A WEIRD MOB

The seven most interesting 4x4 vehicles of 2016 get together for a week to determine the 4x4 Of The Year.

WORDS DEAN MELLOR AND FRASER STRONACH PHOTOS ELLEN DEWAR

HICH vehicles are in contention for 4x4 Of The Year comes down to the simple expediency of being all-new – or significantly revised, mechanically – in that year. Given this selection process leaves out even best-in-class vehicles if they aren’t new or haven’t been significantly updated in the previous 12 months, the field thrown up is often criticised and sometimes misunderstood.

For example, in this lot you’ll find no LC200, Prado, Hilux, Ranger or Everest, just to name a few of the obvious suspects. For that we make no apologies given our on-going best-in-class tests published regularly and recently.

However, what you will find is arguably the most diverse range of 4x4s we have ever assembled to battle it out over a week of take-noprisoners 4X4OTY testing.

For the first time in 4X4OTY we have a Chinese-designedand- built 4x4, the all-new Haval H9. Think Chinese Prado but petrol-only. It’s close to the least-expensive vehicle here – despite being the top-spec model – but arguably the best equipped. At the other end of the spectrum the most expensive vehicle here, the just introduced Mercedes-Benz G-Glass Professional cab-chassis, is the most utilitarian. w -no- S E V E N O F T H E B E S T OF T YE YEAR T YE The technology on display runs from the highly sophisticated Volkswagen Amarok, sporting a new V6 engine similar to that used in the likes of the Porsche Cayenne diesel, right across the spectrum to the relative simplicity of the revised Land Cruiser 70 Series. In between these extremes of cost, features, technology and function are two Holdens – the significantly revised Colorado ute and new Trailblazer wagon – and Mitsubishi’s Pajero Sport wagon.

All up there are four utes and two wagons based on utes, all of which is a sign of the times in the four-wheel drive world.

All bar one engine in the field is a diesel, again a sign of the times. Ditto an almost exclusively all-automatic field with only one manual. And, interestingly, the only non-diesel, a very modern lowpressure turbo-petrol engine, could be the way of the future given the threat posed to diesels by end-of-decade emissions regulations.

As ever, our weeklong testing involves set-piece 4x4, trail driving and touring on a wide variety of roads, and pits the seven aspirants to the 4X4OTY throne not against one another but against our five award criteria, listed opposite. Each of our judges (in blind voting) awards every vehicle points out of 10 for each of the five criteria. All the points from all the judges are then tallied and the vehicle with the most number of points wins. Simple, really. revis a th pos regula T H E B E S T S E V E N O F HE YEAR

THE CRITERIA F I N D I N G A W I N N E R

VALUE FOR MONEY

What you get for what you pay. A particular vehicle may be expensive, but if it delivers on what it promises it can be good value. Conversely, a less expensive vehicle may not deliver at all and therefore be poor value.

BREAKING NEW GROUND

Each vehicle is rated for the new technology or features it has and on the effectiveness of that technology or those features.

BUILT TOUGH

Each vehicle is rated on how well it is designed and built.

BUSHABILITY

Each vehicle is rated on how practical it is in the bush and in the outback, and how readily it can be made more bush and outback practical via aftermarket enhancement.

DOING THE JOB

The vehicle is rated on how well it does the job it has been designed for. If it’s a ute, how good is it at being a ute? And if it’s a family wagon, how good is it at being a family wagon?

THE JUDGES I N D U S T R Y E X P E R T S

DAVID COOK

1ST 4WD: GQ Petrol wagon CURRENT 4WD: GU wagon 4X4 CAREER STARTED: 2008 as 4WD mag journo CURRENT ROLE: Marketing manager for Tough Dog FAVOURITE DEST: Fraser Island BUCKET LIST TRIP: Kimberley

DAN EVERETT

1ST 4WD: 1986 Toyota 4Runner CURRENT 4WD: 60 Series Cruiser 4X4 CAREER STARTED: 2012 as 4WD mag journo CURRENT ROLE: Freelance writer FAVOURITE DESTINATION: Cape York BUCKET LIST TRIP: Siberia

DEAN MELLOR

1ST 4WD: Series 2 Land Rover CURRENT 4WD: D22 Navara 4X4 CAREER STARTED: 1994 as 4WD mag journo CURRENT ROLE: Freelancer; Tech Ed for ARB FAVOURITE DESTINATION: Northern Simpson BUCKET LIST TRIP: Simpson Desert in topless LC

RON MOON

1ST 4WD: 1955 Jeep Wagoneer CURRENT 4WD: GU Patrol; LC79; Dodge Ram 4X4 CAREER STARTED: 1981 as freelancer CURRENT ROLE: Editor-at-Large for 4X4 Au FAVOURITE DESTINATION: Cape York BUCKET LIST TRIP: Africa (again)

NORM NEEDHAM

1ST 4WD: Series 1 Land Rover CURRENT 4WD: 100 Series single-cab Cruiser 4X4 CAREER STARTED: Early 80s (Traction 4) CURRENT ROLE: Guru of all things Toyota 4WD FAVOURITE DESTINATION: Vic High Country BUCKET LIST TRIP: Iceland

MATT RAUDONIKIS

1ST AND ONLY 4WD: BJ73 Cruiser 4X4 CAREER STARTED: 2000 as 4WD mag journo CURRENT ROLE: Editor 4X4 Australia FAVOURITE DESTINATION: Flinders Ranges BUCKET LIST TRIP: South and Central America

BRYAN WELLS

1ST 4WD: TD42 GQ Patrol CURRENT 4WD: 79 Series dual-cab Cruiser 4X4 CAREER STARTED: 1993, Mitsubishi mechanic CURRENT ROLE: Top Of Down Under FAVOURITE DESTINATION: Nimbi Nimbi Sinkhole BUCKET LIST TRIP: Rubicon Trail (USA)

PENNY WELLS

www.4X4australia.com.au 25 1ST 4WD: Daihatsu Scat CURRENT 4WD: 79 Series dual-cab Cruiser 4X4 CAREER STARTED: Top Of Down Under FAVOURITE DESTINATION: Poppy’s Pools (NT) BUCKET LIST TRIP: Tasmania’s west coast

T H E C O N T E N D E R S

HAVAL H9 LUXURY

HAVAL is Great Wall’s SUV offshoot brand, and the H9 is the only proper 4x4 in the Haval range. While a ‘take’ on the Toyota Prado in general size and layout, thanks in part to Haval’s recruitment of former Toyota chief engineer Suguya Fukusato, the H9 is petrol-fuelled only.

The engine in question is a 2.0-litre turbo four-cylinder, reportedly designed in-house at Haval. The 4x4 system uses a self-locking and self-proportioning electronic transfer case (built under license from Borg Warner) much like that used in the Ford Everest.

The model supplied for 4X4OTY was the top-spec Luxury. The cheaper Premium loses the sunroof, leather, electric-seat adjust and has 17s in place of 18s and no terrain settings for the otherwise similar 4x4 system.

F T tu in

HAVAL H9 LUXURY

ENGINE: MAXIMUM POWER: MAXIMUM TORQUE: GEARBOX: 4X4 SYSTEM: CRAWL RATIO: TYRE SPEC: KERB WEIGHT: GVM: PAYLOAD: TOWING CAPACITY: GCM: FUEL TANK CAPACITY: ADR FUEL CLAIM: PRICE: 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo-petrol 160kW @ 5500rpm 324Nm @ 2000-4000rpm six-speed automatic dual-range full-time 43.6:1 265/60R18 110H 2236kg 2850kg 614kg 2500kg 5350kg 80 litres 12.1L/100km $49,990* *Price are drive-away.

TOURING

THE Haval H9 delivers a surprisingly compliant ride on secondary and gravel roads and it displays good behaviour at touring speeds, as well as impressive road-shock isolation courtesy of its separate chassis architecture.

However, at higher speeds it starts to feel a little untidy on rough roads and the steering becomes vague.

Despite its relatively small turbocharged petrol engine, on-road performance is more than adequate for a family wagon. Poking around town the engine feels smooth enough, but open the throttle and it becomes noisy and harsh as the revs rise.

The ZF six-speed automatic transmission delivers smooth shifts and the ratios are well-matched to the engine. Under full throttle there is little discernible difference between the Auto and Sport modes within the Haval’s All- Terrain Control System (ATCS), although the latter is programmed to hold on to gears for longer before upshifting.

The H9 recorded an average fuel consumption figure of 14.3L/100km on test, so touring range from the 80L tank is limited to a tad more than 500km.

TRAIL DRIVING

THE H9 is equipped with an impressive arsenal of traction goodies to assist when it ventures off-road. The Luxury model tested here has Haval’s All Terrain Control System with Auto, Sport, Sand, Snow, Mud and 4L modes – it automatically apportions torque to the axle that needs it up to a split of 50:50 (front:rear). Selecting the required mode is by way of a dial, which is easy enough to operate but is a bit of an ergonomic miss as it’s set to the left of the centre console and is not clearly marked.

By selecting 4L the rear diff lock automatically engages, which is great if you have a gnarly and slippery hill to climb, but a bit superfluous if you don’t, in which case you can easily disengage it by pressing a button. Nevertheless, the diff lock, effective traction control system, good wheel travel and adequate ground clearance, combined with the engine’s decent low-rpm grunt and good low-range gearing, endow the H9 with surprisingly good performance on a trail.

Over-bonnet visibility isn’t great compared to its rivals and we had a couple of odd warning lights momentarily appear on the dash (such as “E-Handbrake System Fault”), but the H9 proved reliable and capable on bush tracks despite the sometimes-challenging conditions.

SET-PIECE HILL CLIMB

AS THE judges stood around at the bottom of our set-piece hill climb expecting the Haval H9 to come unstuck at the first big wheel rut, there were soon gasps of surprise and admiration as the H9 made the climb look easy.

The H9 climbed the hill over and over again with barely a hint of wheelspin. In fact, the only complaint on the climb was the lack of over-bonnet visibility when cresting the hill.

Coming back down, the H9’s engine braking wasn’t fantastic, and the Hill Descent Control was set too fast, but good brake feel made it easy enough to retard the descent without fear of an uncontrolled slide.

It didn’t bottom out on the set-piece hill climb, but the H9’s ground clearance is best described as adequate. Additionally, a fair amount of care must be taken to avoid damaging the wide sidesteps.

D E A N M E L L O R

IF YOU ARE AFTER A LUXURY 4X4 ON A BUDGET, NOTHING COMES CLOSE TO THE HAVAL H9. IT’S ALSO PRETTY HANDY ON AND OFF THE ROAD.

HOWEVER, ONLY TIME WILL TELL IF IT WILL LAST

CABIN, EQUIPMENT AND ACCOMMODATION

THE H9 Luxury is absolutely loaded with gear belying its $50K drive-away price. Standard equipment includes leather trim, electrically adjustable front seats with heating, cooling and massage

function, electrically folding third-row seats, sunroof, parking sensors, reversing camera, driver condition monitor, tyre pressure monitor, eight-inch TFT screen, GPS navigation, 10-speaker sound system, tri-zone climate control air-conditioning, and much, much more.

It’s not hard to get comfortable behind the wheel of the H9 and the cabin is generally a very pleasant place to be, with good quality materials and trim.

The electrically folding third-row seats are a great feature, but passenger access to the third row is compromised by the 60/40 split of the second row being set up for left-hand drive markets. In fact, without someone outside the vehicle to fold the second-row seat for you, you can only exit the third row on the driver’s side – which isn’t ideal for the Aussie market.

When the third-row seats are not in use, the H9 offers generous cargo space, with decent luggage tie-down points and a 12V power outlet in the rear. There’s also a comprehensive tool kit located in the cargo door.

PRACTICALITIES

THE H9 Luxury runs 265/60R18 Cooper Discoverer HTS tyres on alloy rims. This tyre size matches the Toyota Prado, so tyres should be easy to source outside of major centres when on a trip.

Haval has ensured the alternator and electrics are located high up in the engine bay and the air intake is through the right-hand inner guard, giving the H9 a claimed 700mm fording depth. If you wanted to, and with a bit of fiddling, you could fit a small auxiliary battery under the bonnet.

Up front the H9 has a pair of decent recovery points, and there’s one at the rear. Other than the aforementioned wide sidesteps, we didn’t have ground clearance issues on test and everything is tucked up and out of the way.

SUMMARY

N O R M N E E D H A M

THE NEWCOMER WITH A LOT TO PROVE. IT CONTINUALLY PUNCHED ABOVE ITS WEIGHT

M A T T R A U D O N I K I S

SURPRISING LEVELS OF EQUIPMENT, ABILITY AND REFINEMENT ONLY LET DOWN BY HARSH AND THIRSTY ENGINE. WILL BE INTERESTING TO SEE WHERE HAVAL IS IN FIVE YEARS’ TIME LOADED with gear, the Haval H9 represents good value for money. It’s also a comfortable tourer, has good off-road capability and appears to be well built, but without a diesel engine option we can’t see it becoming a sales success in Australia. And this means aftermarket accessory manufacturers are unlikely to develop bullbars, snorkels and other essential off-road equipment for it.

TOUGHEN UP

A TOUGH Dog suspension kit has not been developed for the Haval yet, but watch for a release in 2017. The H9’s design similarities with other vehicles on the market means that there may be some components already developed and suitable for this vehicle.

HOLDEN COLORADO LTZ

T H E C O N T E N D E R S

AFTER several unsuccessful attempts at bringing its 2012-launched Colorado up to scratch, Holden has finally pulled the whole thing apart and started again. It has moved the engine’s balance shafts, added sound deadening, changed the engine and body mounts, installed a new torque convertor, recalibrated the suspension, added electric power steering, and installed a thicker windscreen, new window seals, roof mouldings and mirror mounts. The maximum power (147kW) and maximum torque (500Nm) figures from the 2.8-litre VM Motori diesel remain unchanged, but Holden claims the low rpm torque is now stronger. Colorado also gets a new dash, extra kit and a new frontend treatment to keep it current.

Our test vehicle was the Colorado LTZ.

Heated leather seats are an option on the LTZ. The less expensive LT has 17s and a smaller touchscreen, and loses the embedded sat-nav, tyre-pressure monitoring, power driver’s seat, auto wipers, climate control, tonneau cover, th n su a w sports bar and the high-end safety features. The work-spec LS loses sidesteps and fog lights and has 16-inch steel wheels, but it has the highest payload.

HOLDEN COLORADO LTZ

ENGINE: MAXIMUM POWER: MAXIMUM TORQUE: GEARBOX: 4X4 SYSTEM: CRAWL RATIO: TYRE SPEC: KERB WEIGHT: GVM: PAYLOAD: TOWING CAPACITY: GCM: FUEL TANK CAPACITY: ADR FUEL CLAIM: PRICE: 2.8-litre 4-cyl turbo-diesel 147kW @ 3600rpm 500Nm @ 2000rpm six-speed automatic dual-range part-time 36.8:1 265/60R18 110T 2121kg 3150kg 1029kg 3500kg 6000kg 76 litres 8.7L/100km $52,960 *Price exclude on-road costs; mechanically similar variants only.

TOURING

THE first thing you notice sitting in the new Colorado is the redesigned dash layout that does away with the previous model’s awkward central-dial arrangement. The new dash has nice, big, clearly marked buttons to operate everything from the HVAC to driving aids, and the eight-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is bright and well located.

The new electric power-steering features a faster steering rack and fewer turns lockto- lock for a more responsive feel, and the recalibrated suspension (new dampers, bigger front stabiliser and revised spring rates) results in a more compliant ride and better control, particularly over bumpy back roads and crook gravel roads.

The Colorado’s 2.8L turbo-diesel engine makes plenty of torque from down low,

it has an impressive top-end and it’s well mated to the six-speed automatic transmission. Road noise isolation is also improved in the new Colorado, making it a much more pleasant vehicle for touring.

On test the Colorado LTZ recorded an impressive average fuel consumption of 11.1L/100km, offering a safe touring range in excess of 630km.

TRAIL DRIVING

THE new suspension calibration is most noticeable when driving the Colorado on back roads and tracks. It now delivers a more compliant ride over uneven ground, even with a nominal load in the tray. In fact, some testers said it now feels much more like the Isuzu D-Max, with which it shares its basic platform.

Front ground clearance was an issue on a few tracks, and the plastic sidesteps are vulnerable, but the Colorado conquered everything we threw at it out on the trails. Despite only a moderate overall ratio of 36.8:1 in first gear, it climbed the High Country’s steep tracks with ease, but engine braking could have been better on the descents.

P E N N Y W E L L S

HATS OFF TO HOLDEN FOR SOME DRAMATIC CHANGES TO THE PREVIOUS COLORADO, BUT IS IT ENOUGH TO COMPETE WITH SOME PRETTY STIFF COMPETITION?

SET-PIECE HILL CLIMB

THE set-piece hill climb is covered in big holes that really test a vehicle’s wheel travel, and while the Colorado is quite good in this regard, as soon as full extension is reached it needs to rely on its electronic traction control to get to the top. Unfortunately, the calibration of said traction control wasn’t up to the job on this occasion and without the benefit of a rear diff lock (as fitted to many other dual-cab utes these days) the Colorado was unable to make the climb.

Despite several attempts the Colorado adamantly spun its wheels furiously every time in an attempt to gain purchase and eventually a completely different line had to be chosen to crest the hill to avoid the deepest holes on the track.

Engine braking proved adequate rather than outstanding and, like most hill descent control systems, the Colorado’s is set a too fast for extremely steep descents.

CABIN, EQUIPMENT AND ACCOMMODATION

THE Colorado’s redesigned cabin is a much more pleasant place to be than the previous model’s. But while the dash layout is now vastly more attractive, it’s black, so it only takes a small amount of dust and it looks messy.

The Colorado LTZ is well equipped and

now has active safety features such as tyre pressure monitor, forward collision alert, lane-departure warning, hill-start assist, hill-descent control, trailer-sway control, roll-over mitigation, rear-park assist and reversing camera, and a full complement of seven airbags. It also has an electrically adjustable driver’s seat, climate control air-conditioning and plenty of 12V power outlets. Leather seat trim is optional on the LTZ but standard on the Z71.

The biggest and most obvious omission from the standard equipment list is a rear diff lock, which is almost de rigueur in the 4x4 ute segment these days. Without it, the Colorado simply doesn’t match the competition for off-road capability.

PRACTICALITIES

THE Colorado’s engine bay is reasonably well set-up for off-road driving, with the alternator, ECU and other electrics all up high, and the air intake through the inner guard. However, on the downside you’ll need to get a spanner out to access the air filter, and you’ll also have to move a few things around if you want to fit a second battery under the bonnet.

Approach, ramp-over and departure angles aren’t great, and we hung up the rear bumper a couple of times when exiting gullies off-road. There are two recovery points at the front.

The Colorado LTZ wears 265/60R18 Bridgestone Duelers on its alloy rims, but if you aren’t happy with this you could always fit the 17-inch rims from the LT model.

SUMMARY

“THE new Colorado is leaps and bounds in front of the outgoing model, but that’s more a comment about the old than the new,” commented 4X4OTY judge Dan Everett. He’s right, too – while it’s much improved it still falls short of some of the competition, and there’s still a question mark hanging over its off-road capability in extreme terrain.

TOUGHEN UP

THE new Colorado has only limited changes to the suspension, so the Tough Dog offering from the previous Colorado is still relevant for this one. A handbrake relocation kit (as the cable changed locations) has been added.

Tough Dog offers foam cell and adjustable shocks as well as two front springs (up to bullbar, and vehicles with bullbar and winch fitted) along with three rear leaf options to suit constant load carrying.

Its suspension solutions offer a 40mm lift over standard height for this vehicle.

Prices range from $1660 to $2170 depending on the options selected, so get your hands on a test vehicle. Its design similarities with other vehicles on the market mean that there may be some components already developed and suitable for this vehicle.

R O N M O O N

BETTER THAN THE PREVIOUS MODEL, BUT IN A CROWDED AND COMPETITIVE MARKET IT’S NOT GOING TO RATE TOO HIGHLY

N O R M N E E D H A M

WITH FUNCTION BEING MORE IMPORTANT THAN FORM (TO ME) THE COSMETIC CHANGES ARE LESS THAN INSPIRING.

THE MECHANICAL ‘REFINEMENT’ OVER THE PREVIOUS MODEL(S) IS NOTICEABLE

T H E C O N T E N D E R S

HOLDEN TRAILBLAZER LTZ

TRAILBLAZER is a new name for what was previously called the Colorado 7; a seven-seat wagon based on the Colorado ute, in this case the much-revised MY17 Colorado.

All the detail changes of the ute have been made with the wagon; although, with the suspension, only the dampers on the wagon have been changed whereas the ute gets new springs, dampers and front swaybar. As with the ute the vast majority of the changes are aimed at addressing refinement issues found in the previous model. Over Colorado 7 the Trailblazer also gets a new dash and more tech kit such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, as well as embedded sat-nav in the top-spec model.

We tested the Trailblazer LTZ. The cheaper LT gets 17s but loses tyrepressure monitoring, embedded sat-nav, heated leather seats, driver’s electric adjustment, premium audio, auto wipers, climate control and all the high-end safety features such as the forward w w d u collision, lane-departure, rear cross-traffic and blind-spot incursion warnings.

HOLDEN TRAILBLAZER LTZ

ENGINE: MAXIMUM POWER: MAXIMUM TORQUE: GEARBOX: 4X4 SYSTEM: CRAWL RATIO: TYRE SPEC: KERB WEIGHT: GVM: PAYLOAD: TOWING CAPACITY: GCM: FUEL TANK CAPACITY: ADR FUEL CLAIM: PRICE: 2.8-litre 4-cyl turbo-diesel 147kW @ 3600rpm 500Nm @ 2000rpm six-speed automatic dual-range part-time 36.4:1 265/60R18 110T 2203kg 2820kg 617kg 3000kg 5700kg 76 litres 8.2L/100km $52,490 *Price exclude on-road costs

TOURING

THE Trailblazer driving experience is very similar to that of the dual-cab Colorado on which it’s based. In fact, as both of our test vehicles were the same spec level, you could be forgiven for forgetting which vehicle you were driving at times.

That’s more of a compliment on the Colorado’s improved ride quality than a criticism of the Trailblazer’s.

With the same dash layout and trim materials as its sibling, most testers found the cabin of the Trailblazer to be functional and well-designed but, once again, the dark plastic trim showed up every speck of dust that landed on its surface – and it also wouldn’t respond well to the fingerprints of kids.

Engine performance is good with plenty of low-rpm torque and good power delivery throughout the rev range, and the six-speed auto transmission offers smooth shifts and a good spread of ratios.

The part-time shift-on-the-fly 4x4 system is effective enough, but you have to remember to disengage 4x4 once you’re back on the blacktop.

Road, wind and engine noise suppression have been improved which makes the Trailblazer more comfortable on long drives, and a fuelconsumption average of 12.1L/100km endows the Trailblazer with a touring range just shy of 600km.

TRAIL DRIVING

SLIGHTLY better ramp-over angle courtesy of its shorter wheelbase meant the Trailblazer bottomed out less frequently than the Colorado on big mitre drains, but its plastic sidesteps are just as susceptible to damage out on the trails. We know, because we broke one.

With plenty of low-down poke and reasonable low-range reduction, the Trailblazer climbed steep hills without a problem on test and over-bonnet visibility was good. However, engine braking wasn’t effective on steep descents.

SET-PIECE HILL CLIMB

LIKE the Colorado, the Holden Trailblazer didn’t like our set-piece hill climb, struggling for grip in the dry dirt when the limits of wheel travel were reached.

The shorter wheelbase and coilspring rear suspension of the Trailblazer made little difference to its progress; the traction control system was unable to prevent wheelspin and the driving line had to be adjusted significantly to eventually make a successful ascent, avoiding the deepest of the holes on the hill climb. The lack of a rear diff lock and the calibration of the traction-control system did the Trailblazer no favours here.

M A T T R A U D O N I K I S

REPRESENTS AN IMPROVEMENT ON THE COLORADO 7 BUT STILL NOT A CLASS LEADER. PLENTY OF SPACE INSIDE AND GOOD LEVEL OF EQUIPMENT

CABIN, EQUIPMENT AND ACCOMMODATION

THE Trailblazer LTZ is well-equipped with standard leather trim, electrically adjustable driver’s seat, heated front seats and active safety features such as tyrepressure monitor, forward-collision alert, lane-departure warning, hill-start assist, hill-descent control, trailer-sway control, roll-over mitigation, front and rear park assist, and reversing camera.

The second-row tumble fold seats have a 60/40 split for easy access to the third row. Try to put three adults across the second row and the outer passengers will complain of a lack of shoulder room; although legroom is adequate and there are air-conditioning vents in the roof.

D A N E V E R E T T

AVERAGE OFF-ROAD PERFORMANCE MADE IT MORE OF A CAPABLE FAMILY WAGON THAN A COMFORTABLE OFF-ROADER

B R Y A N W E L L S

MORE AT HOME ON THE BLACKTOP ZIPPING AROUND THE CITY SHOPPING MALLS, THE COIL REAR END WAS A HANDFUL AT SPEED ON GRAVEL ROADS Setting up the third-row seats isn’t easy.

First you have to remove the cargo blind and stow it in a compartment under the cargo floor, then you have to reach forward to pull the seats up. However, once set up you can fit two adults in there with adequate legroom and almost enough headroom. There’s good visibility for third-row passengers, as well as a couple of air-conditioning vents. In summary, the Trailblazer is a better seven-seat wagon than some of its competitors.

PRACTICALITIES

THE Trailblazer LTZ comes standard with 18-inch wheels shod with 265/60R18 Bridgestone Duelers. The standard tyrepressure monitor could end up saving you big bucks if you do a lot of gravelroad and off-road driving.

The under-bonnet layout is the same as the Colorado, which means the alternator, ECU and other electrics are all located up high, the air intake is via the inner guard, and you’ll need at least a spanner to access the air filter. There’s also not much room for a second battery.

SUMMARY

“DESPITE the huge improvement over the Colorado 7, if you’re looking for a tough touring wagon, the Trailblazer probably isn’t the wagon you’re looking for,” 4X4OTY judge David Cook said.

A reasonable tourer with good equipment levels and accommodation for seven, the Trailblazer LTZ falls short on off-road capability and its part-time 4x4 system is now considered old-school for this class of family wagon.

TOUGHEN UP

WHILE the name may have changed, the underpinnings of the Trailblazer with regard to suspension are the same as the previous Colorado 7. As such, the front strut components are common with the Colorado ute, and Tough Dog offers two rear springs (0-300kg and constant 300kg+ load). Price ranges from $1340 to $1660, depending on options selected.

MERCEDES-BENZ G-PROFESSIONAL CAB CHASSIS

T H E C O N T E N D E R S

MERCEDES-BENZ G300

ENGINE: MAXIMUM POWER: MAXIMUM TORQUE: GEARBOX: 4X4 SYSTEM: CRAWL RATIO: TYRE SPEC: KERB WEIGHT: GVM: PAYLOAD: TOWING CAPACITY: GCM: FUEL TANK CAPACITY: ADR FUEL CLAIM: PRICE: 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel 135kW @ 3800rpm 400Nm @ 1600-2600rpm five-speed automatic dual-range full-time 41.0:1 265/75R16 2410kg 4490kg 2080kg 2210kg N/A 97 litres N/A $119,900 *Price excludes the tray and on-road costs.

CONCEIVED in the early 1970s and in production before the end of that decade, the G-Class is Mercedes- Benz’s longest running model and even outdates Toyota’s venerable 70 Series.

This G-Class Professional G300 is the latest in a long line of G-Class variants to be sold here over the years and joins the G350 and G63 AMG wagons introduced back in 2011.

There’s only one engine, an extremely low-tuned version of Mercedes-Benz’s ubiquitous V6 diesel that’s designed to run on the world’s poorest quality diesel.

A five-speed automatic is the only gearbox offered and it’s mated to the G-Class’ trademark dual-range full-time 4x4 system with its triple diff locks.

The bullbar, snorkel, light protectors, allterrain tyres and air-con are all standard.

Options include a walk-on bonnet with a 100kg load rating and cyclonic pre-filter for the snorkel. The tray is aftermarket and not an official M-B accessory. e T h G

TOURING

IF YOU’RE looking for a tough 4x4 cabchassis to carry up to two tonnes of gear, then the G-Professional should be at the top of your shopping list. However, if you’re looking for a hardcore touring ute, then this probably isn’t the vehicle for you.

The G-Professional is a no-compromise workhorse and an ergonomic nightmare.

It’s uncomfortable to sit in, tiring to drive, unladen ride quality is horrible, NVH levels are extreme, the dash is from a bygone era, there aren’t any cup holders, there’s no centre console, the seats offer little support, the driving position is cramped, and there’s no cruise control… Partially due to its brick-outhouse aerodynamics and hefty 2410kg kerb weight, the G-Professional’s 3.0L V6 turbo-diesel engine proved lacklustre and thirsty, sucking down distillate at an average rate of 16.1L/100km, so you’d have to top up the 97-litre fuel tank every

550km or so on a trip that includes a mix of touring and off-road driving. 4X4OTY judge Ron Moon did more miles in the G-Professional than the rest of the judging team and, after a long stint behind the wheel, had this to say: “Just drove the Merc back from Wangaratta. Pig of a thing – you had to keep the foot pressed heavily into the floor to keep it going (got a cramp!). And in the bush every throttle input was initiated with a heavy push of the throttle.”

D A V I D C O O K

YOU’D PROBABLY COME OUT OF THE RING AFTER THREE ROUNDS WITH MIKE TYSON IN BETTER SHAPE THAN AN HOUR BEHIND THE WHEEL OF THIS MERCEDES

TRAIL DRIVING

GET over the harsh ride quality and the apparent lack of rear-wheel travel (when unladen, at least) and the G-Professional is a very capable vehicle on the trails. It has excellent low-range reduction and a full-time 4x4 system with lockable front, centre and rear diffs. Locking the diffs is a simple affair too; simply press the relevant button and an orange light tells you the diff is about to lock, then, when the red light illuminates, you know it’s locked.

Ground clearance is excellent, although the super-long wheelbase results in a ramp-over angle of just 22 degrees, which can see the G-Professional bottom out on big mitre drains. Never fear, the chassis is rock solid and there’s nothing hanging down that could be damaged by a minor grounding. Approach and departure angles are much better at 38 and 35 degrees respectively, but the latter will obviously depend on your choice of tray.

Over-bonnet visibility isn’t bad but the view to the rear will be impeded by whatever you’re carrying in the back. On the other hand, the large external mirrors are excellent.

SET-PIECE HILL CLIMB

WITH low-range selected and front, centre and rear diffs locked, the unladen G-Professional ascended the set-piece hill climb easily enough, but it didn’t look all that smooth doing it.

With stiff rear springs capable of hauling a two-tonne load, but with nothing actually in the tray this time, the G-Professional exhibited virtually none of its potential rear wheel travel, and the super-stiff chassis barely flexed. As a result, opposing rear wheels lifted high off the ground over the set-piece hill climb’s deep holes, and the G-Professional had to rely on its locked diffs to maintain traction and forward momentum.

The G-Professional exhibited a similar style when descending the steep hill, dropping its front wheels into holes while

kicking its rear wheels high into the air. This resulted in an uneasy feeling behind the wheel. “Instead of walking through the holes, it walks over them, and bounces you around because of that,” explained 4X4 Ed Matt Raudonikis after tackling the set-piece hill climb.

He was, however, impressed with the G300’s excellent low-range reduction and impressive engine braking. k a b t

CABIN, EQUIPMENT AND ACCOMMODATION

WOW! $120K and you don’t even get cup holders! At least air-conditioning is standard, as are wind-up windows, a passenger grab handle and a floor plug with a chain so you can drain water out if necessary. Despite the centre console being bolted shut to house the G-Professional’s electronics, there are decent-size storage boxes under the seats and a lockable glovebox.

Safety gear includes dual airbags, ABS, brake assist, electronic brake force distribution and electronic stability control. The Benz also comes standard with a snorkel, bullbar, side rails, headlight and indicator light protector grilles, and a full-size spare (loose).

The tray fitted to the test vehicle is an aftermarket item, as M-B supplies the G-Professional as a cab-chassis only.

W c p

PRACTICALITIES

THE standard snorkel, bullbar and side rails are great, as are the bright red recovery points front and rear that look like they could haul a Panzer tank out of the muck at any point in time.

The G-Professional is fitted with LT265/75R16 BF Goodrich All Terrains and there’s a tyre pressure loss warning system. As well as plenty of ground clearance, the Benz’s underbody components are tucked up and out of the way, so you’re unlikely to harm anything.

The huge mirrors are excellent, as is the passenger’s grab handle, which prevents them from being thrown around the cabin as you bounce over tracks.

SUMMARY

THE G-Professional had its fans and haters after a week in the bush. “I might be a glutton for punishment but the G-Professional was the one that had me smiling all week,” 4X4OTY judge Dan Everett said. Penny Wells, on the other hand, offered this: “The one vehicle I was extremely keen to test drive quickly became the one I disliked, partly due to not packing a kidney belt for the week.”

The G-Professional really proves the old adage ‘horses for courses’. If you had a heavy load to haul then the Benz would be up for the job. But if you had to occasionally drive it unladen, or over long distances, you’d probably struggle to last a full day in the saddle.

TOUGHEN UP

A KIT for the Benz cab-chassis has not been developed, but Tough Dog will be consulting with specific application users, such as the military, to establish what the vehicle will be used for so it can tailor suspension solutions to suit.

D E A N M E L L O R

THE G300 IS A NO-COMPROMISE LOADHAULING OFF-ROADER.

PLENTY CAPABLE BUT NOT SO NICE TO DRIVE ON THE ROAD, NOT SO COMFY IN THE CABIN AND EXPENSIVE FOR WHAT YOU GET

R O N M O O N

A REAL BOOM BOX… LOUD WIND NOISE, LOUD ROAD NOISE AND LOUD INDUCTION NOISE. SO BASIC I’D BE HARD-PUSHED TO FIND ANYONE WHO WOULD LIKE IT! STILL, IT CARRIES A LOAD WELL

T H E C O N T E N D E R S

MITSUBISHI PAJERO SPORT GLS

THE Pajero Sport is based on the Triton ute that arrived early in 2015 and was a finalist at last year’s 4X4OTY. Aside from the body and the coil-spring rear suspension, the notable change from the Triton is an eight-speed automatic in place of the Triton’s five-speed auto. There’s no manual in the three-model range and all have Mitsubishi’s now unique Super Select 4x4 system that offers the functionality of full-time 4x4 but with the option of 4x2.

Otherwise it’s Triton engine, Triton front suspension and a shortened and modified Triton ladder-frame chassis.

Our test vehicle was the Pajero Sport GLS. The more expensive Exceed gains autonomous braking, blind-spot monitoring, external view cameras and a rear DVD system. Below the GLS is the GXL, which loses the third-row seats but gains payload and luggage space. th m ha 4x fu

MITSUBISHI PAJERO SPORT EXCEED

ENGINE: MAXIMUM POWER: MAXIMUM TORQUE: GEARBOX: 4X4 SYSTEM: CRAWL RATIO: TYRE SPEC: KERB WEIGHT: GVM: PAYLOAD: TOWING CAPACITY: GCM: FUEL TANK CAPACITY: ADR FUEL CLAIM: PRICE: 2.4-litre 4-cyl turbo-diesel 133kW @ 3500rpm 430Nm @ 2500rpm eight-speed automatic dual-range full-time (+2WD) 45.9:1 265/60R18 110H 2070kg 2710kg 640kg 3100kg 5400kg 68 litres 8.0L/100km $48,500 *Price exclude on-road costs.

TOURING

WITH its well-sorted suspension, strong engine, super-smooth eight-speed auto and selectable full-time 4x4 system, the Pajero Sport GLS proved to be a comfortable touring wagon. It’s also very well equipped, especially considering its sub-$50K asking price.

The soft suspension offers compliance on bumpy back roads and when driving on gravel. However, the Pajero Sport does exhibit pronounced body roll when cornering. Nevertheless, the fact you can engage full-time 4x4 on sealed or unsealed surfaces ensures there’s plenty of traction whenever you need it.

The Pajero Sport proved economical on test, recording an average fuel consumption figure of 11.2L/100km, but with a smallish 68L fuel tank safe touring range is limited to around 550km.

TRAIL DRIVING

THE Pajero Sport’s aforementioned soft suspension results in a good ride over bumpy off-road tracks. Ground clearance is adequate for most tracks, although the rear overhang is compromised by the location of the spare wheel and

furthermore when an OE towbar is fitted, as it was to our test vehicle.

The transmission’s paddle shifts are mounted to the steering column rather than the wheel, so you don’t have to fumble around looking for them when the wheel is turned, but the Pajero Sport was occasionally reluctant to shift down when manually prompted to do so.

Nevertheless, very good low-range reduction (45.9:1 in low range first gear) meant the hill descent control was virtually redundant and the Pajero Sport had no trouble climbing steep tracks.

The rear diff lock (standard on GLS and Exceed) engages quickly but once selected the traction control system is disengaged on both axles, so in many offroad situations you’re better option is to leave the rear diff open so you can take advantage of the traction control.

SET-PIECE HILL CLIMB

WITH the rear diff lock engaged, the Pajero Sport found the going tough on the set-piece hill climb. Rear-wheel travel is acceptable, but there isn’t a lot of travel up front, and without any electronic intervention the front wheels were left scrabbling for traction over even moderate undulations on the hill.

For its second attempt at the hill climb, the rear diff lock was disengaged to enable the electronic traction control system to do its thing; the Pajero Sport made it further up the climb in this configuration, but the driving line had to be altered to avoid the biggest holes in the track for it to eventually crest the hill.

The Pajero Sport’s impressive low-range gearing meant descending the set-piece hill climb was easy, with no need to apply the brakes or engage the HDC; very good stuff for an auto!

D E A N M E L L O R

THE MITSUBISHI DID EVERYTHING WE ASKED OF IT. IT’S A WELL-BUILT WAGON WITH A SMART DESIGN, REASONABLE PERFORMANCE, GOOD HANDLING AND DECENT OFF-ROAD CAPABILITY

CABIN, EQUIPMENT AND ACCOMMODATION

IT’S not the top-spec Pajero Sport, but the GLS is still very well-equipped and comes standard with features including leather seat trim, electric seat adjustment, dual-zone climate-control air-conditioning, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, and keyless entry.

The front seats are supportive and comfortable, but all of the 4X4OTY judges complained about the design of the centre console which encroaches on leg room and makes the cockpit feel cramped.

Comfortably accommodating three adults across the second-row seat is a big ask.

There’s not enough shoulder room and the outer-seat occupants feel as though they’re

leaning towards the centre. Meanwhile, the centre passenger will be sitting atop his or her own seatbelt buckle.

With a tumble fold design, access to the third-row seats is good, there’s reasonable legroom and there are air-conditioning vents and cup holders, but the child-seat anchor points that protrude from the roof compromise headroom.

With the third-row seats folded into the floor, the Pajero Sport has a good-size cargo area, but the cargo-tie-down points are not particularly strong, and there are only two of them.

PRACTICALITIES

ALL Pajero Sport models are equipped with 18-inch rims shod with 265/60R18 Dunlop GT AT20 rubber, which is now almost the standard size for this class.

While the air intake is positioned up high up through the Pajero Sport’s inner guard, the alternator is down at the midpoint of the engine bay where it’s more susceptible to a mud bath in extreme conditions. All other electrics are located up high, and there’s plenty of space for those who wish to fit a second battery or an air compressor in the engine bay.

If you get stuck in your Pajero Sport, you’ll be pleased to know it’s fitted with decent recovery points front and rear.

SUMMARY

THE Pajero Sport GLS packs plenty of equipment and features, yet is priced lower than many of its direct competitors.

It delivers good on-road performance, comfortable ride quality and reasonable off-road capability.

At the end of the week’s testing, the Pajero Sport pleasantly surprised everyone, but none of the judges were impressed with the console, which results in a cramped cockpit feel.

TOUGHEN UP

TOUGH Dog offers a 20mm lift using either 41mm non-adjustable foam cell or the nine-stage adjustable shocks option.

The front end is susceptible to changes in weight so TD has developed three different springs for different weights – one for standard trim, one for vehicles with a bullbar, and a third for vehicles with both a bullbar and winch. It has also developed 0-300kg and 300kg+ constant load springs for the back. Price ranges from $1340 to $1680, depending on options selected.

D A V I D C O O K

ON PAPER, THE BANG-FORBUCK FACTOR IN THIS CAR IS RIGHT UP THERE. ALL THE MOD CONS ARE ON OFFER, AND IT ISN’T EVEN THE TOP OF THE RANGE. STORAGE SPACE FOR SMALL ITEMS IS SORELY LACKING

B R Y A N W E L L S

PAJERO’S HERITAGE SHINES THROUGH IN THIS NEW MODEL. GREAT MANNERS ON-AND OFF-ROAD – THE NEVER-DIE RALLY GENETICS ARE ALIVE AND KICKING

T H E C O N T E N D E R S

TOYOTA LAND CRUISER 79 DOUBLE CAB GXL

TOYOTA’S 70 Series dates back more than 30 years, and this latest round of significant updates is the first in four years. Many are a result of mandatory emissions compliance and industry safety demands. All variants get a new five-speed manual gearbox that brings a much-welcome taller top gear as well as a taller second gear. All models also get auto-locking hubs, cruise control, and electronic stability and traction control. Single Cab models then get additional curtain and driver’s knee airbags and thicker frame rails, among other changes, which results in fivestar ANCAP safety compliance. Euro 5 emissions compliance changes for the 4.5-litre V8 diesel run to piezo injectors and a diesel particulate filter, which combine with the new gearbox to lower the fuel use by around 10 per cent – not an insignificant result. y e s fi For 4X4OTY we tested the LC79 GXL Double Cab. The cheaper WorkMate has 16-inch one-piece steel wheels and vinyl seats, while the lockers become a $1500 option. Toyota offers five genuineaccessory trays for the Double Cab with either headboard or under-tray mounted spare wheels. Prices range from $2325 for a basic alloy tray with headboard spare to $6088 for the heavy duty tray with under-mount spare.

TOYOTA LAND CRUISER 79 GXL

ENGINE: MAXIMUM POWER: MAXIMUM TORQUE: GEARBOX: 4X4 SYSTEM: CRAWL RATIO: TYRE SPEC: KERB WEIGHT: GVM: PAYLOAD: TOWING CAPACITY: GCM: FUEL TANK CAPACITY: ADR FUEL CLAIM: PRICE: 4.5-litre V8 turbo-diesel 151kW @ 3600rpm 430Nm @ 2000rpm five-speed manual dual-range part-time 44.1:1 265/70R16 115R 2175kg 3300kg 1125kg (with no tray) 3500kg 6800kg 130 litres 10.7L/100km $71,751 *Double cabs only. Price include air-conditioning, which is a $2761 option, but exclude the tray and on-road costs.

TOURING

OF ALL the upgrades to the 70 Series Land Cruiser, the one that most benefits its touring capability is the (almost 15 per cent) taller fifth gear. Not only does the new gearing improve fuel economy, it makes the Land Cruiser more relaxed on the open road, with a shade under 2000rpm showing on the tacho at 100km/h in top gear.

The Land Cruiser feels very

predictable on the open road, although the recirculating ball and nut steering will feel a bit vague to those used to modern rack-and-pinion set-ups. As you’d expect from a vehicle with a relatively tall ride height (and slightly narrower rear track), body roll is pronounced when cornering at speed, but it never feels untoward. Ride quality is more than acceptable over poor road surfaces, even when there’s minimal load in the tray, and road noise insulation is sufficient.

With a flat, upright windscreen, wind noise is pronounced and induction noise from the snorkel is ever present.

However, push your foot into the go-pedal and the deep note of the TDV8 will soon override any other audible anomalies; it’s simply intoxicating.

Another touring benefit is the new auto-locking hub set-up. You no longer have to exit the vehicle to lock the hubs if you want to engage 4WD on gravel after long stints on sealed roads. And if you’re going to be driving off-road for extended periods, you can manually lock the hubs using the vehicle’s wheel brace.

While it doesn’t benefit from all of the Single Cab’s upgrades, the addition of vehicle stability control to the 79 Double Cab is a great improvement, adding another level of safety without feeling too intrusive. Thankfully you can still slide the Cruiser around a bit before the electronic aid intervenes.

The addition of a diesel particulate filter to the LC79 has resulted in the removal of the 90L auxiliary fuel tank, so overall fuel capacity has been reduced from twin 90L tanks to a single 130L tank. With an average fuel consumption of 13.8L/100km on test, you can expect a safe touring range of just below 900km.

D A N E V E R E T T

IF I WAS TO SET OFF AND SPEND THE NEXT YEAR OR TWO TRAVELLING REMOTE AUSTRALIA THIS WOULD WITHOUT A DOUBT BE THE PICK. IT’S RUGGED AND SIMPLE

TRAIL DRIVING

THE LC79 is one of the best out-of-thebox off-roaders on the market. Its 4.5L

TDV8 develops oodles of low-rpm torque, and low-range gearing (44.1:1 in first gear) is excellent. Wheel travel is good front and rear and the Cruiser has plenty of ground clearance. A standard snorkel aids water crossings and the 265/70R16 tyres offer plenty of sidewall.

Second gear is now seven per cent taller, making it more flexible at low speeds, reducing the gap between second and third. And the hill-start assist function works well, making handbrake starts a thing of the past.

The Cruiser easily conquered everything thrown at it off-road, and

the only complaints on the trails were manoeuvrability in tight spots and the fact the lockers can take a while to actuate for tough conditions.

SET-PIECE HILL CLIMB

WITH low-range selected and front and rear lockers engaged, the Land Cruiser 79 crawled up the set-piece hill climb with minimal fuss, just lifting a wheel here and there on the deepest holes in the track. However, with the lockers switched off and the electronic traction control on the Cruiser struggled but still made it a fair way up the hill climb.

The Cruiser’s big TDV8 offers loads of low-rpm torque, and a decent overall low-range reduction of 44:1 in first gear makes crawling up steep hills easy. On the way back down, the Cruiser’s engine braking also proved exemplary.

Despite being one of the more difficult vehicles to manoeuvre within the tight confines at the top of the hill (especially when the diff locks were being recalcitrant), the Cruiser still offers good visibility – over the bonnet and through the deep side windows. You have to love old-school, near vertical A-pillars!

Ground clearance is good and the Cruiser didn’t bottom out anywhere on the set-piece hill climb.

CABIN, EQUIPMENT AND ACCOMMODATION

THE LC79 now comes standard with ABS, vehicle stability control (VSC), active traction control (A-TRC), hill-start assist control (HAC), brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution. Other safety upgrades include front seatbelt pretensioners, but the SRS package in the Double Cab is limited to driver and passenger airbags. Cruise control is standard across the range but airconditioning is not (it’s still a very hefty $2761 option).

The LC79’s dash layout is basic but has everything you need, including comprehensive instrumentation, effective vents, a clock, and an easy-to-operate sound system. The driving position in the LC79 is a comfortable one, even if the seats are basic, and you’re afforded a good view over the bonnet. Rearseat passengers are provided with a comfortable seat, but legroom and shoulder room could be better for such a big vehicle. The centre rear seat only has a lap belt, and there are no airconditioning vents in the back.

PRACTICALITIES

THE LC79 comes standard with a snorkel and has a big, easy-to-access air filter. The alternator is located quite low in the engine bay where it’s susceptible to mud ingress in extreme conditions, and it’s not easy to get at.

You could fit a second battery under the bonnet with a bit of fiddling.

The Cruiser’s 265/70R16 tyre size provides plenty of options for those who want to fit some tougher rubber.

Everything under the LC79 is tucked up and out of harm’s way.

SUMMARY

THE Land Cruiser 79 has the heavy-duty 4x4 Double Cab market all to itself these days, and with its recent upgrades it’s now a better off-road tourer than ever.

“If I was to set off and spend the next year or two travelling remote Australia, this would be the pick without a doubt,” 4X4OTY judge Dan Everett said.

“It’s rugged and simple with a nod of civility… and with twin lockers, solid axles and that V8 grunt it stands out among the beige-sweater crowd.”

TOUGHEN UP

WITH its suspension relatively unchanged in the update, Tough Dog is well equipped to offer a suspension package for your 79 no matter what the application. There are options for weight of accessories, load carrying, adjustable or foam cell shocks – whatever you need.

N O R M N E E D H A M

SMALL BUT PRACTICAL CHANGES (LIKE GEARING AND IMPROVED NVH) MAKE A BLAND BUT GOOD THING EVEN BETTER

P E N N Y W E L L S

THE IMPROVEMENTS OF TRACTION CONTROL, HILL ASSIST, CRUISE CONTROL AND THE SEAT UPGRADE ARE A WELCOME CHANGE TO A VEHICLE THAT PREVIOUSLY HAD A VERY AGRICULTURAL FEEL TO IT

T H E C O N T E N D E R S

VOLKSWAGEN AMAROK TDI550 ULTIMATE

THE Amarok V6 diesel represents the first significant change to the Amarok since the eight-speed automatic four-cylinder models arrived in early 2012, around a year after the debut of the original four-cylinder manuals with their dual-range part-time 4x4. The V6 comes with a beefed-up eightspeeder and at this stage is only available with a single-range full-time 4x4 system (with auto-proportioning and auto-locking centre ‘diff’) similar to that successfully employed (former 4X4 Ute of the Year winner) with the four-cylinder engine.

The V6 brings a significant jump in power (plus 48kW) and an extra 130Nm over the four-cylinder models, at a modest $3000 premium in Highline specification and $4000 in Ultimate spec.

Our test vehicle was the Ultimate. The cheaper Highline loses the heated leather 14-way adjustable seats and the paddle shifters. The Highline also gets 18- rather a th m 4x sp 19-inch alloys, a more basic sports bar and sidesteps, and 47kg payload hike (up to 911kg). Leather and seat heating is optional on the Highline but not the 14-way adjustable seats. The test vehicle was fitted with an ‘off-road pack’ which brings AT tyres on 17s and deletes the sidesteps.

VOLKSWAGEN AMAROK ULTIMATE

ENGINE: MAXIMUM POWER: MAXIMUM TORQUE: GEARBOX: 4X4 SYSTEM: CRAWL RATIO: TYRE SPEC: KERB WEIGHT: GVM: PAYLOAD: TOWING CAPACITY: GCM: FUEL TANK CAPACITY: ADR FUEL CLAIM: PRICE: 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel 165kW @ 2500–4500rpm* 550Nm @ 1500-2500rpm eight-speed automatic single-range full-time 17.4 245/65R17 111T 2216kg 3080kg 864kg 3000kg 6000kg 80 litres 7.9L/100km $67,990** **Price exclude on-road costs *180kW on overboost

TOURING

THE Volkswagen Amarok offers levels of on-road ride, handling and performance that would put many 4x4 wagons to shame.

And in top-spec Ultimate guise, as tested here, it’s packed with top-end equipment befitting its (almost) $70K price tag.

The 3.0-litre turbo-diesel engine is a gem. It’s smooth, responsive and wellmatched to the superb eight-speed auto transmission. If claimed peak power and torque outputs of 165kW and 550Nm aren’t enough for you, the overboost function (available in third and fourth

gears for up to 10 seconds at a time) boosts output to a claimed 180kW and 580Nm. This means exceptional acceleration on the road and a sub-eight-second 0-100km/h time.

The Amarok is so easy to drive thanks to its single-range full-time 4x4 system and auto-locking centre diff; simply select drive and steer it on or off the road. Selecting the ‘off-road’ mode via a button on the console allows hill-descent control to function and recalibrates the ABS for slippery surfaces.

There’s also a handy button to switch off the stability control.

On test, the Amarok recorded an impressive fuel-consumption figure of 11.1L/100km, so you can expect a safe touring range of 670km from a full tank of diesel when on an adventure.

TRAIL DRIVING

DESPITE not having low-range reduction, the Amarok proved an effective off-road performer in the Victorian High Country. It has adequate ground clearance (192mm), good approach, ramp-over and departure angles (28°, 23° and 23.6°), good wheel travel and a very effective traction control system that remains active with the rear diff lock engaged. On steep descents, you either have to engage the hill-descent control or hover over the brakes to keep speed in check, which is obviously not ideal but the only solution without low range gearing or a super-low crawler gear.

Ride quality on rough surfaces is good, although it should be noted that our test vehicle was optioned with 17-inch wheels/ tyres (the standard rims on this top-spec variant are 19-inch with 55 series rubber).

Over-bonnet visibility is good thanks to the Amarok’s short bonnet and heightadjustable seat, and a small turning circle makes manoeuvring in tight terrain easy.

B R Y A N W E L L S

THE V6’S 180KW OVERBOOST POWER IS NOT LOST ON THIS DUAL CAB, ALL THE SMARTS GUARANTEE THE POWER HITS THE GROUND AND HOLDS TRUE CORNER AFTER CORNER. PURE FUN TO DRIVE!

SET-PIECE HILL CLIMB

ONE of the great things about driving the Volkswagen Amarok is that you can steer off the highway and drive off-road without touching a button. Bearing this in mind, 4X4 Ed, Matt Raudonikis initially tackled the set-piece hill climb without locking the rear differential, or selecting the off-road mode. It struggled for traction but the Amarok made the climb relying solely on its electronic traction control.

It never felt wanting for lower gearing, despite an overall first ratio of 17.4:1 with no low-range reduction.

On the second attempt, with the rear diff lock engaged, the Amarok made light work of the hill climb, thanks in part to the electronic traction control remaining

active on the front axle.

Rear-wheel travel looked impressive and front-wheel travel more than adequate for the task at hand, and the Amarok didn’t bottom out on the climb.

CABIN, EQUIPMENT AND ACCOMMODATION CA

THE Amarok Ultimate is loaded with gear, from its 14-way adjustable heated leather seats to its colour touchscreen with sat-nav and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. Convenience features include four 12V power outlets and, on the safety front, the Amarok has the lot: front head and thorax airbags, auto pre-collision braking system, stability control, trailer stabilisation, parking sensors, reversing camera, tyre-pressure monitor, and much more. The lack of rear seat side airbags is a concern for many potential buyers.

Front seat occupants are spoilt with super-comfortable seats and the range of adjustment means anyone will find a comfortable seating position in the Amarok. Rear-seat passengers will also be happy with their pew. There’s generous shoulder room for three adults and good headroom for the outboard passengers, although leg room will be an issue for taller occupants. The leather trim looks fantastic and the rest of the interior appointments are of a very high quality.

The Amarok has a generous tray and is the only vehicle in its class that will accept a full-width pallet between the wheel arches – bragging rights indeed.

T g le m s p s o

PRACTICALITIES

THE Amarok’s wading depth is only 500mm, and a glance under the bonnet explains why: the air intake is located behind one of the headlights and the alternator is positioned quite low in the engine bay. You’ll also need to dig out a screwdriver to access the air filter, and there’s no space in the engine bay for a second battery.

As mentioned, our test vehicle was shod with optional 245/65R17 Pirelli Scorpion ATR tyres in place of the standard 255/55R19 high-speed road tyres.

Interestingly the 245/65R17s ATs are smaller overall in nominal diameter (by half an inch) than the 255/55R19s road tyres, so they actually reduce the ground clearance; although they do help the off-road gearing.

SUMMARY

THE general consensus after a week’s testing was the Amarok is a well-rounded 4x4 ute that delivers car-like levels of comfort and refinement, outstanding on-road performance and more than adequate off-road capability.

“The Amarok delivers on its promise of a performance pick-up with refinement and ability to boot,” 4X4 Ed Mat Raudonikis said. “VW again proves that you don’t need low-range to go off-road.” 4X4OTY judge Norm Needham went a step further, declaring of the Amarok, “sophisticated but user friendly, with very respectable on- and off-road performance, and agreeable looks to boot! I’m in love.”

TOUGHEN UP

THE Amarok has a different suspension mounting configuration to most vehicles, and the Tough Dog suspension solution has been engineered to suit this. Offering a 20mm lift for this car with two spring options in the front (bullbar then bullbar and winch) and in the rear (0-300kg, then constant 300kg+) It should be noted that owing to the configuration of the lower mount of the front strut, it is not possible to offer a complete strut assembly, but TD does have a step-by-step video for installation on its website to assist.

Prices range from $2025 to $2355, depending on options selected. With other vehicles on the market there may already be some components already developed and suitable for this vehicle.

P E N N Y W E L L S

FOR THOSE WHO ENJOY A LITTLE EXTRA BOOST WITH RALLY-LIKE CAPABILITIES ON LOOSE GRAVEL ROADS

R O N M O O N

SO CAR-LIKE YOU FORGET YOU ARE IN A DUAL-CAB UTE. SO CAPABLE OFF- AND ON-ROAD YOU’LL CHANGE YOUR MIND ABOUT A 4WD VEHICLE NEEDING A DUALRANGE TRANSFER BOX