South Africans love the outdoors and consequently the vehicles that can take them there. So, while it is true that the rise of the crossover and "soft-roader" has made the truly off-road capable SUV something of a niche purchase globally, there are still a large number of enthusiasts in this country.
For the purpose of this Buyer's Guide, we have focused on the popular 7-seat, 4x4 segment, dominated by the likes of the Toyota Fortuner and Ford Everest. Most of the vehicles detailed here are bakkie-based, but not all of them. Are there solid alternatives to consider? And what new contenders are on the way? Let's investigate.
The Champion - Land Rover Discovery Sport
Looking to combine adventure with premium appeal - look no further than the Land Rover Discovery Sport.
For two years running the Land Rover Discovery Sport has scooped the Cars.co.za Consumer Awards - Powered by WesBank, Lifestyle SUV trophy. While third-row seating is an optional extra with this model and the pricing is heady (starting from around R630 000), the Discovery Sport offers a blend of premium finishes, road-biased comfort and status, yet maintains Land Rover's reputation for being excellent in the rough. It is offered with a range of refined turbopetrol and turbodiesel engines that deliver an excellent balance of performance and efficiency, and the cabin is both spacious and upmarket.
- Price Range: R630 466 – R863 478
- Pick of the Range: 2.0-litre turbodiesel, in SE specification
- Total units sold thus far in 2017 (Jan/Feb): 140
- Reason to Buy: Premium product that places an emphasis on daily, on-road comfort but can still get its boots dirty convincingly.
- Criticisms: Very expensive these days, and many features are optional. May be too "city-slicker" for frequent and serious off-road use.
The Top Seller - Toyota Fortuner
The 2.4-litre turbodiesel engine is superb, but not yet offered in automatic/4x4 guise.
The previous-generation Fortuner was still a strong seller when it was about to be replaced, and the new model has simply continued the success story. The 2.8 GD-6 4x4 Automatic was a strong contender in this year's Cars.co.za Consumer Awards - Powered by WesBank, and also impressed during a recent extended test term. Compared with its predecessor, it is a significantly more refined, upmarket offering that has seemingly lost none of its predecessor's practicality and off-road ability. The new-generation turbodiesel engines are refined and strong, but to get a comprehensive safety package, you have to opt for the 2.8-litre models.
- Price Range: R438 000 – R663 900
- Pick of the Range: 2.8 GD-6 4x4 Automatic
- Total units sold thus far in 2017 (Jan/Feb): 2 325
- Reason to Buy: Peace-of-mind, trusted all-road capability and resale value
- Criticisms: Only 3 airbags on 2.4-litre models. Clumsy, limited info-tainment system. Fold-up rear seats impractical for some users.
The Strong Challenger - Ford Everest
Everest 2.2-litre is an impressive addition, but you can't have a 4x4 automatic derivative.
The Ford Everest line-up recently expanded with the addition of more affordable 2.2-litre turbodiesel derivatives, and also switched to local manufacture following a substantial investment in the factory in South Africa. We rate the Everest highly for its all-round comfort and practicality levels – it suspension copes better with a wider variety of road surfaces than the Fortuner's. The new 2.2-litre models also don't feel underpowered compared with the flagship 3.2-litre derivatives. Unfortunately, it is not yet possible to buy a 2.2-litre Everest 4x4 with an automatic transmission, and the market reaction to the manual XLS 4x4, priced at R536 900 shows that a self-shifter is definitely required. For that reason, and if off-roading is something you're likely to do frequently, the 3.2-litre remains the pick of the bunch.
- Price Range: R458 900 – R698 900
- Pick of the Range: 3.2 TDCi XLT AWD Auto
- Total units sold thus far in 2017 (Jan/Feb): 805
- Reason to Buy: Spacious, comfortable cabin. Ride quality.
- Criticisms: 3.2-litre engine has good grunt on paper, but can feel "lethargic" compared with the smaller engine in the Fortuner. Comparatively heavy fuel consumption.
The Underestimated Contender - Chevrolet Trailblazer
Z71 specification just adds to the visual appeal of a good product.
Recently refreshed and now sporting not only a far more distinctive face, the perenially underappreciated Trailblazer also benefits from a substantial interior upgrade. The result is a vehicle that feels more like a premium offering inside, compared to its prececessor, and also gains the latest General Motors infotainment technologies. The line-up has remained largely the same, with the 2.5- and 2.8-litre turbodiesels being the only engines available. An attractively finished and evocatively named new Z71 flagship model has joined the range and seems worth the extra (small) outlay. We continue to rate the Trailblazer highly for its blend of features and on/off-road balance.
- Price Range: R458 400 – R634 500
- Pick of the Range: 2.8D LTZ 4x4 Auto Z71
- Total units sold thus far in 2017 (Jan/Feb): 164
- Reason to Buy: Standard features, on/off-road balance, improved cabin finish/design.
- Criticisms: Engine neither as refined nor as punchy as Toyota's. Not as spacious as rivals.
A More Affordable Alternative - Mahindra XUV500
Recently refreshed, the Mahindra XUV500 continues to offer outstanding value for money.
Priced from as low as R279 995, the Mahindra XUV500 appears to offer a serious amount of car for the money. The XUV500 was recently refreshed and now features a more modern and refined cabin that offers sufficient space for 7 occupants. However, given the XUV500's slightly more compact dimensions it can't match its more expensive rivals for outright spaciousness and practicality. Nevertheless, at the price (R386 995), the W8 AWD model offers a very comprehensive standard specification sheet that includes such niceties as leather upholstery, touch-screen navigation, park-distance control, cruise control and a 5-years warranty and service plan. Just a pity that you can't have the AWD model with an automatic transmission...
- Price Range: R279 995 – R394 995
- Pick of the Range: W8 AWD (manual only)
- Total units sold thus far in 2017 (Jan/Feb): 106
- Reason to Buy: Value for money, standard features
- Criticisms: 2.2-litre turbodiesel engine not as powerful as rivals, limited off-road ability
Coming Soon - Mitsubishi Pajero Sport
Dramatically styled and ready for sale in South Africa soon, the new Pajero Sport.
With the recent introduction of the very impressive new Triton bakkie, Mitsubishi's next big local launch looks set to be the new-generation Pajero Sport, a direct rival for the Toyota Fortuner and Ford Everest. First examples are already in South Africa completing pre-launch testing, and we should see this interestingly-styled SUV on the market before mid-year. Expect similar engines to what is already doing duty in the Triton.
Not a serious off-roader?
If regular, challenging off-road activities are not on the agenda but you're looking for a spacious, practical 7-seater with at least some all-wheel drive traction, consider the Korean duo (Hyundai Santa Fe and Kia Sorento). Both are road-biased, near-premium offerings with the Kia, in particular, offering very attractive standard features as standard. On a tighter budget you may want to consider the Nissan X-Trail, which can in some derivatives be specified with 7 seats. We rate the 2.5-litre AWD model as being particularly good value, though it is thristy.
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Something even more rugged? - Mitsubishi Pajero 3.2 DI-D GLS Legend 2 (2016) Review
A more rugged/cheaper alternative - Mahindra Scorpio (2016) lands in SA
Cars.co.za Consumer Awards - Lifestyle SUV category