comparison test with: x-trail st-l (2008), mistubishi outlander xls (2008)
|Vehicle Make:||Subaru Forester|
|Insurance:||Get a quote|
|Equipment & Features|
|Comfort & Space|
|Handling & Braking|
They’re practical, all-purpose wagons, and for the majority of owners their 4WD ability is incidental. So they should deliver the best of both worlds – but which is the best?
Road test: Ernest Litera
Once upon a time, the bodywork of an average family sedan was extended to create a stationwagon. Then along came dedicated designs aimed at fulfilling the market’s desire for a light all-wheel-drive wagon. It’s this vehicle that has now taken on a life of its own as the ubiquitous SUV – sports utility vehicle.
The appeal over the conventional wagon is the SUV’s box-like body, which produces versatile seating/load options and gives easy entry or exit due to the high seating position. Their 4WD ability, although quite remarkable, seems almost incidental for the majority of owners. Yet this serves to neutralise the advantage of having a smaller fourcylinder engine, because fuel economy is no better than a current six-cylinder Falcon or Commodore.
The impressive second-generation Nissan X-Trail won this segment in the 2007 Australia’s Best Car awards. Alongside this we have tested the SUV which for a time had a virtual mortgage on that title, Subaru Forester. Another top-10 finalist in this competitive segment, Mitsubishi Outlander, has also just had a substantial makeover. For this test we selected the volume-selling models and those most closely matched on price. Engine outputs are remarkably similar and they’re all equipped with a full safety package including front/side/curtain airbags, ABS and stability control. Our extended road test, which ranged from city commuting to forestry tracks in the Grampians, produced some unexpected discoveries.
X-Trail comes in three models, ST, ST-L (our test car) and Ti, from $31,990 to $38,990 and all powered by a 2.5-litre petrol engine and six-speed manual with the option of a CVT automatic. The ST-L has 17” alloy wheels, a six-stack/ six-speaker sound system, fog lights and leather-bound steering wheel/gear knob over the entry-level ST. Ti adds leather interior, power/heated seats, sunroof and park-assist warning.
The driver faces a plain yet purposeful cabin. Despite the apparent upright and modest shaping of the seats, they’re notably comfortable and with plenty of adjustment.
The steering wheel has cruise control but not audio buttons and it lacks reach adjustment. While instrumentation is generally clear, it’s spoilt by cramming a lot into a small centre dial. Drivers will feel at ease with the controls, but need to be wary of restricted rear vision. Headroom front and rear is good but seating in the back was tightest overall.
A 40/20/40 split-fold rear seat provides good versatility. Three child-seat anchorages are conveniently located in the rear floor and the rear seats fold to a completely flat floor. Slide-out trays add to storage convenience, and while there’s a full-size alloy spare wheel, it’s terribly fiddly to remove.
X-Trail delivers good performance over all types of roads and has the best towing capacity of the group at 2000kg. It also has an edge in dampening road shock and in its smooth, quiet ride on back roads.
Drivers were critical of the driving feel of the CVT transmission, particularly in town, plus the lack of hill-hold at lights and when crawling up tracks. The transmission has selectable 2WD for improved fuel economy, auto (which shifts between 2WD and 4WD according to conditions) and 4WD-lock. Hill descent control helps with off-road work.
While touring fuel consumption might look acceptable, the overall figure is not outstanding, and when loaded or in unfavourable conditions can exceed large car consumption.
Nissan has improved X-Trail’s off-road ability, it is arguably the toughest underneath despite a little less ground clearance and has proper tow hooks front and rear.
Often overlooked in this company, Outlander has good credentials and a few surprises up its sleeve.
It comes with either a 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine, from $31,490 (LS, XLS and XLS Luxury), or a 3.0-litre V6 from $37,490 (VR, VRX and VRX Luxury). A third row of seats is standard on Luxury models and a $1200 option on others. Notable on the base LS and VR models is the absence of side or curtain airbags.
A five-speed manual transmission is standard on the base LS. A six-speed CVT is standard on all other four-cylinder models, while the V6 VRXs get a six-speed tiptronic, which adds 100kg to the towing limit. Our XLS test car gains 18” alloy wheels, fog-lamps, dark glass, parking sensors, smart key operation, split tailgate, warm/cool box, cargo blind and a host of trim and safety upgrades over the entry LS. Stepping up to XLS or VRX Luxury models ($44,990 and $48,990 respectively) adds leather trim, premium sound equipment, HI-headlamps with washers and dusk sensing, rain-sensing wipers, power adjusted and heated driver's seat, electric sunroof and the third row seating. These top-of-the-range models also have a $3000 option pack including satellite navigation and rear camera. However, to get sat-nav you lose the in-dash six-stack CD.
Access is easy and the smart remote means you can drive with the key in your pocket. In contrast to X-Trail, presentation is more modern. The seat is firmer and height-adjustable but equally well positioned and comfortable, with all front seat space measurements being best or equal best in the group. But you can’t reach the seat adjusters with the door closed.
The steering wheel has phone, cruise and audio controls as well as paddle shifts for the auto. However steering is not reach-adjustable. The dash and switch layout is clear and instinctive with plenty of data options in the trip computer.
Rear seats lose some headroom, but this is more than made up for by being rake-adjustable and having the most useable width. They fold (60/40) and tip forward electrically, and child-seat anchorages are on the rear of the cushion because the seat is mounted well above the deep floor recess.
Outlander has the largest load area box. Unfortunately, this is partly due to its space-saver spare wheel. We found the split tailgate and standard reversing sensors particularly useful.
Performance is equally as good as X-Trail’s but not outstanding. The main difference is a better six-speed CVT automatic. This did not raise any adverse comments from drivers. The driveline has selectable 2WD/4WD and 4WD-lock, with drivers noting torque feedback through the steering in 2WD.
Most disappointing is fuel consumption which, despite comparable highway figures, climbs rapidly under load or stop/start conditions and can easily pass 13L/100km. Ride is a little firmer and more tightly controlled, which makes the handling a tad sharper. But it’s occasionally less composed on corrugated roads. Outlander has tow hooks but negligible shielding for offroad work, and it struggles over larger obstacles.
The biggest advances Forester has made over the years has been to add value in standard features – particularly safety and security – rather than changing its proven mechanical layout.
The five-model range is made up of three naturally aspirated models (Forester X, XS and XS-Premium, from $30,490) and two turbo versions, XT and XT-Premium (from $38,990). All have the same 2.5-litre four-cylinder with five-speed manual or four-speed automatic. The turbos have an extra 43kW and 91Nm but drop almost 1L/100km in fuel consumption.
Our XS-Premium test car is competitive on price yet in - cludes sunroof, full leather interior and powered driver’s seat. In addition to the well-specified entry model, which like XTrail gets the full range of safety equipment, it has 16” alloys, six-stack CD, climate-control and plenty of dress-up features. Getting into Forester is as easy as the others but overall seat support and comfort falls short of the competition. Pre - sentation at the wheel is the most car-like with the steering both height and reach-adjustable, and including controls for cruise and audio. But there’s no trip computer.
Despite increased body dimensions, the cabin is slightly smaller than the others, in part due to the sunroof, yet this was never a concern. Good travel adjustment and the best hip-toknee room in the rear gives plenty of space. Rear seat width is tighter than the others, while roof-mounted child seat anchorages are the least convenient. Three seat position rake adjustment is provided along with the usual 60/40 split-fold, but the seat does not fold completely flat. The load area is otherwise well designed with load tie-down brackets, bag hooks, power outlet and cargo blind. Forester has a fullsize steel spare wheel which is easy to access.
You’d expect Forester, which is lighter and delivers more engine torque, to be the liveliest of the group but it is constrained by a lacklustre four-speed automatic. Overall performance is acceptable but the auto is reluctant to change or kick-down. Fuel consumption did not vary as greatly as the others, although an overall average of 11.3L/100km is nothing exceptional. Forester is, however, a very well balanced car in ride and handling.
Like Outlander, it is firmer in the suspension control and more precise in the steering than X-Trail, which makes it quite car-like in everyday use. However, the others have an edge in ride comfort. On demanding bush tracks Forester works well principally due to long wheel travel and remains a match for X-Trail. It also benefits from good ground clearance and a tidy mechanical layout underneath, as there is no additional shielding. The tool kit has detachable tow hooks.
Any of these vehicles will satisfy the requirements for an all-purpose family wagon, as their differences are subtle. However, don’t buy one thinking that four cylinders mean fuel economy.
X-Trail is aimed at buyers who are a little more serious about driving down bush tracks.
Outlander has the style and smart presentation. It has the best overall cabin space.
Forester is the most car-like, the easiest to live with every day and the best crossover for all road conditions, but mechanically it is starting to show its age.
Ernest Litera is RACV’s chief vehicle tester
|forester ||x-trail ||outlander|
|How much? ||$39,490 ||$37,990 ||$38,990|
|How powerful? ||126kw ||125kw ||125kw|
|How safe? ||stability control |
|stability control |
|How economical? ||11.3L/100km ||11.5L/100km ||11.7L/100km|
|forester xs-premium ||x-trail st-l ||outlander xls|
|in the pocket |
|List price + on road ||$39,490 +$3307.25 ||$37,990 + $3269.75 ||$38,990 + $3294.75|
|Model price range ||$30,490 to $46,990 ||$31,990 to $40,990 ||$31,490 to $48,990|
|Metallic paint ||std ||$395 ||$350|
|Warranty ||36mths/unlimited km ||36mths/unlimited km||36mths/130,000km|
|Service intervals ||6mths/12,000km ||6mths/10,000km||6mths/15,000km|
|in the drivers seat |
|ABS ||std ||std ||std|
|Airbags: front/side/curtain ||std/std/std ||std/std/std||std/std/std|
|Stability control ||std ||std ||std|
|Reversing camera ||n-a ||n-a ||$3000|
|Imobiliser/alarm/datadots ||std/n-a/std ||std/n-a/n-a ||std/std/n-a|
|Auto transmision/cruise control ||$2000/std ||$2000/std ||std/std|
|Air-conditioning ||climate control ||climate control ||climate control|
|Trip computer ||n-a ||std ||std|
|Power windows/mirrors ||std/std ||std/std||std/std|
|Power seats/memory ||std/n-a ||n-a/n-a ||$1500 option pack|
|Steering reach/tilt adjust ||std/std ||n-a/std||n-a/std|
|Parking sensors ||n-a ||n-a ||std|
|Sat-nav system ||$2990 ||n-a ||$3000 option pack|
|CD player ||six stack||six stack||six stack|
|Leather upholstery ||std ||n-a ||$1500 option pack|
|Bluetooth phone capability ||$399 ||$580 ||std|
|Front fog lamps ||std ||std ||std|
|under the bonnet |
|Engine capacity ||2457cc opposed four ||2488cc inline four ||2359cc inline four|
|Max. power ||126kw@6000rpm ||125kw@6000rpm ||125kw@6000rpm|
|Max. torque ||229Nm@4400rpm ||226@4400rpm ||226@4100rpm|
|Transmission ||4spd auto ||6spd CVT ||6spd CVT|
|Drive ||constant AWD ||2-4WD/lockable 4WD ||2-4WD/lockable 4WD|
|measuring up |
|Kerb mass ||1480kg ||1554kg ||1580kg|
|Length ||4560mm ||4630mm ||4640mm|
|Width (incl. mirrors) ||2000mm ||2050mm ||2090mm|
|Height ||1700mm ||1685mm ||1720mm|
|Wheelbase ||2615mm ||2630mm ||2670mm|
|Turning Circle ||10.6m ||10.6m ||10.6m|
|Driver leg/headroom ||1040/990mm ||1050/1030mm ||1060/1030mm|
|Driver seat travel ||240mm ||240mm ||210mm|
|Rear seat leg/headroom ||710/920mm ||640/990mm ||650/850mm|
|Rear seat width ||1340mm ||1280mm ||2060mm|
|Load-box -length ||990mm ||980mm ||1040mm|
|-width ||1070mm ||1020mm ||890mm|
|-height ||800mm ||810mm ||910mm|
|Tyres ||215/65 R16 ||215/60 R17 ||225/65 R18|
|Spare wheel ||full-size steel ||full-size alloy ||space-saver|
|at the pump |
|Overall - RACV test (litres/100km) ||11.3 ||11.5 ||11.7|
|-variation ||9.9-12.4 ||9.5-12.5 ||9.5-13.4|
|Green Vehicle Guide ||9.6 ||9.3 ||9.3|
|Fuel tank (litres) ||60 ||65 ||60|
|Fuel type ||91 RON unleaded ||91 RON unleaded||91 RON unleaded|
|up the back |
|Towing capacity (braked trailer) ||1400kg ||2000kg ||1500kg|
|in the workshop |
|Alternator Belt ||$39.95 ||$63.80 ||$75.90|
|Air filter ||$33.66 ||$27.02 ||$48.95|
|Front brake pads (full set) ||$164.95 ||$153.45 ||$136.40|
|Front brake rotors (pair) ||$278.90 ||$327.80 ||$420.20|
|Radiator hoses (top & bottom) ||$69.90 ||$72.68 ||$96.25|
|Radiator ||$560.15 ||$522.50 ||$695.20|
|Rear muffler ||$246.71 ||$545.05 ||$275.00|
|Headlight assembly ||$559.32 ||$419.42 ||$686.40|
|Tail-light assembly ||$301.17 ||$234.40 ||$442.20|
|Windscreen ||$999.57 ||$654.50 ||$550.00|
|Original spec wheel rim ||$188.09 ||$753.50 ||$273.90|
|TOTAL ||$3442.37 ||$3710.32 ||$3624.50|