- Photo: Mercedes-Benz Trucks

We all love flashy, overpriced luxury cars cars. We all love supercars. We all love hot hatches. All that kind of awesome stuff. But sometimes you need to get a job done. Maybe it's a small one. Maybe it's a huge one. Maybe you need to get the Christmas tree home in time for when your mum and dad pop round. Maybe you need to get to a building site in the middle of some seriously rough terrain.

Whatever the case, you're gonna need one of these awesome pieces of utilitarianism. Here's a list, in no particular order, of the coolest workhorses you can get at any budget for any task.

Land Rover Defender

Photo: OSX [Public domain]

Photo: OSX [Public domain]

Let's start with the obvious one, I guess. Everyone knows about the Land Rover Defender. Everyone knows how great it is at being a super capable, super practical workhorse. It's without a doubt one of the most influential cars ever made. Their ability to go where many other cars couldn't made the Land Rover brand into THE brand for explorers and other outdoor adventurers, as well as a trusty companion for many farmers and people with large country estates.

Whilst the newer re-imagining of the Defender will be very much more of a premium product, the workhorse capabilities of it will still be very much intact - you only have to look at the options packages!

Toyota Land Cruiser

Photo: Toyota

Photo: Toyota

The Land Cruiser is one of the other kings of workhorse utilitarianism and infallible reliability and rightly so. Many older Land Cruisers are still in very good working order and the many variants and derivatives of this legendary off-roader are used all over the world as everything from everyday drivers to work with the United Nations in some of the world's most dangerous areas.

The Land Cruiser helps people to get their jobs done everywhere from the deserts and jungles of Africa to the Australian Outback and the most remote areas of Eastern Russia. You can't really go wrong with one!

Subaru Outback

Photo: Subaru

Photo: Subaru

You might not have expected me to put this here. Well, here's the thing. I'm British. I live pretty near the British countryside. When you're out here, let me tell you something - a lot of people have Subarus and the Outback is a firm favourite. Subaru have a reputation for faultless reliability and usability and it's that, along with Subaru's fantastic AWD system that they've refined and perfected over the years, that makes them a perfect rural workhorse.

Mercedes-Benz Unimog

Photo: Mercedes-Benz Trucks

Photo: Mercedes-Benz Trucks

The Unimog needs no real introduction. Simply put, it is the king of heavy duty trucks. Unimog is a name that comes with a fearsome and infamous reputation and for very good reason. These trucks are built to do only one thing - to conquer the unconquerable, all in the name of a good day's graft. It'll go anywhere. No, really. ANYWHERE.

It can go absolutely anywhere thanks to its brilliant AWD system, big chunky tyres, portal axles and a gearbox that includes crawler gears for those super steep slopes and heavy loads. Its diesel engine also has enough torque to jump start a small planet. Everything you need to conquer any task you might need to Unimog to do. Except maybe weave through the small streets of a European village. It's not very good at that.

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It's one of the only vehicles that's truly in a class of its own and its super versatile, super capable platform can be used for anything from disaster relief to mining to construction to military applications and even as the ultimate overlander, if that's what you want out of it! Arnold Schwarzenegger is a fan of the Unimog and, let's face it, who am I to disagree with the terminator?

Volvo C303

Photo: Harald Hansen [Public domain]

Photo: Harald Hansen [Public domain]

First introduced in the mid 1970s and staying in production until the mid 1980s, in many ways, the C303 is a Swedish version of the Unimog. It's got that go-anywhere capability with permanent AWD, locking diffs, big chunky tyres and portal axles. Like the Unimog, too, it was designed for a huge range of military (about 75% of all C303s went to military customers) and civilian applications.

Interestingly, the C303 didn't have a purpose-built engine - it came with the good old B30 3.0 litre straight six that could be found in the Volvo 164. This is probably a very good thing though, as it means that parts for the C303's engine are easy to source and, as we all know, Volvo engineering of the time was absolutely indestructible.

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Unlike the Unimog though, the C303 comes in at 3,500 kg gross weight. This means that you can drive it on a regular car licence in many countries including the UK (the Unimog requires an LGV licence to drive it under British law). Yes, that means you can buy into a slice of Swedish utilitarianism without having to take an extra driving test!

Ford Crown Victoria

Photo: Mic from Reading - Berkshire, United Kingdom [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

Photo: Mic from Reading - Berkshire, United Kingdom [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)]

Ah, the good old Crown Vic. A staple of American car culture, it's a Panther body land yacht that just refuses to die. With its understressed 4.6 litre Ford V8 and bulletproof construction, it became quickly beloved by police forces and taxi drivers in North America, as well as North America's middle class who wanted a solid, well made all-American piece of machinery.

Whilst it may now be long out of production, many of them still soldier on in various capacities and police variants are increasingly sought after, especially outside of the US where they command a hefty premium to regular civilian ones.

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It's a brilliant, damn near unbreakable slab of American engineering that can be driven thousands of miles every day with no problems at all and is very likely a good introduction into the world of Americana for non-American enthusiasts.

Toyota Hilux

Photo: Vauxford [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

Photo: Vauxford [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

I mean... come on. I don't have to go into great length to tell you about the utilitarian brilliance of the Toyota Hilux. Beloved by everyone from construction workers to farmers to the dynamic trio themselves (we all remember when they tested one almost to destruction on Top Gear way back when), the Hilux is a true workhorse.

It's more than great enough in its standard form for whatever you ask it to do, but there's also a healthy aftermarket for it that can transform the venerable Toyota pickup into a true off-road monster that can tackle anything from scorching deserts to tropical jungles and even the unforgiving arctic.

Ford F-150

Photo: Lafayette [CC BY-SA 2.0 de (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/de/deed.en)]

Photo: Lafayette [CC BY-SA 2.0 de (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/de/deed.en)]

The Ford F-150 is America's best selling vehicle for a reason. It's a benchmark of the full-sized pickup world, with variants offering everything from construction site ready utility to blistering muscle car performance and interior comfort and luxuries that you'd expect from a top of the line luxury car. The off-road racer for the street Raptor variant is arguably one of the most important cars of the last 10 years too.

Volvo 940 Turbo

Photo: order_242 from Chile [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]

Photo: order_242 from Chile [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)]

A common sight in 80s and 90s suburbia, the Volvo 940 Turbo is one of the best family cars ever made. It's not even an argument at this point, honestly. The slab-sided Swede not only has bags of practicality but bags of character too. Its drivetrain is so gloriously over-engineered that people have managed to get the standard engine block up to ridiculous levels of power; you can easily see that in the many crazy builds that people have done based on them over the years.

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You can still get them pretty cheap too, so if faultless reliability and cavernous practicality are your number 1 concerns, you can't go wrong with having a 940 Turbo around. Plus there's always the potential to turn a seemingly ordinary Swede into something very extraordinary indeed...

Mercedes E-Class (W124)

Photo: Rudolf Stricker [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)]

Photo: Rudolf Stricker [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)]

Legend speaks of a car that cannot die. A car that you could run a tank over and it would still start and drive off. A car that had 7 seats, even though it was an estate car and not a people carrier or an SUV. A car that could survive in places where even thoroughbred 4x4s start to quake in their boots. A car that was built to a brief, not a budget. That car is the W124 Mercedes E-Class.

The W124s were one of the last of the great era of Mercedes' atomic bomb-proof engineering and it's a true testament to that that so many of them are still running today all over the world. It may not be the prettiest car in the world. It may not be the nicest large family car to drive (it still had recirculating ball steering even at the end of its production run). But what it is is a faultless companion. It's like an old sheepdog that seems to just keep on living and living and sometimes you wonder if it'll actually outlive you. There are recorded cases of W124s with a million miles on the clock!

Photo: Rudolf Stricker, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Rudolf Stricker, via Wikimedia Commons

Crucially too for the W124 is that it was one of the safest cars of its day. It was one of the first cars to be put through what ended up becoming the Euro NCAP test and it conformed to and actually exceeded the safety requirements Mercedes had tasked themselves with. Even though many examples of them are now 30 years old, you should be pretty safe in one should you get into an accident.

No matter what version you go for it's insanely reliable, but the ones with the 3.0 straight six diesel are the ones to go for if you want that ultimate longevity. It's a chain driven engine so there's no cambelt changes to worry about. 300k miles on a single engine is very easily doable!

Land Rover Discovery

Photo: Vauxford [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

Photo: Vauxford [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

The Discovery may not be as workmanlike as its Defender sibling, but it definitely deserves a place on a list of vehicles that can be proper workhorses. It may have leather and niceties but at its heart, it's still an old-school Land Rover. It was still built on a ladder frame chassis up until the all-new fifth generation version. It can take up to 7 people should you need it to. It's got a massive boot. The V6 diesel engine has enough grunt to tow most trailers and caravans.

Putting the reliability problems aside (it's only really the Discovery II that had the kind of reliability issues that would have Doug Demuro and Rabbit Pitts reaching for that "bumper to bumper" warranty option at the dealership), it's a fantastic family hauler and a proper off-roader.

Mercedes W201

Photo: Rudolf Stricker, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Rudolf Stricker, via Wikimedia Commons

Another car from the era where Mercedes-Benz built their cars to a brief not a budget, the W201 has gained legendary status as a faultlessly reliable everyday workhorse. It may have been the 'cheap' Mercedes, but the fact that so many of them are still around and even pottering around as daily drivers shows that they were definitely not engineered on the cheap. The Cosworth-engined variant too has gone down in history as one of the most legendary performance saloons of its era.

There aren't many classic cars that you could still use every day without it being a problem. The W201 is definitely one of them and it's likely going to stay that way for a long while yet too. It's a true survivor, just like all the other Mercedes cars from before the mid-late 90s.

Toyota Camry

Photo: IFCAR [Public domain]

Photo: IFCAR [Public domain]

The Toyota Camry is one of America's favourite cars for a reason. They'll get you from A to B without any kind of fuss and they're legendarily reliable. They're pretty big cars so you can shove pretty much anything in that you need to and the beefy V6 in more recent models is so good that even Lotus nicked it to use in the Evora!

The Camry recently returned to the UK and European markets after a long absence. Whilst it's definitely not as much of a workhorse car as it used to be and it won't sell in big numbers outside of America, it's still a worthwhile consideration should you just need a sensible, practical saloon.

Ford Transit

Photo: Vauxford [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

Photo: Vauxford [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

It wouldn't be hyperbole to say that the humble Ford Transit revolutionised the entire concept of the van. Before the Transit, most vans were not that brilliant. They were slow and definitely nothing more than commercial vehicles. What the Transit did was take the concept of the van and not only improve upon it in every way but make having a van COOL.

It was a big commercial vehicle with lots of carrying ability that also had the performance to keep up with the cars of the 1960s. That performance coupled with its supreme load-lugging ability made it the perfect getaway vehicles for thieves and bank robbers in the 1960s and 1970s. It looked pretty good too!

Everyone and their dogs wanted a Transit and they still do to this day, with the current generation being better than ever. The Transit range has even expanded in recent years too with the smaller Connect and Courier variants, whilst the Tourneo versions are ever popular with taxi companies and huge families. The Transit is the gold standard of vans and will likely remain so for a very long time to come.

Volvo V70/XC70

Photo: Rudolf Stricker, via Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Rudolf Stricker, via Wikimedia Commons

The spiritual successor to the aforementioned 940, the V70 and XC70 are a more modern take on the workmanlike practicality that Volvo customers craved from their big, boxy estate cars. They're incredibly reliable, you can get an unbelievable amount of kit in that huge boot, they're very comfortable and easy to drive and the T5 turbo petrol and D5 twin turbo diesel variants have some serious grunt should you need it!

Photo: Bull-Doser [Public domain]

Photo: Bull-Doser [Public domain]

The XC70 also provides real off-road capability. It may very much be a crossover (something that many car enthusiasts these days would rather see the back of), but it's one of the best crossovers that's ever been made. The extra plastic cladding, raised suspension and proper AWD make it a car to be reckoned with should the going ever get tougher than a farm track or a slippery field.

The British police were huge fans of the V70's more powerful variants and it's not hard at all to see why. These were bulletproof little tanks that could easily stand up to the stresses and strains of high speed chase after high speed chase.

Saab 9-5

Photo: IFCAR [Public domain]

Photo: IFCAR [Public domain]

"It's not a proper Saab!" Yes, I hear your protests. It's a GM Saab. I'm not going to ignore that. But, it's a bloody good GM Saab! The 9-5 was the family car of choice for the educated middle classes of my home country of Britain.

The kind of people who bought these Swedish battleships definitely had a first class degree from a nice university. They sent their kids to the local private school (boarding school's just too expensive, you know, and the local comp is far too rough...). They voted Lib Dem. All the trappings and stereotypes of the highly educated, Third Way British lifestyle.

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It was a smart choice though as the Saab 9-5 was and still is incredibly reliable and, in estate form, very practical. Plus there was always the Aero or even the Griffin version (or even the twin turbo diesel) should you want a bit of punch when you're taking Jimmy and Clara to their after school dance lessons.

A lot of them are still around and still piling on the miles as daily drivers. Not only that, the Saab brand has such a loyal following that there are specialists pretty much everywhere and you can actually buy the diagnostic equipment (a variation of GM's venerable Tech2 system) off eBay. Seems like a good deal to me if you want one of the best Swedish workhorses money can buy!

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