatchback comforts. Coil springs gave a decent ride and handling balance mixed with strong off-road ability, while a 1.6-litre petrol engine and later V6 made it much more civilised at speed. If you couldn't stretch to a Land Rover Discovery, the Vitara was the business.
Finding a first generation Vitara in standard condition might be the hardest part of enjoying this classic SUV. Many were primped in period, which holds a certain charm for some, but we’d look for an unsullied three-door hard top. The five-door makes a good family classic too. Prices from £4500.
Toyota Land Cruiser (1989)
Earlier Toyota Land Cruiser generations now attract big bucks from classic car fiends, so the way into one of these iconic SUVs for sane money is with the 80 Series. Launched at the Tokyo Motor Show in 1989, it’s as indestructible as all other Land Cruisers, so all you need to look out for is rust in the chassis and off-road abuse.
These 4x4s will soak up huge mileages, so don’t fret about the odometer reading. Instead, check out the service history for regular maintenance and inspect the interior to be sure it’s not a builder’s yard on wheels. The later 4.5-litre petrol engine is the pick of the bunch, though don’t expect economy to break out of the teens on this affordable classic 4x4. Prices from £5000.
Mitsubishi Shogun (1991)
Mitsubishi took the rugged strength of the first generation Shogun and combined it with a big dollop of comfort when it introduced the second gen V20 version. More rounded in its looks and driving manners, the V20 rapidly gained a massive following with those who wanted a serious off-roader blended with on-road comfort and unerring reliability.
Today, there are still plenty of V20s conducting their business with customary ease. The diesel engines are easier on the wallet, but for those looking for a low-cost way into a classic SUV we reckon the smooth 3.0- or 3.5-litre petrol V6s are more appealing. Either way, it’s a classy and class-less way to show up to a cars and coffee meet. There’s plenty out there - a testament to how tough they are - prices are from £2000.
Jeep Grand Cherokee (1993)
Jeep has a long tradition of building big, wafty SUVs and can claim to have beaten Range Rover to the whole luxury SUV idea, but it’s the first generation ZJ Grand Cherokee that has our attention here. Don’t bother with the rattly, slug slow, crude 2.5-litre diesel and head straight for the petrols. The 4.0-litre six-cylinder is most common and very strong, though the V8s could happily lure us in for their noise and pace.
Chassis rot is your main concern when picking a Grand Cherokee and check the brakes are in fine condition as they have a lot of work to do stopping this hefty machine. After that, you can settle into the button-backed leather and enjoy your lofty perch in this classic from Jeep. Prices from £2000.
Toyota RAV4 Mk1 (1994)
As hot hatches became all but uninsurable, Toyota found another way to lure in buyers wanting an alternative the standard family hatch: the Recreational Active Vehicle with 4-wheel drive or RAV4 for short. It had a Land Rover Discovery-esque look and you could have the sensible five-door or the funky three-door with convertible top. Both came with nifty handling and a willing 2.0-litre petrol engine, so there was some fun to be had in the driving.
Toyota’s quality of construction and reliability mean there are loads of early RAV4s out there, though look for ones that have had a pampered life. Find a sound one and you’ll have an emerging classic that’s more than up to being used all year round. While rough and ready examples are out there from under £1000, tidier ones cost from £1500.
Range Rover P38A (1994)
Long before Rolls-Royce, Bentley and others offered luxury 4x4s, Range Rover was one of the few options in town. When it launched the second generation P38A model, it moved this game on with more sophisticated suspension, equipment and features. It was supremely cosseting and capable.
In later life, the P38A suffered a fall from grace as reliability woes combined with penny-pinching owners made it a laughing stock. However, there are cared-for examples out there and a wealth of knowledge to make them reliable. Once sorted, this is a massively refined example of the SUV breed that deserves its place in the classic world. Reasonably tidy examples without huge mileages are priced from £2000.
Honda CR-V Mk1 (1995)
Honda has claimed the CR-V kickstarted the whole lifestyle SUV market and it can claim some justification here. It shunned all-wheel drive in favour of front-drive with on-demand power sent to the back when traction floundered. It was enough to convince buyers the CR-V was a bona fide SUV along with its high-riding style.
What really made the CR-V a hit, however, was its family-friendly nature. You could pack kids and kit in with ease, while strong build quality ensures there are still plenty of first generation CR-Vs around. The 125bhp 2.0-litre petrol is your only option and gives the Honda decent performance allied to agile handling. As a bargain bucket SUV classic, it’s hard to go wrong with the CR-V. Lots are out there, a proof of their dependability, with prices from £1000.
Mercedes ML (1997)
The Mercedes ML gained its name from BMW raising an eyebrow at its biggest rival initially wanting to call its new SUV the ‘M’. With the name suitably adjusted, the W163 ML got on with selling in numbers as big as its physical size, helped by being ahead of BMW’s X5 by some two years at launch.
An early reputation for poor build quality was addressed in later models and the appeal of the ML was undiminished, as witnessed by 628,244 finding homes between 1997 and 2005. The underpowered 2.7-litre turbodiesel appealed to company drivers but less to anyone who with a notion of enjoying the drive. This makes the petrol motors more appealing and the big V8s are solidly reliable.
For real fun, though, seek out the ML55 AMG that gives 0-60mph in 6.9 seconds and is easily the most desirable model to bag now while prices are low. Prices from £1000 for the standard models, while AMGs cost from £4000.
Daihatsu Terios (1997)
The appeal of the first generation Daihatsu Terios lies in its simplicity. So small it qualified for kei car status in Japan, it came with four-wheel drive and a 1.3-litre engine. It was never a great on-road driving experience, but on the loose it could cope with far more than you thought possible.
We’d look for a later facelifted car from 2000-on for the more powerful 86bhp engine rather than the earlier 82bhp unit. That extra 4bhp makes a difference when batting around country lanes. As a way of enjoying some no-frills motoring in winter, the Terios is a brilliantly simple retro classic. Decent examples cost from £1500.
Land Rover Freelander Mk1 (1997)
The Freelander may not have been first to arrive in its class, but itbrought the Land Rover name with it and all that implied for off-road talent. Along with the Freelander’s cabin space, comfort and on-road dynamics, it was enough to convince more than half a million buyers to part with their cash and make it the best-selling SUV in Europe for a period.
Nowadays, the Freelander is interesting to classic buyers as the first Land Rover with unitary construction, all-round independent suspension and a transversely mounted engine. The 1.8-litre K-Series motor did have problems with head gaskets blowing, but this is easily solved. We’d pay more attention to the rear differential and any noises emanating from it. It’s simple to replace, so use it as a bargaining tool to bag a brilliant modern SUV classic. While there are examples out there for just £500, we suggest spending more than £1000 to get one with a lower mileage and more service history.
Land Rover Discovery 2 (1998)
At first glance, the 1998 Mk2 Land Rover Discovery was little more than a facelift of the original 1989 car. However, only the rear door was common and the Discovery 2 was a longer, plusher car. You could still order the Rover V8 if you wanted a petrol engine, but most opted for the frugal and equally torquey 2.5-litre Td5 turbodiesel.
This diesel engine is the one we’d choose to offset running costs and the manual gearbox is better than the sluggish auto. Most Discovery 2s will have smart bodywork but check the chassis closely for rot, particularly at the rear. Also look for water leaking in through the sunroofs, but find one that’s leak- and rot-free and you’ll have a great all-round SUV modern classic. Long MOT examples are available from £1500.
BMW X5 (1999)
BMW’s route to the E53 X5 included buying Land Rover to gain the best 4x4 experience in the world. Such thoroughness paid off and the X5 was an instant hit when launched in 1999. It was the must-have SUV and it was easy to see why with handsome looks and a well-appointed cabin.
BMW added to the X5’s appeal with updated engines and even an X5M with bespoke 4.8-litre engine. There are some well-known hurdles to reliability that can be overcome with equally widespread fixes, so running an X5 as a modern classic is simpler and cheaper than you might think. It also appeals to some for being the last mainstream production model before the switch to Chris Bangle’s divisive styling influence. Tidy examples cost from £2000.
Subaru Forester S-Turbo (1999)
There’s no point beating about the bush, the Forester S-Turbo is the only one of Subaru’s worthy SUV range you should seek out. Why? Because it has all of the virtues of the others in the line-up but with a whizzy 2.0-litre turbocharged engine that delivers 175bhp and much of the feel of the Impreza Turbo 2000.
All-wheel drive gives the S-Turbo plenty of grip, even if the car leans to quite a degree through corners. That’s all part of the fun and the engine loves to rev. It’s not especially quick by today’s standard with 0-60mph in 9.3 seconds, but it’s the way this car drives that entertains so much and makes it a modern classic at a pocket money price. From £1800.
Lexus RX300 (2001)
Lexus had been building the Harrier since 1998, but it took until 2001 for it to arrive in the UK as the RX300. Relatively compact, it sat between the Land Rover Freelander and Discovery in size and appealed for the vast amounts of standard equipment Lexus included. Superb reliability also helped find buyers, though some found the RX bland in looks and driving style.
Much of the RX’s emerging classic standing comes from it being a more left-field choice than a BMW or Mercedes, plus you can go for a later model with hybrid power to claim some eco points. We like it for it way it transports you in relaxed hush on high days and holidays, and it’s also perfectly able to deal with everyday duties. Reasonable number of nice examples are out there from £1500.
Range Rover L322 (2002)
If you were ever in any doubt that a 4x4 could double as a luxury car, the third generation Range Rover knocked those thoughts out of the park. Priced to compete with the likes of the Mercedes S-Class, it also had the equipment, comfort and presence to tempt buyers away.
And tempted they were in droves. The L322 was a huge success even if the most popular diesel model was a little underpowered by its BMW-sourced 3.0-litre six-cylinder motor. That BMW heritage was expunged when parent company Ford swapped to Jaguar-derived engines with the 2006 facelift. Finding a cared-for L322 is becoming trickier, but the leap it represents in the Land Rover’s history and direction marks it out for classic status. Though examples can be from just £1800, we suggest you pay more to get lower mileages and more service history.
Volvo XC90 (2002)
It’s a testament to how right the Volvo XC90 was from the off that it lasted in largely unchanged form for 13 years. That’s very rare in today’s automotive world, yet the first generation XC90 continued to sell strongly right to the end. It’s this essential right-ness that makes it a nouveau classic to bag now rather than wait till numbers thin.
By far and away the most common engine is the five-cylinder turbodiesel in the UK and Europe and it’s a very strong unit. The six-cylinder T6 petrol is not so reliable, but the Yamaha-designed4.4-litre V8 is a cracker but rare. Make sure the automatic gearbox and rear differential are sound and check the leather isn’t cracked. Otherwise, this is modern classic motoring before values begin to climb. From £1200.