Four contenders, four days, five criteria and one winner
With the effect of the GFC still being felt in the auto industry, 2010 was a quiet year for new vehicles, particularly 4X4s. Yet these four finalists bring a range of features and abilities to the table, making this a very interesting 4X4 of the Year competition conducted in company of the benchmark, 2009 4X4OTY, Land Rover’s Discovery 4.
Mitsubishi’s Triton-based PB Challenger wagon just missed the cut in 2009 when it arrived late that year, so it was a walk-up start for the 2010 test. The top-spec XLS five-seat Challenger, at $54,490, was supplied for the final test. It has leather seats with power adjustment for the front pews, woodgrain trim, privacy glass, chrome grille, auto wipers and headlights among the extras over the base-spec LS, which is $47,490 as a five seater with the auto trans. The third-row seats add $1900 to the price in both grades and that includes rear airconditioning.
The Challenger is powered by a grunty 131kW/350Nm 2.5-litre turbo-diesel and the auto is a five-speed unit. The Super-Select 4X4 system offers 2WD, full-time and part-time 4X4 plus low-range. A rear differential lock is standard fare.
Its mid-size rival, the Navara-based Nissan R51 Pathfinder, has been with us a few years now, but it received a fresh 2.5-litre turbo-diesel engine, tweaked to deliver 140kW and 450Nm. The optional five-speed auto backs the test vehicle. The ST-L Pathfinder, at $59,490, made the grade for final judging and it too is well equipped, with seven power-adjustable leather seats, climate control and rear parking sensors.
The Pathfinder scored a second shot at the title when Nissan launched the V6 turbo-diesel powered Ti 550 model. With a stonking 170kW of power and 550Nm of torque, from a Euro-sourced V6 engine, and backed by a seven-speed auto transmission, the Pathie 550 promises. It comes in at $75,990 and is loaded with all the features from the option book, including sat-nav, sunroof, rear-seat DVD player and a nine-speaker Bose sound system. The new 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6 is only available in this top-grade Pathie.
Jeep showed its all-new WK Grand Cherokee at the Sydney Motor Show in November and the first variant in the range arrived shortly after. The Pentastar V6 engine is new for the Jeep range. The WK rides on a new monocoque chassis with full independent coil-spring suspension and the entry-level Laredo model we were supplied for testing was equipped with the optional Quadra-Lift adjustable air suspension to give added ground clearance when required.
The Pentastar V6 is a new 3.6-litre engine that makes 210kW at 6350rpm and 347Nm at 4300rpm. A five-speed auto with manual mode, and Quadra-Trac II full-time 4X4 with low-range backs it.
New for Jeep is Selec-Terrain, which offers five modes for various driving conditions, a la Land Rover’s Terrain Response. Jeep’s modes are auto, sport, snow, sand/mud, and rock.
The WK Grand Cherokee Laredo will retail for around $50,000 when it goes on sale here early in 2011, and you can add about $1500 for the Quadra-Lift air suspension. Other WK Grand Cherokee variants will come later in 2011.
So, we have four mid-size wagons, only one of which is all-new. Three of them use diesel engines, with the Jeep providing the single petrol donk. The two Nissans are seven-seaters and the Mitsubishi is available with a third row to give seven seats. The Jeep is a five-seater only. The Japanese wagons are variants on utes and use a body-on-chassis construction, but the American is a pure passenger vehicle with a monocoque body. The Challenger is the only vehicle with a live rear axle.
We also brought along last year’s winner, the Land Rover Discovery 4 3.0 TDV6. The Discovery has been a class leader since the launch of the D3 back in 2004 and the D4 only reinforced its position at the top. It provided a benchmark from which to evaluate the 2011 contenders, but it was not included in the award.
The five vehicles were loaded up and taken away for four solid days of testing in the NSW southern highlands, starting at the off-road driver-training facility of Great Divide Tours. The judging panel was the same as last year, except that 4X4 technical editor, Allan Whiting, couldn’t make it, leaving the judging to 4X4 editor Justin Walker; former editors Ron Moon and Mick Matheson; contributors Glenn Torrens and Matt Raudonikis; and ARB Elizabeth owner Brad Newham.
Bang for the buck, dazzle for the dollar, clout for your cash – call it what you will, but for most of us, what you receive for the money plays a large part in purchasing a 4X4. And with these five vehicles – one, of course, being last year’s winner, the Discovery 4, a benchmark in more ways than one – there was plenty of financially focussed chin-scratching this year.
Newest of the vehicles is the Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo. It’s also the easiest to own, asking just $52,000 [TBC]. Our test unit was an early-build example – so new to Australia that the owner’s manual hadn’t been printed – but it’s better built than the previous Grand with more pleasing metal, paint and plastics. It’s also more comfortable with improved front legroom and seating.
Plus, of course, that new all-independent and (optional) air suspension. A five-seater, it offers plenty of tricks and tweaks for the money, right down to multiple airbags, dual-zone climate control, tyre-pressure monitoring and anti-spray mudguard linings. Significantly, it was the only vehicle here with a petrol engine. The diesel arrives next year, but none of the other contenders offers a petrol option.
Next up the cost ladder is the new-generation Mitsubishi Challenger. It also offers the younger family a comprehensive list of specifications, especially as – like ours – the top-spec XLS five-seater (third-row seating is optional). But is it better value than the Jeep? Our judges’ opinions were split between them. We liked the Jeep’s greater NVH suppression and front-seat comfort, plus on-road performance with reasonable consumption. The Challenger managed to feel like a tizzied-up dual-cab ute with its firm ride, cheesy interior plastics and generally noisier cabin. Plus, of course, the Jeep has the bling and jingle of a driveline and suspension that mimics the benchmark Land Rover Disco 4’s, but for $30K less…
Then the Mitsubishi demonstrated its prowess and value off-road. Despite featuring the independent air-suspension and Selec-Terrain 4X4 system, the Jeep wanted for droop and scrambled for traction more than any other vehicle here. In fact, its 265/60-18 Kumhos were in tatters after less than 400km of arduous terrain. In front of it, the simply suspended Challenger trounced every track, even with its traction control system outed due to a broken wire.
Broadly speaking, the 2.5-litre Nissan Pathfinder ST-L (with optional auto on our test unit) offers a lot more interior space with a sensible seven-seat arrangement, plus an independent rear end, for five grand more than the Mitsubishi.
Seventy-five grand for the Ti 550 perplexed a couple of our judges; it’s a Datsun, they said, with tongues in cheeks. But as a wise man once said, many true words are said in jest, and the humour was the foundation for a value comparison with its four-cylinder ST-L, plus the Disco, now only $7000 above it. Fifteen grand for a V6? An extra 30 ponies and 100 Berts? There’s more to it than that. Not only do you get the 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel and seven speeder, but sat-nav, a premium entertainment/DVD system, rear-zone climate control and a sunroof.
That eagerly anticipated V6 invited on-paper and real-world comparisons with the Land Rover’s V6 turbo-diesel, and the previous Jeep Grand Cherokee’s impressive V6 oiler. But a flat-foot run of the new driveline didn’t really startle. There was little in it off-road, either, with both Nissans – especially the 2.5 – displaying poor transmission calibration.
So which Nissan is better value? Is the Jeep’s on-road comfort and impressive economy – even with a petrol engine – worth more or less than the Challenger’s superior off-road ability? Would you pay the extra for the Nissans? And how do they all compare to the criteria – not to forget the lofty benchmarks of last year’s 4X4OTY winner, the 3.0-litre Land Rover Discovery 4?
These, and more, were difficult questions, but the Jeep ultimately provided the answers. The simple thing is, this is a hell of a lot of 4X4 wagon for not a lot of money. It’s high-tech, high-spec and high-end at a low-buck price.
Jeep Grand Cherokee V6 / 23/30
Mitsubishi Challenger TD4 / 20/30
Nissan Pathfinder 2.5TD4 / 15/30
Nissan Pathfinder 3.0TDV6 / 17/30
With many of the big, ground-breaking electronic advancements happening over the last few years in braking and traction control, suspension and handling, and engine control, it’s hardly surprising that we’ve come to a stage where changes are a little more subtle. A tweak here, a tweak there…
There’s no doubt that last year’s 4X4 of the Year winner, Land Rover’s Discovery 4, set a bloody high standard in regard to suspension, braking and handling control, and 4X4 selection reached new heights. The V6 engine was something to write home about as well. All that magic and performance is achieved with a plethora of black boxes, and while some of us have reservations about all this technology, especially when you are out beyond Birdsville, it’s the way every manufacturer is going.
This year, technology that just a few years ago was new, exciting and leading edge was normal – almost mundane! And for the first time every vehicle we tested was a five-speed or better automatic with a manual mode.
In this 2010 4X4OTY field, the Jeep Grand Cherokee V6 was not just the only petrol-powered vehicle, but also the model showing the most high-tech advances. There was hill descent control (HDC) with the unique Jeep offering of a variable descent speed by the simple act of selecting an appropriate gear. I wish that was in every HDC system!
Jeep has also developed its all-new Selec-Terrain, which some would say is similar to what has been in Land Rover Discos for a few years now. Selec-Terrain is different, though, and boasts five settings for varied conditions. These are an auto setting for normal driving situations, mud/sand and snow for conditions off-road, while rock gives you added traction. Then there is sport, which backs off the electronic stability control for those times when you want to have a little more fun on the open road.
The all-new Quadra-Lift air-suspension system is the first independent suspension to appear on a Grand Cherokee. It operates somewhat independently of the Selec-Terrain and provides up to 105mm of additional lift, either automatically or manually via the console controls. This all combines with Quadra-Trac II, which offers all-wheel drive, 4X4 high and low with a locking centre diff.
Under the bonnet, the Grand Cherokee is also the first vehicle in Australia to receive the all-new Pentastar 3.6-litre V6 engine. It produces 209kW of power and 353Nm of torque and offers new levels of fuel efficiency, refinement and performance, all on standard ULP.
One thing we did pick up on when we had our heads under the bonnet was the advanced oil filter system, which helps eliminate oil spills and contains an incinerable filter element for more efficient disposal than typical oil filters.
The vehicle we all wanted to see and drive, though, was the new Nissan Pathfinder Ti 550. This Nissan may look the same as the others in the Pathfinder stable, but underneath the bonnet lurks a new 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel engine, backed by a seven-speed auto box.
This all-new engine from the Renault-Nissan alliance first appeared last year, but the Pathfinder is the first 4X4 in which we’ve seen it. Termed the V9X, this DOHC, intercooled turbo engine produces 170kW of power and an impressive 550Nm of torque, which is a class-leading figure. Emissions are also well within the ballpark, coming in at just 224g/km.
The seven-speed box is silky smooth with subtle and effortless changes. This is the best Nissan engine/gearbox combination we’ve ever driven on-road. Sadly, it was let down in off-road low-range situations by its ECU programming. The 2.5TD4 Pathfinder was nowhere near as technically advanced as its 550 namesake, and showed little progress in design or technology. Still, it has all the normal technological features we’ve come to expect in a modern fourby, such as stability control, traction control, ABS and more. The engine produces 140kW of power and 450Nm of torque from its 2488cc and feeds that to the road via a five-speed auto box.
The 2.5-litre, five-speed auto Mitsubishi Challenger isn’t a trend-setter, receiving all its technology as a bit of a hand-me-down from the more expensive and pace setting Pajero. And, while it lacks the sophistication of a dial-a-terrain 4X4 system, it does have the Super-Select system that makes both the Challenger and the Pajero such nice, easy-to-use and capable off-roaders.
This latest evolution of the Challenger does get paddle-shift selection for the auto transmission and this worked well – when we remembered it was there! One of the features that each of the testers commented on favourably was the rear-axle diff lock fitted to all models of Challenger, in addition to the vehicle’s traction control. A manually controlled diff lock might be considered old technology by some, but nothing – absolutely nothing – in the traction-control stakes works as well, or as effectively, as a manual diff lock. A few other manufacturers should take note.
So, at the end of the day, the Breaking Ground criterion went to the Jeep Grand Cherokee, pipping the latest Nissan at the post, with the Challenger and 2.5 Pathie well back. But that, as they say, isn’t the whole story.
Jeep Grand Cherokee V6 / 18/30
Mitsubishi Challenger TD4 / 12/30
Nissan Pathfinder 2.5TD4 / 12/30
Nissan Pathfinder 3.0TDV6 / 17/30
In this relatively small playing field of 4X4OTY contenders for 2010, the Built Tough criterion was hardly pushed to the edge of the design envelope. None of these vehicles are in the same league as the highly regarded and proven 70 Series LandCruiser in Troopie or ute configuration, or the Nissan GU Patrol in either wagon or ute clothing.
Still, all the vehicles survived the week of torture through the backblocks of southern NSW. We crashed across rock-strewn creeks, dragged the belly of each and every vehicle over erosion control humps, and pounded up some rocky steps in the steep country around Deua National Park.
The latest model Jeep Grand Cherokee features unibody construction and, while some of the suspension components and geometry are shared with the Mercedes M-Class (this Cherokee was created when Daimler-Chrysler was a single entity, even though Chrysler is now tied to Fiat), many of the components have been beefed up to suit the more off-road lifestyle of the Jeep. That includes the heavy-duty cast-iron lower control arms, which we all noticed when we crawled around underneath the vehicle.
In fact, as we lacked a hoist this year, crawling around underneath each of the vehicles was our lot in life and it was one of the first things we did. Bonnets were raised, vulnerable wiring harnesses appraised, radiators checked to see if they were tucked up out of harm’s way (along with anything else) and any underbelly protection studied and whacked to see how effective it could be in protecting vital components.
But, back to the Jeep. Everything was tucked up out of the way and there was adequate protection underneath, giving the Jeep a very respectable score. Both Pathfinders, as you’d expect, were similar, however, they were a touch more vulnerable to damage than either the Jeep or the Mitsubishi. While they had fairly minimal protection plates underneath, and while most components were tucked up out of the way, the Pathfinder lacks anything like the heavy-duty lower control arms of the Jeep. Still, if that is a criticism it never showed up in our testing.
The Challenger was considered by all to be a pretty good prospect in the Built Tough stakes, with adequate protection underneath. Its rear solid-axle coil suspension with three-link location – simple in design and application – is intrinsically strong. It mightn’t, or shouldn’t, ride as well as an independent coil- or air-sprung vehicle, but Mitsubishi has sorted out this Challenger very well in that regard.
Still, when the Challenger lost its stability control and ABS at some point during a particularly long log- and branch-strewn section of forest road, we all expected to find a sensor wire had been ripped out, which could have pointed to a touch of vulnerability in that regard. Inspection by our resident mechanic, Brad Newham, revealed that was indeed the case.
The positive thing about this experience, though, was the minimal disruption it caused (we’ve had similar experiences with other vehicles and it was a major issue) and while it meant there was no electronic traction control, there was always the locking rear diff!
In a front-end nudge, though – with a tree or an animal – the transmission oil cooler and the intercooler on the Challenger are a little more vulnerable than any of us liked, as both were sitting behind a pretty flimsy grille. Of course, that could be easily fixed by adding a bullbar and, in the final analysis, it wasn’t considered enough of an issue to punish it too much. The Mitsubishi and the Jeep ended up line-ball on judges’ scores in this Built Tough department.
Jeep Grand Cherokee V6 / 21/30
Mitsubishi Challenger TD4 / 21/30
Nissan Pathfinder 2.5TD4 / 14/30
Nissan Pathfinder 3.0TDV6 / 14/30
Doing the job
Our four contenders are all mid-size wagons, so it could be argued that they should all do the same job.
The two Pathfinders have the best cargo space, although they sacrifice second-row legroom to achieve it. The ST-L Pathfinder has a 668kg payload while the Ti 550 makes do with slightly less due to the weight of its new engine and equipment.
The Pathfinders are both very comfortable tourers. The long wheelbase and wide track combine with low-set weight and independent suspension to give passenger car-like driving characteristics on mountain roads and highways. Partly loaded, the Nissans’ suspension easily reached the end of its stroke on undulations, leading us to wonder how it would perform fully laden or with a heavy trailer in tow.
The Pathfinders were always the first to bottom out and scrape when off-road. They are full-time 4X4 and needed the centre diff locked to climb rutted hills in high-range. Locking it seemed to sharpen up the calibration of the electronic traction control (ETC) as well. The calibration seemed sharper on the ST-L than on the Ti 550, as it climbed some hills a touch easier.
Their auto transmissions, a five-speed on the ST-L and seven-speed on the Ti, are annoying. They won’t hold first gear in low-range, going up to third on hills before lunging back to first at a near stall; and often, but not always, leaping out of first going downhill. They do have hill descent control (HDC), though.
The calibration of the Nissan autos also leaves them feeling lazy when you are touring on-road. Neither transmission allows full manual control, so you can’t pick the gears yourself. We expected the Ti 550 to be a ball-tearing tourer but it doesn’t live up to expectations.
The Challenger feels tall and gangly from behind the wheel, both on- and off-road. On-road, it pitches and rolls more than the other wagons, displaying its light-truck heritage.
The height and live-axle work in the Challenger’s favour off-road, where it has good ground clearance and wheel travel. The ETC on the Mitsubishi feels slow to react and struggles sometimes, but the Challenger makes up for this with its rear locker. A number of the judges said the Challenger would be the best basis for an outback touring vehicle because of its simple yet competent chassis and suspension.
The 2.5-litre turbo-diesel engine offers adequate performance but, to a lesser degree than the Nissans, its auto doesn’t hold gears as you would expect it to in manual mode. In addition, the Challenger has no HDC. The big load space doesn’t come at the expense of rear-seat legroom. The seats are flat and short but comfortable and spacious enough for adults. The Challenger’s payload is 651kg.
The Grand Cherokee accommodates five in comfort. The luggage area is smaller than the Japanese wagons, with a lower roof, but it does have the highest payload, at 758kg. The Jeep had the only petrol engine on the test and initial impressions of the Pentastar V6 are that it is a winner. It’s smooth, quiet and willing. Naturally, it used the most fuel, but it wasn’t that far behind the Disco, the heaviest user among the diesels.
Jeep’s five-speed auto is well proven and begs the question of why you’d need more. Its manual mode allows full control; great when you are off-road or driving enthusiastically. The tip-shift is also used to control the HDC speed and this is the best HDC system we’ve tried.
Being a base-model Laredo, the drive system is Quadra-Trac II which uses open differentials and relies on the ETC to direct drive to the tyres with the most grip. This system is a far cry from the Quadra-Drive II system with its trio of locking diffs on the previous model. The Jeep struggled on our rutted hills, where we expected it to climb with ease.
The lack of wheel travel makes it work harder. When raised, the suspension is constantly topping out, causing the wheels to slip and struggle for grip. Adjusting the Selec-Terrain had little effect off-road, although it did sharpen up the performance in sport mode when on-road.
The Jeep tackled everything we pointed it at, but not as well as expected. It performed better with the suspension set at the standard ride height, but then clearance became an issue. It is firm and stable on-road, delivering a comfortable ride and sharp handling.
All contenders do the job they were designed for reasonably well. The Nissans didn’t rate as well in this criterion, mainly due to their low ride height. They were good on the road but their suspension wasn’t as controlled as it could be and the auto transmissions and traction control need tweaking.
The Mitsubishi proved to be a solid all-rounder that did whatever was asked of it, let down mostly by its on-road dynamics. It was only just pipped in Doing the Job by the Jeep, which performed best overall.
Jeep Grand Cherokee V6 / 23/30
Mitsubishi Challenger TD4 / 20/30
Nissan Pathfinder 2.5TD4 / 15/30
Nissan Pathfinder 3.0TDV6 / 17/30
It doesn’t matter how high-tech a vehicle is or how well it performs, because if it doesn’t rate highly in our Bushability stakes it won’t win 4X4OTY – and it wouldn’t be a vehicle in which we’d head out beyond the black stump.
I am a bit old school, preferring vehicles with a minimum of ECUs, black boxes and the like. To get a fair idea of how much electronic wizardry is in any particular vehicle, all you have to do is check out the fuse box – in most cases there’s more than one and in rare cases there’s a hundred fuses or so protecting all those electronic gizmos!
But we’ll start with something that’s pretty basic, if only manufacturers would build vehicles really ready to go off-road. Every one of them doesn’t. The tyres on these fourbies are the most obvious let-down of all. There was no clearer example of that when the Land Rover Discovery, which we have always declared has an Achilles heel, again showed its weakness this year when one of the 19-inch wheels ripped a sidewall early in the test and we then had to source another tyre. Even with the Discovery being around for some time, 19-inch rubber is still bloody scarce.
None of the contenders had such extreme or extravagant rubber as the Jeep’s 18-inchers. The Pathfinders and Challenger wore 17-inch tyres, which is darn near the standard off-road tyre size these days. While 17-inch rubber is pretty easy to get hold of, with a wide choice of terrain types, all the stock tyres were of passenger-type construction with tread patterns meant for nothing rougher than a cruise down the highway.
The Jeep suffered a puncture, which meant we had to fit the slightly smaller space-saver tyre with its lesser speed rating and basic steel rim. We were a little perplexed right from the start why they had gone to a so-called space saver when it wasn’t all that much smaller. That confusion only manifested itself when we discovered the full-size tyre and rim will fit into the spare wheel receptacle. Why do they do that?
Still on the Jeep, the battery and the box it is hidden in, under the driver’s seat, came in for a fair amount of criticism. It’s a hell of a place for a battery for starters and would make running wiring to it for any accessories a bit of an issue. Moreover, the box hangs relatively low underneath the vehicle and the bungs in the base of the box had been damaged, meaning the battery box flooded during water crossings. Deeper crossings could easily see water flood onto the floor of the cabin.
It’s hard to know how the air suspension of the Jeep will stand up to the rigours of outback driving, but needless to say it would be a lot harder to fit in Broome or Weipa than a coil-spring set-up.
Most of the judges weren’t impressed with the bushability of the Pathfinders. The vehicle’s front and rear overhangs and the vulnerable lower section of its radiator alluded more to a lifestyle on the open road than smashing one’s way across a track deep in the outback.
Fuel range is another criterion when you head a fair way from the city lights, and all three diesel vehicles returned much the same fuel economy and were within a couple of litres of each other. The Nissans’ 80-litre tanks had the upper hand on the Challenger’s relatively small 70-litre fuel holder.
The Jeep, being a petrol machine, drank 10-20 percent more than the diesels, but had a respectable 93.5-litre fuel tank to make up for its fuel addiction.
Both the Jeep and the Challenger were five-person carriers, lacking a third row of seats. Both Nissans were capable of carrying seven souls, the back seats folding flat to give a good usable area for storage – the best of any of this year’s contenders, but still not as good as the Disco!
As far as payload was concerned, the Jeep came out in front with a listed capacity of over 750kg, a good 100kg more than the other contenders. It lost out in the towing stakes with an official figure of 2268kg while the Challenger and smaller Nissan were rated at 3000kg and the top-of-the-line Pathfinder at an impressive 3500kg. Mind you, we wouldn’t like to tow anything that heavy with any of these vehicles.
The availability of spare parts and aftermarket accessories across our wide brown land is also part of the Bushability criterion and here the Challenger was level pegging with the Pathfinders.
Most of the judges liked the relative simplicity of the Challenger, not only of its tyre choice, but also its suspension and solid rear axle. That adds up in the Bushability stakes with all of the judges putting this vehicle on top.
Jeep Grand Cherokee V6 / 18/30
Mitsubishi Challenger TD4 / 25/30
Nissan Pathfinder 2.5TD4 / 15/30
Nissan Pathfinder 3.0TDV6 / 15/30
The final cut
With four wagons very close in their target application it was always going to be a close call for 4X4 of the Year. Even on the last day of driving the judges still wanted to get back into specific vehicles on the right roads to weed out strengths and weaknesses. We knew it would be close, but we never predicted a winning margin of just one point!
All the vehicles did what was asked of them over all sorts of terrain, though the test wasn’t without its problems. We had punctures on both the Discovery 4 and the Grand Cherokee’s tyres; the Jeep’s was repairable with a plug, while the Landie’s 19-incher had a tear in the sidewall and was a throwaway. The Disco also left a rear muffler lying in the track where it broke off at a shoddy weld but you couldn’t tell the difference, either in performance or engine sound.
Driving on forestry tracks covered in fallen sticks, the Challenger showed warning lights for the ABS and ESC, which led us to believe that an ABS sensor wire was damaged. It didn’t stop the Mitsubishi and Brad drove it home to Adelaide after the test where he put it up on his hoist to confirm our call.
The only vehicles that didn’t have any problems were the two Pathfinders, but it was evident from the first day of off-road driving at the Great Divide Tours proving ground that they were disadvantaged by their lack of ground clearance. They fell further behind as we dealt with their auto transmissions on steep hills, but they did regain some ground once we got to open country and faster roads. Even so, the Challenger and Grand Cherokee quickly became the judges’ favourites. The question remained: how to separate them?
No one believed a petrol-powered vehicle could win, as they are less efficient and less suited to remote touring. The last time a petrol vehicle won the award was way back in 2003, when the V8 LandCruiser 100 Series stood out from the finalists. The WK Grand Cherokee’s new V6 engine is a great example of how far petrol engines have come and didn’t fall so far behind the diesels in fuel consumption as to rule it out of contention. Its performance also makes it rewarding to drive on-road and it works well with the WK’s stiff chassis and adjustable suspension to provide a real driver’s car.
The Challenger was the complete opposite. The 2.5-litre turbo-diesel gets the job done, but is underwhelming. The chassis is a bit of a handful to drive hard on-road, but is excellent off-road. The Challenger’s overall simplicity, ease of use and the way it all works together had it in the race all the way to the line.
The Mitsubishi’s simple, rugged design gave it the edge in both the Built Tough and Bushability criteria. Its family ties to the Triton ute make it a solid and dependable vehicle and even though the ABS and ESC failed when a wire was torn off, it never let us down. The only criteria where the Challenger didn’t score so well was in Breaking Ground where, again, its simple, no-frills design and construction determined its score.
Brad Newham scored the Challenger as his outright winner while both Mick Matheson and Justin Walker had it tied in first place.The Jeep just edged out the Challenger in Value and Doing the Job, while the Ti 550 split the two in Breaking Ground thanks to its TDV6 engine and seven-speed auto. It’s worth noting that the difference in fuel consumption between the two Pathies could be measured in millilitres, yet the performance of the V6 is streets ahead of the four-pot.
With its new V6 petrol engine, adjustable suspension and Selec-Terrain drive system, the Jeep won the Breaking Ground category to give it three of the five criteria. At less than $55,000, the Jeep scored well in value, although it would have been a closer call had we had the $7000 cheaper LS Challenger on test. Ron Moon and Matt Raudonikis both scored the Jeep ahead of the Mitsubishi overall while Justin and Matho had it equal first. When all the scores were tallied up, the Grand Cherokee won by a single point – 101 to 100.
Jeep Grand Cherokee V6 / 101
Mitsubishi Challenger TD4 / 100
Nissan Pathfinder 2.5TD4 / 70
Nissan Pathfinder 3.0TDV6 / 77