Battle of the toughest: As SUV standards rise, which one’s the best

  • Nikhil Bhatia, Autocar India
  • Updated: Feb 27, 2016 21:47 IST
The four sub-Rs-30-lakh SUVs - Mitsubishi Pajero Sport, Ford Endeavour, Chevrolet Trailblazer and the Toyota Fortuner compared head to head. (Autocar India)

Environmentalists may not think highly of big, heavy-duty SUVs. But their sheer size and road presence, hardy go-anywhere construction and powerful diesel engines bring them a lot of attention from Indian buyers. To the effect that these Rs 30-lakh SUVs are far more desirable than similarly priced luxury sedans.

Going head to head in this comparison are the Ford Endeavour and Chevrolet Trailblazer – the newest entrants in the segment, Mitsubishi’s ageing, but potent Pajero Sport, and the undisputed segment champion, the Toyota Fortuner. All four SUVs look tough and generally command respect on our roads. But see them together and you’ll agree that it’s the Endeavour and Trailblazer that appear the most imposing.

Of the models, the Endeavour is the one that’ll get the most glances. The Chevy doesn’t make as strong a first impression, but its smart looks do grow on you. Perhaps a bit more chrome detailing would have given it the necessary flash value. The Toyota Fortuner makes good use of the shiny stuff. However, the rest of its design has started showing its age, something that is true for the Pajero as well.

Inside, it’s the Endeavour that feels most modern of the lot. Its dash looks attractive and feels rich. The two screens in the instrument cluster and the large central touchscreen give the Ford’s cabin a cockpit-like feel. It’s well thought-out too, in terms of ample storage space for small items and well-bolstered seats.

The Trailblazer’s cabin comes in at a distant second. It features Camaro-like hooded dials, and a unique twin glovebox arrangement. The best bit here though is the low-set dash, which makes way for great visibility. The well-cushioned leather seats also make the Chevy’s cabin inviting.

Getting into the Pajero Sport and Fortuner on the other hand is like taking a step back in time. The Pajero’s dashboard, despite the addition of a touchscreen, looks dated. Material quality is fair, but not remarkable. The front seats though are nice and actually feel sporty thanks to the generous bolstering on the sides.

Similarly, the Fortuner also gets generous seats but the dashboard leaves much to be desired. Finished in hard plastics, it bears a strong resemblance to the Innova and the central touchscreen looks more like an aftermarket add-on than the factory-fit unit that it is.

The dash of Chevy Trailblazer. (Photo courtesy: Chevrolet website)

High on features

Each of these SUVs gets modern-day essentials like a touchscreen infotainment system, Bluetooth telephony, reverse camera, automatic climate control, leather seats, powered driver’s seat and cruise control. Satellite navigation is standard on the Fortuner and Pajero Sport and is offered as an option on the Trailblazer and Endeavour. However, the Ford, in its top-spec Titanium trim, gets the addition of a panoramic sunroof, automatic wipers, a powered tailgate as well as powered fold function for the third-row seats. The Ford is one-up on safety as well; it gets seven airbags, while the others get two.

While all these SUVs come with seven seats, they offer varying levels of comfort in the second and third rows. The Endeavour’s middle-row seats are a touch low but the seating position is quite nice. However, those seated in between will also have to contend with a high central tunnel. Third-row occupants also don’t have it nice as access is poor, space is tight and the seating position is just plain uncomfortable.

The Trailblazer, in contrast, has the most useable third row. Sure, space isn’t great and access is just average but the seating position is more than tolerable for short stints. The Trailblazer scores points for its second row – there’s plenty of head, knee and shoulder room and the flat floor means you can seat three abreast comfortably.

The Fortuner is high on middle-row space, while its third row can seat two average-sized adults but headroom there is limited. The Pajero offers the best visibility from the third row and also the best access thanks to the single-lever operation to move the middle row out of the way. The second-row seats are far nicer so long as you don’t need to travel three abreast; shoulder room is significantly down on rivals.

Performance: A small surprise

In terms of sheer performance, the Chevrolet Trailblazer sets itself apart. It’s the quickest of the lot, and the only one here capable of doing the 0-100kph dash in under 10 seconds. Of course, the key to the Trailblazer’s performance is its 197bhp 2.8-litre Duramax engine. What also helps the overall experience is that the six-speed gearbox is quick to respond to manual gearshift inputs.

The Ford Endeavour’s 197 bhp 3.2-litre motor is the largest in the comparison. Performance is strong but it impresses with the manner in which it pulls, rather than its outright quickness. Also, the Ford’s engine is the quietest in this company.

The Fortuner’s 167 bhp 3.0-litre four-cylinder engine is quick to respond though the five-speed gearbox isn’t the most seamless unit around. But once you pick up speed, the Fortuner performs a lot better than its power figures suggest.

The big surprise in this group is the Pajero Sport. Its 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine produces 175bhp, and is the smallest in terms of displacement. However, its performance is nearly as good as the 3.2 Endeavour’s, and that’s largely thanks to the Pajero Sport’s relatively low weight. This is also the only SUV to come with paddle shifters and is a feature that will endear it more to enthusiasts.

Driving up the wall

You’d be expecting too much if you thought these high-riding SUVs would keep you entertained on a mountain road. The Endeavour does comes closest at delivering a proper SUV experience. There’s a genuine Ford-ness to its handling which makes it a reasonably fun, big SUV to drive. The Endy doesn’t get ruffled by mid-corner dips and bumps, while stability, on the whole, is easily best-in-class.

The Trailblazer, unfortunately, loses some ground in the ride and handling department. There’s a fair amount of vertical movement and at times, the rear-end also hops and skips on all but the smoothest surfaces. The hefty Chevy does feel solid and confident around corners but there’s no escaping the significant body roll.

The Fortuner feels heavy from behind the wheel. It’s low-speed ride is lumpy too but suspension works better at high speeds ironing out undulations but it’s still far from the Endy’s benchmark ride and handling standards.

Handling on the Pajero is a whole lot more than just acceptable. It actually feels smaller than its size. Although the steering does give you a sense of control, there is plenty of body roll. Unfortunately, at slow speeds, the steering feels heavy which isn’t convenient in the city.

Off-road, the rear-wheel-drive-only Trailblazer and Pajero Sport AT, are surprisingly capable. Of course, if you are considering serious off-roading, the 4WD- equipped Fortuner and Endeavour are the SUVs for you.

Verdict: New is beautiful

So how do these SUVs stack up? Starting with the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport, priced at Rs 25.35 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi), the Mitsubishi is the most affordable of the lot. It has a strong, punchy engine. However, its dated design, compounded by the company’s weak dealer and after sales network takes it off our list.

The all-new Toyota Fortuner is expected to reach our shores this Diwali. Till then the current model will continue, and clearly, it will find it tough to hold its ground against the new, improved competition. Yes, it has a powerful engine, a spacious cabin and off-road ability — but it lags on refinement. And at Rs 27 lakh, it’s not particularly cheap, nor good value for money. However, what you get with the Fortuner is a certain peace of mind that only a tried and tested product from the most trusted brand can give.

At Rs 26.4 lakh, the Chevrolet Trailblazer is not cheap either, especially for a two-wheel-drive-only SUV. But look past its off-road ability (or lack of it) and this is a pretty well-rounded vehicle. Performance is really impressive, the cabin is spacious and it’s the most convincing seven-seater of this bunch.

Ford Endeavour’s cabin looks spacious, thanks to a very thin A-column, tall seating position and a panoramic sunroof overhead. But this luxury comes at a ‘good’ price. (Photo courtesy: Ford website)

The new Ford Endeavour is the most well-rounded of the lot, though. It looks attractive, comes with a well-finished cabin and is loaded to the roof with features. The big Ford is also capable off-road, and is easy to drive. It’s also got the best ride quality, while refinement levels are far superior to rivals.

It may be priced higher than rivals, with the top-spec Titanium version costing Rs 28.15 lakh, but if you look at the total package, the Endeavour is the one that has best taken the SUV game forward.

In partnership with Autocar India

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