Family Feud

MID-SIZED WAGONS COMPARED drIven 078

WORDS FRASER STRONACH PHOTOS MICHAEL HURREN

Our recently crowned 4x4 Of The Year, the Ford Everest, takes on its class rivals in this family wagon shootout.

Using ute underpinnings to build a wagon isnít a difficult thing, from an engineering point of view

Just when we thought serious four-wheel drive wagons were becoming a dying breed, along comes a new wave of models including the Ford Everest, Toyota Fortuner and Mitsubishi Pajero Sport. Itís no coincidence that all these family wagons are based on utes; the Everest on the Ranger, the Fortuner on the Hilux and the Pajero Sport on the Triton.

All this comes down to economies of scale. Right around the world, Australia included, utes are big business and are being produced and sold in huge numbers.

To leverage this success and gain even more commercial advantage, it makes sense to use those ute underpinnings to build a wagon, which isnít a difficult thing, from an engineering point of view.

All the popular utes are built on a separate chassis so, in very simple terms, itís just a matter of lifting the ute body off its chassis and replacing it with a wagon body. Of course things arenít quite that simple, but at the same time, they arenít too complicated either.

Todayís utes have very long wheelbases to accommodate roomy double-cabs and decent-sized trays, so the first step is to shorten the wheelbase. You also donít need heavy-duty leaf springs so while youíre shortening the chassis rails you can junk the leaf springs and replace them with softer-riding coils.

Finally, you can replace the rear drum brakes with discs.

This is a relatively cheap way to produce a 4x4 wagon, and it means the resulting wagon will enjoy the benefits of the uteís robust and relatively simple platform Ė just what you want in a four-wheel drive.

Here we have lined up the Everest, Fortuner and the Pajero Sport, with the existing Holdenís Colorado 7 and Isuzuís MU-X, both of which are also ute-derived wagons...

F O R D E V E R E S T

SCALE THE HEIGHTS

THE EVEREST WAS OUR BEST NEW 4X4 OF 2015 AND IS THE MOST SOPHISTICATED OF THE FIVE WAGONS HERE.

The Everest arrived in late 2015 and is the only wagon here designed and developed in Australia. It comes in a range of three models, all with automatic transmissions.

POWERTRAIN AND PERFORMANCE

The Everest is powered by the same 3.2-litre, five-cylinder diesel thatís in the Ranger. It also features the same engine upgrades that arrived with the Rangerís mid-life facelift in 2015. These include a smaller, more efficient turbo for faster spool-up, a revised fuel-injection system, and other cylinderhead changes aimed at making the engine quieter and more refined.

Where the Everest differs from the Ranger is in the use of selective catalytic reduction (aka AdBlue) tech that reduces the production of NOx so the Everest can meet up-coming Euro 6 emission standards.

As a result of this Ďgreeningí, the Everestís maximum power is 143kW, 4kW less than the Rangerís, although maximum torque remains unchanged at 470Nm.

On the road this engine has a relaxed and easy gait, thanks to the fact its bigger capacity makes good power at low engine speeds. The five-cylinder arrangement also means itís very smooth once underway, even if it has a somewhat lumpy idle, compared to its four-cylinder rivals.

The Everest performs strongly, despite being the heaviest vehicle here. Mind you, even without the extra weight, the 3.2-litre five tends to be a bit on the thirsty side, as evidenced by the Ranger and Mazda BT-50.

Itís no surprise the Everestís extra weight compounds the problem.

For its part, the six-speed auto offers welltimed, smooth and decisive shifts, and it doesnít fidget between gears on undulating roads as much as some other wagons here.

HANDLING AND RIDE

The first thing you notice about the Everestís on-road dynamics is the light feel of its electrically assisted steering, especially at very low speeds. The steering weight increases at higher road speeds, but always feels somewhat remote and never offers high-quality feedback. The good news is you get used to the steering, and the rest of the dynamic performance is all good.

The Everest corners more neutrally than any vehicle here and has a surprisingly flat

stance, even when pushed hard.

The other ace up the Everestís sleeve is its full-time 4x4. On a dry, sealed road itís not a significant benefit, but it really comes into its own on roads that alternate between being sealed and unsealed or wet and dry. And while the Pajero Sport has selectable full-time 4x4, it lacks the Ďsmartí centre diff of the Everest that directs the drive to the axle that can use it most.

OFF-ROAD

The Everestís strong showing continues off road, with one major exception: the overbonnet visibility is the poorest here and can be a problem in more difficult going, especially when cresting steep inclines.

The other side of the story is that the Everest is one of the three vehicles here with a rear diff lock standard across the range. However, itís the only one that keeps the traction control active on the front axle when the locker is engaged. This is a real bonus as the traction control alone isnít as effective as it could be.

More generally, the Everest has good clearance and decent approach and departure angles, and although the air intake is under the bonnet lip, itís still well-protected from water ingress.

CABIN AND ACCOMMODATION

Even without reach adjustment for the steering wheel, the Everest offers a comfortable driving position for short and tall drivers, thanks to its excellent seats.

Not so good are the small, hard-to-read symbols on the heating, ventilating and air-con (HVAC) controls, and the generally fiddly and busy nature of the dashboard.

Behind the front row is a mixed bag. The second row is among the best here, but the third row is the most difficult to get in and out of, and itís the most cramped once you are in there. At least thereís a handy amount of luggage space behind the third row when itís deployed.

SUM UP

The Everest didnít win our 4x4 Of The Year for nothing. Itís a polished performer both on and off the road and offers a level of sophistication Ė in terms of its powertrain and equipment Ė that the others canít match. But itís also the most expensive vehicle here.

WHAT YOU GET

ALL Everests have seven seats, a rear-view camera, rear parking sensors, a 230V outlet, and a rear diff lock. The Trend adds 18s, a power tailgate, side-steps, projector headlights, daytime running lamps, dual-zone climate, auto wipers, an 8.0-inch touchscreen, adaptive cruise control, forward crash mitigation, lane-departure warning, and sat-nav as an option. The Titanium adds 20s, leather, electric-adjust seating, power-fold third row, HID headlights with LEDs, a sunroof, park assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, tyre-pressure monitoring and sat-nav.

F O R D E V E R E S T T R E N D

ENGINE 3.2-litre 5-cyl turbo-diesel MAXIMUM POWER 143kW @ 3000rpm MAXIMUM TORQUE 470Nm @ 1750-2500rpm GEARBOX six-speed automatic 4X4 SYSTEM dual-range full-time CRAWL RATIO 38.6:1 TYRE SPEC 265/60R18 110T KERB WEIGHT 2407kg GVM 3100kg PAYLOAD 693kg TOWING CAPACITY 3000kg FUEL TANK CAPACITY 80 litres ADR FUEL CLAIM 8.5L/100km TEST FUEL USE 14.4L/100km TOURING RANGE* 505km *Based on fuel tank capacity, test fuel use and a 50km Ďsafetyí margin.

F O R D E V E R E S T P R I C E S *

AMBIENTE $54,990 TREND $60,990 TITANIUM $76,990 *Does not include on-road costs.

H O L D E N C O L O R A D O 7

THE GENERALíS OWN

THE COLORADO 7 CARRIES A HOLDEN BADGE BUT HAS AN INTERNATIONAL CHARACTER ALL OF ITS OWN.

The Colorado 7 is the oldest vehicle here, arriving in late 2012 before a significant revamp just 12 months later. The Colorado 7 and the MU-X are of course related and share the same basic chassis structure and body shell but with different powertrains, suspension tunes, interiors, exterior detailing and equipment. The Colorado 7 is sold in Southeast Asia, India, Brazil, South Africa and parts of the Middle East as the Chevrolet TrailBlazer. In Australia the Colorado 7 comes in two models (LT and LTZ), both of which have an auto gearbox.

Thereís no manual option.

POWERTRAIN AND PERFORMANCE

The Colorado 7 is powered by a 2.8-

litre, four-cylinder diesel from Italian diesel specialist VM Motori. Thanks to intricacies of the global automotive industry that are too detailed to go into, this is essentially the same engine thatís in the Jeep Wrangler but with more grunt.

In the Colorado 7, it claims a substantial 147kW and 500Nm. This puts it at the head of the pack in this company when it comes to claimed power and torque. The engine is backed by a sixspeed GM automatic transmission thatís also been used in the V8 Commodore.

Holden has squeezed more out of this engine than what it offered when the Colorado 7 first arrived, and in many ways it shows. In this company the engine is somewhat noisy and harsh, and itís certainly the least refined here. It also needs more revs than all but the Pajero Sportís engine to do its best work. This reflects in the fact that its economy is poorer than all but the much heavier Everest. The upside is the Colorado 7 is the performance leader here.

For its part, the gearbox shifts when you want it to and is well matched to the engine, but the shifts arenít as smooth or as quick as the slicker gearboxes in the Everest, Fortuner and Pajero Sport.

HANDLING AND RIDE

The Colorado 7 and the MU-X share the same basic chassis structure, but the two vehicles have gone their own way in terms of spring and damper calibration.

Holden has opted for a firmer set-up, which provides flatter handling, and on

tight, winding roads the Holden is one of the better vehicles here, despite its steering not offering great feel or feedback. The downside is that the ride is hard, even harsh on some roads, and thereís also a fair deal of road noise compared to the other vehicles here.

OFF-ROAD

The Colorado 7 offers great over-bonnet vision and covers all the off-road basics, including ground clearance and approach and departure angles. The sixspeed auto works a treat off road, and itís a nice touch the way the engine revs Ďblipí on downshifts to smooth out the engagement of the lower gear.

On the negative side, the ride is harsh and uncomfortable, especially on rocky trails, something that can get particularly tiresome after extended time off road. The Colorado 7ís traction control isnít the best either, and thereís no diff lock to resort to when the going gets particularly difficult.

Thatís not to say the Colorado 7 isnít a capable off-roader Ė itís just not a frontrunner in this company.

CABIN AND ACCOMMODATION

The Colorado 7 has an airy, open feel to the cabin and a comfortable driving position, despite not having reach adjustment for the steering wheel. Not so good is the dated look of the dash and the use of cheap, hard plastics.

Like the MU-X, the second-row seat has good headroom but less legroom than the Everest and the Fortuner, and the seating position has the same Ďlegs upí feel. Again, like in the MU-X, the third row is roomy and the best here at accommodating adults, although the seats, when folded down, make for a high cargo floor.

SUM UP

Despite slow sales at first, the Colorado 7 has grown in popularity thanks to sharp pricing and plenty of TV ads.

Since its release in late 2012 it has been revamped a couple of times and is coming up for another facelift this year.

If you think all that suggests Holden has never been entirely happy with the Colorado 7, youíre probably right.

WHAT YOU GET

THE Colorado 7, in both models, comes with seven seats, a reversing camera, rear parking sensors, and a seven-inch touchscreen, which can be used as a sat-nav via a separately purchased smart phone app. Over and above the LT, the LTZ comes with leather, electricadjust for the driverís seat, climate control air-con, self-levelling projector headlights and 18-inch alloys, rather than the 16s on the LT.

H O L D E N C O L O R A D O 7 L T Z

ENGINE 2.8-litre 4-cyl turbodiesel MAXIMUM POWER 147kW @ 3600rpm MAXIMUM TORQUE 500Nm @ 2000rpm GEARBOX six-speed automatic 4X4 SYSTEM dual-range part-time CRAWL RATIO 36.4:1 TYRE SPEC 265/60R18 110T KERB WEIGHT 2205kg GVM 2820kg PAYLOAD 615kg TOWING CAPACITY 3000kg FUEL TANK CAPACITY 76 litres ADR FUEL CLAIM 9.2L/100km TEST FUEL USE 14.3L/100km TOURING RANGE* 481km *Based on fuel tank capacity, test fuel use and a 50km Ďsafetyí margin.

H O L D E N C O L O R A D O 7 P R I C E S *

LT $47,990 LTZ $51,490 *Does not include on-road costs.

I S U Z U M U - X

NO FRILLS

WHAT THE MU-X LACKS IN TECHNICAL SOPHISTICATION IT MAKES UP FOR WITH ITS BASIC, WELL-PROVEN POWERTRAIN.

Isuzuís MU-X debuted in Australia in late 2013 after the release of Isuzuís D-Max ute, upon which the wagon is based.

Since then it has remained virtually unchanged and, of the five wagons tested here, it is one of only two offered with a manual gearbox. Itís also the only one sold with a 2WD option.

POWERTRAIN AND PERFORMANCE

The MU-Xís 3.0-litre, four-cylinder diesel claims 130kW and 380Nm, which puts it at the tail-end of the field in terms of on-paper power and torque Ė the Toyota Fortuner also claims 130kW, but it produces more torque, 450Nm.

The MU-Xís diesel is the latest iteration of the Isuzu engine used as far back as the last Holden Rodeo (which was an Isuzu anyway), and itís backed by the Aisin five-speed auto used widely by Toyota in various Prado and Land Cruiser models.

On the road the engine offers easy performance; it has good torque from idle and is only found wanting in pedal-to-themetal situations such as overtaking. Itís not the quietest or most refined engine here, given most of the other engines are newer designs, but itís not bad and is more pleasant in terms of noise vibration and harshness (NVH) than the Colorado 7ís engine. Itís also one of the more economical, as we have found many times before, even if it falls short of the Fortunerís economy in this contest.

For its part, the gearbox feels a little old-school in this company and is the only five-speed here (all the rest have six or more speeds). The shifts are still relatively smooth, but they are not always well-timed, and the overall shift protocols seem skewed towards economy rather than performance, which can be frustrating on more demanding roads.

HANDLING AND RIDE

None of these wagons scale any great heights in terms of on-road handling, as they are all based on commercial underpinnings and have live rear axles.

As with most the vehicles here Ė except the Everest Ė the MU-X tends to understeer when pushed hard and thereís a fair degree of body roll. The upside to this is the MU-Xís relatively soft and comfortable ride, something that sets it

apart from the Colorado 7, with which it shares its basic chassis.

OFF-ROAD

The MU-X is a solid and tough offroader that has all the basics right, including decent wheel travel, good clearance and tidy approach and departure angles. It also has excellent over-bonnet visibility. But it lacks a rear locker and the traction control isnít as effective as some of the others.

The MU-X also has the least effective engine braking and doesnít come with hill-descent control, although thatís never a make-or-break issue when you have dual-range gearing.

The gearbox also lacks the Ďsmartí off-road shift protocols of the others and requires the driver to use manual control more in difficult going.

CABIN AND ACCOMMODATION

The MU-Xís cabin looks dated compared to the newer designs from Mitsubishi, Ford and Toyota, and it has more of a commercial feel than a passenger-vehicle feel. That said, the dash is modest and well laid-out and thereís nothing that doesnít Ďworkí in a simple and predicable way. The driving position, too, is reasonably comfortable, even without reach adjustment for the steering wheel The second-row seat has good headroom but less leg room than the second rows in the Everest and the Fortuner, and the seating position feels somewhat Ďlegs upí. In contrast, the third-row seat, along with the Coloradoís, is the best here, although when folded down the seats eat into the luggage space and create a high cargo floor.

SUM UP

The MU-X is one of the two older designs here and in many ways it shows. But itís well priced and has an exceptionally well-proven engine and gearbox. It has a basic design and its electronics are relatively simple, meaning thereís less to go wrong than in the far more complex Everest or Pajero Sport. Itís also one of only two vehicles here offered with a manual gearbox.

WHAT YOU GET

ALL models, except the top-spec LS-T, come with the option of a manual or automatic transmission, and all have seven seats and rear parking sensors. Above the base LS-M, the LS-U adds dual-zone climate control, air-con outlets for the rear-seat passengers, fog lights, side-steps and roof rails, while 17s replace 16s. The LS-T adds leather seats with electric-adjust for the driver, sat-nav and a reversing camera. The LS-T also has a premium audio system with eight, rather than six, speakers and a rear DVD system with a 10-inch, roof-mounted screen.

I S U Z U M U - X L S - T

ENGINE 3.0-litre 4-cyl turbodiesel MAXIMUM POWER 130kW @ 3600rpm MAXIMUM TORQUE 380Nm @1800Ė2800rpm GEARBOX five-speed automatic 4X4 SYSTEM dual-range part-time CRAWL RATIO 32.6:1 TYRE SPEC 255/65R17 110S KERB WEIGHT 2060kg GVM 2750kg PAYLOAD 690kg TOWING CAPACITY 3000kg FUEL TANK CAPACITY 76 litres ADR FUEL CLAIM 8.1L/100km TEST FUEL USE 12.8L/100km TOURING RANGE* 544km *Based on fuel tank capacity, test fuel use and a 50km Ďsafetyí margin.

I S U Z U M U - X 4 X 4 P R I C E S *

LS-M (MANUAL) $45,600 LS-M (AUTO) $47,800 LS-U (MANUAL) $47,100 LS-U (AUTO) $49,300 LS-T (AUTO ONLY) $54,000 *Does not include on-road costs.

M I T S U B I S H I P A J E R O S P O R T

ALTERNATE APPROACH

DESPITE ITS NAME, THE PAJERO SPORT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE PAJERO, EXCEPT THAT MITSUBISHI MAKES BOTH.

Based on the new Triton that arrived early in 2015, the Pajero Sport is a replacement for the Challenger, but with a new name. Well, the name is new for Australia, as in some overseas markets the previous generations of the Challenger have been called Pajero Sport for the better part of 20 years.

In this company the Pajero Sport is the odd man out. It seats five rather than seven, is generally smaller than the rest and is the only one that doesnít share the auto íbox of its donor ute, which in this case is a good thing. It also comes with selectable full-time 4x4, not part-time.

POWERTRAIN AND PERFORMANCE

The Pajero Sport is powered by the same 2.4-litre turbo-diesel that debuted in the new Triton in early 2015. This engine follows the trend of recent diesel development, with a relatively low compression ratio (15.5:1) and a small but fast-responding turbo.

For a relatively small engine, it claims strong figures of 133kW and 430Nm.

Max torque isnít achieved until 2500rpm, which is a very high figure for a modern turbodiesel, given that most achieve maximum torque on the south side of 2000rpm. This engine is mated to an eightspeed Aisin automatic rather than the fivespeed automatic found in the new Triton.

On the road this engine is relatively quiet and refined, certainly more so than the Colorado 7ís and MU-Xís. It performs better than its numbers suggest, thanks to its close ratios of its eight-speed and its relative lightness. What the auto also does is effectively mask that its engine lacks the low-rpm punch of the other engines, so it never feels wanting in comparison.

The Pajero Sport also achieved the second best fuel economy, after the Toyota, which is a good thing as it has the smallest fuel tank, at just 68 litres Ė 12 litres short of the best here.

HANDLING AND RIDE

The Pajero Sport feels small and nimble in this company, but it would feel a lot sportier if Mitsubishi hadnít decided to opt for a soft suspension tune. The end result is a fair degree of body roll and understeer when pushed hard. On a positive note, the ride quality on rough roads is excellent.

Regardless of the suspension tune, the Sportís on-road trump card is its selectable full-time 4x4, which is just the ticket for wet bitumen, gravel and in situations where the road surface is constantly changing. Itís not an Ďactiveí full-time 4x4 system like the Everestís, as it uses a conventional mechanical diff that is fully open unless manually locked by the driver via the rotary switch that controls the Super Select system.

Unlike the Everest, however, the Pajero Sport has the option of 2WD, which is useful for long highway drives.

OFF-ROAD

The Pajero Sport doesnít win too many prizes off road. It gets the job done, but over-bonnet vision, ground clearance and its departure angle arenít great. It feels to be down on rear-wheel travel, and the traction control could be more effective.

The mid-spec GLS and top-spec Exceed do, however, have a rear locker as standard but, as with the Fortuner, engaging the rear locker cancels the traction on both axles.

The eight-speed auto works well off road and has the lowest crawl ratio, but downshifts can be abrupt at times. At least the soft suspension tune means a very comfortable off-road ride.

CABIN AND ACCOMMODATION

The Pajero Sport has a very modern and expensive feel to its cabin, but the dash is overly complicated and busy. In this company the cabin also feels smaller and more closed-in.

Tilt-and-reach steering wheel adjustment is a plus and the driving position should please short drivers, though tall drivers will be a bit cramped, especially by the large centre console.

The second-row seat is also the smallest here and, while thereís no third row, thereís plenty of luggage space.

SUM UP

In this company the Pajero Sport is very well priced. Its official starting point is cheaper than anything here, and the top-spec model is cheaper than all but the top-spec Colorado 7. To give another perspective, the top-spec Pajero Sport is cheaper than the base-spec Everest.

WHAT YOU GET

ALL Pajero Sport models have five seats, 18-inch alloys, LED headlamps and DRLs, tilt-and-reach steering wheel adjustment, Ďsmartí entry and start, digital radio, hill-descent control, rear parking sensors and a reversing camera. Over the GLX, the GLS has a rear locker, a cargo blind, dual-zone climate, leather, electric-adjust seats for driver and passenger, six speakers (up from four), and auto headlights and wipers. The topspec Exceed then adds headlight washers, two additional speakers, a rear DVD system, blindspot monitoring and forward crash mitigation.

MITSUBISHI PAJERO SPORT EXCEED

ENGINE 2.4 litre 4-cyl turbodiesel MAXIMUM POWER 133kW @ 3500rpm MAXIMUM TORQUE 430Nm @ 2500rpm GEARBOX eight-speed automatic 4X4 SYSTEM dual-range full-time (+2WD) CRAWL RATIO 45.9:1 TYRE SPEC 265/60R18 110H KERB WEIGHT 2070kg GVM 2710kg PAYLOAD 640kg TOWING CAPACITY 3100kg FUEL TANK CAPACITY 68 litres ADR FUEL CLAIM 8.0L/100km TEST FUEL USE 12.7L/100km TOURING RANGE* 485km *Based on fuel tank capacity, test fuel use and a 50km Ďsafetyí margin.

MITSUBISHI PAJERO SPORT PRICES*

GLX $45,000 GLS $48,500 EXCEED $52,750 *Does not include on-road costs.

T O Y O T A F O R T U N E R

BRAND VALUES

TOYOTAíS ALL-NEW FORTUNER CARRIES ON WHERE THE 4RUNNER LEFT OFF MANY YEARS AGO.

Developed alongside the all-new Hilux, the Fortuner is in every sense a modern-day 4Runner. But why would Toyota bother with the Fortuner when it already has its hugely successful Prado?

Well, the Fortuner is noticeably cheaper than the Prado and, at the lower end of the range, better equipped as well.

The Fortuner comes in a six-model range, the most extensive here. Itís available in three spec levels, with the option of a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic across the range.

POWERTRAIN AND PERFORMANCE

The Fortuner is powered by Toyotaís new 2.8-litre GD-1 diesel, where GD stands for Global Diesel. It claims a modest 130kW, the equal lowest power output here, but it offers a substantial 450Nm, which is on tap from as low as 1600rpm and continues unabated until 2400rpm. No other engine here has its maximum torque arrive at such a low engine speed.

On the road the 130kW doesnít translate to scintillating pedal-to-the-metal performance, given the Fortuner weighs more than 2100kg, but the engine is still responsive, willing and generally effortless in give-and-take driving. Also impressive is its noise abatement and general refinement, which is the best here.

Nice refinement, too, from the new sixspeed auto, which offers smooth shifts and generally smart shift protocols. Thanks to two overdrive ratios, it offers very tall highway gearing, but thereís also some shuffling between the fifth and sixth when on undulating roads, at legal highway speeds. This is a gearbox designed for economy, not performance.

RIDE AND HANDLING

In most ways, the Fortuner rides and handles the way you would expect of a vehicle based on a ute, although it does have a soft, compliant and well-sorted ride on rough roads, thanks no doubt to the large amount of local suspension tuning done during its development.

The Fortunerís steering calibration was also done locally and is light at low speeds but offers decent feel and feedback at higher road speeds. Not so good is its tendency to understeer when pushed hard in tight corners, which is typical of the

conservative approach Toyota takes to chassis balance in its 4x4s and SUVs.

OFF-ROAD

The Fortunerís off-road credentials centre on its generous ground clearance, steep approach and departure angles, and excellent rear-wheel travel. Thereís good vision, too, from the driverís seat.

All models come with a driver-switched rear diff lock, but itís not all that useful, as engaging the rear locker cancels traction control on both axles.

The good news is that the off-road tuned ĎA-TRCí traction control is the best here. Like the Hilux, the Fortuner has solid underbody protection. The auto gearbox also works well off road.

CABIN AND ACCOMMODATION

The Fortunerís passenger car-like dash is dominated by a tablet-style touchscreen, which has some functionality issues.

Better news comes in the form of tiltand- reach steering wheel adjustment and driverís-seat height adjustment on all models. This is one of the few vehicles here that suits both tall and short drivers.

The second-row passengers are well looked after in terms of leg room, but the head room isnít as good as in the Everest, MU-X or Colorado 7. One handy feature is that the second-row seat adjusts fore and aft so the legroom can be adjusted to accommodate different-height passengers in the second and third rows.

The third-row seats fold up against the side windows rather than folding down, as per the other seven-seaters here, but thereís not much luggage space left once the third row is deployed. The third row is roomier than the Everestís but not as accommodating as the Colorado 7ís or MU-Xís. No tie-down points in the luggage space is a major negative.

SUM UP

The strength of the Fortuner is that it shares much with the Hilux (powertrain included) and this bodes well for reliability and longevity. Itís well priced and well-equipped for its price, although the lack of sat-nav on the mid-spec GXL may push buyers towards the top-spec Crusade, therefore diminishing this affordability factor.

WHAT YOU GET

ALL Fortuner models come with seven seats, tilt-and-reach steering wheel adjustment, a cool box, auto headlights, a reversing camera, and a rear diff lock. Over and above the GX, the GXL adds Ďsmartí key entry, push-button start, 17-inch alloys (instead of the GXís black steelies), roof rails, front fog lights, rear parking sensors, downhill assist, and paddle shifters for the auto.

The Crusade adds sat-nav, leather, climate control, an electric-adjust driverís seat, a power tailgate, a 220V socket, 18s, LED headlights and daytime running lights.

T OYOTA F O RT U N E R C R U S A D E

ENGINE 2.8-litre 4-cyl turbodiesel MAXIMUM POWER 130kW @ 3400rpm MAXIMUM TORQUE 450Nm @ 1600-2400rpm GEARBOX six-speed automatic 4X4 SYSTEM dual-range part-time CRAWL RATIO 36.1:1 TYRE SPEC 265/60R18 110T KERB WEIGHT 2135kg GVM 2750kg PAYLOAD 615kg TOWING CAPACITY 2800kg FUEL TANK CAPACITY 80 litres ADR FUEL CLAIM 7.8L/100km TEST FUEL USE 12.1L/100km TOURING RANGE* 611km

T OYOTA F O R T U N E R P R I C E S *

GX (MANUAL) $47,990 GX (AUTO) $49,990 GXL (MANUAL) $52,990 GXL (AUTO) $54,990 CRUSADE (MANUAL) $59,990 CRUSADE (AUTOMATIC) $61,990 *Does not include on-road costs.

THE VERDICT

These five wagons have their various strengths and weaknesses, but they are all similar in their general capabilities. All have five-star ANCAP safety and all, except the Pajero Sport, seat seven people. In auto form they can also tow between 2800kg (Fortuner) and 3100kg (Pajero Sport), although the manual Fortuner is rated to tow 3000kg.

More importantly, all of these vehicles can be driven straight from the showroom into reasonably difficult 4x4 country, without having to change anything, provided itís not too wet, in which case the standard tyres would become a liability.

Speaking of tyres, all five wagons have off-road suitable wheel and tyre specification. 18s are standard and all will accept the 16s or 17s off their respective lower-spec models, or their ute counterpart. They all also come with full-sized spares.

We asked our five test drivers to rank the vehicles from one to five on the basis of no cost difference. For all drivers the Everest ranked number one and the Fortuner ranked number two. From there opinions varied, with the Pajero Sport receiving three third places, one fourth place and one fifth place. The MU-X was close behind with two third places and three fourth places while the Colorado 7 received one fourth place and four fifth places.

All thatís very subjective, as the cost of these 4x4s varies widely, with more than $10,000 difference in the entrylevel prices and more than $25,000 difference in the price of the top-spec models.

If value for money is what youíre after and you donít need seven seats, itís hard to go past the Pajero Sport, which has the lowest starting price ($45,000) Ė even the top-spec model ($52,750) is cheaper than the base-spec Everest ($54,990). The Pajero Sport offers full-time 4x4 and is well-equipped across the range while the Exceed comes with advanced safety features. However, some buyers wonít like the lack of a CD player or that thereís no in-built sat-nav; thereís only an embedded app that grants access to sat-nav from your smart phone.

The MU-X offers solid value and should be a good ownership proposition, given its well-proven powertrain. It doesnít have much in the way of notable equipment (bar the rear DVD in the LS-T), but it still has most things you want. The MU-X is a better proposition than its cousin, the Colorado 7, which, like the Pajero Sport, doesnít have a CD player and only offers sat-nav via a smart phone app.

The Fortuner and the Everest stand out from the others thanks to a few things, but, most notably, because of their superior off-road ability, which puts them both in a different league.

For its part, the Fortuner is cheaper than the Everest and comes with the option of a manual gearbox. Itís also a simpler vehicle than the Everest and would be the first choice for an outback tourer, given the commonality of parts with the Hilux. Itís just a pity that if you want sat-nav in your Fortuner you need to get the top-spec Crusade, which, at $59,990 for the manual or $61,990 for the auto, sees its price advantage over the Everest evaporate.

The best drive here, especially on-road, is the Everest, thanks to its Ďsmartí full-time 4x4. The Everest is at its best, in terms of value, in the mid-spec Trend ($60,990), even if you have to fork out an extra $600 for the sat-nav.