Soft roads lead t To home
We take three major compact SUVS — each different in its own way — and rate them
IN an era when fads fly and crash faster than an election promise, the compact SUV is a remarkably resilient creature.
A staggering 172,000 Australian driveways filled with new ones last year. That number will swell this year thanks to a raft of new models, especially these for the carmakers that founded the segment back in the ’ 90s: Subaru Forester, Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V.
To these three add the recent release of Mazda’s CX-5 2.5, with a new Ford Kuga to come.
Add these in turn to the Kia Sportage, Holden Captiva, Jeep Compass and Nissan’s X-Trail and Dualis.
We took well-specified versions of three top-selling soft roaders and fired them into the burning sands north of Perth for a dirty shakedown before subjecting them to the even harsher realities of the city and suburbs.
The three are chosen because they have all the ingredients attractive to the new-car buyer who, predominantly, has a young family and wants safety and economy of purchase price and running costs.
Each has its highlights and lowlights. Each is as distinctive as three closely related vehicles can be. Splitting them may come down simply to personal preference.
These three have almost identical equipment levels but at $35,990, the Subaru is $5500 cheaper than the Toyota RAV4. But the RAV4 has the premium-priced and ostensibly more desirable diesel engine.
The Mitsubishi checks in at $40,990 with a diesel and the longest (five-year) warranty. Like the Toyota, the Mitsubishi gets a capped-price service program. Each has similarly high resale values with Glass’s Guide listing the Subaru at 55 per cent price retention after three years, then 54 per cent for the Mitsubishi and 53 per cent for the RAV4.
They are on par in terms of safety though you’ll pay $300 for a full-size spare wheel on the RAV4. The roomiest is the Outlander, the only one here with seven seats, so it appears the best value for money. On the face of it . . .
The one that misses out on most dance partners is the Mitsubishi. It’s purposeful, not pretty and could pass for the first-generation Toyota Kluger on an overcast evening.
Cabin work is clean and simple but that third seat row is for children only. It hurt me when I tried to fit. There’s not much boot space remaining but, with that row flat, this wagon has excellent cargo storage.
The RAV4 is a little stunner and even the scrunched and abrupt tail that looks like a bulldog’s face tends to grow on you. There’s a lot of the Corolla hatch’s lines in this SUV. The lift-up hatch is much easier to use than the previous swingout door. The dash is neat, attractive and, apart from some hidden switches on a lower tier (almost impossible to see if you’re wearing sunglasses), is the best here.
The Forester is an in-house design and I know this because just when you think the company has got its styling in the current decade, they turn around and produce an ugly one. Another ugly one.
Again, the newest Forester is purposeful but its nose has serious overtones of a 1950s Japanese delivery van. Cabin treatment is functional, tactile with a smile, and even manages to look good, a great improvement from the horrid hard plastic of the old model.
Do you need seven seats? If so, the pick here is the Outlander because it’s the only one with the goods. Run it as a fiveseater and the boot is spacious and flexible, though I miss the horizontal split tailgate of the old model.
The RAV4 has the smallest boot and I’d suggest it’s not the pick for new parents. But each has very good rear leg and headroom, with the Forester’s tall profile so expansive as to
right: trio pend meon t can he ff
RAV4 GXL turbo diesel
Outlander LS turbo diesel allow occupants to wear hats. The Forester also gets the best visibility thanks to its deeper side glass and tall windscreen, a boon for children. All have cloth seats and there’s not much difference in front-seat comfort. The Outlander’s rear seats, however, are less firm than the other two and also the best for getting close to a flat
Despite the fresh faces, all use the previous model platform with some modifications including suspension tuning and reduced weight.
There are more impressive changes to drivetrains. The Mitsubishi gets a new 110kW/ 360Nm 2.2-litre turbo diesel claimed to return 5.8 litres/ 100km (I averaged 7.8 litres) mated to a CVT auto. The Subaru has an updated version of its 2.5-litre flat-four petrol that now cranks out 126kW/ 235Nm for a claimed 8.1 litres/ (my figure, 9.2 litres). It also has a CVT auto.
The RAV4 has a new 110kW/ 340Nm 2.2-litre turbo diesel borrowed from the European fleet. This runs through a conventional six-speed auto for a claimed 6.5 litres (7.5 litres on test). Only the Subaru is constant 4WD, the others driving all wheels only on demand. All have quality audio with good auxiliary connectivity and there’s optional top-line safety equipment— autonomous braking via forward cameras for the Subaru and Mitsubishi. Toyota has a blind-spot monitor.
All earn five stars in crash ratings, with seven airbags, full electronic stability and traction control and child seat anchors mounted to the rear seat backs (centre row in the Mitsubishi).
The Toyota is the only one without a standard full-size spare. All have rear cameras and rear park sensors, though the Subaru’s screen is the smallest and can be difficult to see clearly.
On the road the Mitsubishi is marginally smoother and quieter, but its electric-assist steering feels vague. The performance is good and the CVT isn’t as indecisive as some rivals.
The Subaru’s CVT is a better box with its faster engagement and its perkier petrol engine making for a surprisingly quick wagon. The RAV’s engine has a more leisurely delivery with a conventional auto and feels more like a small passenger car, which is, of course, the aim.
Handling tests put the Forester as the most accurate through the bends. It holds its line better than the other two though its steering could be more precise. Ride comfort is best in the Outlander, a tad firmer in the RAV4 with the Forester in between.
In the dirt the Outlander was the big shock— it could run further through the sand than the other two and at lower engine revs. The X-Mode4WD system in the Forester is brilliant and makes it the best all-rounder, the downside being the petrol engine’s weak low-speed torque. It will be a beaut when the Forester finally gets a CVT auto with a diesel engine.
Buy the Outlander if you need space for two more kids and if you fancy a bit of soft-roading. The RAV4 is the stylish pick— a Corolla on stilts— and its more compact size better suits the urban jungle. The Forester does everything well. It’s the great all-rounder and won’t give its owner any regrets.
Dune all r The test won’t spe much tim sand but handle th soft stuff