Feature: Imports Abroad

Feature: Imports Abroad

Story by Spencer Whitney

When I first started driving off-road vehicles, there was a lot of choice in the used market. Second-hand Jeeps were inexpensive, plentiful, had low mileage and most importantly, were un-modified and un-abused. I bought my first Wrangler – a YJ, with almost every factory accessory and three tops – for $4,500. If you look at the pages of any auto sales web site today, you might be surprised by the prices. I am too – the Jeep LJ Unlimited I parted with for $12,000 in 2012 at 80,000 km is today worth around $14,000 – with twice the mileage. It’s no secret that there’s a shortage of solid and capable rigs on the used market.

How can we explain this? The onslaught of crossovers, watering down of 4x4s, and the rapidly changing definition of “Sport Utility Vehicle” are likely to blame. With Ford’s announcement that the Mustang will shortly be the only car they produce, many of us are questioning how long it will take for other manufacturers to follow suit. The future of the car seems to be merged with that of the SUV in the form of the Crossover Utility Vehicle. These blobs on wheels are still decidedly more car-like than utility-like, with small features like rugged interiors and all-wheel drive present to remind you that it’s not really a car.

The result we have today was actually primarily driven by fuel economy legislation combined with consumers’ appetite for the big-SUV look-and-feel. A nice side effect for marketing departments is that SUV-like styling brings higher windowsills and a slightly higher road position, which almost guarantee a five-star safety rating. It certainly feels like the general vehicle-purchasing public have been tricked in to buying crossovers disguised as what used to be SUVs, at the expense of actual SUVs and 4x4s being ruthlessly executed. (RIP Xterra, Cherokee, Explorer, and Discovery.) Who could have guessed that Volkswagen would eventually make a full-size “SUV” powered by a tiny Golf engine?

Is there a way out of this madness? Absolutely. But you have to be creative. If you’re not interested in buying a clapped-out but unmodified XJ Cherokee (which, if I may remind everyone, was the first “compact” SUV when it hit the market in the early ‘80s, at least compared to the original Cherokee) or a half-million-mile TJ, then you might be looking at some of the overseas options out there if your budget isn’t huge. Lucky for you, there are several models that never hit the streets of North America for you to choose from. Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ll have seen a few low-mileage right-hand-drive Japanese vehicles on the trails and streets of Canada. Thanks to the rolling 15-year exemption for imports, there is always something new to look for. Keep in mind that the watered down SUV and CUV craze is going to catch up with the import timeline sooner or later, so let’s take a look at six of the more uncommon or interesting 4x4s from the rest of the world that are available today – while supplies last!


Vehicle: Nissan Terrano II

Where: Europe

Why: A compact, capable SUV with a true ladder chassis and solid rear axle. Jointly engineered by Nissan and Ford, the Terrano II was specially produced for European sensibilities. It’s available with leather interior, and some owners boast fuel economy of around 8.5L/100 km

Best years: 1999+ with the direct-injected diesel

Price: $7,500 for a low-mileage example


Vehicle: Land Rover Defender 90 & 110

Where: Anywhere (except North America)

Why: A design largely unchanged since 1948, reliable diesel engine options, legendary 4×4 capability. Look for low-mileage examples in dry countries (Spain, Italy) or well-kept British-owned vehicles if you don’t mind RHD.

Best years: As new as possible to avoid rust and rot

Price: $15,000 and rising


Vehicle: Mitsubishi Pajero Evolution

Where: Japan

Why: Recaro seats, rally styling, rally pedigree. The “Pajevo” is a dirt road destroyer, and probably the most affordable racecar homologation special around.

Best years: Produced until 2007; more are becoming available every year until 2022

Price: A steal at $15,000



Vehicle: Suzuki Jimny

Where: Japan & Europe

Why: Ever since the discontinuation of the Samurai in this part of the world, enthusiasts have been looking to fill the (tiny) gap left by it. Luckily, Suzuki hasn’t stopped, producing various models continuously worldwide since 1970.

Best years: 1995-98 “Coily” models had the best suspension and axle setup, but are harder to find recently. Snag one before they’re eligible in the US starting 2020.

Price: $2000-8000


Vehicle: Jeep Wrangler

Where: Europe

Why: The long-promised Diesel Wrangler for North America is still absent from dealer lots. The JK, however, was offered from the start in Europe with a 2.8L CRD powerplant. The only catch is that you’ll have to wait until 2021 to snag one. Maybe Jeep will have a diesel Wrangler here by then? Your gamble.

Best years: 2006+

Price: More than you want to spend (it’s a Jeep thing)


Vehicle: Ford Everest/Ford Ranger

Where: Asia/Europe

Why: Ford’s small truck for the rest of the world evolved separately from its local brother (although some borrow heavily from Super Duty styling). Available in a quad cab, with diesel engine and manual gearbox. The three-row enclosed SUV Everest version is just now available for import; look for clean examples in Australia.

Best years: Ranger: 2002+; Everest: 2003

Price: $5000-12,000


Now that you’ve (hopefully) decided which vehicle you want, you’ll have to navigate Canada’s concise – yet simultaneously complex – import procedures. My advice is to hire a broker that will handle everything for you, door to door. This could be a company that is already importing dozens of vehicles a month and will find exactly what you want, or it could be an importer that handles one-off shipments. It depends on whether you find a specific vehicle that you want, or if you’re just interested in any example from that model range. In my personal experience, I traveled all the way to England to find a Land Rover Defender (and even drove it to the port for loading) but that was part of the adventure to find my dream truck.

Shipping for these vehicles is much simpler than you might think. The two options are a dedicated container, and a roll-on-roll-off (RORO) car ferry. Containers offer the advantage that you can pack as much stuff as you want in there, so if you’re shipping parts as well you’ll want to pick this option – best shared with another vehicle to cut the cost in half. RORO is the least expensive method of shipment and is how almost every new car reaches Canada from European and Asian factories, but involves the risk that your vehicle is damaged in transit and does not permit you to pack even a single loose bolt inside. Either method will bring your vehicle to port in Vancouver or Montreal. Inland buyers will need to pick up from the port, or have the shipment forwarded by rail or truck.

Once your vehicle arrives and it clears customs (thanks to your meticulous proof of ownership, and a sales invoice) you’ll need to pass a provincial inspection, which requires Daytime Running Lights and reflective side markers to be installed (if not already equipped) along with normal vehicle standards to be met – good brakes, working lights, and so on. Be prepared for surprise expenses like port container transfer or unloading fees, inspection transfer fees, air conditioning taxes, processing surcharges, and fluctuating exchange rates – it takes five weeks to ship and usually the freight is billed in U.S. dollars, so even a two-percent change in exchange can increase your costs by hundreds of dollars.

Congratulations! You now have a vehicle that stands out among other rigs in North America. Just be prepared to take good care of it, because parts and expertise may not be easy to find locally. Luckily there are great resources on the Internet for just about any vehicle – no matter how obscure your choice was.

Categories: Features, Off-Road Plus