Which recently updated and 4x4-capable family wagon is the pick?
For those who want a big SUV with built-in off-road ability, you’ve got two choices. Go big, with something like a LandCruiser or Patrol. Or, go not-so-big (and not-so-spendy) with the variety of ute-based 4x4 wagons currently on offer.
If you want to fit seven aboard (or five and lots of gear) and have the confidence to travel off-road, two recently updated and facelifted options that can mix business with pleasure are the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport and Toyota Fortuner.
It’s worth noting straight off the bat that road-based SUVs are generally more comfortable, refined, cost-effective and spacious. Something like a Pajero Sport or Fortuner is what you want when you need your main family bus to pull double-duty on weekend and holiday adventures.
These 4x4 wagons are based on their utility brethren (HiLux and Triton), sporting a ladder chassis, ute-sourced driveline and heavy-duty suspension, although the rear leaf springs are swapped out for coil springs and five-link geometry.
Pricing and Spec
Both of our testers here are top spec: The Mitsubishi Pajero Sport Exceed ($57,190 before on-road costs) and Toyota Fortuner Crusade ($58,290 +ORCs). They sit atop a range that starts at $46,990 and $45,965 respectively, although it’s worth pointing out that the Pajero Sport comes as a five-seater.
Both of these vehicles are running on deals at the moment, so don’t expect to pay anywhere near those MSRP figures. The Pajero Sport Exceed is currently offered at $59,990 drive-away before haggling, which also comes with a seven-year warranty and $1500 cash back. Toyota currently lists the Fortuner Crusade at $58,990 drive-away. So, unlike their ute counterparts, there is not much in between these two seven-seat wagons in terms of pricing.
It’s a close-run thing in terms of specifications, as well. Both of these utes come standard with three rows of seating, and roughly similar dimensions. The Fortuner is 4795mm long, 1855mm wide and 1835mm tall. The Pajero Sport is longer (4825mm), narrower (1815mm) and the same height.
Both have leather-accented interiors, with air vents to all three rows. There’s also 220V power outlets, keyless entry and push-button start. While the Fortuner makes do with single-zone climate control, the Pajero Sport has two zones. Both have LED headlights and tail-lights.
Of great importance to family haulers, both the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport and Toyota Fortuner have been updated with advanced active safety technology: autonomous emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring and lane-departure warning.
Both have five-star ANCAP safety ratings. Both attained a maximum score in 2015, but the Fortuner gets extra brownie points for being re-tested in 2019 (under more strict conditions) and kept its full five stars.
Tech and Infotainment
This is one area where Mitsubishi has a clear authority over Toyota. In this specification, the Pajero Sport gets a digital instrument display and 360-degree camera, although neither is executed particularly well. In better news, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto run through the new 8.0-inch infotainment display, which otherwise has TomTom navigation and digital radio.
Unlike other models in Toyota’s range, the Fortuner is yet to benefit from smartphone mirroring technology. It’s a system that’s shared with the HiLux, and feels a bit dated in it’s look and general usage. Like the Mitsubishi, the Fortuner Crusade incorporates satellite navigation, but a volume dial replaced by non-mechanical buttons can make it harder to use when driving.
While both of these 4WD wagons make efforts to move away from their utilitarian lineage, the Pajero Sport is the most revamped inside. The built-up centre console is most notably different, giving a premium air to the design. I think it makes the slightly narrow cabin feel cramped at times, although this new model does get some handy storage points built in. Particularly, the hide-away space underneath the centre stack, making it more practical for day-to-day use.
On the other hand, the Fortuner is a bit more traditional in its design and approach. It’s more than reminiscent of the HiLux, with some trimmings and tweaks around the dashboard to help delineate. There are faux wood and leather pieces around the cabin and on the steering wheel, which might not be to everybody’s taste. More importantly, there is plenty of practicality and storage on offer in the Fortuner, with slide-out cupholders and a double glovebox stolen directly from the Isuzu MU-X playbook.
Both are a comfortable experience from behind the driver’s seat, but neither really nails the experience of a premium interior overly well. Some touchpoints and garnishes feel passé, especially when compared to the better road-biased large SUVs.
Both have air vents in the roof with controls in the second row, 12V and 220V power. While only the Pajero Sport has second-row USB points, both have enough room for adults to sit comfortably. It’s a close comparison; the Fortuner is only slightly more spacious in terms of leg room and head room for adults in the second row. It’s more versatile because of the sliding second row. That means you can apportion some leg room for those poor souls in the third row.
When you look at the numbers, the 716L of the Fortuner beats 673L for the Pajero Sport, but in reality boot space is quite similar between the two. With three rows deployed, that space is small: 200L for the Fortuner and 131L for the Pajero Sport. Turn them into a two-seater, and the Pajero Sport has the superior numbers: 1488L beats 1080L. Safe to say, they both turn into a part-time van when you need it.
While the Fortuner has an old-school third row that folds sideways and up, the Pajero Sport’s third row folds unconventionally into the floor. The squab flips forward, and the seat back goes into the floor. It works, and folds mostly flat. While the Fortuner’s third is always taking up space, and affects visibility when folded, it’s easily removable (if you are so inclined).
Both of these utes borrow engines from their ute counterparts, with four cylinders of turbocharged diesel being the order of the day. Mitsubishi’s 2.4-litre is the most powerful (just) making 133kW at 3500rpm versus 130kW at 3400rpm. More tellingly, the Fortuner’s 2.8-litre makes more torque (430Nm) across a broader range: 1600–2400rpm. That’s healthier and wider than the Pajero Sport, which offers 430Nm at 2500rpm.
While the Fortuner uses a six-speed automatic gearbox familiar to HiLux and Prado applications, the Pajero Sport picks up an eight-speed automatic transmission though both are Aisin units. Both have proper 4WD systems with low-range and locking rear differentials, but Super Select II (the ability to run 2WD and 4WD on the bitumen) of the Pajero Sport is more flexible.
The Pajero Sport's motor is more efficient, with less capacity and more ratios to draw upon. Mitsubishi claims 8.0L/100km on the combined cycle, while Toyota lists 8.6L/100km. We used a little more in both cases, but the Toyota was slightly thirstier overall.
The more bountiful and widely available torque of the Fortuner is the most important figure in this comparison, leaving it feeling gutsier, more relaxed and less rev-reliant to get (and stay) moving. Both are fairly refined for diesel donks, but both get clattery when working hard at the upper echelons of the rev ranges.
While the Pajero Sport’s extra gear ratios are handy for keeping revs down on the highway, it’s a little less smooth in shifting. I’d prefer the extra torque over the extra ratios, if I had to choose only one.
On the Road
Softer coil springs in the rear end go a long way in improving the on-road demeanour of both 4x4 wagons. They’re still less absorbent and more jittery than car-based SUVs, for good reason: the ladder chassis, rear live axle and general heaviness of their 4x4 ute origins are fundamentally less refined than a car-based unibody platform.
In direct comparison, the Pajero Sport is certainly a softer-riding rig around town, feeling particularly smooth over some surfaces. That can give into a bit of wallow and shake at times, however. The Fortuner feels tighter, more controlled and responsive through suspension and steering, while losing out slightly in the stakes of outright comfort.
While it lacks the 360-degree camera, the Fortuner’s got much better visibility overall. The Pajero Sport’s porthole-esque rear window (with I think the smallest wiper arm I’ve ever come across) isn’t good for much, and the complex panel designs makes it tricky to know your corners.
The Mitsubishi Pajero Sport lists a slightly tighter turning circle: 11.2m versus 11.6m for the Toyota Fortuner.
Both of these 4WD wagons appeal to those wanting something just as capable around town as they are out in the scrub. Cutting a long story short, both deliver in this regard. To know which one is better, there’s a bit of stuff to unpack, and we’ve done that in a separate story (which you can read next week).
In this one, we’re sticking to the on-road and family-hauling experience of these two large 4WDs.
Both of these 4WDs offer good potential as tow vehicles, with the Pajero Sport offering a greater braked towing capacity of 3100kg compared to the 2800kg of the Fortuner.
We didn't take these two on a towing test during this comparison. But, beyond those numbers on the spec sheet, you can get a bit more insight into the towing performance of these two 4WDs by checking out this story.
Mitsubishi’s current drive-away deal on the Pajero Sport includes a seven-year and 150,000km warranty, which matches the mechanically similar Triton's warranty. The Fortuner gets by with five years, with unlimited kilometres in that time. Although seven years beats five, the Fortuner might be the smarter choice if you’re planning on doing more than 30,000km per year.
Because the Fortuner has six-month service intervals, it works out to be more expensive to service over a five-year period: $250 for the first six visits, then grows to $342, $738, $521 and $434. Total: $3535.
The Pajero Sport’s capped-price program only runs to three years at $299 per visit to cost only $897 for the first 45,000km. From there, however, service costs will vary between dealers and vehicles. For comparison’s sake, the Fortuner costs $1500 over the same period of time with 15,000 extra kilometres.
These two 4x4 wagons run a very close race, and perform their base roles well enough. Only when compared directly do you start to pick up some of the slight strengths and weaknesses between each.
Although the Fortuner is now more highly-specced and better value than ever, it’s still pipped by the similarly priced but better equipped Pajero Sport. It would be great if the Pajero Sport’s unique niceties like a digital instrument display and 360-degree camera were executed better, but kudos to improving storage options in the raised centre console. And as time rolls on, the lack of Android Auto or Apple CarPlay in the Fortuner is a more glaring omission.
While the Pajero Sport wins on value and tech, the Fortuner’s more practical and family-friendly interior yields useful benefits in the daily grind as a family wagon. It’s a little more spacious overall, and the sliding second row is nice to have.
The Fortuner’s driveline wins by a nose, as well, offering a torquey and smoother experience around town. Although, if you’re after the best ride comfort, the Pajero Sport is the best in this regard.
On the whole, the Toyota Fortuner is my pick of these two. I’m giving up some tech and specs in the process, but gaining a better driveline, more useable interior, and more controlled suspension package.