Since tightening diesel emissions laws forced 4X4 makers down the electronically controlled injection route, with intercooled turbocharging, the performance, economy and refinement of diesel engines have improved exponentially. Most passengers in a modern 4X4 wagon don’t know they’re sitting behind an oil burner.
This review was originally published in 4x4 Australia’s July 2009 issue
A diesel works perfectly in front of an automatic box that keeps the engine in its high-torque region, so progress and acceleration can be effortless. Diesels have been traditional towing engines and modern ones are even more so.
Little wonder, then, that serious bush travellers opt for diesels these days in increasing numbers. This evaluation compares three wagons that combine people room and load space with performance that wouldn’t have been possible from a diesel 4X4 only a few years ago.
For the 200 Series LandCruiser, all three spec grades – GXL, VX and Sahara – have V8 power. While petrol variants make do with a five-speed auto carried over from the 100 Series, the oilers rejoice with a new Aisin six-speed auto. Full-time 4X4 operation remains with a Torsen lockable differential and both powertrains are fitted with a two-speed transfer case.
All 200 Series wagons sit on four-coil suspension, with an all new double-wishbone, independent layout up front that replaces the previous torsion-bar IFS and a live-axle, five-link design at the back that is similar to the arrangement on the 100 Series.
All 200 models come with multi-terrain ABS braking with electronic brake force distribution and emergency brake pressure assistance. Also standard are a brake-pressure delay that provides hill-start assistance, traction control and vehicle stability control. Standard on all variants except the GXL turbo-diesel is Australian-designed Kinetic Suspension.
The tare weight has increased, too, and is why only the GXL is fitted with a sub-tank. Fill the sub-tank, add eight occupants at an average 75kg each and the VX and Sahara would exceed their 3300kg GVM. All 200 Series wagons are fitted with Smart Entry and Start, which some testers hated but others grew used to.
There’s not a lot in the way of fruit in the 200 Series GXL grade. GXL 200 comes with 17-inch aluminium wheels, cloth seats, side steps, body-colour door handles and mirrors, a tilt-telescopic steering column, dual-zone airconditioning, large centre console, small door bins, six cup holders, map lights, in-glass radio aerial, driver and passenger SRS airbags, curtain airbags, front and outer second-row seatbelt pre-tensioners, MP3 and Bluetooth capable audio system and a key reminder warning, all for $83,990.
For the diesel VX you’ll have to shell out $94,750 and that level comes with KDSS, fog lamps, sunroof, leather seat and steering wheel covers, fake wood grain trim, power-adjustable front seats, 40:20:40 split second-row seat, map pockets, two more cup holders, door courtesy lights, backlit instruments, trip computer with steering wheel control button, rear map lights, front knee airbags, second-row outboard side airbags and an alarm system. The VX turbo-diesel doesn’t have a sub-tank and the main tank capacity is 93 litres.
The $110,990 Sahara wagon features all the VX equipment, plus headlamp washers, electric steering column adjustment, steering wheel audio controls, Bluetooth phone system, multi-information display, leather and fake wood steering wheel and gearshift knob, satellite navigation, reversing camera, auto-dipping rear vision mirror, electrically-folding exterior mirrors with reverse lowering function, nine-speaker audio system and four-zone climate control airconditioning. Our test vehicle was a GXL equipped with KDSS.
The 2009 Discovery 3 has familiar mechanicals under slightly tarted-up bodywork – body-colour bumpers and mudguard flares, tungsten-colour door mouldings and air inlet grille on SE and HSE – and improved equipment levels on all variants.
All 2009 Discovery models come equipped with independent, height-adjustable, electronically controlled air suspension; with Terrain Response engine and suspension programming. The coil-spring S-model has been dropped.
The entry-level S-model comes with five cloth-covered seats; V6 turbo-diesel power; a six-speed auto box; full time 4X4 driveline; shift on-the-fly low range selection; cruise control; six-speaker sound system; ABS/EBD brakes with four ventilated discs; 17-inch wheels; traction control; variable-speed hill descent control; stability control; roll mitigation; eight SRS airbags; front seat belt pre-tensioners; one-lever tilt-telescopic steering column; climate control aircon; electric park/emergency brake; removable, lockable tow hitch and twin trailer plugs. The recommended retail price is a very keen $67,590.
S-model options include a seven-seat pack ($3,540), leather seat covers ($2650), an electronically lockable rear diff ($1050), and 19-inch wheels ($4290).
The SE model scores seven leather-faced seats; HID headlights with washers and auto-on function; fog lamps; auto-wipers; dimming rear vision mirror; rear park distance control; 18-inch wheels; and an eight-speaker Harman-Kardon sound system, for an ask of $75,990. The HSE picks up a 13-speaker sound system and is the only model with a 4.4-litre petrol V8 power choice.
Options available on the SE and HSE are the rear axle diff lock; front park distance control ($900); centre console cool box ($790); power fold mirrors ($900); cornering headlamps ($1050); roof rails ($790); rear airconditioning ($1590); sunroof and alpine glass rear roof section ($3860); heated seats, wheel, front screen and washers ($2110); and navigation system and Bluetooth phone kit ($6250). Our test vehicle was a standard issue TDV6 SE mode.
The big news for 2009 NT Pajero shoppers is the significant development performed on the powertrain. The revamped engine has been given a new lease on life, with 18 percent more power and torque.
Mitsubishi has employed a Euro IV compliant diesel particulate filter (DPF) on all automatic Pajero models. It is an open type, and has 10 times the capacity of its closed predecessor and, according to Mitsubishi, can’t clog like the old one.
The greater outputs of the new Pajero engine have allowed Mitsubishi to install a new Aisin automatic transmission, with taller gearing. Overdrive fifth is now 0.716:1, compared with the previous Jatco auto’s 0.731:1.
Electronic traction and swerve control have been standard equipment on all Pajeros since 2005. Although there’s no hill descent control switch Mitsubishi’s engine brake assist control (EBAC)
prevents total run-away should one or more wheels lose traction when the Pajero is crawling downhill.
All 2009 Pajeros retain coil-spring, all-independent suspension and selectable full-time 4X4, with the ability to operate in rear wheel drive only. Also standard across the range are airconditioning, ABS and EBD, cruise control, electronic stability control and traction control, a trip computer and electronic compass.
The Pajero diesel range starts with the $50,790 GL that has 17-inch steel wheels, followed by the $55,790 GLX that picks up climate control, roof rails and aluminium wheels. Purchasers of the 2009 model should avail themselves of the $700 rear diff-lock option.
For 2009, Mitsubishi has re-introduced the GLS specification. The $59,790 GLS spec includes six airbags, rear airconditioning, fog lamps, body-colour flashing, side steps and a chrome grille.
The $66,490 VRX level adds side and curtain airbags, leather seat trim, rear air conditioning, reverse parking sensors and a standard rear differential lock.
Top shelf is the $74,790 Exceed, with wood and leather steering wheel, 18-inch wheels, chrome mirrors and door handles, and auto headlamps and wipers. Our test vehicle was a VRX model, fitted with optional satellite navigation system.
Living on the inside
These three mid- to large-sized tourers have, with some thought and planning, ample space for family touring. The added versatility of third-row seating in each also means that, when not outback, you can carry up to a claimed seven to eight adults.
Note the words thought and planning. Careful and thorough trip preparation will be needed to ensure you make the most of each vehicle’s cargo capacity, without exceeding their respective GVM figures.
For large vehicles, this trio’s collective load capacity ain’t that good, especially if you’re planning a long trip into remote areas where things like extra fuel, food and water storage become an issue.
The Discovery 3 SE has a load capacity of 726kg, the Pajero can cop 770kg, while the Cruiser can only lug 670kg. Add a family of four (around 220kg to 280kg) and other trip essentials and you soon have only minimal load weight to play with.
This means making the most of the available cargo space which, in all three, is impressive. The Discovery 3 is the cargo-space champ – its cargo area (with third-row seats folded into the floor) measures 1010mm deep, 1150mm wide and 1030mm high.
The Pajero measures 850mm in depth, 1030mm in width (between the intrusive wheel arches) and 1110mm in height. The Pajero’s third-row seats also fold into the cargo area floor, thus maximising available storage space.
The Cruiser is, physically, the widest vehicle here but doesn’t replicate this advantage in its cargo area due to the archaic fold-up third-row seats that rob it of storage space. At 1070mm deep, 990mm wide and 1035mm in height, it is still adequate but, if you remove the seats, you will gain more storage (width goes out to around 1400mm), albeit with the loss of seating versatility.
The engineering of the third-row seating in each vehicle contrasts remarkably. When the Discovery 3 was launched in late 2004, much was made of its ingenious third row, with its clever in-floor storage and the fact that tall adults can actually stay comfortable for long periods.
Land Rover states the third row seats “are big enough to accommodate 95th percentile adults” (95 percent of the adult population). The individual seats flip up from their floor storage compartment, which then acts as a footwell, so your knees aren’t up around your ears when seated.
The Pajero also stores its seats in a cargo well under the rear floor – you have to fit the head-rests manually – but it doesn’t allow the same foot space, so you are literally folded at the hips when seated.
The Cruiser’s side-mounted fold-up third-row is claimed to offer space for three but doesn’t, unless you’re five years old. Set-up is quick and easy – just drop them down from their stored position – but, again, due to the lack of a footwell, your knees nearly block your vision, you’re bent up so much when seated.
The Disco 3 is the clear winner when it comes to the combination of available load space and acceptable third-row seating. Its 726kg capacity is second in the load-weight category but, when those unfortunate enough to be sitting in either the Pajero’s or Cruiser’s third row are whingeing loudly, you will be willing to sacrifice that 44kg. – Justin Walker
We half-loaded the three brand-new vehicles with camping gear and went bush for a few days. We ran them over freeways, secondary bitumen roads, gravel roads ranging from smooth to well corrugated and on beach sand. We then took them to the NSW Southern Highlands resort at River Island and put them through a demanding off-road course. We measured fuel consumption in on- and off-road conditions.
The Land Rover Discovery 3 is the most awarded 4X4 in history, so it’s not just us who find it exceptional. What it lacked in sheer grunt it made up for with precise, all-independent, air suspended handling, aided by cross-linked air springs. The Disco handled neutrally and coped well with different road surfaces.
The Land Rover stability control program is more interventionist in the Disco than in the Rangie Sport, so the Disco is not quite so chuckable, but it still had the handling edge over the 200 and Pajero.
Outward vision is excellent through the large windows and mirrors, but the cruise control setting is a tad doughy and takes some getting used to. The 2009 seats seem to have gained some shape over the original Discovery 3 chairs and proved to be comfortable for long hauls.
The LandCruiser 200 GXL diesel out-powered the others by a country mile, was deathly quiet and its optional Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS) kept the big machine flat through the twisties. However, soft suspension and a propensity to bump-steer meant the Cruiser was a point and squirt machine that lacked the precision of the Discovery on rough surfaces.
The LandCruiser 200’s 138-litre tank size and its relatively frugal 14.9L/100km consumption made it the longest hauler on this test, with a practical range of 850+km. Even so, that’s not enough for really epic adventures like the Canning Stock Route. Plusses for the 200 as a town wagon are its smooth power delivery, smooth-shifting transmission and the capacity to seat five adults and three kids. The Bluetooth phone system is easy to set.
Downsides of the 200 on-road are front seat positions that don’t height adjust, making shorties struggle to see over the bonnet. The 200 is also a bulky beast with blind vision corners, so it’s a handful in congested areas.
The double overdrive transmission won’t pick up sixth unless you exceed the legal speed limit. However, the 200 Series makes an effortless cruiser, with its smooth ride, MP3 sound system, torquey engine, cruise control and low NVH levels.
The new Pajero NT powertrain proved to be streets ahead – literally – of the NS. The more powerful engine was relaxed at cruising speeds and accelerated strongly in D without any transmission jerking or engine response lag.
The engine spun below 2000rpm at 100km/h and a shade over that figure at 110km/h, helping produce the excellent economy figure we averaged. Although quieter than its predecessor, the new Pajero diesel engine is the noisiest in this trio of test vehicles.
The Pajero’s all-coil, independent suspension gave it excellent smooth-surface handling, but it chattered over corrugations. Firm springing provided flat handling, but at the expense of some compliance. The VRX specification included powered seats, but they’re on the small side, firm and a tad shapeless, so they didn’t provide adequate support.
Driving the Discovery 3 off-road is made almost too easy by variable-height air suspension and the Disco’s Terrain Response system that provides a combination of height control, gearing and throttle response to suit different situations.
The only quirk with this system is that suspension height changes are created by an increase in air pressure in the air springs and that means the ride quality at full height is very firm. The firmness also reduces tyre grip on rough surfaces.
Another downside is the mandatory height drop from the high-clearance setting when road speed reaches 40km/h. There are plenty of Australian desert tracks on which it’s safe to run at speeds above 40km/h, but with a need for high ground clearance to avoid touching the underbody on the track’s centre hump.
The 200 Series has the currently fashionable high-waistline, small-window look. Unfortunately, this is the worst possible layout for an off-road vehicle, because the driver sits low in relationship to the bonnet. Very poor over-bonnet vision meant even the taller among our testers were still flying blind over average crests.
The test 200 traction and hill descent controls worked well and KDSS provided great wheel travel, but the Cruiser was held back to a large extent off-road by its weight, bulk and lack of ground clearance. Vision of the track and the vehicle’s extremities is poor and the 200 is too wide for many bush tracks, so the panels and paintwork are constantly at risk.
On paper, the Pajero diesel auto’s engine braking should have suffered slightly from the 2009 gearing change, but we couldn’t pick the difference. The engine brake assist program intervened conveniently when one or more wheels lifted off the deck on steep descents and worked well in conjunction with the optional rear diff lock. However, the Pajero couldn’t match the hill descent controls of the other two wagons.
Like the Cruiser, the Pajero was limited in rocky terrain by its ground clearance, but the combination of powerful traction control and a lockable rear differential made it a formidable off-roader.
Bush mods you'll certainly need
Apart from the obvious accessories such as racks, bars and winches there are some specific modifications needed for all these machines.
The Discovery can be fitted with a bolt-on factory snorkel without any panel cutting and there’s a Long Ranger 100-litre fuel tank available or a 110-litre tank from Long Range Automotive. To fit either it’s necessary to haul out the spare wheel and bolt it to a swing-away rear bar. The Disco has a second battery box underbonnet, ready for a deep-cycle volt-box.
The LandCruiser 200 diesel comes with twin starting batteries, so it’s possible to upgrade one and replace the second one with a deep-cycle unit to run a fridge. You’ll need to run a wire aft, because the big Cruiser came to market without a 12V outlet in the cargo area. The 200 breathes through the inner mudguard, so a snorkel fitment is straightforward.
We’re not sure about KDSS: it works fine on-road and disengages in off-road conditions to improve wheel travel, but can’t do anything about ground clearance. We’d rather spend the KDSS money on an aftermarket suspension that improves ground clearance and damping.
The Pajero’s biggest limiter off-road is ground clearance, but there are several aftermarket kits available to raise the body by 50mm.
Its air intake is in a lethal position atop the radiator and needs to be replaced by a snorkel before any water crossings are attempted. Fuel capacity can be increased by 60 litres with a supplementary tank and the third-row seats can be unbolted and replaced by a 60-litre water tank.
Being fitted with an optional tow bar the test vehicle already had a slightly raised spare wheel mounting, behind the plastic cover strip. This trick allows ball receiver space under the spare.
Mitsubishi Pajero's Super Select 4WD II
Mitsubishi’s Super Select system offers the best of four worlds in its operation, with the ability to shift between two-wheel drive (rear wheels) and three levels of four-wheel-drive. Drivetrain options are: 2H (two-wheel-drive, high range); 4H (high range, full-time 4X4); 4HLC (high range full-time, locked centre diff); and 4LLC (low-range 4X4, with centre diff locked).This provides the driver with a range of traction options for different terrain.
By leaving the Pajero in 2H (2WD high range) the driver can take advantage of less frictional losses through the powertrain for a claimed improvement in fuel consumption. However, even with the two-wheel drive advantage on some sections of this comparison, the Pajero’s overall consumption was only slightly better than the other two.
Shifting to 4H (full-time 4X4) can be done at speed when conditions dictate more traction is required. The torque split is between 33:67 and 50:50 front/rear and 4H can be activated on any surface.
Shifting to 4HLC locks the Pajero’s centre diff, and consequently the torque split, for even drive transfer through all four wheels, while 4LLC (activated when stationary) is the only option for rugged terrain. – Justin Walker
Toyota LandCruiser's KDSS
Toyota adopted the Australian-designed Kinetic Dynamic Suspension System (KDSS) for the LandCruiser 200. This system is designed to reduce excessive body-roll on-road without sacrificing all-important suspension travel when the Cruiser is tackling gnarly, off-road terrain. It does this by using a non-powered hydraulic link set-up to vary anti-sway bar resistance which governs the amount of suspension travel.
Hydraulic cylinders, located on the left-side ends of the front and rear anti-sway bars, are linked via a pair of hydraulic lines running inside the chassis rail. In on-road cornering situations, where the cylinders are in phase, the hydraulic lines lock up, allowing the anti-sway bar to twist normally, thus minimising body roll.
In off-road situations, the system promotes full suspension travel through the hydraulic cylinders stroking in opposite directions which, in effect, loosens the anti-sway bars, allowing maximum suspension travel.
We’ve had the chance to drive KDSS-equipped Cruisers and standard variants and can attest to the system’s effectiveness. It really does keep the otherwise wallowy Cruiser more in-line when cornering on-road, without sacrificing its impressive off-road capability.
As a $2500 option on the GXL (it’s standard on VX and Sahara) KDSS is not cheap but, for those who do a lot of on-road travel in between off-road adventures, it is a must-fit option. – Justin Walker
Land Rover Discovery's Terrain Response
When Land Rover unveiled the Discovery 3 in late 2004 the big talking points were its adjustable air suspension and, most significantly, its Terrain Response system. Five years later and Terrain Response has proved itself on- and off-road as durable, reliable electrickery that does what it purports to do.
This electronically controlled off-road driving system offers five terrain settings. Two of these – general and grass/gravel/snow – can be activated in high or low range, while mud/ruts, sand and rock-crawl are low-range only.
Terrain Response alters throttle response mapping, gear upshifts, suspension height and traction control settings according to each setting’s parameters, which are simply activated by the turn of the Terrain Response dial.
The sand setting, for instance, gets a more immediate throttle and kick-down response while traction and stability control input is minimised. Rock crawl allows for maximum air suspension height Land Rover claimed it studied up to 50 different driving surfaces, with these five settings the collective categories that essentially cover all the expected variances drivers will encounter.
It really is a case of 4X4 for dummies but despite this dumbing-down it is very effective. We’ve tried to catch the system out over the past five years of extensive testing, but have continued to be pleasantly disappointed with our efforts. – Justin Walker
The 200 Series is a very expensive machine in comparison with its peers, but has one plus: that turbine-like engine. If you need ultimate towing power, go for it. However, there’s a nagging oil consumption problem with the big V8 diesel that Toyota won’t comment on.
The Pajero remains a vehicle that’s underestimated by most of the 4X4 brigade and is more capable on- and off- road than most Mitsubishi sellers believe. It’s excellent value for money in any of its specification levels.
When we awarded the Discovery 3 and the Rangie Sport 4X4 of the Year Awards we said they were the best wagons in their respective classes and this recent comparison involving the Disco 3 confirms our decision. For load space, on- and off-road performance, handling and touring ability nothing comes close. Considering its advanced specification the Disco 3 is a bargain.
Dynamically, the Land Rover Discovery 3 leads the large wagon field. The LandCruiser 200 almost matches it off-road, but the Disco’s more refined chassis gives it the on-road edge.
|Mitsubishi Pajero VRX DI-D||Toyota LandCruiser 200 GXL V8||Land Cruiser Discovery SE|
|Type||3200cc four-cylinder DOHC, common-rail intercooled turbo-diesel||4461cc V8 DOHC, common-rail intercooled twin turbo-diesel||2720cc V6 DOHC, common-rail
|Bore/Stroke||98.5 x 105.0mm||86.0 x 96.0mm||81.0 x 88.0mm|
|Power||147kW @ 3800rpm||195kW @ 3400rpm||140kW @ 4000rpm|
|Torque||441Nm @ 2000rpm||650Nm @ 1600-2600rpm||445Nm @ 1900rpm|
|Type||5-speed auto||6-speed auto|
|1st||3.520 (13.789/26.197)||3.333 (13.028/34.109)||4.170 (15.554/45.574)|
|2nd||2.042 (7.999/15.197)||1.960 (7.661/20.058)||2.340 (8.728/25.574)|
|3rd||1.400 (5.484/10.419)||1.353 (5.288/13.846)||1.520 (5.670/16.612)|
|4th||1.000 (3.917/7.442)||1.000 (3.909/10.233)||1.140 (4.252/12.459)|
|5th||0.716 (2.805/5.329)||0.728 (2.845/7.450)||0.870 (3.245/9.508)|
|6th||-||0.588 (2.298/6.017)||0.690 (2.574/7.541)|
|Front||Independent, double wishbones, coil springs, gas/oil dampers, stabiliser bar||Independent, double wishbone, coil springs, gas/oil dampers, semi-active stabiliser bar, KDSS (optional)||Independent, double wishbones, air springs, gas/oil dampers|
|Rear||Independent, multi-link, coil springs, gas/oil dampers, stabiliser bar||Live axle, four-link, coil springs, gas/oil dampers, semi-active stabiliser bar, KDSS (optional)||Independent, double wishbones, air springs, gas/oil dampers|
|Type||Power-assisted rack and pinion|
|Front||Ventilated discs, ABS, EBD||340mm ventilated discs, ABS, brake assist||337mm ventilated discs, ABS, brake assist|
|Rear||Ventilated discs, ABS, EBD||345mm ventilated discs, ABS, brake assist||350mm ventilated discs, ABS, brake assist|
|Type||Dunlop Grandtrek AT20||Dunlop Grandtrek AT22||Goodyear Wrangler|
|Size||265/65R18 110H||285/65R17 116H||255/60R19 111V|
|Fuel Tank||88 litres, diesel||138 litres, diesel||82 litres, diesel|
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