We compare three of the most popular SUVs in India and settle the debate over supremacy once and for all.
The SUV segment in the Indian car market is flourishing like never before. These beefy, rugged beasts, with their tall stance and capability to handle difficult Indian road conditions , have captured the Indian car buyers’ imagination.
The Toyota Fortuner, since its launch in 2009, has done very well, the competition unable to match up. Toyota even had to put bookings on hold at a point to clear the large backlog of orders. The combination of burly SUV looks, immense road presence, a torquey diesel and Toyota’s efficient after-sales service and dealer network made the Fortuner the success story it is today. Toyota also gave it a facelift this year and plonked a new two-wheel-drive automatic variant into the range.
Another contender in this segment is the rugged Endeavour, based on the Ford Ranger pick-up truck. It doesn’t have the Fortuner’s modern flair in terms of looks and hasn’t been as successful, but it has strong fundamentals that give it a tough, go-anywhere appeal.
The latest addition to this segment comes in the form of the new Rexton, the first product from Mahindra-owned SsangYong to be launched in India. The SsangYong promises a lot; it comes with a much cheaper price tag than the Toyota, this RX7 version comes loaded with features to keep its occupants happy, and this car has some amount of pedigree too – it’s based on the first-generation Mercedes-Benz M-class.
But which is best and will make for the most sensible buy?
With big, powerful engines under the hood, these cars deliver more than adequate performance. On paper, the Fortuner and Rexton are much more powerful than the Ford, and this gives them a big advantage. The Rexton is powered by a 2.7-litre, five-cylinder, Mercedes-Benz-sourced engine, mated to a five-speed automatic gearbox. SsangYong has improved the motor’s refinement and, on the move, it feels almost as smooth as an in-line six-cylinder engine. It’s the most relaxing of the three to drive – there is a linear surge of power when you put your foot down, and the long gearing allows the engine to pull well. However, the Rexton’s gearbox is slow to downshift, and kicking down hard on the throttle makes little difference. Stop-start driving in the city can get to be a bit frustrating as a result. Despite the slow gearbox, the Rexton managed to post some impressive times. Flat-out, 0-100kph takes 10.63sec aided by the all-wheel-drive traction off the line, but in most driving conditions, you will need to learn to drive around the lethargic throttle response.
In contrast, the Fortuner feels more on the ball. It responds readily to taps on the accelerator pedal, and even though it’s got just four speeds, it feels more eager to downshift. It’s also noticeably quicker than the Rexton at swapping gears and there is little turbo lag, so it is easier to drive in traffic. The 3.0-litre Toyota engine may be bigger than the Rexton’s, but it is the SsangYong that is faster, the Toyota taking 11.8sec to 100kph.
Ford’s Endeavour also houses a common-rail diesel motor that displaces 2953cc. By the numbers, the 153bhp it produces is the lowest here. Weighing in at almost two tonnes, the Endeavour is a big, heavy car, but the responsiveness and pulling power of the engine camouflage this well. Put your foot down and the Endeavour lunges forward almost immediately, from even as low as 1200rpm. It has massive low-speed grunt and, once you’re past 2000rpm, both power and torque ascend rapidly, delivering a strong and sustained surge. However, the motor starts running out of steam at about the 4000rpm mark. Despite its weight and power deficit compared to the other two, the Endeavour manages to set some decent times. The 100kph mark takes a respectable 13.7 seconds and it reaches a top speed of 171kph.
The Ford isn’t very refined and the Toyota is a bit disappointing as well. The Endeavour’s engine feelsnoisy past 2500rpm, and considerable road and tyre roar seeps into the cabin.
The Fortuner is quieter than the Ford and feels more muted in general. But the engine note is gruff, especially when extended. The Rexton, with its good sound insulation and more refined motor, wins at refinement.
Ride & handling
Smooth surfaces and low speeds bring out the best in the Endeavour’s suspension and it feels nice and pliant. However, at higher speeds, the Ford’s ride quality is quite disappointing. There’s lots of vertical movement at the front, and constant bobbing and pitching on rough roads.
The Toyota rides flatter and does not pitch and roll as much, but it could do better over rough surfaces. It’s at higher speeds that the Toyota feels markedly better than the Ford, the suspension and big tyres absorbing just about everything.
The softly-sprung Rexton has the best low-speed ride of the three, but you will feel the sharp bumps. And, faster speeds cause plenty of body movement. There is also considerable body roll when you corner the Rexton hard, and with its light steering, it isn’t particularly confidence-inspiring to drive either. The same can be said for the Ford. The Endeavour has a much nicer steering, but body control is sloppy. At higher speeds, it’s the Fortuner that feels the most composed and more stable during emergency manoeuvres. The slight firmness in the suspension translates to much safer high-speed handling and it’s pretty clear that this car feels the most comfortable around corners too.
None of these cars have exceptional brakes, but compared to the others, the Fortuner’s brakes feel the best. But even here, braking performance is only adequate at best.
Of the three, climbing into the Rexton is by far the easiest, thanks to the very convenient ‘easy-access’ system where the powered seat and steering wheel move apart to make getting in and out easier. The cabin is plush, the piano black wood finish looks great, and the leather seats offer plenty of comfort with good thigh and back support.
In the Endeavour, the absence of seat height adjustment limits the view out for shorter drivers. The dash, though minimalistic, is attractive enough and well laid-out, and the touchscreen infotainment system keeps things modern. However, the rotary knobs for the air conditioner really look out of place in a car of this segment. Other grouses are that the front seats which, although comfortable, are not powered, and there are no steering-mounted audio controls either.
The Fortuner does well in this light. It gets powered seats, steering-mounted audio controls and plenty of goodies to keep you entertained. The centrally-mounted touchscreen is easy to use, but looks like more of an aftermarket add-on and doesn’t gel with the rest of the dash. The overall fit and finish is good, but what marks it down compared to the other two is that the interior, especially the dashboard, still feels quite similar to the significantly cheaper Innova, and that’s despite the recent update.
The Rexton’s middle row might not be the best here, but it’s well cushioned and comfortable, with plenty of legroom. The third row, however, is almost unusable. The seat-base sits on the floor and the seat-back is very short, making it very uncomfortable.
The Endeavour’s second row isn’t too impressive either. The seat is placed very low and this marks the middle row down for comfort. The third row too is, at best, suitable for children. In comparison, the Fortuner’s middle row offers much better support, comfort and space, and two adults can sit in acceptable comfort in the last row.
With all its seats up, the Toyota has the most boot space here and the low loading lip helps things too. The Rexton’s boot space is decent, but it is not as flexible as the Endeavour’s fully removable last row.
Price and fuel economy
At Rs. 19.75 lakh (ex-showroom, Delhi), the Rexton RX7 we tested is more than Rs. 2 lakh cheaper than the Fortuner 4x2 A/T, and it’s loaded with a lot more kit. The Rexton comes with a two-year/50,000km standard warranty, which isn’t as generous as the Fortuner’s or the Endeavour’s. The Rexton also comes in a lower RX5 manual-transmission variant that costs Rs. 17.75 lakh, making it the cheapest here and a terrific value-for-money buy. In comparison, the Fortuner 4x2 A/T, at Rs. 22 lakh, is the most expensive SUV here. The Toyota also comes with a standard warranty of three years/1,00,000km which, coupled with the company’s vast dealership network and service centres, will mean a hassle-free ownership experience.
Endeavour buyers can choose from three variants, starting with the base 2.5-litre 4x2 manual-transmission variant at Rs. 18.25 lakh. We drove the top-of-the-line 3.0-litre 4x4 auto variant that comes with a price tag of Rs. 21.20 lakh. Ford sells the Endeavour with a two-year/1,00,000km warranty.
In terms of efficiency, the Fortuner managed to return 7.8kpl in the city and 12.7kpl out on the highway, making it more frugal than the Endeavour’s 7kpl in the city and 10.6kpl on the highway, and the Rexton’s 7.2kpl in the city and 11.8kpl on the highway.
Safety and equipment
The top-of-the-line Rexton RX7 comes with a Kenwood touchscreen infotainment system with a DVD player, USB and Aux inputs, and six speakers. The system supports MP3 audio and DivX, MPEG and MPEG-2 video formats. It also has a navigation system with preloaded MapMyIndia maps. However, the Rexton doesn’t get a reversing camera, even on the top-spec variant, which is a bit disappointing. It’s an almost essential feature on a car this big, and cameras are available on both the Endeavour and the Fortuner. In addition to the reversing camera, the Fortuner’s touchscreen-operated audio system also comes with Aux-in and USB ports, an MP3 CD changer and six speakers. It may look like an aftermarket piece, but the Fortuner’s touchscreen system is very easy to scroll through and the unit works really well. It even doubles up as a DVD player. Of the three, the Endeavour is the only one to come with a built-in, roof-mounted video display unit on the top-spec 3.0-litre 4x4 variant. It too gets a touchscreen audio system with Aux-in, USB and iPod support, a DVD player and a reversing camera.
The Rexton has the most safety kit. It comes loaded with ABS, Electronic Stability Program (ESP), Anti-Slip Regulation, Active Rollover Protection, Hill Descent Control and dual front and side airbags. The Fortuner doesn’t pack in quite as much in the 4x2 auto variant. It only gets dual front airbags, ABS and a Vehicle Stability Control system to protect its occupants in case of a loss of control. The Endeavour gets dual front and side airbags, ABS with EBD and an anti-theft alarm. For off-road use, it also has a limited-slip differential, which makes the Ford marginally better equipped than the Fortuner.
The Endeavour, with its pickup truck-based mechanicals and proper four-wheel-drive gearbox thinly veiled by a decent equipment list and faux leather seats, makes a case as a real toughie. However, in this company, it feels its age. The ride is choppy, the seats are uncomfortable and it has the least power here. It’s why it places last in this test.
The Fortuner, in comparison, feels far more up-to-date. Its tough looks appeal, its strong engine and sorted dynamics work in its favour and it’s decently equipped as well. What lets it down here is its interiors, which deserve to be much better in such an expensive car. Also, at Rs. 22 lakh, it is considerably more expensive than the Rexton. As a value-for-money proposition, the Rexton gets it absolutely right. It feels expensive, is loaded to the gills with equipment and is the most refined of the lot. Sure, it may not be the most exciting to drive, but then again, it is the most relaxing. As an overall package, it offers the best of all the things you expect of an SUV.