Are The 4×4 Basics Truly Enough? How Much Do You Really Need?

Some global 4x4s offer the sheer basics for much less money

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is BAW-Warrior-Pickup-3695-Wheel-Base-Double-Cab-1024x659.jpg

What if I asked you, “are the 4×4 basics all you need?”

You may be asking, what are these “4×4 basics” I’m talking about? I’m referring to, what is already assumed by automakers. Simply put: the off-road features we can’t live without. I’m talking about the items that are automatically crammed inside just about every 4×4 on the market.

This bare-bones 2020 Jeep Wrangler Sport comes in at just under $30,000 with no options. [Image: Jeep]

When I did my writeup and video for the least expensive “real” 4x4s you could buy, I noticed something. The beefy 4×4 equipped with lockers and higher end suspensions are pricey. That’s true, but the base models were expensive too. Why?

If you look at the upcoming Ford Bronco, Jeep Wrangler and various midsize 4X4 pickup trucks with NO options, you’ll be lucky to spend less than $30,000. That’s a lot of cabbage for a vehicle considered to be “base” and even “primitive.”

The base level Bronco will set you back about $30,000 – if you’re lucky.
(Image: Ford)

I have a few questions for you:

  • Do we need a badass, 100-watt infotainment system?
  • Are you able to live without power windows?
  • Can a proper 4×4 exist without hill-decent control?
  • Would you be okay in the dirt without air-conditioning?
  • Are coil-spring suspensions that important to you?

These are just a few questions, and many may answer, “yes“! My point here is this: What if you could strip down a new vehicle — one that’s street legal — to its off-road basics? What if automakers gave you the option to buy something that was an animal off-road, but kind of lame on the streets?

Would you buy it?

Since we started TFL, going back over a decade now, may off-road enthusiasts have been rather vocal. Recently, in a Mahindra Thar video (kind of a cheaper, primitive Wrangler) – many of you showed interest. No, not just our viewers from India, but locals too.

Why? Because it was very inexpensive.

Granted, federalizing a vehicle costs a ton of money. A lot of dough is spent on making the vehicle safe. That’s one of many reasons a vehicle like the Mahindra Thar would never be sold here. Never mind the chicken tax and ongoing FCA litigation.

Personally, if I could buy a not-so-safe-by-U.S.-standards off-road truck for the same prices as a bare-bones economy car – I would love it.

I began to wonder, would some of you be interested in real primitive vehicles like the Chinese diesel (and gas) 4X4 I have on top of the page? A new one would run less than $15,000 – but it wouldn’t be as safe or practical as one from the local market. Still, it has solid axles (similar to Dana 44s), locking center diff and a manual transmission.

These BAW trucks are built on a ladder frame, have diesel and gas 4-banger engines along with a primitive (but functional) interior.

Yep, you can get one of these as an SUV too.

My point here, and I’m curious if any of you agree, is: can (or would) automakers consider making something more primitive? If they could, would you buy it? I would.

Let me know what you think!

Speaking of awesome 4X4s that cannot be sold here…

Easily amused by anything with four wheels, Nathan Adlen reviews vehicles from the cheapest to the most prestigious. Wrecking yards, dealer lots, garages, racetracks, professional automotive testing and automotive journalism - Nathan has experienced a wide range of the automotive spectrum. Brought up in the California car culture and educated in theater, childhood education, film, journalism and history, Nathan now lives with his family in Denver, CO. His words, good humor and video are enjoyed worldwide.