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THE INSIDE STORY
So things are pretty close in the style stakes, but based on the practicality that’s required from these vehicles, their interiors might just be the deciding factor in this close competition.
Naturally, these bakkie-based SUVs won’t be as refined as their ‘real’ SUV counterparts, but a certain level of refinement is still expected. And met, mostly... Interior quality, while not bad, is still a bit unrefined, a trait shared with these vehicles’ cousins.
Being inside the Pajero Sport is a strange thing. It’s comfortable, quite luxurious and relatively spacious. But it’s about as interesting as a blank TV screen. Grey roofliner, grey trim and grey leather make the inside of the Pajero Sport a bland, bland place to be. And yet it still comes with many of the luxuries one would want, including electric windows all round, electric mirrors, air conditioning and a radio/CD/MP3 sound system with six speakers.
The Fortuner’s interior is definitely not as bland as the Pajero Sport’s, helped by the faux wood trim that differentiates it from its Hilux cousin, but it is a bit dated. It shows its age; it’s not contemporary and it’s a bit too unrefined for this segment.
The Ranger, um, sorry, the Everest, steps things up a notch. Although one could be forgiven for thinking they were actually in a Ranger, there are a few extra pieces of leather-coated trim to give a more luxurious feel to the cabin, and it’s easily the most spacious and practical of the three.
Levels of luxury are similar in all three of these cars; power steering, electric windows and mirrors, air conditioning and decent sound systems mean that they’re all quite pleasant places to be. The Mitsubishi does have one up on the competition with its steering-mounted controls though. But it does come at a premium, with the Pajero Sport retailing at R414 000, while the Fortuner will set you back between R352 300 and R428 100 and the Everest starts at R324 990, while the 4x4 auto costs R382 990.
While none of these vehicles are small, the Mitsubishi offers the least space, especially in the second and third rows, while the Toyota’s sideways-folding seats are not the most practical things in the world. They compromise bootspace when they’re up, and they don’t offer much by way of legroom when they’re down.
The Everest, on the other hand, gives you ample room to play with, no matter what row of seats you’re in. Of course, bootspace is somewhat limited with the third row of seats in place but, easily foldable and very practical, you’d be able to load any variety of luggage into the Ford’s ample room.
DRIVING THE DECISION
If the interiors started to distance the contenders from one another, the drive will really separate the wheat from the chaff.
It must be said; the name Pajero Sport does not make sense. It’s not a Pajero, and it’s certainly not sporty. The Mitsubishi actually proved the least potent of all the contenders, and it’s noticeable – along with that quite significant turbo lag. Its 3.2-litre turbodiesel puts out 120kW and 343Nm at peak, but it really does feel weaker than these figures suggest.
The Ford Everest, on the other hand, feels like it could pull, well, Mount Everest. That best-in-class, 3-litre, TDCi Duratorq turbodiesel from the Ranger just does not stop churning out the power and torque. It’s the best in its bakkie segment, and this has translated well into the converted SUV segment. With 115kW and 380Nm on tap, there’s no stopping the Everest.
Whenever you base a vehicle on something as popular as the Hilux it’s bound to be successful and the Fortuner has been. In fact, in 2008, it was South Africa’s ninth best-selling passenger vehicle, with sales figures in the region of 7193 units. The test unit’s 3-litre diesel 4x4 manual pulls nicely; it’s neither overpowered nor underpowered and its admittedly limited off-road experience proved it capable too.
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