Off-roading. As a pastime, its appeal is hard to pinpoint. What, after all, is so exciting about the idea of driving a car through a few ditches and over some mounds? It’s still driving, just… well, not on the road. Where’s the fun?

It’s hard to explain, really. But it’s there alright, as thousands of off-roading enthusiasts across the land will tell you. And for many of those enthusiasts, the go-to bargain-basement off-roader these days might surprise you. It isn’t a Land Rover Defender, or even a Daihatsu Fourtrak, both of which are actually reasonably pricey to buy these days. No, it’s the humble Vauxhall Frontera.

The Frontera’s dubious claim to fame was its placing last or near-last in several JD Power surveys during the 1990s. It was launched to much fanfare in 1991, and was tremendously popular. The 4×4 fad was in its infancy – the Range Rover was deeply fashionable, and everyone wanted a slice. Of course, most people couldn’t stretch to a full-blown Rangie – but as it cost about the same as a Cavalier, they could afford a Frontera quite easily.

The three-door Sport model was bought in its droves by young, affluent, fashionable types, while the five-door estate was the friend of the family man. Nobody minded the cheap Isuzu switchgear or the naff interior plastics. And nor did they care about the bouncy ride quality or the roly-poly handling, this being an old-school, body-on-frame off-roader with leaf rear springs. What mattered was that they had a proper, bona fide 4×4.

That was an image that Vauxhall tried to push with this ad. The technique they’ve gone for is simple: stick the Frontera on a series of impossibly steep surfaces. Mount the camera at the angle of the car’s perspective. Throw in some ever-so-’90s coloured tints, and some slow-motion images of indigenous people doing indigenous things (and, to cover off the ‘lifestyle’ angle, a bloke doing some abseiling). Choose a clever tagline to match. Et voila. Simple, but effective, and memorable too.

Of course, Vauxhall’s rivals saw the success of the Frontera, and a glut of competitor models sprang up. These, by and large, were better to drive, more efficient, and faster – and suddenly Vauxhall’s soft-roader was outclassed. And once that poor customer satisfaction became widely known, values were sent tumbling.

Today, therefore, an old Frontera costs buttons to buy. And while it can’t boast the ultimate go-anywhere ability of a Land Rover, it’s still a useful tool for tackling a green lane. Which is why so many of them have been snapped up and turned into jacked-up, be-snorkelled off-road tools. For any other use, we’d struggle to recommend it. But if, like us, you can see the appeal of a spot of mud plugging, it’s a temptingly bargain-basement option.

By Alex Robbins

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