In this Market Trends we look at three SUVs that were just as capable on-road as they were off-road; the Toyota Rav4, Jeep Cherokee XJ and Land Rover Freelander…

Toyota RAV4 (1994-2000)

By the time Toyota’s RAV4 came out in 1993, it was clear that most customers for SUVs weren’t actually looking to take them across rivers, up mountains, to a far-away camp site, or to an ideal hand-gliding spot. It was the idea that had people hooked, not the rough reality that came with it. Until the RAV4, though, there was no such car devoted to this down-to-concrete-earth demographic – one that today has proven to be a massively lucrative and competitive market space. Toyota countered the likes of Suzuki’s Vitara, Land Rover’s Discovery, even Ford’s hugely popular Explorer in America, with a car that put the car bit in front of the truck.

Instead of being a truck with car refinements, the RAV4 was put together with various bits of Toyota road cars, largely Corolla and Carina components then with the powertrain of a Camry 2.0 4WD – itself developed off a Celica GT4. It was affordable, cheap to run, and had the right image – a Japanese car no longer a copycat; a trendsetter. Grounds for classic appreciation then. This has yet to materialise much though, and as little as £500 can buy you a bit of modern SUV history. However, the early cars in exceptional condition, and the special editions featuring eye-catching colours and fancy accessories are starting to fetch £2000-£5000.

Undoubtedly reaching an age at which point most cars find classic appreciation, the RAV4 and its distinctive styling, engineering, affordability is held up simply by scepticism over the validity of the SUV market. Like it or not, cars of this genre are significant, and increasingly aspirational for more and more buyers. Memories of the RAV4 are turning rose-tinted and values are finding a foothold.

Jeep Cherokee XJ (1993-1998)

We may have been put off somewhat by American cars, but those who could spot a gem saw the Jeep Cherokee in a different light. Interest was clear from the cars being imported into the UK, and in 1993 Chrysler decided to officially market Cherokee range in the UK. It was cheap, practical, capable, and gave more than enough reason for Land-Rover to be worried. The higher-spec Grand Cherokee showed the once class-leading Discovery that the progress was to be made on the road, not on green lanes.

Today, the angular shape is resonating positively with the off-roading crowd as indicative of an era of ‘proper’ cars, helped by the Daimler-Chrysler years of the more rounded successive generation of Jeeps. But it’s not just the welly-wearing folk who are interested – and who were responsible for so many tatty examples today – as the Cherokee is becoming something of a more civilised alternative to the Wrangler that inexplicably appealed to the city crowds. More and more Cherokees are finding their way into London, and consequently firing up the market.

Values are up gradually overall, but it’s the cleanest and lowest mileage examples to watch – these can go for as much as £10,000 today, when a decade ago they were largely pointless. Again, we’re seeing imported examples new to the market as values justify the sourcing of rust-free examples. If the recent growth of the Grand Wagoneer is anything to go by, the whole Cherokee market has a way to go in the next few years.

Land Rover Freelander (1997-2006)

Land Rover’s response to this hotting up SUV-lite market was the Freelander. Long in the works, it finally hit the market in 1997 and finally provided Land Rover the range able to span the full market from compact to full-size. A brilliant piece of design, if plagued by some initial reliability uncertainty, it sold like hot cakes and carried on until its derivative replacement took over in 2006. It was a thoroughly good car and was impressively competitive during a very turbulent and fast-developing marketplace.

But a reputation for unreliability as well as the newer and softer subsequent generations of crossovers pushed used values down. A following of Land Rover enthusiasts kept the majority of interest, but they were usually seen as second best to the more serious Discovery and Defender models. As they aged, values plummeted. ‘A bit knackered’ and ‘not a real Land Rover’ were the words too often running through prospective buyers’ minds. But as a start of an entire new range of Land Rover models – a rare thing – the Freelander has as much right for appreciation as the Range Rover, Discovery, and – well, let’s wait for the new Defender.

You can still buy plenty for less than a grand, nice examples for £2000-£3000, and you’ll struggle to spend more than £5000 for the absolute best from a specialist. That there are £5000 examples out there, though, goes to show that there are so few surviving in low mileage, tidy condition. It might take a few years yet for them to age into appeal and higher values, but just try to remember when you last saw an early Freelander…