Compared: Jeep Renegade Trailhawk vs Mitsubishi Outlander vs Subaru Forester vs Suzuki Grand Vitara
So you’re looking for a car to take you off the beaten path, but don’t want a big, full-sized 4WD. we compare the Jeep Renegade Trailhawk, Mitsubishi Outlander, Subaru Forester and Suzuki Grand Vitara.
YOU MIGHT BE INTO kayaking, orienteering, camping or just want a smallish 4X4 that won’t stop when the bitumen ends. These four will do the job, and each has their own strengths.
So how big is a ‘smallish’ 4X4? The longest here is the Outlander at 4695mm long, and the shortest is the Renegade at 4259, some 436mm shorter. As a comparison, a Toyota Corolla is around 4620mm long. All of them are smaller than the likes of the Pajero, Prado and Discovery, but none have quite the same capability. That’s the trade-off you make for a lighter, cheaper vehicle of this nature, something we explore in detail here.
Let’s deal with onroad and dirt roads first. Each of these cars are more than competent dirt-road cruisers, with good suspension and effective all-wheel drive systems. But if you want to enjoy the drive then there’s just two options, the Grand Vitara and Forester. Both these cars have an agile edge lacking in the Jeep and Mitsu, delivering much better driver involvement and thus enjoyment. Some of this is due to chassis and suspension, but mostly because the Jeep and Mitsu aren’t helped by their front-drive bias, and in the case of the Jeep, indifference to manual override of gear changes.
Moving on to general touring and exploration of Australia and all have full-sized spares, an important but now often overlooked safety feature when travelling remotely, and the petrols want only 91RON not premium 95 or 98. Range is important too – how far you can stray from a servo, and here the loser here is the Jeep, with a mere 50L tank, petrol engine and highish fuel consumption. The winner would be the Outlander diesel and the Forester – diesel vehicles not only use less fuel per kilometer than petrol, but under load or stress their consumption doesn’t rise as sharply. There is no diesel Jeep, and no longer any diesel Grand Vitara.
Interior space sees a win to the Outlander which is also the only 7-seater, then the Grand Vitara, Forester and finally the smallest car which is the Jeep. Interior design is more or less the reverse – the Jeep is modern, usable and stylish, Subaru are making improvements with their Forester, Suzuki are functional and bland, and the Outlander is dated.
The Grand Vitara scored a 4-star ANCAP rating in 2014, and the rest 5-star ANCAP. All cover the basics of safety, but there’s a clear win for the Jeep with lots of modern safety features either standard or options that are well implemented.
Towing is pretty good for the class, around the 1800kg mark with a special note to the Outlander with 2000kg. The exception is the Jeep with a miserable 907kg braked tow capacity, well down on its competitors.
When we come to the rough stuff all these vehicles are above average for the softroader class, easily going where the likes of BMW X, Mazda CX and Hondas fear to tread, let alone a standard roadcar, and all will handle the typical rough climb up a dirt road to a summit, or sand work, or the typical rough access tracks to forest events.
Yet there are two standouts in the group and these are the Jeep and the Suzuki. The Jeep is a superb offroader and while the driver would need to work hard, it could (and has on test) kept up with larger vehicles that have low range. Don’t be fooled by the cutesy looks, the Renegade Trailhawk boasts some serious offroad cred and unless you go specifically looking for a challenge then you won’t come close to the car’s limits.
The Suzuki is perhaps just that little bit further ahead again of the Jeep. It is more traditional, with a low range gearset, lockable centre differential (the Jeep doesn’t really lock front/rear 50/50) and effective traction control. Again, unless you go looking for 4WD fun you’re unlikely to come close to its limits.
None of these vehicles have the range of aftermarket accessories available for them that you find for the likes of Pajero, Prado, FJ Cruiser and Wrangler but the Forester and Grand Vitara are reasonably well served as both models have a loyal following of offroad users. The Renegade is very new, but as it’s a Jeep no doubt accessories will follow. If you opt for the Outlander don’t expect much in the way of aftermarket support.
Most of the vehicles have different trim, engine and transmission options. Given this is offroad-focused we’ll ignore the 2WD versions available for all the cars except the Forester which is all-wheel drive only. Within the all-wheel drive models there are still a few choices, with the exception of the Renegade Trailhawk, the sole 4X4 version of the Renegade offered in Australia, so that’s one trim level, automatic petrol only.
The Grand Vitara is available as a three-door, and there’s a five-speed manual to go with the four-speed auto. The Outlander is auto-only, but offers a PHEV electric option too.
Prices drop quite a bit if you opt for manual and petrol, for example the Forester petrol entry-level manual is $32k plus onroads compared to $41k for the automatic diesel.
You can pick your trim and engine, but given this is outdoorsy use we’d prefer diesels for the greater distance you can travel between fills. For vehicles without low range, automatics should be preferred over manuals for offroad use beyond dirt roads – so no manual Forester, but a manual Grand Vitara is an excellent offroad performer.
These vehicles have only been shortlisted because they are worth considering for a truly active, off-the-beaten-path lifestyle, all coming from manufacturers with a long history in such vehicles.
The Outlander is the biggest, has the greatest loadroom, can tow the most, has 7 seats, and is perhaps the buy-with-head choice…unfortunately it is the most boring and least inspiring to drive. Keen drivers will want to choose between either the Forester or Grand Vitara, and those looking for the most capable offroaders need to pick either the Suzuki or the Jeep. Buyers who don’t mind spending a bit extra for safety and can live with the size and short range should definitely consider the distinctive Jeep Renegade Trailhawk which is by far the coolest car of the lot, and has the offroad capability to live up to its looks and badge.
Read our guide on what 4WD to buy when you don’t want a 4WD
- 2016 Jeep Renegade Trailhawk
- 2015 Subaru Forester
- 2015 Mitsubishi Outlander
- Grand Vitara not yet published
Specifications below list sample vehicles. Prices vary quite a bit depending on engine/transmission/trim level.