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Overlander 4WD Awards 2010 Best of the best

Unlike the 4WD Of The Year contest which is only open to vehicles new that year, these awards are open to any 4WD currently on the market no matter how long ago it was released.

With the champion Discovery 3 TDV6 no longer available, the Best Overall and Best Large Diesel Wagon categories were up for grabs. On paper the new Discovery 4 looked the natural candidate to take over from the Discovery 3, but which Discovery 4, given the expanded engine options? And is the Discovery 4 really better than the Discovery 3? And what about the new LandCruiser Prado 150, given the 120 had come close to toppling the Discovery 3 in previous years?

What turned out was really a two-part decision. While the Discovery 4 gathered sufficient 'points' to put it in front without too much problem, the decision between the 3.0L TDV6 and the 2.7L TDV6, the pick of the two engine options given the cost and thirst of the new 5.0-litre V8, proved more difficult.

The new twin-turbo 180kW/600Nm 3.0L is more costly than the 140kW/440Nm 2.7L but it offers far better performance and at no significant cost in fuel use. In fact, under some circumstances the 3.0L is even more economical than the 2.7L.

That would be enough to give victory to the 3.0L, you would think. Except there's a problem. The smallest wheels you can fit to the 3.0L (due to its bigger brakes) are 19s. And that puts a major compromise on tyre selection. In fact, the standard tyres (240km/h rated 255/55R19s) are extremely puncture-prone in off-road conditions. A partial fix is to fit a tyre with a lower speed rating (i.e., heavier construction) or to fit a Light Truck (LT) tyre rather than a Passenger (P) tyre. This can help but it's only a partial solution and both of these 'solutions', especially the LT tyres, come with their own compromise.

In the end, this real lack of bush practicality saw the decision go in the way of the 2.7L. Yes, it's not as powerful as the 3.0L but it's cheaper and the fact that you can equip it with 17-inch wheels makes it far more practical. Like the Discovery 3 before it, it's a deserved winner of the Best Overall Award and along the way it also picks up the Best Large Diesel Wagon Award.

We gave an honourable mention to the Toyota LandCruiser 200 Series D-4D. It's a  great all rounder but expensive, a little thirsty and not as powerful as it should be. So-so on-road handling doesn't help either.

The best value for money 4WD and best Medium Diesel Wagon  award went to the Mitsubishi Pajero Di-D. This is the fifth year it has won the best value category but it's taken a while for the diesel Pajero to take the Best Medium Diesel Wagon crown from Toyota's Prado.

The Prado has held this category even since the then-new D-4D engine debuted in 2006. That was in the 120 Series, a vehicle that was replaced late last year by the 150 Series Prado.

So why didn't the 150 take over from where the 120 left off. Well, in a word it's simply not good enough and in many ways a backwards step from the 120. On paper it's slightly bigger inside and marginally more fuel-efficient but neither of these two advantages play a significant role in the real world. The 150 is also slightly heavier than the 120 and with 127kW four-cylinder diesel carried over it's actually a little down on performance and, according to our testing, not quite as good on fuel despite its better ADR fuel figure.

In addition, the seating capacity has been reduced from eight to seven and the packaging of the third-row seats under the cargo floor takes up a fair bit of luggage space. In another backwards step, the fuel tank capacity is down from 180 litres to 150 litres.

All this was sufficient to see the Pajero, which hadn't changed in the last year and was only a smidge behind the 120, edge ahead of the 150 by a nose. The Pajero in question is the NT model that arrived in late 2008 (for 2009 model year). It came with a heavily revised engine with 147kW and a new five-speed automatic gearbox. These changes were the highlight of the new package but Mitsubishi also worked hard to improve the often-criticised noise deadening and general running refinement of the Pajero.

Compared to the Prado 150, the Pajero offers stronger performance, sharper on-road handling and more kit for less money. And while its neither as capable, or as comfortable as the Prado in difficult off-road conditions, it still does an excellent job when the going gets tough.

The Pajero also continues as the winner of the Best Value for Money category, which it has dominated for five years now.

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