Jeep, Land Rover, Toyota, Nissan. It’s like an honour role in the history of 4X4s. Thanks to fate, luck, coincidence, call it what you like, all four of these iconic marques, along with Holden, are represented in this year’s 4X4 of the Year (4X4OTY) shoot-out.
From Jeep, the most significant off-road marque of them all as the original WWII Jeep jump-started the 4X4 world as we know it, we have two Wranglers, a four-door Sport and a two-door Rubicon.
From Land Rover we have the latest iteration of the Discovery 4; from Toyota the new petrol 200 Series; and from Nissan, and this is the ‘biggie’ in more ways than one, is the new Y62 Patrol. This is the first all-new Patrol in 25 years. Yes, it’s been a very long time coming.
And we also have Holden’s new Colorado 7.
All these vehicles are here for the same reason: they are either completely new (Patrol and Colorado), or sufficiently changed to be considered ‘new’ with the Discovery, the 200 and both Wranglers all sporting different powertrains from their predecessors.
This is, of course, what 4X4OTY is all about. It’s the ‘newness’ of these 4X4s that gets them an invite to the party. If a vehicle is not new, it stays at home. It’s as simple as that.
Given that the contenders for the award range in price from $38,000 to $113,900, accommodate as few as four people or as many as eight and have engines that range from a 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel to a 5.6-litre petrol V8, this is not a comparison test.
Instead, our seven judges score the contenders against each of the award’s five criteria. Each judge scores each criterion for each vehicle out of 10 points so each vehicle can receive up to 50 points from any one judge. The judges’ scores are then tallied to arrive at a winner.
VALUE FOR MONEY
This is judged according to a vehicle’s equipment level, safety features and price relative to its direct competitors.
DOING THE JOB
This is judged according to a vehicle’s design brief. In the case of a 4X4 wagon, we look at how well it
performs on- and off-road, and its interior accommodation for passengers and cargo.
This is how well a vehicle is equipped for Aussie off-road and outback travel. Suitability of the wheel and tyre specification, touring range, available accessories and underbody protection are some of the factors considered.
This refers to advancements in technology and design. If a vehicle has the latest safety features, worthy engine technology or an advanced driveline, it will score well here.
This is the obvious one. It refers to how strong a vehicle is, and how well it will cope with the rigours of tough off-road and outback driving environments.
To put the judges in a position to confidently rate each vehicle, we have regular driver rotations over our four-day on- and off-road loop so each judge gets to drive each vehicle in a variety of differing environments. All the judges also drive the contenders over a short, set-piece 4X4 hill. And we conduct under-bonnet, under-vehicle and interior inspections, and sample every seat in every vehicle. Yes, we even squeeze into third-row seating where
- Marcus Craft
- Ron Moon
- Fraser Stronach
- Matt Raudonikis
- Justin Walker
- Brad Newman
- Peter Williams (Guest Judge: Opposite Lock)
JEEP WRANGLER SPORTS UNLIMITED
JEEP WRANGLER RUBICON
HOLDEN COLORADO 7 LTZ
LAND ROVER DISCOVERY 4 TDV6
TOYOTA LANDCRUISER 200 GXL
NISSAN PATROL Ti-L
We assemble at 8am in Lithgow, two hours west of Sydney. Here we fuel up each of the contenders, and the two support vehicles. This initial fill (along with the final fill) is essential in accurately measuring fuel consumption. From there we head to nearby Rydal to a short but challenging 4X4 climb.
Here the judges drive all of the vehicles for an initial familiarisation. After a self-catered lunch we head to Tarana, O’Connell, Black Springs and Porters Retreat via a mixture of sealed and unsealed roads to the western entrance to the Abercrombie River National Park. Inside the park we take Abercrombie Fire Trail to The Beach camping area, our overnight stop.
We rise at 5.30am. After breakfast we continue east along the Abercrombie Fire Trail before turning onto the Middle Fire Trail, the Felled Timber Fire Trail and finally the Retreat Fire Trail back to the Park’s western entrance.
The park offers easy to moderate four-wheel-driving in dry conditions but there are still plenty of steep and gnarly pinches and a couple of river crossings. From there we head south to Taralga for under-vehicle inspections on the hoist at Taralga Engineering. We overnight at the historic Taralga Hotel.
Leaving Taralga at 7am we head via Bannaby and the Swallowtail Fire Trial to Marulan (fuel stop) and Goulburn (food restock). Then it’s south to Braidwood and then via the Krawarree and Snowball roads to the western entrance of Deua National Park at the Minuma Range Fire Trail. From there we take the relatively steep but very rocky Dampier Mountain Fire Trail to our picturesque overnight stop at Bendethera.
A 5.30am start under threatening skies. We head north on the Merricumbene Fire Trail to the Araluen road. This is a steep, gnarly and arduous drive especially in showroom-stock 4X4s on road-pattern tyres. In the wet it’s best avoided no matter how well equipped your vehicle. Luckily we encounter no more than a light drizzle but even that makes things a little tricky at times. Once on the Araluen road we head via Braidwood and Goulburn to Marulan, the final fuel stop.
LAND ROVER DISCOVERY TDV6
Six finalists; all new or significantly revised in the last year. That’s the condition of entry to this award. The Nissan Patrol Y62 and the Holden Colorado 7 are both all new while the two Jeep Wranglers, the Land Rover Discovery 4 and the Toyota LandCruiser all have new powertrains. Anything that’s not new or significantly revised isn’t eligible.
The six finalists are not compared against one another but are scored by the seven judges against the award’s five, long-running criteria. The scores from the judges are tallied and the winner is the vehicle with the highest score. All scoring is done in secret so there’s no collusion or coercion.
Before the scoring, the finalists are put through four days of intensive on- and off-road driving, some of it as tough as you’d expect a showroom-stock 4X4 to be faced with. When not scrambling up a steep and loose trail or carving up a bumpy, winding back road, the contenders are poked and prodded, sat in, measured, raised up on a hoist for underbody inspections, and closely scrutinised for fuel use. We also camped out during this test, which gave our judges a chance to live out of the vehicles for a few days.
All six contenders acquitted themselves well during the four days and met every challenge thrown at them. None failed to proceed. By some miracle, the only casualty was a mudflap on the Wrangler Sport, detached and lost in parts unknown.
Oh, and someone ran over Phil Cooper’s video camera…
When the dust had settled and with the scores submitted and tallied, the Colorado 7 managed 194 points (out of a possible 350) to come in at sixth place. Highlights include plush but well-controlled suspension and a decent equipment level but the engine is noisy and too thirsty, the gearbox not always fully in sync with the engine and the interior packaging could be better.
In front of the Colorado and close to each other (not unexpectedly) are the two Wranglers with the four-door Sport (211 points) just edging out the two-door Rubicon (210 points).
The Sport’s value for money is strong and it’s more practical than the Rubicon given its extra interior space, but you can’t beat the Rubi off road. Regardless of their differences, both Wranglers are very much more at home in the bush than they are on the bitumen.
A considerable distance ahead of the two Wranglers and (on 252 points) is the Patrol. In many ways a technical tour de force it simply lacks a real focus on local conditions. Petrol engines in this market sector aren’t popular and the Patrol’s very thirsty V8 also asks for premium fuel, although this is probably no big deal as it ran fine on 91RON during our time with it.
The fully-independent suspension, as trick as it is, does its best work on-road (negating body roll) but lacks height adjustment for more difficult off-road driving. More
under-engine protection is also needed for rocky trails.
Toyota’s new petrol V8 Cruiser gained 263 points and in doing so edged out the Patrol. It’s less thirsty, marginally more comfortable off-road, better protected underneath and gives little away in refinement. In some situations it’s actually quieter than the Patrol. Not surprisingly it scored far better on Bushability due to the wealth of available aftermarket enhancements.
Taking all before it however is the Discovery 4, with 272 points. This is the new ‘budget’ model in the MY13 Discovery line-up and at $68,990 (plus on-road costs) is sharp value. Our test vehicle had nearly $8000 worth of options but the only ‘must have’ is the $1060 auto rear locker.
The real beauty of the Discovery is that it strikes such a unique balance between being an engaging on-road drive and a capable off-roader. No other 4X4 here strikes this balance as well. Add in a comfortable, space-efficient and versatile cabin and you really have the lot.
The new ‘low-power’ bi-turbo V6 diesel is frugal but still punchy while the eight-speed ZF auto works a treat on-road and does just about everything right off-road save for an occasional slowness to kick down on steep climbs. You can, of course, use the steering wheel-mounted paddles to change gears manually but these aren’t as convenient as the previous system with a conventional console-mounted shifter. Pity that.
Of course, the Discovery could be better. A bigger fuel tank would help, as would a more practical tyre/wheel combination. The 19s with their 255/55 tyres aren’t
ideal although aftermarket 18-inch wheels are available.
Regardless, the Discovery is a standard-setting vehicle. It’s refined, comfortable, quiet, capable, spacious, clever, tough and affordable.
1. Land Rover Discovery TDV6
2. Toyota LandCruiser 200 GXL
3. Nissan Patrol TI-L
4. Jeep Wrangler Rubicon
5. Jeep Wrangler Unlimited
6. Holden Colorado 7 LTZ
*Not in contention
VW Amarok Trendline TDI420