- The Chevrolet Trailblazer, Mitsubishi Pajero Sport and Toyota Fortuner are mid-size sport-utility vehicles based on their current generation pickups: Colorado, Triton and Hilux Vigo Champ respectively.
- Their unusually attractive prices _ under 1.5 million baht _ result from a special 20% excise tax given to the so-called pickup-passenger vehicle (PPV) which, today, doesn't restrict makers from choosing whichever suspension set-up they like.
- The vehicles compared this week are the range-topping models fitted with their most powerful engines available, four-wheel drive and automatic transmission systems. However, the Fortuner used for photo purposes here is the two-wheel-drive version.
- The test covered a drive from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi, where we additionally did some light off-roading. The aim of this group test was to ascertain which offered a good combination of driving, practicality and value for money.
1st Chevrolet Trailblazer
For: stable ride, easy-to-use interior, kit
Against: noisy engine
While we had some problems identifying the first runner-up in this comparo, it wasn't difficult to single out the victor.
The Chevrolet Trailblazer it better be, you may be quick to point out, for it is the latest newcomer in the PPV crowd.
An outstanding highlight is interior versatility. The Mitsubishi Pajero Sport once taught a lesson or two to the Toyota Fortuner with its fold-flat third-row rear seats, but now the Trailblazer has raised the bar with the second and third-row benches going down flat to the canvas _ with better ease, too.
The Trailblazer's seven seats are nicely sculpted and good to sit in, making the variations in both of its rivals feel more suitable for the hospital lobby. Despite some discrepancies, all three have very similar levels of perceived space for all occupants.
At first glance, the Trailblazer's interior appears suitably well-conceived, until you notice some panel gaps that are also evident in the Fortuner. The Pajero Sport is quite well-finished in this respect.
Where the Trailblazer scores considerably over its rivals is the chassis. Yes, it's still a body-on-frame underpinning, as required by PPV legislation, but the rear five-link suspension is outstanding here.
By employing such an architecture, the Trailblazer has the smoothest and most controlled ride of the three, plus the neatest handling outside the city.
Although slightly heavy at low speeds, the steering is nicely tailored for holiday-making on both clean and dirty roads.
And the Chevy's off-road gadgets like shift-on-the-fly mechanism for the transfer case (rivals use an old-fashioned gear lever) and hill descent control make it a doddle to use in the mud.
Speaking of kit, the Trailblazer is well-specified for the money, for it has the most amount of features yet is cheaper than the Fortuner.
Even though the Trailblazer boasts the highest amount of power and torque on paper, performance is competitive rather than excelling.
Turbo lag at low speeds is evident and true punch only comes at medium to high speeds where it moves around effortlessly like in the Pajero Sport.
The Trailblazer also proved to be the most economical SUV here during a coast to the western Thai province with an 11.5kpl rating.
But the biggest flaw of the Trailblazer is none other than the vocal diesel clatter it produces most of the time.
All testers found it to be far more disturbing than the noticeable wind noise generated through the A-pillars under cruising.
Had it not been for this, the Trailblazer would have emerged victorious by a wider margin than we had originally thought. Put it like this: imagine if the Trailblazer had the Fortuner's engine...
In a line: The new pickup-based SUV of choice, if not without its flaws.
2nd Toyota Fortuner
For: responsive engine and steering
Against: dated interior and seating layout
Ever since the Toyota Fortuner was launched some seven years back, it has set the class precedent in terms of styling, reasonable dimensions and car-like driving manners.
The latest aspect particularly was made possible after Toyota became the first to shift away from a draconian rear leaf-spring suspension to the more tarmac-friendly coil spring set-up (which is why we conveniently left out the Ford Everest and Isuzu MU-7 from this comparison as they stuck to old PPV rules).
Today, the Fortuner still possesses sensible proportions on both visual and functional grounds. However, the same could not be said for its interior which has a sea of tacky plastics and a fascia that doesn't look modern.
However worse, still, is the dated seating package whose third-row seats need to drape on the sides of the boot when not in use.
Not only does this arrangement impede useful cargo space, it also obscures proper rear vision for the driver. Even so, there are still so many things to like about the Fortuner, and why we have had to endure debates as to why it finished second and not last.
Although the Toyota and Mitsu share the same suspension principle, it's the Fortuner that feels more refined on the move with a quieter ride.
Among this triplet, the Fortuner is the sharpest to steer on-road which, of course, means that the rack feels too snappy when dealing with sharp articulations off the sealed road.
The Fortuner is also unique here with its full-time 4WD system that pays dividends for all-weather traction but backfires with a so-so fuel economy rating of some 11kpl. Yet, it is on par with the Pajero Sport, which can run in 2WD (rear-wheel-drive) mode. But what has still impressed testers the most is its powertrain, despite boasting an old four-speeder with the least attractive engine outputs.
That proven oil-burner is the most responsive, smoothest and quietest. And its inferior power and torque figures feel incongruously irrelevant while on the move.
While the Pajero Sport shines on slime, the Fortuner glitters on concrete _ a type of material that most SUV users today still confront most of the time.
In a line: It's the best to drive here _ but not best to live with.
3rd Mitsubishi Pajero Sport
For: off-road ability, keenest price
Against: crude engine and ride
Attractive pricing was always an important issue for Mitsubishi, explaining why the Pajero Sport is the cheapest among this trio here.
Okay, we're not going to go into detail of the vehicle's entire cost structure. But against the Toyota Fortuner, the most expensive one here, you really can't find any fault with the Pajero Sport's specification which practically has everything its chief rival has got.
It may be petty. But to put things into perspective a little, the Pajero has electric seat adjustments for both the front chairs.
Another thing Mitsubishi has always been good at with its pickups and SUVs is off-road ability. The Pajero Sport offers the most comfortable drive on dirt roads and its ability is enhanced further with the widest choice of transmission settings.
Many might also be attracted to the Pajero Sport's boot when the third-row seats are not being used. In real-world use, it's the easiest vehicle here to stuff a variety of things into it.
Other highlights include a chassis that feels well-planted to the tarmac at high speeds, as well as power that hardly feels short within or beyond the legal limit outside the city.
Unfortunately, the Pajero Sport does some things poorly in this crowd. The engine feels rough at most times and becomes noisy, as well, when pushed.
While there isn't much to complain about the supple suspension set-up, the secondary ride is comparatively crude at cruising speeds.
And then there's the issue of that vague steering feel on more demanding tarmac which is apparently the result of its jungle-friendly tuning.
On the overall, the Pajero Sport isn't that bad an SUV, just that it's starting to age a little and the competition itself has pushed the bar higher.
The Mitsu comes in a respectable third place.
In a line: A traditional SUV that now needs to catch up with times.
About the author
- Writer: Richard Leu
Position: Motoring news Editor