We’ll start at the front of each of these models, where you’ll find cup holders between the front seats, door pockets with bottle holders, and a covered centre console bin.
You mightn’t have expected it, but the SsangYong has the most luxurious, plushest interior. Weird, right? But it’s because we have the range-topping Ultimate model, which gets goodies like quilted leather seat trim on the seats, and that quilting is also on the dashboard and doors.
There’s plenty to like here, with heated seats - you even get them in the second row - and there’s a heated steering wheel. There’s also a sunroof (which none of the others have) and dual-zone climate control.
The media screen has almost everything you could want - digital radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring, Bluetooth, a 360-degree display with an out-of-body element to it. It’s just missing built-in sat nav and, annoyingly, a home screen. Its automatic door lock system also took a bit of adjusting to.
The next most likeable cabin is the Mitsubishi, which has the most comfortable seats of this bunch, with lovely leather seat trim, nice controls and quality materials throughout.
There’s a smaller, but still nice, media screen with the same smartphone mirroring tech and DAB radio, plus a 360-degree camera. But once more, there’s no built-in sat nav.
It feels a bit more family SUV than ute-based-off-roader than some of the other vehicles here, but lacks a little bit of loose item storage.
Third most likeable up front is the Ford Everest. In this base Ambiente spec it feels a little bit ‘affordable’, but the big 8.0-inch screen with CarPlay and Android Auto helps make up for it. We’ll delve a little deeper on which car has what tech in the next section.
And it has sat nav built in, which is good if you don’t have phone reception to use your smartphone mapping. There is good, if not amazing, storage on offer, and while the materials look and feel a bit plain Jane, boy oh boy does it do inoffensive well.
The Toyota Fortuner’s cabin is different enough to the HiLux to make feel a touch more family focused, but compared to the others here, it feels like a budget-friendly offering that’s trying to be special. That’s partly due to the optional ‘Premium Interior Pack’ which costs $2500 and gives you leather-look trim and electric front seat adjustment.
The Fortuner’s media screen is hard to use - it lacks the smartphone mirroring tech, and while it has built -in sat nav the buttons and menus are fidgety, and the reversing camera display is pixelated. But it boggles the mind that Toyota still won’t let you use a lot of the screen functions when the car’s moving.
Of these SUVs, it feels the most cramped up front, but there are more cup holders than the others, and it has a dual glovebox with a cooled section - great for chockies or drinks on warmer days.
Isuzu’s MU-X feels hardy and work ready - which is fine in a ute, but in this contest it’s less than terrific. This is the entry trim level, so that’s to be expected to a degree. But for not much more money, competitor offerings cream the MU-X for cabin pleasantness.
It does feel broad and airy, though, and the storage game in here is strong, too - it’s the only one with a covered dash top storage cubby (if you can get it open).
And while the MU-X has a media screen, it doesn’t have GPS or a navigation system, or smartphone mirroring, which means a screen is actually kind of redundant aside from acting as a display for the reversing camera.
Now, let’s talk second-row space.
Every one of these SUVs has map pockets in the front seatbacks, cup holders that fold down from the middle seat (to varying degrees of usefulness) and bottle holders in the doors.
And if you have kids, each has ISOFIX child seat anchors and top tether points in the second row, while the Ford is the only one with two child seat points in the third row.
The Rexton has amazing space on offer in terms of shoulder and headroom. The quality of the materials is the best of this bunch, and it even has a 230-volt power point in the centre console - just a shame it’s still a Korean plug!
While the Rexton impressed, it was actually the Everest we judged as the best for second row comfort, seats, visibility, storage and space. It’s just a pleasant place to be.
The Pajero Sport isn’t huge in the second row, lacking headroom for taller occupants. The leather seats are lovely, though.
The Fortuner’s second row is fine, but the leather feels as fake as it is, and the plastics are harsher than the others here. Also, the door storage is hard to access with the door shut - seriously, you struggle to get a bottle out of the door with it closed.
The MU-X’s lack of rear air vents - for the second and third rows - in this spec is unacceptable for a family SUV. Other than that, though, the second row is fine, apart from slightly cramped kneeroom.
Interior dimensions are important, so here is a table showing luggage capacity with two, five and seven seats up - sadly it’s not a direct comparison, because there are different measurement methods used.
| ||Everest Ambiente||MU-X LS-M||Pajero Sport Exceed||Rexton Ultimate||Fortuner GXL|
Two seats up
|2010L (SAE)||1830L (VDA)||1488 (VDA)||1806L (VDA)||1080L|
Five seats up
|1050L (SAE)||878L (VDA)||502L (VDA)||777L (VDA)||716L|
Seven seats up
|450L (SAE)||235 (VDA)||295L (VDA)||295L (VDA)||200L|
To help illustrate the differences better, we attempted to fit the same stuff in all five of these SUVs to see which had the most capacious boot dimensions - the CarsGuide pram and three suitcases.
All five SUVs managed to fit both the stroller and the trio of luggage (35, 68 and 105 litres, respectively) with five seats up, but none was close to capable of fitting the pram in with seven chairs in play.
For what it’s worth, the depth of the Fortuner’s boot helped allay fears of third-row seat intrusion given their unique (in this group) upwards folding system.
With all seats in use, the Fortuner, Rexton and Everest fit the large and medium case, while the MU-X and Pajero Sport managed only the large case.
To get technical for a second, the payload capacity variance is sizeable. The Rexton Ultimate has the best payload capability (727kg) followed by the Everest Ambiente (716kg), MU-X LS-M (658kg), Fortuner GXL (640kg), and the last-placed Pajero Sport Exceed, with a payload of 605kg - or about seven of me. So if you have big-boned children, maybe keep that in mind.
If you have seven people in your family you will probably need to fit a roof rack system with a cargo pod to the roof rails (as well as fit some rails if you’re buying this spec MU-X), or tow a trailer. But if you’re using this sort of vehicle primarily as a five-seater with two bonus seats, then it was clear cut as to which was most practical for luggage - the Ford.
If you plan on getting one of these rugged off-roaders but don’t actually need seven seats - perhaps you need to cart items and need to fit a cargo barrier, cargo liner or cargo cover - then you could get the Everest Ambiente (which comes as standard with five seats - the extra row adds $1000 to the price), or the Pajero Sport GLS. The others are standard with seven seats.
We got our man Mitchell Tulk to be our gopher and test out the third-row comfort and access. We did a series of drive loops with him in the back over the same stretches of road.
All five of these SUVs have a split-fold second row, with the Ford being the only one that doesn’t allow the back seat to tumble forward for third-row access. As such, the Everest ranked last for ease of access. The Ford does have a comeback, however, being the only one here with a sliding second row to allow for better rear seat comfort.
That said, Mitch said the third row of the Everest was the least comfortable in terms of the suspension, which was “bouncy” and “very uncomfortable for third row passengers."
The SsangYong’s second-row seats require two separate actions - one to drop the second-row seat back, and another to tumble the seat forward. But it had the best ingress and egress due to larger door apertures.
Once back there, Mitch said the Rexton “had the worst visibility of the group” due to its very small side windows. And also, the “dark interior feels a bit claustrophobic”, plus its low, flat seating didn’t negate the tight headroom resulting from its low roofline. He’s not the tallest at 177cm, but even he hit his head over sharper bumps. Its biggest plus? Quietness.
Another that suffered poor third-row visibility was the Pajero Sport, with its raked rear windows making it hard to see out. The seats, though, were “the most comfortable of the group” despite “crap headroom” and a floor that felt too high under the thighs. The ride was a nice compromise in terms of comfort.
You’ll have to read our detailed drive impressions below for more, but the Fortuner surprised with its ride comfort in the back row. It was “on the firm side” with middle of the pack comfort for the seats, but it was quiet enough for Mitch to rank it second best in the back row.
The best of this bunch for third row comfort was the MU-X, with “the most comfortable ride”, good seat comfort, excellent visibility and surprising quietness. Mitch said it was the best place to be, describing it as “magical” compared to the others. But, that said, this spec of MU-X rudely misses out on air vents to the second and third rows, which made for a very sweaty experience during our hot summer testing days. His advice? Buy the next spec up - which has the vents - if you plan to use the rear seats often.
|Pajero Sport Exceed||8|