This is the big one – literally – the battle between Toyota’s new Fortuner and Ford’s mighty Endeavour. As for what the Isuzu D-Max V-Cross is doing here, well, you’ll just have to read through this feature to find out…
You could say that the life of a road tester is all fun and games. It certainly looks that way, doesn’t it – what with all the hottest new cars and bikes that we test all over the world? But have you ever heard the phrase, “the grass is always greener on the other side?” More often than not, we have very tight deadlines – not to mention limited time with the cars and bikes that we’re attempting to test while the photo and video crew ask us for the millionth drive-by. Plus, no matter how nice the machine, with your road tester hat on you’re always analysing the machine rather than enjoying it. So, have I managed to convince you not to hate us all?
No. Never mind, because on this test my mission was to have fun. Plain and simple! Our sole purpose in this feature is to fully exploit the true potential of these machines – while having a good time in the process. And, in order to do exactly that, we headed to a new off-road park called the Off-Road Adventure Zone, just off the Gurgaon-Faridabad highway on the outskirts of Gurgaon in the NCR. Our battleships consisted of the new Fortuner and Endeavour of course, but also to throw in a bit of a twist we decided to add the distinctly more utilitarian Isuzu D-Max V-Cross just to keep these two now quite premium SUVs honest.
Especially in their latest avatars, both the Fortuner and Endeavour have become a lot more luxurious than ever before. So the question is, have they forgotten their roots or can they still take the fight to the likes of a workhorse like the Isuzu? After all, you could really go dune bashing in the previous gen Fortuner.
Well, in our limited time with both the new Endeavour and Fortuner since their respective launches, we’ve actually been quite impressed with their off-road abilities – but this would be their litmus test. Since this Off-Road Adventure Zone opened its gates just a couple of weeks ago, it seemed like the perfect venue for this test – and Vikramjeet Sharma, who designed and built this course in record time, was kind enough to invite us in.
Since the Fortuner is the newest vehicle here, I had a go in it first. Now, if you read our first drive in the previous issue you’ll know that I had slightly mixed feelings about the automatic Fortuner that I first drove last month. Thankfully, this time Toyota sent us a manual four-wheel drive version – which is perfect for off-roading.
And indeed it is. For as good as modern automatics have become, a manual gearbox still connects you with the machine in a far more tangible way than even the best auto-box does – and especially when you’re off-roading, since it’s all about feeling for grip and being gentle with the controls. So, as I engaged four-low in the Fortuner, I had a full 420Nm of torque available almost immediately. And that meant that I could clear virtually all but the most severe obstacle at this off-road park. It’s immediately clear that the Fortuner has still got it! And I have to admit that I really enjoyed the manual transmission over the automatic that I drove previously. Not only were the shifts crisp and precise, but even the NVH levels seemed better in the manual version. If I’m completely honest, even the steering feels more responsive. And so everything felt just right to test the approach, departure and ramp-over angles, as well as the suspension articulation to the absolute maximum. Impressive torque in low range meant that even the steepest obstacles were a breeze. A 30-degree approach, 25-degree departure and 23.5-degre ramp-over angle means that the Fortuner can pretty much contend with any obstacle. The only limiting factor were the sidesteps, which tended to be the weakest link – especially when dropping straight into a sharp descent. On the way up, the active traction control system works in tandem with the limited slip differential to ensure maximum grip over loose surfaces.
Plus you can park yourself at a virtual vertical incline and then start climbing again in first gear, no problem at all, thanks to hill-start assist – which ensures that you don’t roll backwards at all. But more than that it’s just raw torque that propels you up the steepest inclines. The hill descent control, though, would brake far too suddenly on the way down – so I found it best to override the system and maintain control myself. The Fortuner also has a wading depth of 700mm, so it was least bothered by the small slush pit that Vikramjeet had created. The Fortuner, then, is still king of the off-road trail.
But the Endeavour is better!
Both share similar off-road credentials. The Endeavour also has a ground clearance of 225mm, as well identical approach and departure angles. And it has a wading depth of 100mm more than the Fortuner, but it loses out because of those dreaded sidesteps. A ramp-over angle of 21mm means that you have to be even more careful about the running-boards. Plus, the Endeavour has these ornamental silver pieces of trim on both the front and rear bumpers – and while they look good, they do protrude out a little bit, which makes them easy to damage. The other slight disappointment for me personally is the fact that the 3.2-litre Endeavour only comes with a six-speed auto, which makes it a lot less engaging when you’re off-roading. And the steering is very light too, so you actually have to check the off-road display in the digital instrument cluster to see which way the front wheels are pointing. But here’s where the Endeavour wins out. That same instrument display tells you angles of roll and pitch, so you know just how extreme the off-roading is that you’re doing – even if you can’t really feel it in the cabin. And that’s also the real problem with the Endeavour. You only have to turn the dial of the Terrain Management System – or press a button to engage low range – and the Endeavour simply does everything else for you.
That’s not to take away from the fact that this is an extremely capable machine. With its bigger engine churning out 470Nm of peak torque between 1,750-2,500rpm the Endeavour has more than enough grunt to overcome anything you can throw at it. And the clever electronics ensure minimal wheel slippage, even if it all feels too clinical. Power delivery is very smooth no matter what the surface, and an electronically locking rear differential ensures the wheel that needs power gets all of it irrespective of the other wheel’s traction situation. And, of course, the Endeavour comes with hill start assist and hill descent control.
At the end of the day though, objectively there’s very little to separate the two off-road. Yes, the Endeavour is that little bit more capable – but the Fortuner with its manual gearbox is far more engaging. But what is completely clear is that neither of these SUVs – no matter how premium they may have become – have lost any of their ruggedness or go-anywhere appeal.
And because these two set the bar so high, it’s almost impossible for the Isuzu to match their capabilities. But here’s the thing – how many of you would be willing to truly push your 30-plus lakh SUV off the beaten path. Not many! Yup, that’s what I thought. And that’s where the D-Max comes in. With a price tag of less than half of the two other behemoths here, the Isuzu makes a real case for itself – not only as a utilitarian vehicle, which it is, but also as a real lifestyle statement. After all, nothing gives you serious off-road cred like a massive full-sized four-wheel drive pick-up. The humongous bed at the back, of course, offers you immense cargo carrying options – but it does limit the off-road capabilities of the vehicle quite severely. Because of the huge overhang at the back, it has a departure angle of 22.7 degrees – which really hampers its ability to get over a steep incline. And while it does have a low-range gearbox, it doesn’t quite have the levels of grunt offered by the other two. So it struggles for torque low-down compared to the Toyota and the Ford. It does, however, have pretty good suspension articulation. But when only one rear wheel is in contact with the ground, it struggles for traction because there’s no weight at the back of the empty flatbed. What would really help the Isuzu would be a set of bigger wheels and proper off-road tyres. It certainly has the potential to be virtually as capable as the other two, but needs a few mods to get there. And, as a utility vehicle, it certainly does its job.
But, let’s face it, here in the NCR a D-Max V-Cross isn’t exactly going to be ferrying around farm produce. For that matter, you don’t really need a Toyota Fortuner or Ford Endeavour to go about town either. What these vehicles are all about is road presence and making a statement. And, on those parameters, the Isuzu is just about as good as the others. In fact, it may just be better – because it’ll be a lot more unique on the road. So, with just a set of larger wheels and tyres, the Isuzu will give you a lot more road presence than its far more expensive contestants in this off-road battle. And it drives surprisingly well on the tarmac too. But with an enormous overall length of 5.29 metres (compared with 4.79 for the Fortuner and 4.89 for the Endeavour), it’s not exactly practical for the daily commute.
And if it’s on-road comfort and capability that you’re after, then – once again – it’s the Ford that you should opt for. On the road, the Endeavour has perhaps the best ride quality in the business. It simply dismisses anything in your path – and does so in absolute comfort. Plus, with active noise cancelling technology – which uses opposing sound waves to reduce engine noise – it also has the best NVH levels here. It comes with other features too, such as parallel park assist, a large sunroof and electrically folding third row seats. Add to this the fact that the Endeavour is the perfect bad boy tool. See one in your mirror (preferably in black), and you WILL move aside.
The Fortuner, on the other hand, has more body roll and a steering that’s not quite as sharp. Moreover, not only is the drivetrain more intrusive, but the suspension is also noisier. Having said that, the Fortuner has incredibly comfortable front seats that are far more supportive than those in the Endeavour. And the steering column in the Toyota is telescopic, so finding that perfect driving position is a breeze.
The thing is that you can simply set the virtues of these respective models aside at the end of the day, because the Fortuner is guaranteed to outsell the Endeavour three-to-one and the Isuzu probably 10-to-1. The simple fact is that the Fortuner has established such a strong brand over the years that it’s virtually impossible to unseat. And being a Toyota ensures that not only will it have bulletproof reliability, but also that it’ll hold its value far better than the other two here – which makes it the sensible choice at the end of the day.
But if you don’t want to be sensible and you really want to make a statement, buy the Isuzu. Of course, if you do actually need it for its cargo carrying capacity then you’ve got all the bases covered. Buy the Endeavour if you want the most technologically advanced and dynamically capable machine of this trio. But, of course, for peace of mind – as always – you can’t go wrong with the Fortuner. But, you never know, being upstaged by the Endeavour may actually send Toyota back to the drawing board to come back with even more options and refinements in the Fortuner. All we can say is – competition is a wonderful thing. And competitions such as these are just pure fun – even when the photographer asks you to have another attempt in an effort to capture that ever-elusive perfect shot…
Off-road Adventure Zone
Inaugurated just a few days before our visit, Off-road Adventure Zone is a new off-roading park located just outside Gurgaon and spread over 4 acres. “The aim behind creating this facility is to offer everyone the opportunity to experience the true thrill of off-roading,” says Vikramjeet Sharma – the man behind this facility. And with its axle benders, rock crawls, slush pits, water wading pits, steep uphill, downhill and horizontal inclines, it certainly has everything you need to test the off-road capabilities of any vehicle. You have the option of either bringing your own four-wheel drive vehicle or hiring one of theirs. And there are also some very helpful track marshals there to help you along the way. You can find out more at www.offroadadventurezone.com
- Toyota Fortuner 2.8 MT 4x4
- Ford Endeavour 3.2 AT 4x4
- Isuzu D-Max V-Cross
Engine: 2,755cc / 4-Cylinders / 16 Valves / DOHC / Turbocharged
Transmission: 6-Speed Manual / Four Wheel Drive
Power: 174bhp @ 3,400rpm
Torque: 420Nm @ 1,600-2,400rpm
Price: Rs. 30.05 lakhs (Ex-showroom, Delhi)
X-Factor: The Fortuner is more premium than ever before, and it remains the strongest brand in the market.
Engine: 3,198cc / 5-cylinders / 20 valves / DOHC / Turbocharged
Transmission: 6-Speed Automatic / Four Wheel Drive
Power: 197bhp @ 3,000rpm
Torque: 470Nm @ 1,750-2,500rpm
Price: Rs. 30.46 lakhs (Ex-showroom, Delhi)
X-Factor: The Endeavour does off-road just about as well as it does on-road, which is to say very well indeed.
Engine: 2,499cc / 4-cylinders / 16 valves / DOHC / Turbocharged
Transmission: 5-Speed Manual / Four Wheel Drive
Power: 132bhp @ 3,600rpm
Torque: 320Nm @ 1,800-2,800rpm
Price: Rs. 12.80 lakhs (Ex-showroom, Delhi)
X-Factor: Priced well, immensely utilitarian and yet makes quite the style statement.