Updated: Mar 21, 2021
Why I chose the 200 Series GX for my outback build.
An image from PerformanceDrive's excellent review of the GX
This is a quick post about how I ended up choosing the 200 GX for my build. Even if you're thinking of a different vehicle, I hope the process might be helpful for your own project.
What's it for?
The critical first step in any build is to ask yourself: what is it for?
My current overland machine is a 2016 Nissan Navara (or Frontier in the North
American market), modified for outback travel. It has been an excellent touring machine for our family, but it is not without its limitations.
As we became more experienced overlanders, we became more ambitious about the places we wanted to go. For me, the ultimate outback trip is the Canning Stock Route - 1,850km of two wheel tracks, no mechanic, no shop, no fuel, no people and no water.
I knew my next vehicle would tackle the Canning Stock Route. Where I needed to make tough decisions, it would be the vehicle's suitability for the CSR that will guide my hand.
What does it need?
Separating needs from wants helps control the budget and narrow the choices.
Image from 4x4 Earth's helpful CSR Q&A page, a must-read for would-be adventurers
The CSR requires four essential things of a vehicle:
Safety and reliabiliy
Endurance for 1,000km / up to 10 days (food, fuel and water)
Durability over millions of chassis-rattling corrugations (see image above)
Space and comfort for my family of four.
There are also some 'highly desirable' features for the CSR:
Diesel engine (unleaded fuel is not widely available in the true outback, but it can be found)
Automatic transmission (I have an old ankle injury that makes heavy clutches a chore)
Very wide aftermarket support (in terms of accessories and modifications)
17" wheels or smaller
Live axles (spinifex blades play merry hell with CV joint boots).
I will also use the vehicle as a daily driver - the curse of not being rich - so while my commute is short (15 minutes) and I live in a country town with few parking hassles or traffic jams, urban performance is still important.
There isn't a vehicle on the market that actually meets all of my criteria.
I had a quick look at the following and rejected them:
Mercedes G Wagen Professional: Very close to perfect, but not widely supported by the aftermarket industry in Australia. Adding extra fuel and water would require custom fabrication, which is more time and money than I have to spend. Also, zero chances of the mechanic in Newman stocking parts. And having driven them in ADF guise, they're intensely slow and noisy on the highway.
Nissan Y62 Patrol: Tempting, but finding petrol for it could be tricky, and how well it runs on Opal fuel* is not known. I scoured forums for people regularly using it on Opal and found none. It's also difficult to improve the payload compared with more popular choices. And I worry about how well the luxe interior and HBMC hydraulic suspension would hold up to the rigours of the outback. If they still sold the bare-bones ST model in Australia, I might have been tempted.
Any dual cab utility: Out of the question. For one thing, I already have one. For another, despite the impressive theoretical payload it's quite difficult to actually load one up with the hundreds of kilograms of fuel, water and gear that the CSR needs and still stay safe and legal. Possible, but harder than you'd think. The expense of building a proper camping canopy erodes the price advantage. And (this is the big bit) as a tall bloke with tall kids, I find the cabin space just too small.
Toyota Fortuner: Too expensive for what you get.
Mitsubishi Pajero Sport: 18" wheels and no possibility of smaller - hard pass!
Mitsubishi Pajero: Tempting, and a bargain. I've owned one before so I know they're good. But, as they age they are increasingly being bought as dedicated tow tugs. Few manufacturers make the necessary GVM upgrades and long range tanks it would need. It was a great car in its day, but its day is fading fast.
Ford Everest: Way too expensive. Why would you buy this over a Prado?
Isuzu MU-X: I loveable little wagon with a bulletproof engine, but too small inside and out.
Jeep Wrangler Unlimited: Too small, too limited in payload. Cool for a weekend toy but not made for the outback.
Big American pick ups: Ram 1500, Silverado etc. Too expensive, not well supported by the aftermarket, unclear how well they'd hold up to thousands of miles of corrugations.
Toyota 79 Series dual cab: Tempting on paper, but the extra size over a Hilux or Ranger somehow translates into even less cabin space. To even fit my knees under the wheel I had to ram the drivers' seat back until it touched the rear bench, making the car a three seater.
4WD light truck: Iveco, Hino, Fuso etc. Not as expensive as you'd think, but not feasible for commuting to work in either - best left for those who can afford a dedicated overlanding rig in addition to their daily driver.
*Opal fuel is a low-aromatic unleaded petrol sold in indigenous communities in the outback, and is not suited to engines requiring premium unleaded fuel
Taking in all the requirements, I quickly narrowed down the field to three.
I promise I'm not a Toyota fanboy. In fact I worked this list backwards and forwards looking for ways I could put the Patrol on it, because I really, really like that car. But in the end there's a reason 90% of the vehicles plying the tracks of the outback are one of these:
L-R: Toyota 76 Series, Prado, and 200 Series
This highlights the value of knowing what the build was for and what the vehicle needed to achieve that: the Patrol is a phenomenal vehicle, and it is probably better at technical off-road work than the 200. If my build was for a trip to the West Coast of Tasmania or exploring the High Country where technical 4WD ability is critical, it might have made the cut. For the CSR, it did not.
At one point, I was convinced I was going to buy each of these vehicles. I did up a budget for kitting out a Prado. I took a half-day test drive in a 200. I even paid a deposit on a 76. All of these vehicles can easily be modified to tackle the CSR. But none of them is a perfect fit:
The 76 Series has a manual gearbox and a notoriously not-very-good clutch; it's also a bit tight on rear seat leg room
The Prado has some serious reputation problems after early issues with its 2.8 litre engine (now resolved), and is arguably under-powered at high gross weights
The 200 Series has a reputation for poor air filtration (Google 'dusted engine') and is a bit wider than I'd like for narrow bush tracks.
So how did I pick the 200?
Making the choice
I tried to imagine actually living with each of these vehicles, day in and day out, for years.
While the 76 would be my number one choice while actually on the CSR, a lot of the time I'd rather be in literally anything else. The low gearing, simple cabin, rugged suspension, and 1980s aerodynamics that make it so very, very good in the bush are barely tolerable anywhere else.
The Prado is the most suited to the daily commute, and the 76 is the least. The Prado has cameras and sensors and supermarket-friendly steering and lots of cupholders, and the 76 has literally none of those things.
The long days of highway driving to get to the CSR favour the Prado (with its family friendly feature list) or the 200 (with its turbine-smooth V8 and effortless overtaking), but would be much less pleasant in the noisy, high-revving 76.
So that's why I picked the 200. It's not as good off-road as the 76 is, but it's close. It's not as good at the school run as the Prado, but it's close. It's about equal with the Prado for highway driving, and it's comfortably ahead of the 76 for anything that isn't off road.
It is, in short, a solid B+ across every box of its report, whereas the other choices all have a mix of As and Cs.
Why the GX?
If you're buying a 200 Series for overlanding, don't bother with anything except the GX.
My 200 Series, waiting for me at the dealer
The GX is not just the cheapest, it comes pre-installed with overland-ready features:
barn door tailgate (which will make sense when you see how I mount the spare wheel)
extra underbody protection plates
outback-friendly vinyl flooring
a proper key (no worries about the batteries like in keyless start models)
the highest payload
the largest cargo space (thanks to the five seat-only configuration)
a dust-separating snorkel
17" steel wheels.
It also retains all of the great features common to the rest of the 200 Series range:
off-road turn assistance
locking centre differential
built-in tow hitch receiver
138L fuel capacity in two tanks, readily upgradeable to 270L.
Really, if you're in the market for a 200 Series to build up for overlanding, you'd be crazy to look at anything else.
The 200 GX doesn't meet all of my criteria. How will I fix that?
The 200's only shortfall from my essential and desirable lists is the axles. It does not have live axles at both ends - it's a live axle rear, independent front arrangement like most modern utes.
My main concern with independent suspension is nothing to do with strength, load capacity, ground clearance, or many of the other urban myths still trotted out by Old Mates. No, the problem with IFS and serious outback work is spinifex.
If you're travelling early in the season, or on a rarely-used track, and you're the guy knocking down the grass, you run a real risk of the razor sharp stuff slicing open your CV boots, which then leak grease at the same rate they attract dust, and next minute you're in three wheel drive.
It sounds implausible, but Mick Hutton over at Beadell Tours has plenty of examples of it happening on his trip reports.
What's the fix? Well, firstly the 200's CV's are quite well protected by the front end suspension design. Toyota have put some thought into it. But just to be sure, I plan to:
inspect the boots at every stop to check for the tell-tale grease spray
carry pieces of old rubber inner tube, some hose clamps, and fencing wire to improvise a sleeve to cover a minor tear
practice removing a damaged CV and sealing the diff housing at home
possibly order a spare complete half-shaft and carry it on extremely remote tracks (fortunately, the 200 has symmetric left/right shafts, unlike some other vehicles).
With those measures in place, the 200 is as good as it gets.
Did I make the right decision? Comment below.