Toyota Fortuner vs Holden Trailblazer
Holden’s new-look Trailblazer SUV is good. But is it better than Toyota’s 7-seat/low-range benchmark, the Fortuner?
Large, rugged, modern SUV wagons offer families endless possibilities. Road manners, serious off-road potential, smarts and comfort rolled into one. But which of these two is best?
Time was when compromise was king, no matter what car or commercial vehicle you were looking to buy. If you wanted 4WD and low-range capability it had to be full-time and you had to put up with dray-like ride on and off the road.
Conversely, if you were after a little comfort, or even the odd ‘luxury’ feature, you could forget about any driving surface more taxing than gravel.
That was then, however. Today, thanks to the runaway popularity of SUVS, you can have it all. Literally. There’s a dizzying array of marques, models and options out there, making it ever harder on the potential buyer to choose.
Choosing they are, though, in numbers that are changing the makeup and profile of the national car park.
For a while there it looked like the days of old-school, ladderchassis, dual-range transfer case-equipped, five-plus seat ‘station wagons’ like Land Rover’s Defender and Toyota’s Land Cruiser appeared numbered. Or at least they did until Volkswagen and Ford redrew the battle lines in the double cab, turbo-diesel 4WD utility sector.
By applying Suv-like ride, handling and comfort levels to the humble 4WD ute the two companies proved that off-road capability and on-road comfort and convenience were not mutually exclusive concepts.
Kiwis have always had a soft spot for knockabout ute-based 4WD all-rounders like Toyota’s Surf and Mitsubishi’s Challenger, and Holden and Isuzu helped breathe new life into the subsector with the D-max/coloradobased MU-X and Colorado 7. Ford and Toyota added the Everest and Fortuner in 2015, and Mitsubishi rejoined the party with its all-new Pajero Sport early in 2016.
Now Holden has piggy-backed on its Colorado ute upgrade to create the Trailblazer, a muchimproved replacement for the Colorado 7.
Like the 2017 Colorado ute, which went on sale here in September, the Trailblazer has enjoyed a comprehensive front-to-back makeover that has resulted in night-and-day improvements to the steering, ride, interior sound, comfort and convenience levels.
Ultimately, of course, there will always be limits to how well a vehicle with a body bolted to a separate ladder chassis will ride
and handle. But with coil springs (not to mention disc brakes) at both ends, ride and handling is a cut above the utes these new-gen ‘ruggedised’ station wagons are based on.
As such, both have ‘perfect vehicle for the adventurous Kiwi family’ credentials, prompting us to put together a ‘typical Kiwi weekend drive’ test to see how they stacked up.
Our route took us from Auckland to Coroglen on the Coromandel Peninsula via Waihi Beach and Whangamata, returning over a mix of motorways, rough main and back road chip seal and gravel that, only a week before, had been ‘graded’ by competitors contesting the Coromandel Gold Rush Rally.
Key to this particular test was the availability of one of the new Trailblazers, with Holden NZ pulling out the stops to get us one ahead of the local launch.
Like the new Colorado utility, the Trailblazer has been subjected to one of the more serious midmodel upgrades we have seen in recent times. Name and reprofiled nose (with new headlights and LCD daytime running lights) aside, the big changes are under the skin. And believe me, if you’ve driven the outgoing model you notice them straight away.
Ditching the old ponderous and heavy-handed hydraulic power steering for a new, sharper electric system has made a big difference. As have new body (to chassis) and engine and transmission mounts, a new spec tyre (lower road noise, better grip in the wet and dry), the relocation of the engine’s balance shaft and a new torque converter.
Combined with a reduction in final drive gearing (to take full advantage of the smoother, quieter engine) the result is a quieter cabin and – despite no change in the peak power and torque figures of 147kw and 500Nm respectively – a much perkier, more responsive engine.
In the Toyota corner is the Fortuner, which late last year joined the RAV4, Highlander, Land Cruiser Prado and Land Cruiser 200 series in Toyota New Zealand’s SUV line-up.
Fortuner is both shorter and narrower than Highlander (Trailblazer as well, in fact), but longer; it’s also lower in the roof (if not to the ground) than Prado. It shares the Hilux’s double wishbone suspension in the front but has its own four link coilsprung suspension set-up at the back.
Like the Trailblazer, the Fortuner LTZ is powered by a Dohc/16valve 2.8-litre turbo-diesel engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. However, the Trailblazer has the Fortuner well beaten – in the brochure, anyway
– in terms of peak power and torque figures. Toyota quotes 130kw of peak power at 3400rpm and 420Nm of peak torque from as low as 1400rpm (manual) and 1600rpm (auto).
In reality, both offer an excellent mix of eager-to-please acceleration and relaxed cruising on the open road, albeit with the Toyota feeling a tad softer until the turbo gets into its work.
The key to the appeal of a ‘ruggedised’ ute-based station wagon is in its potential to be all things to all people – to be able to engage low range at the flick of a switch and take the road less travelled or effortlessly tow a trailer or caravan weighing up to (in Trailblazer’s case) 3000kg, all in air conditioned and leathertrimmed comfort for up to seven people.
Price, inevitably, has to come into the equation at some stage. And it’s fair to say that the potential to literally go anywhere and do anything comes at some cost – mid-$60,000s for the LTZ spec Trailblazer and from $72,990 to $78,990 for the Fortuner.
The question here, of course, is this: is one nominally better or better value than the other? The simple answer is: that depends.
Both are thoroughly modern, comprehensively-specced 4WDS with rotary dials rather than levers to swap between high and low range, and both have the ability to move between 2WD and 4WD high on the fly.
Both are genuine seven seaters, with (just) enough room for two adults in the third row of seats (to be fair, the accommodation is more kid-sized here). Luggage space is limited when all seven seats are in use (Holden claims
just 235 litres), but when the third row is folded back and the second row is folded down there is over 1500 litres (1830 litres for the Trailblazer) of usable space in both.
The Toyota’s third seat row pivots up to be clipped back on either side of the boot, which means there’s less usable space than in the Trailblazer’s folddown, lie-flat compartment, but the difference isn’t a deal breaker.
Because it’s longer and wider, the Trailblazer is bigger inside, with a higher roof and larger glass area giving the cabin a lighter, airier feel than Fortuner.
With the new name, the Trailblazer gets a new dashboard with a new, larger LCD readout and (in the LTZ model we tested) centrally-mounted eight-inch touch screen with Mylink software compatible with both Apple Carplay and Android Auto systems; there’s also Satnav and
Bluetooth phone and audio streaming capability.
The touch screen does double duty for the reversing camera, and with the model upgrade has come a whole new level of electronic safety aids that includes forward collision alert and lane departure warning as well as front park assist and even a tyrepressure monitoring system.
These safety features supplement the ABS and EBD (Electronic Brake Force Distribution), electronic stability control, hill start assist and descent control, trailer sway control and seven air bags to give a five-star ANCAP safety rating, carried over from the Colorado 7.
Leather trimmed seats (heated up front and with the driver’s electrically adjustable) are also a carryover from the Colorado 7 and, while comfortable enough, lack sufficient thigh and side squab support to hold you firm at even modest speeds through the turns – just ask photographer Graham Hughes.
In terms of FBTW (feel behind the wheel!) the new electric (rather than hydraulic) power steering system has transformed the way you directly relate to the Trailblazer – action finger-light at driveway speeds yet firms up as road speed increases. While perfectly acceptable, the Fortuner’s conventional hydraulic system feels heavier at low speeds and slower to respond to driver input on the open road.
Changes to the chassis, springs and dampers have also made the Trailblazer a more comfortable and less tiring prospect on the road. New-spec Bridgestone Dueler tyres obviously help in this regard; though, while grip and ride are both quantifiably superior than before, fore-aft pitch and turn-in roll control could be better.
Fortuner’s info and entertainment options are in keeping with the spec/price levels, with a seven-inch touch screen display audio system with voice recognition and steering wheel controls, AUX/USB and Bluetooth functions and Satnav.
The GXL and Limited models also get a powered back door that can be opened and closed from the driver’s seat. It can also be controlled from the rear of the car with a memory function allowing you to set and control just how far it opens.
A reversing camera with backing monitor and rear clearance sensors is standard across the Fortuner line-up, as is vehicle stability control, hill-start assist, downhill assist control, ABS with brake assist and EBD. There are seven air bags and Fortuner has an ANCAP five-star safety rating.
Like the Trailblazer, the Fortuner delivers a brisk, nimble drive experience on the road with a majestic view of the path ahead and excellent peripheral and rear vision thanks to its elevated ride height. Ride quality is on a par with that of Trailblazer, though Fortuner rolls less on turn-in and has an altogether tauter and more refined road feel on gravel as well as seal. The result is a little more initial understeer after turn-in but real compliance at ordinary road (or off-road) speeds, with very little body roll or fore-aft pitching under acceleration and braking.
Traction over washboard-style corrugations on dusty gravel roads is also a cut above that of the utes both are based on. With low-range transfer boxes, over 200mm of ground clearance and 700mm wading depths apiece, both vehicles have serious offroad capability.
So, which is best? That depends on a number of factors, not least price and intended use.
Me? Dynamically, the Fortuner is the better all-round vehicle. And if I was comparing it with the old Colorado 7 it would be no contest – the Fortuner would get the nod. By a good margin, too.
However, the various upgrades have transformed the Trailblazer. If it was dollar for dollar the Fortuner would still – just – get my vote. But if the drive-away difference was more than $8K there’d be some serious soulsearching going on in the Mackay household.
Both offer a brisk, nimble on-road drive. Ride quality is comparable, although Fortuner rolls less, is more refined on gravel and seal. Trailblazer has more responsive power.
Ètrailblazer’s back row seats fold flat; capacious luggage space totals 1830 litres.
Ètrailblazer gets eight-inch touch screen with Apple Carplay and Android Auto systems; Satnav, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming.
Fortuner’s sixth and seventh seats fold away easily enough but seem to take up space, although there’s still over 1500 litres of usable stowage in total.
Fortuner is well equipped. Seven-inch touch screen infotainment, voice recognition, steering wheel controls, AUX/USB, Bluetooth and Satnav.
Sand can be dodgy to drive on, but the Fortuner and Trailblazer are set up for beach launching boats or surf-casting adventures.
Suv-like ride and handling applied to the humble 4WD ute means off-road capability and on-road comfort are not mutually exclusive.
It’s hard to choose between two well-appointed family SUVS; both are comfortable, rugged, spacious and safe.
Packed with gear and kids and more gear, that summer trip is looking pretty good.
Rural and urban families alike will appreciate the comfort, capability, space and versatility of these large 4WD wagons.é