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Matt Campbell
Reviewed & driven by

15 Feb 2019

A lot of people don’t need a hardcore SUV that can scramble up a craggy mountain or plunge through mud puddles - but for those who do need that ability, here are five of the most interesting players in the rugged off-roader segment.

For this test we’ve assembled the Ford Everest Ambiente, Isuzu MU-X LS-U, Mitsubishi Pajero Sport Exceed, Toyota Fortuner GXL, and the all-new SsangYong Rexton Ultimate - all priced closely in the specs we have here. We set a price target between $49,000 and $55,000 (before on roads) for this test.

It’s important to note that there’s a mix of base model, mid range and high spec versions on test - so the equipment levels and value equations vary quite a bit. All five are diesel-powered four-wheel drives, and in the versions we have here, each has seven seats - so they double down on the practicality front.

All of them have a lot in common with dual cab utes, too - so can they offer the comfort levels families would expect? Read on.

And to make things simpler for you we’ve taken a slightly different tack with this comparison - you’ll see in the expandable sections below that we have inserted a number of tables to make it easier for you to understand what each of these specific models offers.

Design

The exterior designs of these models are vastly different - and what you like will come down to personal tastes, obviously.

But a quick straw poll on test saw every one of the crew agree that the SsangYong was the most attractive and desirable of this mix, with its extra width adding more presence. The next favourite was the Ford Everest for its inoffensive look, while it was remarked that Toyota clearly put in some effort to make the Fortuner appear different to just a HiLux with a boot. The Mitsubishi’s tail-lights are divisive - even if the rest of the car is nicely resolved - and the MU-X, in this spec, was said to be a bit too plain looking. Especially in white.

  • SsangYong Rexton Ultimate. SsangYong Rexton Ultimate.
  • Ford Everest Ambiente. Ford Everest Ambiente.
  • Toyota Fortuner GXL. Toyota Fortuner GXL.
  • Mitsubishi Pajero Sport Exceed. Mitsubishi Pajero Sport Exceed.
  • Isuzu MU-X LS-M. Isuzu MU-X LS-M.

It’s almost like the Rexton wears a sport exterior pack with those big 20-inch wheels under its arches, but that’s just how it rolls off the production line in Ultimate guise. Lower grades get smaller (more appropriate, perhaps?) 18-inch wheels.

All five models come with some form of rear spoiler, though the Mitsubishi’s is the most pronounced. And while we question the logic of wanting to fit a body kit to an off-roader, they are available if you look hard enough. We think items like side steps are more important for this sort of truck.

  • The crew agreed the SsangYong was the most attractive with the Ford Everst the next favourite, followed by the Fortuner. The crew agreed the SsangYong was the most attractive with the Ford Everst the next favourite, followed by the Fortuner.
  • Mitsubishi’s tail-lights are divisive even if the rest of the car is nicely resolved, however the MU-X, in this spec, was a bit too plain looking in white. Mitsubishi’s tail-lights are divisive even if the rest of the car is nicely resolved, however the MU-X, in this spec, was a bit too plain looking in white.

In terms of size, the Ford is easily the largest, while the Pajero Sport cuts the most compact figure from nose to tail and across the axles as well. The Rexton is widest and felt it on the inside, too.

To make it easy, here’s a run down of the dimensions of each of these models - there’s not much between them in terms of size.

 Everest AmbienteMU-X LS-MPajero Sport ExceedRexton UltimateFortuner GXL
Length (mm)49034825478548504795
Width (mm)18691860181519601855
Height (mm)18371825180518251835
Wheelbase (mm)28502845280028652745

How do these figures translate to actual cabin space? Check out the interior images in the next section to see with your own eyes.

 Score
Everest Ambiente8
MU-X LS-M7
Pajero Sport Exceed7
Rexton Ultimate8
Fortuner GXL7

Interior

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.

  • The SsangYong has the most luxurious, plushest interior. The SsangYong has the most luxurious, plushest interior.
  • The next most likeable cabin is the Mitsubishi, which has the most comfortable seats of this bunch. The next most likeable cabin is the Mitsubishi, which has the most comfortable seats of this bunch.
  • Third most likeable is the Everest with its big 8.0-inch screen with CarPlay and Android Auto. Third most likeable is the Everest with its big 8.0-inch screen with CarPlay and Android Auto.
  • The Toyota Fortuner’s cabin is different enough to the HiLux to make it feel more family focused. The Toyota Fortuner’s cabin is different enough to the HiLux to make it feel more family focused.
  • Isuzu’s MU-X feels hardy and work ready, which is perhaps less ideal for a family context. Isuzu’s MU-X feels hardy and work ready, which is perhaps less ideal for a family context.

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.

  • The Rexton has amazing space on offer in terms of shoulder and headroom. The Rexton has amazing space on offer in terms of shoulder and headroom.
  • We judged the Everest as the best for second row comfort, seats, visibility, storage and space. We judged the Everest as the best for second row comfort, seats, visibility, storage and space.
  • While the Pajero Sport's second row isn’t huge, the leather seats are lovely. While the Pajero Sport's second row isn’t huge, the leather seats are lovely.
  • The Fortuner’s fake leather and hard plastics score it lower than some of the others. The Fortuner’s fake leather and hard plastics score it lower than some of the others.
  • The MU-X’s lack of rear air vents in this spec is not ideal for a family SUV. The MU-X’s lack of rear air vents in this spec is not ideal for a family SUV.

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 AmbienteMU-X LS-MPajero Sport ExceedRexton UltimateFortuner GXL

Boot space-

Two seats up

2010L (SAE)1830L (VDA)1488 (VDA)1806L (VDA)1080L

Boot space-

Five seats up

1050L (SAE)878L (VDA)502L (VDA)777L (VDA)716L

Boot space-

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.

  • The Rexton Ultimate has the best payload capability at 727kg. The Rexton Ultimate has the best payload capability at 727kg.
  • The Ford Everest Ambiente has a 716kg capability. The Ford Everest Ambiente has a 716kg capability.
  • The Isuzu MU-X LS-M sits in the middle at 658kg. The Isuzu MU-X LS-M sits in the middle at 658kg.
  • The Fortuner GXL has a 640kg capability. The Fortuner GXL has a 640kg capability.
  • The Pajero Sport Exceed placed last with a payload of 605kg. The Pajero Sport Exceed placed last with a payload of 605kg.

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.

  • The Everest ranked last for ease of access, but the sliding second row allowed for better comfort. The Everest ranked last for ease of access, but the sliding second row allowed for better comfort.
  • The SsangYong’s third row had the best ingress and egress due to larger door apertures. The SsangYong’s third row had the best ingress and egress due to larger door apertures.
  • The Pajero Sport had comfortable seats but minimal headroom. The Pajero Sport had comfortable seats but minimal headroom.
  • The Fortuner surprised with its ride comfort in the back row and was ranked second best. The Fortuner surprised with its ride comfort in the back row and was ranked second best.
  • The MU-X took top place with its comfortable ride and good visibility. The MU-X took top place with its comfortable ride and good visibility.

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.

 Score
Everest Ambiente8
MU-X LS-M8
Pajero Sport Exceed8
Rexton Ultimate8
Fortuner GXL7

Price and features

I know you want a detailed price list. It’s important to know how much each of these models will cost you. Pricing and specs get our motors running, too.

How much is a Rexton?” “What’s the RRP for an Everest?” “Tell me the price range for the Fortuner!” “How many seater is the MU-X?” “How about the second hand price on the Pajero Sport?”

Well we don’t have a crystal ball for that last one, but here’s a model comparison so you can see what trim levels we have represented here - to reiterate, these were chosen to match the target price of close to fifty grand - Everest Ambiente 4x4 3.2-litre vs MU-X LS-M vs Pajero Sport Exceed vs Rexton Ultimate vs Fortuner GXL.

The Ford Everest Ambiente with the 3.2-litre engine and 4x4 underpinnings has a list price of $54,190 (plus on-road costs), but the extra $1000 you need to add for the seven-seat version pushes it to the top of the expensive tree here, plus the metallic paint finish you see here adds $650. “Official” drive-away deals aren’t easy to come by in this spec, but dealers will be eager to move on stock at less than the drive-away RRP of $60,705 as supplied.

Next most exxy is the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport Exceed, which has a list price of $54,200. There’s a promo deal at $56,990 drive-away, but there’s a “$4000 bonus” on top of that, which to our eyes reads at $52,990 d/a. The paint on our test car attracts an additional $590.

  • The Ford Everest has an 8.0-inch screen, Apple CarPlay and Andriod Auto and 10 speakers. The Ford Everest has an 8.0-inch screen, Apple CarPlay and Andriod Auto and 10 speakers.
  • The Pajero Sport has a 7.0-inch screen and 4 USB ports. The Pajero Sport has a 7.0-inch screen and 4 USB ports.
  • The 8.0-inch screen on the Rexton has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto but no CD player. The 8.0-inch screen on the Rexton has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto but no CD player.
  • There's no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto for the 7.0-inch screen in the Fortuner. There's no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto for the 7.0-inch screen in the Fortuner.
  • The MU-X doesn't have many features but does come with a DVD player. The MU-X doesn't have many features but does come with a DVD player.

Third is the SsangYong Rexton Ultimate, which is only sold with drive-away pricing - $52,990. It represents the flagship version of the Rexton range. SsangYong doesn’t charge extra for premium paint - the value argument strengthens.

The Isuzu MU-X LS-M is the entry-level version of its line-up, but its list price doesn’t reflect that: it costs $50,200 plus on-road costs. But Isuzu is doing deals on this grade at $44,990 drive-away, and that’ll probably stick around. The Isuzu had an optional tow bar ($1087.90) and electronic brake controller ($688.60).

And the Fortuner GXL has a list price of $49,490, before you add on-road costs and the additional $2500 Premium Interior pack, and this colour adds $550 as well. The brand lists a white one with the regular interior at $54,011 drive-away (or $57,216 with the interior pack and this paint).

So, factoring in that all have seven seats as tested, let’s see what’s in each car in terms of touch screen tech - each has Bluetooth phone and audio, but see below for details on sound system specs.

 Everest AmbienteMU-X LS-MPajero Sport ExceedRexton UltimateFortuner GXL
Sat navY---Y

Apple Carplay/

Android Auto

Y-YY-
Screen size8.0-inch7.0-inch7.0-inch8.0-inch7.0-inch
USB ports22421
RadioAM/FM/DABAM/FMAM/FM/DABAM/FM/DABAM/FM/DAB
CD playerYY--Y
DVD player-Y---
Speakers

10 including subwoofer

8888

The usability of each varied. The Ford was the best in terms of native software and smartphone mirroring, followed by the Mitsubishi and SsangYong. The Toyota - even with its quibbles - was next best, then the Isuzu, which felt like it almost didn’t need a screen at all… unless you want to watch movies (when stationary)?

The rear seat USB ports in the Mitsubishi helped keep things charged up, and presumably so would the SsangYong’s 230-volt powerpoint - if you had a Korean converter! The Ford also has a powerpoint for power tools, hairdryers, whatever - the Mitsubishi has one, too, but it's in the front centre console. See below for a rundown on the interior standard features of each model.

 Everest AmbienteMU-X LS-MPajero Sport ExceedRexton UltimateFortuner GXL
12-volt outlets32323
Power pointY-YY - but Korean!n/a
Leather trim--YYOptional

Electric seat

adjustment

--YYOptional
Memory setting---Y-
Leather steering wheel--YYY
Heated seats--FrontFront and rear-
Heat steering wheel---Y-
Climate controlY-YY-
Rear air ventsY-YYY
Rear fan controlY-YYY

Keyless entry /

smart key

Y-YYY
Push button startY-YYY
Cruise controlYYAdaptiveYY

Now let’s look at some of the exterior differences between these SUVs. Obvious things like LED daytime running lights and LED headlights help differentiate the cheaper looking vehicles from the others - the table below sets out which vehicles have what features.

 Everest AmbienteMU-X LS-MPajero Sport ExceedRexton UltimateFortuner GXL
Alloy wheels17-inch16-inch18-inch20-inch17-inch
Roof railsY-YYY
HeadlightsHalogenLEDLEDHIDHalogen

Daytime running

lights

HalogenLEDLEDLED

n/a

Front fog lightsY-Y-Y
Auto headlightsY-Y

With auto high beam

Y
Side stepsY-Y-Y
Rear diff lockY (electric)-Y-Y
Power tailgate---Y-

You mightn’t have guessed it based on the palette represented here, but there are plenty of colours other than white, silver and grey available. All of them offer black, but you’d be surprised which ones miss out on blue, red and brown. There’s no orange or gold, though.

Bargain for accessories like floor mats to be included in the price, and look around at different dealerships and you might find demo cars with either a bullbar, nudge bar or snorkel. All models have a full size spare tyre.

 Score
Everest Ambiente6
MU-X LS-M5
Pajero Sport Exceed8
Rexton Ultimate9
Fortuner GXL7

Engine and transmission

Engine specifications are important when it comes to family SUVs - you need to know you’ve got the grunt to get out of trouble, whether that’s in town at the traffic lights, or on a rough, slippery hill climb.

And we’re talking diesel specs here, because all five of these models are powered by turbo diesel engines. If you’re wondering about diesel vs petrol, then you’ll be limited in your choices - you can get a petrol Rexton (the EX, priced at $39,990 drive-away), but none of the others have a petrol option.

That entry-level petrol Rexton is a 4x2, though, and you can get 4x2 version of the Everest or MU-X as well - these models are mainly aimed at those who want to fit a towbar - sadly, because most of our test vehicles didn’t have one fitted, we couldn’t do a towing test in this review. But you can read the towing capacity of each model below.

  • The Everests six-speed auto engine produces 143kW of power and 470Nm of torque. The Everests six-speed auto engine produces 143kW of power and 470Nm of torque.
  • The Pajeros eight-speed auto engine produces 133kW of power and 430Nm of torque. The Pajeros eight-speed auto engine produces 133kW of power and 430Nm of torque.
  • The Isuzus six-speed auto engine produces 130kW of power and 430Nm of torque. The Isuzus six-speed auto engine produces 130kW of power and 430Nm of torque.
  • The Fortuner six-speed auto engine produces 130kW of power and 450Nm of torque. The Fortuner six-speed auto engine produces 130kW of power and 450Nm of torque.
  • The Rextons seven-speed auto engine produces 133kW of power and 420Nm of torque. The Rextons seven-speed auto engine produces 133kW of power and 420Nm of torque.

The Pajero Sport and Fortuner are exclusively 4x4, and this spec of Ford is the only one with a full-time 4WD system (it’s not quite AWD, as Ford’s Terrain Management System actively splits torque from front to rear depending on the situation).

Oh, and if you’re curious about manual vs automatic, you’ll be limited in your choices once again - there is no manual gearbox in the Everest, Pajero Sport, Rexton or Fortuner. Looks like the MU-X is your option, stick-shifters - but you’ll have to get the next model up the range, the LS-U.

As tested, the auto models we have offer different transmission setups, between six and eight gears. And there’s quite a span in terms of engine size - but as we all know, it’s not the capacity of the motor, it’s how you use the horsepower that counts. Every one of these vehicles uses a single turbocharger (but you can get a bi-turbo Everest if you’re willing to spend even more).

 Everest AmbienteMU-X LS-MPajero Sport ExceedRexton UltimateFortuner GXL
Engine capacity3.2L3.0L2.4L2.2L2.8L
Engine cylindersFiveFourFourFourFour
Power output143kW at 3000rpm130kW at 3600rpm133kW at 3500rpm133kW at 4000rpm130kW at 3400rpm
Torque output470Nm at 2500rpm430Nm at 2200rpm430Nm at 2500rpm420Nm at 1600rpm450Nm at 2400rpm

Timing belt or

chain

ChainChainChainChainChain

Transmission

(all automatic)

Six-speedSix-speedEight-speedSeven-speedSix-speed
Kerb weight2384kg2092kg2105kg2233kg2110kg

Towing capacity

(unbreaked trailer)

750kg750kg750kg750kg750kg

Towing capacity

(braked trailer)

3000kg3000kg3100kg3500kg2800kg

As you can see, there’s not a whole lot in it between these models, and while the Ford has the highest outputs, it’s also the heaviest. We’ve scored the powertrains below based on our impressions of their respective performance. We’ll explain more in the driving section below.

We’ve got a resource for you if you’re concerned about injector, turbo, clutch and engine problems, automatic gearbox problems / automatic transmission problems or suspension problems. Check out the following (link to all problems pages): Ford Everest problems, Isuzu MU-X problems, Mitsubishi Pajero Sport problems, SsangYong Rexton problems, Toyota Fortuner problems.

 Score
Everest Ambiente8
MU-X LS-M7
Pajero Sport Exceed8
Rexton Ultimate6
Fortuner GXL7

Fuel consumption

If you’re shopping for a budget-friendly off-road SUV, there’s a good chance fuel consumption is also playing into your decision making process.

Well, luckily for you, the diesel fuel economy of each of these models is pretty close, but there is quite a gap in terms of fuel tank size and therefore theoretical mileage range - and none have the option of a factory-fitted long range fuel tank, either.

 Everest AmbienteMU-X LS-MPajero Sport ExceedRexton UltimateFortuner GXL

Claimed combined

fuel use (L/100km)

8.58.18.08.38.6

Actual fuel use

highway (L/100km)

6.97.18.29.29.2

Actual fuel use

urban (L/100km)

13.716.411.016.69.4

Combined average as

tested (L/100km)

10.311.89.612.99.3
Fuel tank capacity80L65L68L70L80L

We ranked these based on their fuel use performance on test. It’s clear the weight of the Rexton was its main penalty, while the Isuzu also surprised us with its high urban fuel use. The Toyota defaults to eco mode, which may be why it was the best of this bunch. Ford is the only vehicle here with an AdBlue system, which adds a little extra cost to help keep its noxious gas emissions in check.

 Score
Everest Ambiente7
MU-X LS-M6
Pajero Sport Exceed8
Rexton Ultimate5
Fortuner GXL9

On road test

We sampled all five of these models across a mix of different scenarios for our on-road test, including twisty mountain roads, open country back roads, highway, freeway and urban driving.

Because these aren’t performance cars, there was no official 0-100km/h acceleration speed testing, but the was a pecking order in terms of our ‘seat of the pants’ performance figures.

The Everest was found to have the best engine in terms of acceleration urgency, with impressive throttle response at lower speeds. It is very noisy though, and while its transmission is mostly good, we found it could be a little bit confused as to what gear it wanted at times, particularly on lighter throttle around town.

The Everest didn’t only impress with its engine - the steering was the best here. It’s excellent in terms of both weight and response - it’s very light and manageable when parking, but also rewarding at higher speeds.

But there are some signs that it still feels a bit like a truck, especially when it comes to braking - the pedal is very soft, like “stepping on a wet sponge” according to Richard Berry.

Its suspension offered a mixed bag experience, too: it could be soft and floaty at higher speeds (especially at the rear, according to back-seat tester Mitch - at times it almost felt like air suspension!), but also jittery at low speeds particularly on poorer city or broken back streets.

If there was a surprise in terms of road manners, it was the SsangYong. All of our testers felt it was the most car-like to drive, with a firmer suspension setup and those huge 20x8.5-inch alloy wheels - and the subsequent large contact patch - making it feel grippier and a bit more in tune with the surface below.

But big wheels and firm suspension can mean a bad time when it comes to bumpy roads, and it could be a bit jittery, plus the steering can twitch when you hit a mid-corner lump.

Likewise, the steering is a little slow at lower speeds, and despite it having the smallest turning circle of this mix (see the table in the off-road section to compare) it has a bit of a slow rack. The steering is speed adaptive in this grade, meaning it changes weighting at pace, and it’s actually pretty involving at speed.

The SsangYong’s main letdown is the engine - it has the most lag of these models, and feels like it’s struggling a bit with the weight of the vehicle. The fuel use figures suggest it is. But the transmission is nicely sorted, and it’s very quiet.

  • The Everest was had the best engine in terms of acceleration urgency, with impressive throttle response at lower speeds. The Everest was had the best engine in terms of acceleration urgency, with impressive throttle response at lower speeds.
  • The SsangYong’s main letdown is the engine, but the transmission is nicely sorted, and it’s very quiet. The SsangYong’s main letdown is the engine, but the transmission is nicely sorted, and it’s very quiet.
  • If there was an award for ‘Most Closely Resembling A Ute To Drive’, it would go to the Toyota Fortuner. If there was an award for ‘Most Closely Resembling A Ute To Drive’, it would go to the Toyota Fortuner.
  • The Pajero offered the most comfortable seats, and the transmission is smart enough to answer whatever questions you ask of it. The Pajero offered the most comfortable seats, and the transmission is smart enough to answer whatever questions you ask of it.
  • The MU-X offers surprisingly good ride comfort in most situations. The MU-X offers surprisingly good ride comfort in most situations.

If there was an award for ‘Most Closely Resembling A Ute To Drive’, it would go to the Toyota Fortuner.

It feels the most truck-like of this mix, especially if there’s only only one of you on board. Like a ute, with a bit of extra weight, the suspension settles down to a degree.

But the body control is poor - it is both rolly in corners and abrupt and crunchy over bumpy sections of road. Not one of our testers found it enjoyable around town, and it was also surprisingly unsettled on the highway.

Credit where it’s due, though: its engine is not too laggy, and the transmission is decently sorted, with good grade logic for steep hills. Our tester also had paddleshifters, which are good if you plan to tow or head off-road.

The Fortuner’s brake response was good, and its steering is direct but a bit too heavy at lower speeds. It lightens up at higher speeds, but isn’t the best of this bunch.

The Mitsubishi Pajero Sport offered the most comfortable seats by far - our testers all felt it was a really nice place to be in pretty much all respects.

The engine is decently quiet and pulls well, and the transmission is smart enough to answer whatever questions you ask of it. Eighth gear is used at highway pace, and keeps things nice and relaxed, and the spread of ratios means it never feels that stressed around town, either.

One of the great things about this spec of Pajero Sport is all the active safety features - but some of them can be oversensitive. We had a few complaints over the forward collision warning beeping incessantly, but if it saves you once, I reckon it’s worth it.

The steering feels good, and it’s nicely responsive. Plus the ride is comfortable in most situations, but if you hit a really sharp edge, you’ll feel it - just like all the other vehicles here.

The MU-X is a bit of a quiet achiever - not literally, because its diesel engine is pretty loud. The diesel mill is refined enough, though, and pulls decently. But the transmission can be really fussy when you’re climbing hills over long distances, struggling to choose between fourth, fifth and sixth.

However, the MU-X offers surprisingly good ride comfort in most situations, and a lot of that is down to the smaller wheels and chubbier tyre sidewalls on this grade.

The steering is very natural feeling, almost old-school in the way that it turns corners - it needs more heft than some of the others at low speed. And actually holding the wheel is a bit uncomfortable for some, because it’s quite low set and the seating position is pretty high.

 Score
Everest Ambiente7
MU-X LS-M8
Pajero Sport Exceed8
Rexton Ultimate7
Fortuner GXL6

Off road test

When it came to the off-road review component of this test, the off-road specs of each of these models had us thinking it would be pretty clear cut as to which offered the most off road capability.

I mean, the SsangYong is clearly at a disadvantage - worst approach angle, worst departure angle, dismal wading depth clearance… but okay ground clearance and and a tight turning circle. The Pajero Sport, Everest and Fortuner all play close to one another, but the Isuzu is a bit mismatched on spec (and the company doesn’t declare official wading depth potential).

 Everest AmbienteMU-X LS-MPajero Sport ExceedRexton UltimateFortuner GXL

Approach angle

(degrees)

29.523.33020.530

Departure angle

(degrees)

2524.624.22225

Break-cover angle

(degrees)

21.518.723.12023.5

Ground clearance

(mm)

227220218224225

Wading depth

(mm)

800Not stated700300700

Turning cirlce/

Turning radius (m)

11.711.611.911.011.6

Tyres

 

Dunlop Grandtrek AT22 265/65R17 A/T

Bridgestone Dueler 245/70/R16 A/T

Bridgestone Dueler 265/60/R18 H/T

Kumho Crugen 225/50/R20 H/T

Dunlop Grandtrek AT22 265/65R17 A/T

4x4 systemOn-demand full-timePart-timePart-timePart-timePart-time
Drive modes

Normal, Grass/Gravel/Snow, San, Rock (4H and 4L)

n/a

Gravel, Mud/Snow, Sand, Rock (4H and 4L)

n/a

Power and Eco (2H, 4H and 4L)

 

Our test loop involved deep mud splash-throughs, long stretches of dusty pockmarked gravel roads and a treacherous off-road climb and descent to put the axle articulation of these models to the test.

The gravel section was the best leveller in terms of where these five sat for control, composure and comfort. We tested with four adults on board.

The Isuzu was easily the leader of the pack in this sort of terrain, largely down to its smaller wheels and bigger tyre sidewalls soaking up more of the roughness. There was still a slight amount of skittishness at the rear, but it was the most comfortable for all four occupants. One went as far as to label it “plush”, which is a huge complement - and in our minds helps validate the purchase decision of so many customers out there.

The next best for rough road composure was the Pajero Sport, which had a nicer balance to it. Its softer springs and firmer dampers meant for good body control, though it could teeter back and forth over the more severe bumps.

Third placed according to our testing team was the Ford, which felt too softly sprung and therefore could run out of travel over the repetitive potholes marring the gravel below. It wasn’t as compliant as the two above, but its steering and eager engine made up for its wobbly ride.

The Toyota was the opposite of wobbly, with a crunchy, unsettled ride that saw a few heads bumped on the rooflining, and a couple of grab-handles with fingernail marks that still remain to this day. The steering was communicative, though, and the engine didn’t disappoint.

SsangYong came well and truly last in this portion of our off-road test. To say the brand has made this a softer offering in the market is true in one way - it is undoubtedly more focused on families that know they won’t really go off road that much. And in that regard, it’s probably better considered as a cut-price alternative to a Mazda CX-9. But over the rough rocky road we sampled it on, the firm suspension and small tyre sidewall (thanks to those biiiiig 20-inch wheels) made it feel jarring, crashy, and very uncomfortable.

  • The MU-X got up our climb in 4H despite not getting as good a grip on the surface below. The MU-X got up our climb in 4H despite not getting as good a grip on the surface below.
  • The Pajero ate up the climb surprisingly easily given it was one of two vehicles here with highway terrain. The Pajero ate up the climb surprisingly easily given it was one of two vehicles here with highway terrain.
  • With the right drive mode selected, the Everest was perfect at climbing. With the right drive mode selected, the Everest was perfect at climbing.
  • With traction control turned off the Toyota made it up the climb without hassle. With traction control turned off the Toyota made it up the climb without hassle.
  • The SsangYong  made it up the climb with decent axle droop and surprising grip. The SsangYong made it up the climb with decent axle droop and surprising grip.

Our climb section saw us select 4H and attempt to get up a series of offset moguls with all the helpful electronics still on. All five of these vehicles have low range transfer cases, with Ford using a button to change between 4H and 4L, while the other vehicles here all have rotary knobs. All operated easily on test, but the Everest's system was the standout in terms of simplicity.

The SsangYong was reasonably competent, but unlike some of the others it needed the traction control system turned off pretty. But once there was momentum to get up, it made it up with decent axle droop and surprising grip.

The MU-X didn’t quite get as good a grip on the surface below, spinning up its tyres more than the others here. Even so, it got up our climb in 4H, it just needed the traction control disabled to do so.

The Toyota also struggled a bit with its traction control system, which didn’t apportion torque as well as it could have. We turned it off, and it made it up without hassle. The throttle response was a bit too touchy, though, which made it harder to balance the vehicle on the accelerator pedal. But the steering was nice and communicative.

The second-best on our climb and descent was the Pajero Sport, which offered nice traction control calibration that meant we didn’t need to turn it off, and it ate up the climb surprisingly easily given it was one of only two vehicles here with highway terrain. That just speaks to the engineering of the chassis, which offered great suspension flex, and the electronics and throttle calibration. It was very impressive.

The best, though, was the Everest, with its soft suspension coming to the fore and its amazingly well calibrated electronics and torque-on-demand four-wheel dive system allowing it the easiest progress of this pack. It was finessed and measured in the way it would apply torque to the wheels that needed it most, and while the steering lacked a bit of ‘realness’ to the feel of it, the throttle response - with the right drive mode selected - was perfect.

Of course, when you go up a hill you might want help getting back down - and all of these models have hill descent control. Hill start assist is standard across the board, too.

We scored the Ford and Isuzu identically in this section, and because the Mitsubishi was so consistent in each discipline, it topped out rankings. The Toyota was less impressive, but the SsangYong was actually quite disappointing. That may be a compliment, read another way.

 Score
Everest Ambiente8
MU-X LS-M8
Pajero Sport Exceed9
Rexton Ultimate5
Fortuner GXL7

Safety

These models have a lot in common with dual cab utes, but there are a couple of standouts when it comes to safety technology in this test.

In order to make it easy to understand the safety features fitted to each of the specs tested here, the table below gives you an idea of just how well equipped two of these models are. The others lack the active safety spec you’d expect - you can get the advanced safety stuff in the Ford (which is why it scores a little higher in this section), but you need to spend a lot more money to do so.

 Everest AmbienteMU-X LS-MPajero Sport ExceedRexton UltimateFortuner GXL
Reverse cameraYYYYY

360-degree

camera

--YY-
Park assist sensorsRearRearFront and rearFront and rearRear
Airbags76797

Auto Emerency

Braking (AEB)

--YY-

Lane keeping

assist

---Y-

Blind spot

monitoring

--YY-
Rear cross traffic---Y-

ANCAP safety

rating (year tested)

5 (2015)5 (2013)5 (2015)-5 (2015)

Interesting note for those who need to fit more than one baby car seat: there are dual ISOFIX child seat points in the second row of each of these models, and three top tethers for all of the second rows, too. But the Ford is the only one that allows child seats to be fitted in the third row, with two top-tether points back there.

The Rexton may lead the airbag count, but it's the only one that lacks third-row airbag protection. The rest, according to the makers, have airbag coverage for third-row occupants.

Not that it matters in this day and age, but the Ford Everest is built in Thailand, and so is the Isuzu MU-X, and the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport, and the Toyota Fortuner. The SsangYong Rexton is made in Korea.

 Score
Everest Ambiente7
MU-X LS-M6
Pajero Sport Exceed8
Rexton Ultimate9
Fortuner GXL6

Ownership

Talk about backing your product. SsangYong has entered the market with a smack, offering a class-leading warranty in the rugged SUV segment. You could maybe match it with an extended warranty plan from one of the rivals, but the Korean maker also offers the longest capped price servicing plan and pretty competitive service costs, too.

We’ve averaged out the service cost of each of these models over three years to make it a bit more digestible. See the table below for the specifics on each model.

 Everest AmbienteMU-X LS-M Pajero Sport ExceedRexton UltimateFortuner GXL

Service

Interval

12 months/

15,000km

12 months/

15,000km

12 months/

15,000km

12 months/

15,000km

6 months/

10,000km

Annual service cost

(avg over three years)

$497$433$299$375$480

Capped price

servicing plan

Life of the car

Five years/

75,000km

Three years/

45,000km

Seven years/

105,000km

Three years/

60,000km

Warranty cover

Five years/

unlimted km

Five years/

unlimted km

Five years/

100,000km

Seven years/

unlimited km

Five years/

unlimted km

Roadside assist

included?

Yes- up to seven yearsYes- five yearsYes- up to four yearsYes- seven yearsNo

It’s clear the SsangYong offers a very strong ownership plan, and Ford’s lifetime capped price plan - even if it is at a higher cost - offers nice peace of mind. The Mitsubishi’s short capped price plan is its main letdown, because those service costs are spectacular. Isuzu offers good - but not great - ownership options, while the Toyota ranks last of this mix due to annoyingly short intervals and not offering roadside assist.

You’ll need to look at our pricing and spec pages to get an idea of the resale value of each of these cars, but some stand a little taller than others…

You'll likely find any issues with reliability, common problems, issues, complaints and defects by check out each of these model’s respective problems pages: Ford Everest problems, Isuzu MU-X problems, Mitsubishi Pajero Sport problems, SsangYong Rexton problems, Toyota Fortuner problems.

 Score
Everest Ambiente8
MU-X LS-M8
Pajero Sport Exceed8
Rexton Ultimate9
Fortuner GXL6

Verdict

The choice is yours as to what matters most to you, but we were tasked with ranking these five SUVs in terms of the their value, safety, practicality, comfort and drivability, and it was a close competition.

Ultimately, the Toyota Fortuner GXL and Isuzu MU-X LS-M fell behind the rest of the pack. The LS-M version of the MU-X is rudely under equipped, but its comfort could sway some buyers - especially if the rear seats will never be used - and our money would be on the LS-U version for an extra couple of grand. The Fortuner GXL was let down by its lack of comfort and general truckish nature, plus both of these models can’t be had with any advanced safety gear, not matter the spec you choose.

In third place was the SsangYong Rexton Ultimate offers the ultimate in value if that’s what matters to you more than anything. It offers great features throughout, a beautiful cabin and decent road manners, but was let down by its punishing ride on gravel roads.

The runner-up in this test was the Ford Everest Ambiente. This is a very impressive SUV, no doubt about it. But in base spec, it fails to hit the highs that we’d hoped for. If you can afford to spend a little more, opt up to the Trend model and you’ll be thoroughly impressed

That leaves us with the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport Exceed as our victor - it offered the best balance of comfort, convenience, safety and value, while also managing to better its rivals for on and off road manners in whole terms. It’s a charming car, and the one most of our testers would want to live with day in, day out.

Tell us if you agree with our verdict in the comments section below.

 Score
Everest Ambiente7.4
MU-X LS-M7.0
Pajero Sport Exceed8.0
Rexton Ultimate7.3
Fortuner GXL6.9

Which of these five SUVs would be best for your lifestyle? Tell us in the comments section below.



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