Project: Budget 4×4

After the massive enjoyment factor delivered by my Range Rover last year, I decided I just had to get another 4×4. You may recall that the Rangie had to go due to a heater problem and the onset of winter. I’m still not sure it was the right decision, but too late now…

After anxiously enjoying a mild winter, that has generally failed to deliver OMG SNO KAOS thus far, I felt it was time to get another 4×4. A sensible person would wait until March, because 4×4 prices tend to slump as the weather gets milder. Not me though. I reckoned that if I was lucky, I’d grab a bargain despite the season. I was helped by mild conditions that have left people less desperate to get a 4×4 themselves.

Ebay is just one tool for finding a car. I’d also gone along to a Brightwells 4×4 auction for a magazine feature (to be featured later in the year in 4×4 Magazine – another reason to get a 4×4 again!), and watched the bidding with interest. Very little was coming into my meagre budget in either avenue, though perusing many classifieds sites left me in hope that I could achieve a purchase. The question was what do I go for?

I decided I didn’t much care as long as it was within budget, and this technique can be useful. I still drew up a short list. I decided I wanted reliability, solidity, a low-range gearbox and something that wouldn’t be horrific on the road. Mitsubishi Pajeros were an early contender, but they’re not as reliable as you may think. Both 2.5 (head gaskets) and 2.8 (cracked heads) have their issues, and they’re a bit blingy. Vauxhall Fronteras looked to fit the bill, but they’ve always been a bit agricultural, and they’ve had some poor engines fitted over the years.

A forgotten vehicle is the Ford Maverick, also known as the Nissan Terrano II. In fact, Ford’s input was a heap of cash and a box of blue oval badges, so the design is 100% Nissan, down to the engines and the factory they were built in – Nissan’s Spanish one. I’d never driven one, but they were well regarded when new for good road manners and decent off-road behaviour – the latter due to low ratio gears, a separate chassis, good ground clearance and a limited slip rear differential. I began to cast around for an example and had a look on Ebay. I was surprised to find one up for auction in Swansea. It had two minutes to go but hadn’t managed to attract an opening bid of £500. This despite MOT and Tax. Sure, the pictures weren’t brilliant and the text ran to an entire 74 words, but surely this was a bargain? I clicked ‘bid’ and began to very much hope so!

I didn’t have long to wait to see if anyone else would bid. No-one did. I was the winner! Now the anxiety really began to kick in. I’d not bought a car blind since our Mini in 2006. It’s generally a bad idea I think, but 2 minutes didn’t give me time to drive to Swansea and back. I had to be brave.

Maverick 2.4i petrol swb

New purchase seems actually quite good...

I also had to plan how I’d get there. Public transport in Wales is very hit and miss and Arriva didn’t really help by refusing to indicate what their bus fares were. Happily, a friend of a friend offered me a lift for fuel money. A lot easier, even if it was in a Vauxhall Tigra (not a bad little car really, bar the horrific ride). There were issues getting hold of my money (thanks to banks) but eventually the amount of £500 was acquired and I could go buy a car.

On arrival, it certainly looked good. There was a dent (as shown on Ebay) below the left-hand rear side window, and a few scratches, but otherwise all was well. It started first turn of the key, ran smoothly and a quick test drive failed to reveal anything suspicious. Cash was handed over, the V5 was signed and we were on our way. After a cup of tea… (some sellers are very nice!)

I really wanted a Maverick or Terrano with the excellent 2.7 Turbo Diesel engine, but this £500 Maverick had to make do with the Nissan 2.4-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine. That means torque is not exactly prodigious, but it’s possible to make good progress without having to wring its neck. In fact, my pal in the Tigra was surprised at how quick it could be – though that’s often said of people trying to keep up with me in the 2CV as well. It’s not what you’ve got…

Not that I was hurtling into bends with reckless abandon. You can’t help feeling that it’s going to fall over if you really push it, though I’m sure it’s more stable than it appears. Certainly, I was able to push on a bit later in the journey, encouraged by accurate steering and reassuring grip.

The ride was a touch bouncy, but not as bad as I expected. Sure, it’s some way short of Range Rover composure, but then it handles far less like a wallowy barge. One real surprise is how tight the turning circle it is, especially after a day behind the wheel of a Mitsubishi Delica L400! (see separate Blog once I’ve written it…). The gearchange is as I like it. Very tight but quite clunky, as if you can feel the cogs merging when you change.

In fact, the only downside was very squeaky windscreen wipers. They were horrific! Happily I cured them with some spray grease when I got home.

There are some other minor grumbles, but way fewer than you might expect of a cheap ‘banger’ such as this. Some interior trim is broken and the electric windows are both slow. More grease should help here. I’m also slightly concerned at the lack of a ‘following’ for these vehicles. Forum help and advice is never in short supply if you own a Range Rover or Pajero.

I reckon it might just be the perfect car for me at the moment though. I look forward to putting it through its paces off-road!

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