Top off-road picks

Fortuner, Sta. Fe, Montero Sport, Captiva, Everest, X-Trail or Strada. What's your choice?
Jun 1, 2010

Hi, Botchi!

My consultant from Cardinal Santos Medical Center is asking if you could help her find an off-road vehicle (I assume a four-wheel drive sport-utility vehicle) with good resale value and safety features.

She wants you to choose among these: Toyota Fortuner, Hyundai Sta. Fe, Mitsubishi Montero Sport, Chevrolet Captiva, Ford Everest, Nissan X-Trail, and Mitsubishi Strada.

Kindly give your expert opinion as to why you chose that certain vehicle from the list. If you could recommend her one that's not from the list, it will be just fine as well.

Thank you for your kind concern.

Yours truly,

Dominic

Hi, Dr. Dominic!

First off, thanks for your help when I was rushed to Cardinal Santos due to my back problem! I'll repay the favor in my own small way.

The choices your consultant picked are quite vast in terms of market, budget and vehicle-type or construction. Some are truck- or pickup-based, which utilize a ladder frame construction, whereas the others are car-based crossover compact utility vehicles. The truck-based platforms are simpler, tougher and more durable over the long term especially when used in extreme conditions like off-roading, incremental weather and when covering thousands upon thousands of miles in a single go. The drawback, however, is usually the lack of interior room, in relation to the vehicle's overall dimensions--tight inside considering it is big outside. Another drawback is the lack of refinement. These SUVs feel rather rough and allow a lot of high-frequency vibrations to permeate through the interior, wearing out passengers in the long run on a long road trip. Another issue is after-sales servicing cost. Since these SUVs are CRDi diesel-engined variants, care and maintenance are expensive. CRDi requires special lubricants and dictates that you stick religiously to the preventive maintenance schedule. The chances of engine failure due to poor servicing, poor diesel fuel quality and lack of overall care and attention are high. It is something of a tight-rope act when owning and driving a CRDi diesel-equipped SUV. But the benefits (and power) are worth it. I highly recommend getting a CRDi diesel-equipped SUV Toyota Fortuner, for example, as opposed to a gasoline-fed 2.7 liter VVTi variant because the gasoline Fortuner is so slow it's pathetic.

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Sedan-based compact SUVs such as the Nissan X-Trail, Honda CR-V, etc., offer far more refinement and interior space relative to their overall external dimensions. But despite their tall ground clearance, they cannot in any way match the off-road ability of a true, truck-based SUV such as the Toyota Fortuner, Ford Everest and Mitsubishi Montero Sport. But they drive like a sedan with the advatage of a taller seating position.

Now here's my take on the cars you listed:

1.) Toyota Fortuner - In my opinion, this is still the best in its class--the standard by which all others are judged. The ride is bouncy and sportily firm, but not harsh. It feels fast and powerful, offers the second-best refinement in its class, and has the best resale value after five years. Just make sure you get the top-model 3.0 D-4D variant, stick to the service schedule religiously and always gas up at a new gas station. Power-wise, the mid-range powerband is impressive as the engine feels very flexible and delivers excellent fuel economy.

2.) Mitsubishi Montero Sport - As above, but delivers better value for money, has even better mid-range power and a much more responsive automatic transmission (Mitsubishi make the best automatics among the Japanese, I think). The downside is that it feels cramped, there's less legroom in the middle row and the front seats are slightly tighter. The ride isn't as firm and bouncy as the Fortuner, but it is noticeably harsher. The interior isn't as classy, but rather more macho and more youth-oriented.

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3.) Hyundai Santa Fe - This is the most refined SUV in the market today. It also offers great value for money. That it is a favorite camera car when we do chase shoots on still photos is a testament to its smoothness, thanks to supple suspension and a hybrid car- and truck-based platform. Resale wise, it's quite hard to tell because I don't see a lot of people selling their Santa Fes--which must be a good thing. Off-road wise, it isn't as able as the Mitsubishi Montero Sport and Toyota Fortuner because the ride-height is lower but it has a lot of standard-fit equipment and touches that make driving and living with one easier.  The engine delivers impressive peak power but doesn't have the strong midrange grunt as the Toyota and Mitsubishi because of the smaller 2.2 liter engine (the Montero Sport has a 3.2-liter engine, the Fortuner has a 3.0--all CRDi diesel engines) but it does claw back with a highly advanced variable geometry turbocharger to address responsiveness and low-end pull.

4.) Ford Everest - This is probably the toughest, most off-road capable SUV in this bunch but is the tighest, most cramped, harshest and most expensive of the lot. The outside looks good, but Ford didn't bother revamping the interior so it still looks kinda old, a bit cheap and cheesy. The local market deserves a better-equipped interior for the Everest. It's sad the the inside fails to meet and match the expectations set by the exterior's bulging, flaring, brooding looks.

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5.) Nissan X-Trail - The current model will be replaced soon (click this link to read about the upcoming launch) so I'd take this off the shortlist and wait for the new one.

6.) Chevrolet Captiva - I haven't driven it, but my friends who own one are happy with it. I don't like how it looks though.

7.) Mitsubishi Strada - A pickup? I like this pickup the most. It rides better than the Toyota Hilux. It makes the most power and I love the rear opening window for the top-variant. It has the tighest turning radius in its class at 5.9 meters, making in-town maneuvering and parking in cramped spaces easy. All other competitors are in the 6.1 to 6.3 meter turning radius.

I'd also like to recommend the Honda CR-V since despite the seemingly lack of uniqueness and emotional attachment to its owner, it is one fine piece of equipment. It drives really well, and is surprisingly fuel efficient out on the highway--fast enough and very smooth and refined. This is the segment leader in the compact SUV market. My favorite, though, is the Subaru Forester Turbo 2.5 XT. It is fast and involving like a sports sedan. It is roomy, refined and practical with all the cargo space you need plus a moon-roof--that exclusivity and uniqueness makes parting with almost P1.7 million worth it. I'd buy one right now if I had the money.

Thanks again for your help Dom. Let me know if there's anything else your consultant would like to ask. See you soon, but hopefully not in the emergency room again!

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Botchi Santos
Consumer editor

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