Soft roads lead t To home

We take three ma­jor com­pact SUVS — each dif­fer­ent in its own way — and rate them

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Cover Story - NEIL DOWL­ING neil.dowl­ing@cars­guide.com.au

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.

VALUE

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 . . .

Win­ner: Out­lander

DE­SIGN

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.

Win­ner: RAV4

AC­COM­MO­DA­TION

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

Forester 2.5iL

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

TECH­NOL­OGY

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.

Win­ner: Forester

SAFETY

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.

Win­ner: Out­lander

DRIV­ING

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.

Win­ner: Forester

VER­DICT

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

Win­ner: Out­lander

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