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Reader Question: What should replace my 2004 Subaru Outback?

The Subaru Outback is a great car, but there comes a time when something more capable is needed, and this reader is leaning towards the Holden Trailblazer…

QUESTION: I currently own a 2004 Subaru Outback and its 12 years of loyal service has been absolutely fantastic, I can’t rave about it enough, but I need more space for growing kids and more ambitious trip plans. And we need to tow a 1.5 tonne camper trailer, too. We would love to explore further places like the Cape, Northern Territory, and Western Australia, etc; and travel along some of the great overland off road tracks that Australia offers. 

The Subaru with AT tyres has coped with everything so far, but we now require a larger, comfortable, 4×4 tourer. My main criteria being something that is family comfortable, has good ‘bushability’, is relatively simple and is highly reliable and durable. I would like to hold on to this car for at least 15 years and would expect a reliable service life of at least 300k kms. 

I have researched this section to death and my shortlist is, in no particular order: Isuzu MU-X, Holden Trailblazer, Mitsubishi Pajero Sport or a low km second hand Toyota Prado GLX or Land Rover D4 TDV6 (detuned 3.0 V6). I have discounted the Fortuner due to the fold up seat arrangement and the Everest due to cost.

Which one should I get? I don’t want to spend more than $60k. I’ve test driven all cars and I think my top pick thus far is the latest Trailblazer. It is comfortable and quiet enough, seems relatively simple, is sufficiently spacious, has good 7 seat comfort for kid’s friends and grandparents, seems to have good ‘bushability’ and the chassis rails seem very strong. It also has a broad dealer network and I can buy an LTZ brand new, when on sale, for early $50k. And I think it will be a good platform to set up as a capable 4×4 tourer, as it can run bush practical 16/17 inch wheels and all-terrain light-truck construction tyres, a snorkel, an ARB Frontier replacement 110 litre tank, a rear air-locker and it has a simple proven part-time 4×4 system. 

The D4 is great, but seems overly complex and has a small dealer network, and I’m not convinced that it will be reliable or durable long term, and parts can be expensive. 

The Pajero Sport drives well but it feels too narrow, the third row doesn’t fold flat and impedes the 2nd row from reclining, but the Super Select II system appeals as it offers AWD and it has a rear locker as standard. The Isuzu MU-X promises a durable engine that everyone seems to rave about, and its simple like the Trailblazer, but it’s really noisy and rough, and the power/torque and 5-speed box seem underdone. I’m really confused. I’m thinking I’ll go for the new Trailblazer, but:

1. Is driving 2WD on tarmac such an issue these days with improved stability control systems? Is the lack of AWD capability a Trailblazer deal-breaker?

2. Is the 2.8 litre Duramax engine reliable and durable enough, or does the relatively high torque output imply that its overstressed? I notice that Holden don’t market or publish this engine’s B10 rating, unlike Isuzu, even though it should have a rating as it’s designed to be a truck engine.

3. The Trailblazer’s GM Hydra-Matic 6L50 auto box – is it reliable/durable – will it last the life of the engine? What would you buy if you were me?!

Thanks in advance for your rational and objective feedback! Love your website and your rational opinions.  

ANSWER: It’s good to see you have done such thorough research. I agree that the Subaru is not up to the job you have in mind – you would overstress it with a family on board doing all those trips, better to go for a vehicle that can do it easier. Your shortlist also makes sense, and it’s good to see you have noted availabilty of aftermarket accessories.

The Discovery is an immensely capable vehicle across towing, 7-seats, luxury, onroad and offroad… but that capability comes at a literal cost of complexity which means expense to maintain. I owned one for five years, so I know. The Pajero Sport second row middle is indeed very narrow – see our 7-seat test.  

The MU-X is basic but seems very practical and well-buit. It is simple and doesn’t even have a DPF. It’s really not too bad as a tourer, as our recent weekend trip proved. Yes, it could do with another gear, but it still works well enough.

The Pajero Sport has a rear locker, but you need to stop to engage it, and it disconnects traction control on the front axle. So it’s not as valuable as you’d think when considered against the excellent traction control. It does have a nice smooth 8-speed automatic though.  

For readers wondering why you’d want another car to tow a 1.5 tonne camper when the Outback can do 1.7t – because this reader will tow when the towcar is heavily loaded, and in steep, hot terrain, maybe sand, and at slow speed. That’s why you need a towcar rated well in excess of the trailer weight.   

Now to your specific questions:

  1. AWD – for other readers, some of these vehicles are part-time 4WD which means they are 2WD on road, not all wheel drive. That means less grip onroad, but on dirt roads and rougher surfaces you can put the vehicle into 4WD. Is it a problem? It’s not ideal, but not a dealbreaker by any means as you correctly point out that traction and stability control will keep things safe. I would make AWD a “desirable” attribute but not an essential one. Arguably, part-time 4WD is more bushable as there’s no centre diff to worry about either. You’ll mostly notice the 2WD mode on wet roads, particuarly off-camber roundabouts… just take it a bit easier, especially once you have offroad tyres on, and remember only to accelerate when you’re unwinding the steering lock.
  2. Engine/gearbox reliabilty – impossible to comment on this specific instance, but in general the wagons dervied from utes tend to be focuxed more on reliability and bushability. For that, refinement, power and fuel consumption is compromised.  Generally, auto boxes do last at least the life of the engine, although beware those that claim the fluid never needs changing as it’s sealed for life.

As to what you should buy… the basic advice here is to shortlist the cars that do the job, and then pick the one your heart tells you. There will always be moments of regret, and no car is perfect, but you can’t really go wrong with any of your shortlist. We haven’t tested the Trailblazer yet, but it seems like a good fit for what you want.

Further reading

Question: What car would you suggest for our reader?


  • trackdaze

    Mmm,

    There are currently 26 FORD Everests 4wd available for less than 50K driveaway. Most from dealer network, not all are base model.

  • JohnGC

    I agree with Robert, you’ve done good research so the fact the Holden appears on top suggests it’s the one for you. Your major concerns seem to be around durability/reliability but I’d say you should take some credit for the longevity of your Subaru. It sounds like you look after your cars so I’d ignore anecdotal reliability stories from others. My old Subaru had a major engine fault at 150K which contradicts your Subaru experience, so base your decision on what you know (how it drives, the features compared to other cars) and not on what you don’t know (will it last longer than another brand).

  • Kampfer

    Why not look at the tried and proven Pajero?

  • Jas

    Wondering if it would be safer to tow a trailer with a full time 4×4 like Pajero sports rather than MUX on tarmac. Or doesn’t matter?

    • trackdaze

      Moreso on gravel. Not sure about 4wd once your in a tank slapper. They (4wd) have their own tendency to oscillate and swap ends in certain situations.

      • 4WD can be engaged in part-timers once you’re on a dirt road without fear of windup. A tankslapper can be experienced in a 4WD but it’s much more likely in a 2WD.

    • You’d always take full-time AWD over part-time. It’s just more stable, and even helps at low speed when fulling away from the lights or evenbacking a trailer.

  • dinky

    found myself in the same dilemma as the reader about 5 months ago. the trailblazer was not around at the time the pajero sport had only 5 seats. i settled on a ford everest base model, picked it up for 47k drive away with side steps and tow bar fitted. brand new (not a demo). Not sure why ford have the recommended retail price set so high when they are willing to knock so much off. It just doesn’t make sense. mitsubishi and holden have a far more realistic price starting point.

  • Eric the Eel

    I did a heap of reading online and test drove a bunch of different cars and I was leaning toward the MUX . it’s cheaper than the others and there doesn’t seem to be any problems surfacing on them from 4 years of sales.
    Anyway we took the plunge, packaged it at a good price and have put 5,000km on it in a few months. It’s been on the beach, down to the snow, in the bush camping and to the local shopping centre.
    There’s complaints of it being noisy but I have not noticed or maybe it’s just drowning out the kids.

  • Ade

    Hi Robert; sorry to revive this discussion.

    I was seeking a vehicle for very similar tasks ~ 6 months ago and I ultimately settled on a 2nd-hand Disco 4. I’m aware of their complexity but having just returned from a 5K Easter trip from the Sunny Coast to Melbourne rtn, via the Vic Alps, Wonnangatta Valley etc., I certainly agree that they’re an “immensely capable vehicle across towing, 7-seats, luxury, onroad and offroad…” etc.

    I wondered if I could ask please, wrt their complexity: I’m keeping an ear open for known issues such as air compressor, park brake, EGR valves and front suspension bushings, but is there anything else that I should be keeping an eye on, aside from periodic oil and auto trans fluid changes…

    Thanks very much for your thoughts.

    • Hi Ade. Rather than give a list of issues – and you’ve covered the main ones, although the parkbrake was improved from the D3 – the best advice is to take the car to a Land Rover offroad specialist and ensure you spend on preventative maintenance.

      Your average garage will not be good enough and sadly the same of true of some LR dealers. I owned a D3 for 5 years and had few problems with it, but it was very expensive to run.

      Also join the discussion about these cars on http://www.aulro.com.

      • Ade

        Thanks Robert; appreciated,

        Yes, I’m onto that; there’s a couple of good independents up this way.

        I’m comfortable in keeping her well maintained in an effort to minimise future ‘surprises’…

        I appreciate your thoughts; I continue to respect the site, thank you.

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper is the editor of PM4x4, an offroad driver trainer and photographer interested in anything with wings, sails or wheels. He is the author of four books on offroading, and owns a modified Ford Ranger PX which he uses for offroad touring. His other car is a Toyota 86 which exists purely to drive in circles on racetracks. Visit his website: www.l2sfbc.com