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

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