WHICH vehicles are in contention for 4x4 Of The Year comes down to the simple expediency of being all-new – or significantly revised, mechanically – in that year.
Given this selection process leaves out even best-in-class vehicles if they aren’t new or haven’t been significantly updated in the previous 12 months, the field thrown up is often criticised and sometimes misunderstood.
For example, in this lot you’ll find no LC200, Prado, Hilux, Ranger or Everest, just to name a few of the obvious suspects. For that we make no apologies given our on-going best-in-class tests published regularly and recently.
However, what you will find is arguably the most diverse range of 4x4s we have ever assembled to battle it out over a week of take-no-prisoners 4X4OTY testing.
For the first time in 4X4OTY we have a Chinese-designed-and-built 4x4, the all-new Haval H9. Think Chinese Prado but petrol-only. It’s close to the least-expensive vehicle here – despite being the top-spec model – but arguably the best equipped. At the other end of the spectrum the most expensive vehicle here, the just introduced Mercedes-Benz G-Glass Professional cab-chassis, is the most utilitarian.
The technology on display runs from the highly sophisticated Volkswagen Amarok, sporting a new V6 engine similar to that used in the likes of the Porsche Cayenne diesel, right across the spectrum to the relative simplicity of the revised Land Cruiser 70 Series. In between these extremes of cost, features, technology and function are two Holdens – the significantly revised Colorado ute and new Trailblazer wagon – and Mitsubishi’s Pajero Sport wagon.
All up there are four utes and two wagons based on utes, all of which is a sign of the times in the four-wheel drive world.
All bar one engine in the field is a diesel, again a sign of the times. Ditto an almost exclusively all-automatic field with only one manual. And, interestingly, the only non-diesel, a very modern low-pressure turbo-petrol engine, could be the way of the future given the threat posed to diesels by end-of-decade emissions regulations.
As ever, our weeklong testing involves set-piece 4x4, trail driving and touring on a wide variety of roads, and pits the seven aspirants to the 4X4OTY throne not against one another but against our five award criteria, listed opposite. Each of our judges (in blind voting) awards every vehicle points out of 10 for each of the five criteria. All the points from all the judges are then tallied and the vehicle with the most number of points wins. Simple, really.
Finding a winner
VALUE FOR MONEY
What you get for what you pay. A particular vehicle may be expensive, but if it delivers on what it promises it can be good value. Conversely, a less expensive vehicle may not deliver at all and therefore be poor value.
BREAKING NEW GROUND
Each vehicle is rated for the new technology or features it has and on the effectiveness of that technology or those features.
Each vehicle is rated on how well it is designed and built.
Each vehicle is rated on how practical it is in the bush and in the outback, and how readily it can be made more bush and outback practical via aftermarket enhancement.
Doing The Job
The vehicle is rated on how well it does the job it has been designed for. If it’s a ute, how good is it at being a ute? And if it’s a family wagon, how good is it at being a family wagon?
1st 4WD: GQ Petrol wagon
Current 4WD: GU wagon
4x4 Career started: 2008 as 4WD mag journo
current role: Marketing manager for Tough Dog
Favourite Dest: Fraser Island
Bucket List trip: Kimberley
1st 4WD: 1986 Toyota 4Runner
Current 4WD: 60 Series Cruiser
4x4 Career started: 2012 as 4WD mag journo
Current Role: Freelance writer
Favourite Destination: Cape York
Bucket List trip: Siberia
1st 4WD: Series 2 Land Rover
Current 4WD: D22 Navara
4x4 Career started: 1994 as 4WD mag journo
Current Role: Freelancer; Tech Ed for ARB
Favourite Destination: Northern Simpson
Bucket List trip: Simpson Desert in topless LC
1st 4WD: 1955 Jeep Wagoneer
Current 4WD: GU Patrol; LC79; Dodge Ram
4x4 Career started: 1981 as freelancer
Current Role: Editor-at-Large for 4X4 Au
Favourite Destination: Cape York
Bucket List trip: Africa (again)
1st 4WD: Series 1 Land Rover
Current 4WD: 100 Series single-cab Cruiser
4x4 Career started: Early 80s (Traction 4)
Current Role: Guru of all things Toyota 4WD
Favourite Destination: Vic High Country
Bucket List trip: Iceland
1st and ONLY 4WD: BJ73 Cruiser
4x4 Career started: 2000 as 4WD mag journo
Current Role: Editor 4X4 Australia
Favourite Destination: Flinders Ranges
Bucket List trip: South and Central America
1st 4WD: TD42 GQ Patrol
Current 4WD: 79 Series dual-cab Cruiser
4x4 Career started: 1993, Mitsubishi mechanic
Current Role: Top Of Down Under
Favourite Destination: Nimbi Nimbi Sinkhole
Bucket List trip: Rubicon Trail (USA)
1st 4WD: Daihatsu Scat
Current 4WD: 79 Series dual-cab Cruiser
4x4 Career started: Top Of Down Under
Favourite Destination: Poppy’s Pools (NT)
Bucket List trip: Tasmania’s west coast
HOLDEN COLORADO LTZ
THE PATH LESS-TRAVELLED
A variety of weather made this year’s route through the Vic High Country harder and more challenging than normal.
FOLLOWING the first two days of testing on the variety of tracks, obstacles and creek crossings at the Melbourne 4x4 Training and Proving Ground, situated just outside Werribee on the seemingly flat, billiard-like plains, it was time to head for the mountains of Eastern Victoria.
This year our trip took us along the Princess Highway then north on good bitumen roads to the small mountain enclave of Dargo, which always makes a great base for exploring the hills and valleys that surround this mountain township. We didn’t linger long, (not even for a pot in the pub!) just long enough to top up with fuel and supplies before we pointed the convoy west and took Shortcut Track across to Wonnangatta River Road. We followed this road to the flat, grassy patch of ground bordering the river at Kingwell Bridge.
Not content to merely sit down and watch the river meander past we hit the surrounding trails, taking the rocky, steep and scrambly climb up Conway Track. Luckily the weather had been dry and the track, while rough, tough and dusty, wasn’t too slippery. Surprisingly, all the vehicles in the group reached the top with hardly a worry; for most vehicles that’s a testimony to how good traction control has become in the last few years.
The next morning our route took us to Eaglevale and across the Wonnangatta River for the long climb to the top of Mt Cynthia, with the wind beating us mercilessly as the film crew and photographers worked tirelessly to get some action shots. It’s a pretty steep climb but the track is in good condition, so it’s a bit of a doddle. Once on the Wombat Spur track we cruised along effortlessly and, with the weather starting to spit rain, we headed down the very steep Herne Spur track.
I hadn’t been on this track for years and, while it is still steep, it isn’t what it used to be.
We then wandered up the valley, crossing the Wonnangatta River a few times before we got to the old historic Wonnangatta Station site and its big, old stand of trees. By now the spit of rain had turned to a steady drizzle and by the time we had lunch and headed off the rain was getting heavier. As we started the climb out of the valley on the Wonnangatta Track the rain became a deluge and very quickly the track became a running stream. Still, this is probably the easiest route into and out of the valley, linking up with East Riley Road before joining with the good but narrow dirt of the East Buffalo River Road.
Just when we thought we’d be in camp at a reasonable hour and in time to get organised, we came across nature’s roadblock, a fallen tree. Earlier we had to zig zag around a few fallen trees, but most had been cleared by work crews from 4WD Victoria and Parks Victoria before the official track opening a few weeks previously. Thanks to them for their huge and continual efforts.
That evening we pulled up at one of the pleasant little camps on the East Buffalo River, waking the next morning to a chorus of birds that were having a hard time competing with the full voice of the local kookaburras. A circuit of winding dirt roads capped off 2017’s 4X4OTY as we headed to the Hume Highway, some of us turning south while other judges turned north for places further afield.
A week of testing to find the best new 4WD released in 2016 was over – well, until we do it all again next year.
With such a diverse group of vehicles in this year’s 4X4 Of The Year line-up, it’s just as well that each contender is scored against a set of five criteria rather than pitted directly against each other. After all, how could you compare the on-road touring capability of the Mercedes-Benz G-Professional cab-chassis with the Volkswagen Amarok TDi550 Ultimate, or the off-road capability of the Holden Trailblazer with that of the Toyota Land Cruiser 79 Double Cab?
After just a couple of days testing at Rob Emmins’ excellent Melbourne 4X4 Training and Proving Ground, it soon became evident there were two favourites amongst the judges: the Volkswagen Amarok and the Toyota LC79. Then, after a couple more days driving in some challenging conditions in the Victorian High Country, opinions had changed little.
Each night around the campfire we discussed the relative merits of each vehicle and weighed them up against the 4X4OTY criteria, but it wasn’t until a week after the test that all of the judges’ scores were in and we had a winner: the Toyota Land Cruiser 79 Double Cab GXL.
With eight judges scoring each of the five criteria out of 10 points, there were a potential 400 points on offer in 2016. The Land Cruiser ended up with 300 points, just a single point ahead of the Amarok on 299; even though five of the eight judges scored the VW in front of the Toyota. So it was a very close call!
The LC79 won’t be for everyone, and it certainly doesn’t raise the bar in terms of technology, safety or refinement like, say, the Amarok does, but it’s still one of the most capable 4x4s on the market, with a fantastic TDV8 engine and vastly improved touring capability.
The ageing 70 Series Land Cruiser could have easily been killed off, but pressure from Australian mining companies and other commercial operators convinced Toyota there was life in the ‘old girl’ yet. While the Double Cab doesn’t benefit from all of the upgrades that see the Single Cab variant achieve a five-star ANCAP rating, it does receive several upgrades that not only improve the vehicle’s safety, but also its touring capability.
If you want a big, capable 4x4 that you can be confident will take you and your family to the most remote parts of Australia and get you home again, you can count on the Land Cruiser 79 to do the job.
OUT OF 400
TOYOTA LAND CRUISER 79 DOUBLE CAB GXL: 300/400
VOLKSWAGEN AMAROK TDI550 ULTIMATE: 299/400
MITSUBISHI PAJERO SPORT EXCEED: 281/400
HAVAL H9 LUXURY: 270/400
MERCEDES-BENZ G300 CDI CAB CHASSIS 253/400
HOLDEN COLORADO LTZ 248/400
HOLDEN TRAILBLAZER LTZ 241/400
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