Recently we were asked to participate as drive testers for Unsealed 4X4’s Mid-Sized Wagon of The Year. With everyone else in the office unable to attend, I gladly snatched the keys to our MobileHQGU and headed off to Mt Seaview where I met with the Unsealed team and a number of other industry professionals. Sam Purcell made the events of the preceding few days clear, to put the Fortuner, Trailblazer, MU-X, Pajero Sport and the Everest through their paces in a series of tests both on and off-road to see where the best value for money was.
This comparison was an interesting one, as all of these vehicles are based on dual-cab models which are dominating the Australian 4X4 market and have been for over a decade. Hard to believe in a country that was once typified by the large sedan, but in 2016, 8 of the top 10 selling 4X4’s in Australia were dual-cabs. This comes as no surprise as they have proven to provide a high level of versatility and are very adaptable to modifications to suit individual needs, along with their commercial capabilities. However, the wagons still have a lot to offer in terms of comfort and family functionality without compromising off-road capability.
The team at Unsealed 4X4 take their work very seriously and wanted to ensure that we were tackling tracks would push the vehicles to their limits and leave no stone unturned (literally) in this comparison. So, Sam got in touch with his old pal Ralph at Mount Seaview Resort to unlock a vast variety of off-road terrain which he knew like the back of his hand. There was everything from freshwater crossings, deep ruts, rocky riverbeds, mud holes and challenging hill climbs for us to explore.
As these vehicles were stock standard, Sam asked us to bring our MobileHQGU as a support rig, so it took pride of place as ‘tail-end charlie’ for the week. With the type of terrain we were to put the vehicles through, a more serious rig was a necessity to retrieve the highway-terrain-tyre shod wagons – unsurprisingly, this happened on quite a few occasions over the week. Further to this, as it’s setup as a tourer it made a great crew vehicle – with inverters being used to charge camera gear and the like over the 4 day trip. Driving a pretty well modified (if I might say so myself) GU of my own personally, I hadn’t ever done any serious off-roading in something that wasn’t at least rolling on all terrains and at least 2 inches of lift as a minimum, so jumping into these standard rigs was always going to be interesting. For me, it even further emphasised the value of modifying your vehicle to fit its intended purpose. Most 4WDer’s understand this and that is why over 95% of vehicles insured with us have increased their sum insured to allow for their accessories and modifications. As a specialist insurer, we are able insure these mods over and above your vehicle value so that you may actually be able to replace your rig and get it kitted out for your intended purpose – but enough of the insurance sales talk.
Lastly, it would not be true to form if I didn’t make my opinion known about which one I would choose – and to be honest it wasn’t really too much of a competition for me: the Toyota Fortuner. Heading into the comparison, I hadn’t been too fussed at all by the Fortuner and would have thought like many others that you might as well just get the Prado for a few extra quid. Over the course of the week, this changed. Not only was it really refined and a joy to drive – it just made sense not only as a family vehicle, but as a capable 4X4 that can be easily modified to suit your off-road needs. It had great underbody protection, plenty of space under the bonnet for an auxiliary battery and that 2.8 litre turbo diesel certainly has enough mumbo to handle some bigger tyres and extra weight for accessories. While the others all had their pros and cons, the Fortuner really was a no-brainer.
To get the full comparison and to see some awesome footage of us pushing these things to their limits, head to Issue 41 of Unsealed 4X4 magazine.