4X4 Of The Year 2014 threw up a mixed bunch of combatants from the new or revised 4x4 vehicles released in 2013.
This article was originally published in the February 2014 issue of 4X4 Australia.
Without a large number of significant new wagons and next to no new 4x4 utes worth talking about, the two body styles have been brought back together again; and with the way things are shaping up, we reckon this is how it will stay.
4X4 Australia’s Ute Of The Year award came from another era when it was very difficult for a ute to take the overall 4x4 accolade. Utes were still basic load-lugers and lacked the features enjoyed by most modern 4x4 wagons such as five-star safety, electronic traction and stability control, and the little items that make them comfortable family and long distance touring vehicles.
This has changed now and as many 4x4 wagons become more suited to light duty off-road work, double-cab 4x4 utes have become the vehicle of choice for many. They are safe, comfortable, refined and offer performance that is comparable to the wagons. Add in the practicality of having a load bed on the back and the swag of accessories available and you can see why they have become so popular.
Following the burst of new ute releases in recent years, there’s only one that made it to the 2013 list but with class leading power, torque, towing capacity and safety, the Holden Colorado is a worthy addition.
If you’re wondering how we can include vehicles such as the Colorado and the Range Rover in the same road test, you need to remember that we don’t compare them against each other but against a set criteria established by 4X4 Australia over decades of vehicle evaluation. The same criteria has been used in past Ute Of The Year and 4X4OTY road tests and for 2014 it is applied to all the vehicles combined.
VALUE FOR MONEY is judged according to a vehicle’s equipment level, safety features and price relative to its direct competitors. Just because a vehicle has a high price doesn’t mean it’s not worth that money in the same way a cheap car isn’t always good value.
BREAKING GROUND refers to advancements in technology and design. How a vehicle has raised the bar in its class and has whether it has taken 4x4s to a higher level. If a vehicle has the latest safety features, worthy engine technology or an advanced driveline, it will score well in this category.
BUILT TOUGH refers to how strong a vehicle is and how well it will cope with the rigours of tough off-road driving environments. Will it be up to the task of sustained Outback travel or fall apart at the first hurdle?
BUSH ABILITY is how well a vehicle is equipped for off-road travel. Suitability of the standard tyres for rough roads, touring range, available accessories and under-body protection are just some of the factors considered here. Is this a vehicle you would chose to drive around Australia the rough way, or is it best left in the suburbs?
DOING THE JOB is judged according to a vehicle’s design brief. Does a supposed luxury vehicle have all the latest in comfort and convenience features and do they work as you would expect them to? How well a ute carries a load in its tray, or how a seven seater accommodates a family will all come in to play here.
As always, we assembled a crew of esteemed 4x4 enthusiasts, testers and judges. Former editors Ron Moon and Fraser Stronach were joined by current editor Matt Raudonikis, while Ironman 4x4’s Adam Craze and Kristian Ristell added their expertise with Norm Needham and Grant Henderson pitching in with help and observations. Phil Cooper pulled double duties snapping the pics as well as keeping us fed in camp while Andrew Britten shot the video footage.
A top bunch of blokes who made it a fun week of working with 4x4s in the bush.
Read on to see how it all went and which vehicle has been named the 4x4 Of The Year winner.
TEST TRACKS FOR A TOUGH FIELD
The thick veil of sand blasting across the beach from the strong south westerly winds obscured every bit of the surface of the sand giving no indication of a pot hole, dip, gully or sudden sharp ridge. It was almost like driving blind. The torn up state of the beach from previous storms also posed a threat, with stretches of soft sand waiting for the opportunity to trap us.
So the last afternoon of vehicle testing started to pan out as we headed along New South Wales’ famous Stockton Beach.
Our test had started four days and 1200km before. We had slipped out of Lithgow and headed into the nearby hills and state forest near Rydal, where the Coxs River has cut some steep gullies over the years. There is a steep and eroded track here that is a fabulous test on a vehicle’s off-road capability. The object was to pick a tough line up the hill that will stretch all of a vehicle’s four wheel drive credentials and then take each and every vehicle up that very same route. Suspension travel, low range gearing, traction control, along with locking diff capabilities all get measured here.
From the Coxs River, we tracked generally northwards on first and second class bitumen roads including the Bells Line of Road through a scorched and ravaged Blue Mountains National Park.
We took Mountain Lagoon Road and dropped down the ridges through the Wollemi National Park on a variety of roads and tracks, some chopped up by winter rains, to end up at the hamlet of Upper Colo. Meandering along the Colo River and then bigger Hawkesbury River, we found our way to St Albans where we camped for the night.
The next day, our route took us through Yengo National Park and the Watagan and Olney State Forests where the terrain and the weather threw up a variety of conditions, testing the vehicles capabilities, axle tramp and suspension damping along with their NVH through rutted and pot holey tracks, chopped up corners and long climbs and descents.
Camp that evening was at the very pleasant Olney State Forest camping area where we swapped experiences and thoughts on the day’s drive, vehicle capabilities, fuel economy and general ride and handling characteristics over the wide selection of terrain we had pushed them through.
When the sun had risen, we drove our beasts along Watagans Forest Road, which gave us great views of the coast and lakes below our mountain top route as we headed for Cessnock and Singleton. Tracing the Goorangoola Creek, we took to more dirt roads, bumping through the road’s dips and dives and numerous crossings of the stream before racing along exposed ridges towards Aberdeen and Lake Glenbawn State Park.
Second class blacktop took us to Gundy and Moonan Flat. The steep climb on the Barrington Forest Drive, through rich forested country and over the Barrington Tops, was a chopped up road, leading to our descent to Gloucester and a camp on private property along the edge of a stream north of Port Stephens.
The last day of testing began with a thorough inspection of the vehicles’ engine bay and under carriage before we headed to Stockton Beach. We all got a dose of Mother Nature’s wrath as we received a wind blasting, pushing our good manners to the brink. Getting bogged was one thing; but digging in sand to loosen tyres from the beaches enfolding grip and finding recovery points while being sand whipped was another story. But what the hell...
Testing vehicles for 4X4OTY surely beats a real job!
MEET THE CONTENDERS
HOLDEN COLORADO LTZ DUAL CAB
More power, a new manual gearbox and revised equipment headline the changes to the MY14 Holden Colorado.
HOLDEN COLORADO 7 LTZ
Not satisfied with its initial effort, Holden revamped its Colorado 7 wagon just twelve months into its life.
ISUZU MU-X LS-T
Just as Holden created the Colorado 7 from the Colorado ute, Isuzu has turned its D-Max ute into the MU-X wagon.
JEEP GRAND CHEROKEE CRD OVERLAND
Thanks to range expansions and revisions, the Grand Cherokee is appearing in 4X4OTY for a third time in four years.
RANGE ROVER SPORT SDV6 HSE
The original Range Rover Sport was based on a Discovery platform but the new Sport is from that of the new Range Rover.
RANGE ROVER SDV8 VOGUE
The new Range Rover just missed out on being eligible for last year’s 4X4OTY, but it’s here now staking its claim.
AND THE 2014 4X4 OF THE YEAR WINNER IS....
Jeep Grand Cherokee CRD
WE’VE said it many times before but we’ll say it again. Our 4X4 Of The Year award is only open to vehicles that are new or significantly revised in that year. Three of our finalists, the Isuzu MU-X, the Range Rover and the Range Rover Sport are all new. The other three of our finalists, the Holden’s Colorado and Colorado 7, and Jeep’s Grand Cherokee CRD all make the starting grid thanks to significant powertrain revisions.
As ever, the vehicles aren’t directly compared as in a conventional comparison test but are rated against the award’s five long-standing criteria.
Judging is by ‘secret ballot’ at the conclusion of the week’s testing. This is not an open consensus, nor do the judges, in awarding their points confer, consort, collude or conspire with one another.
Of course, plenty of open discussions occur during the normal course of the week of testing, but that’s where it ends.
Each judge scores each vehicle out of ten for the five criteria. That means that each vehicle can get a maximum of 50 points per judge. The judges’ scores are then tallied with the vehicle gaining the most points declared the winner… it’s all very simple.
At the end of the week, after the dust had settled and the judges had returned to their respective digs, mused on the vehicles and analysed their performance in all aspects of the testing and finally submitted their respective scores, the result was close but unanimous… the Jeep Grand Cherokee CRD is the 2014 4X4 Of The Year.
All six judges voted the Grand Cherokee CRD the pick of the crop. Not by much, mind you, and five judges had the Range Rover Sport in second place.
Unanimous results are rare in the history of this award and this speaks volumes for the attributes, performance, appeal and, above all, the value of the Grand Cherokee CRD.
Our test Grand Cherokee was a top-spec Overland. As tested, it asks $71,869 (plus on-road costs) but is so loaded with kit that it could command a $100,000 plus price tag. If you don’t want all the bling, the identical mechanical package can be had for $55,219 (plus on-roads) in the form of a $51,000 Laredo CRD optioned up with air suspension ($2500) and the off-road pack ($1500), which critically adds the rear locker. The extra $219 is for a dealer-fitted front recovery hook.
For that amount of money you get a high-tech European V6 diesel, the world’s best-practice automatic gearbox and a highly sophisticated chassis co-developed with Mercedes-Benz.
The fact that the Grand Cherokee isn’t an absolute hard-core off roader is disappointing but this isn’t enough to deny its place as the worthy winner 2014 4X4 Of The Year.
Final Scores (/300)
Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland: 212
Range Rover Sport SDV6: 200
Range Rover SDV8: 191
Holden Colorado LTZ: 190
Holden Colorado 7 LTZ: 177
Isuzu MU-X LS-T: 176