My name is James Gelding and I was lucky enough to win the previous owner evaluation competition. This competition allowed me to spend a week in Melbourne with the CarExpert team who ran the Ute Mega Test last year. During this test, I helped collect and organize the performance data for each vehicle.
To make it short, it was great fun! That’s why I was very happy to be offered to join the team again to run the 4WD SUV Megatest!
What happens during a CarExpert Mega Test?
For more driving news and videos, visit Motoring >>
A CarExpert Megatest aims to thoroughly examine the qualities of a wide range of vehicles that buyers value most. We have tested their towing capabilities extensively, both with a trailer dyne and with a 2800kg box trailer on an ‘alpine’ route.
This was complemented by an off-road test and a drag race, because who doesn’t love a good old drag race?
The mega test began late on Mother’s Day in the pick-up zone at Melbourne Airport. The interstate team gathered and got to know each other again while senior video producer Igor watched as he expertly parked a Ford Everest Platinum after two attempts and caused a traffic jam. There was tension in the atmosphere when the team was briefed and the first vehicle was assigned the drive.
Early the next morning, all twelve team members gathered with their vehicles in Lang Lang, ready for an action-packed day of filming and testing at the VinFast proving ground. Testing at a proving ground allows us to test the vehicles in conditions that mimic roads across the country. In addition, it enables consistent, safe and repeatable testing.
We took advantage of the favorable weather and started the towing test. The high speed dish was used to collect idle performance data for all vehicles. This data included acceleration drives, fuel consumption readings and an emergency braking test.
Shortly thereafter, the same tests were repeated using a trailer dyne, excluding the emergency braking test.
The trailer dyne is a unique and advanced piece of equipment that we used to subject the vehicle’s drivetrains to significant stresses to test towing performance. The trailer’s wheels are connected to a computer-controlled retarder that can increase a vehicle’s drag at the touch of a button.
This test was extremely useful for determining the effectiveness of a vehicle’s powertrain, testing fuel economy when loaded, and testing the behavior of various software-controlled systems (such as cruise control).
Next, we used a 2800kg trailer to test dynamics as a vehicle towed this trailer over Lang Lang’s “Alpine Handling” course. This was one of my favorite courses as the low-friction asphalt and tight switchbacks were quite a challenge for a vehicle. This only becomes more difficult when a vehicle is being towed.
This test really covers every scenario you could expect when towing on the open road. Excessive suspension sag is penalized as the tow vehicles have to work hard to keep control of slopes and bumps in the road. The challenge gets even greater as the route features a steep climb and long descents that require higher speeds.
To round out our time at Lang Lang, the team used a skid pan to tow the competitors in a safe and consistent environment. While this all seems like pointless fun, the races have given us an interesting insight into how the cars compare.
The following day was (mostly) a logistics day as we traded the fertile fields of Lang Lang for the mountainous bush country around Anglesea, whilst also doing some go-karting.
Many team members thought they would secure the top spot on the kart track (mainly Igor). But sadly, hearts were broken and dreams shattered when Paul took home the top honor – sadly, something the rest of the team would hear about for the rest of the trip!
The week was rounded off with off-road testing at the Australian Automotive Research Center in Anglesea. We used several interesting obstacles that vehicles could either climb or fall through – to add an objective score and reinforce subjective representations of vehicle performance.
These obstacles included a set of free-spinning rollers embedded in a sloping hill, a set of offset moguls, a heavily rutted 30 percent hill climb, and a 45 percent shale hill climb and descent. To overcome these obstacles, vehicles had to have solid mechanical components complemented by well-tuned electronic systems.
Two days of logistics rounded out this action-packed week, as the organization behind this test was critical to its success. Great memories from this week included terabytes of footage and multiple spreadsheets of data. All footage and data is compiled so that the written reports can support the YouTube videos produced shortly thereafter.
What struck me most about the process?
Similar to the Ute Mega test, what struck me most was the organization of the shooting and the care with which the team recorded relevant data.
Now that they were through the Ute Mega test, members of the video production team became even more methodical in preparing the necessary footage.
There are so many microphones and cameras out there, all of which need to be charged, have enough storage space, and need to be synced. All these elements cannot be missing to capture not only the important moments but also the B-roll that accompanies the main shots.
In addition, photos were taken inside and outside the vehicles for the written documentation of the tests.
The data collection was similar. Data collection was performed more efficiently, allowing the test to run smoothly. The team made a point of recording the objective data to support Paul’s subjective impressions of a vehicle.
The data overlaid on the Mega Test YouTube videos also gives consumers the opportunity to compare vehicles that may interest them. This gives CarExpert’s mega tests an overall quality that is rarely found today.
Which 4WD SUV impressed me the most?
Some of these SUVs have impressed me. But what struck me the most might not be what you would expect.
Vehicles of all price levels were used in this test. At the low end, we started with the Mitsubishi Pajero Sport and the SsangYong Rexton. As we moved up to the mid-size segment, we had vehicles like the Toyota Fortuner, the Isuzu MU-X and the Ford Everest in the Trend version. Step it up and we have the top specification Toyota Prado and Ford Everest with V6.
Finally, we had vehicles like the Land Rover Defender, Toyota LandCruiser 300 Series, Lexus LX600 and more than the most expensive vehicles in the test.
The more expensive vehicles had six or even eight cylinders and lots of cool features. I was given the task of recording various data and was fortunate enough to complete most of the tests with the shotgun, allowing me to enjoy the benefits of these vehicles.
Of particular note was the Land Rover Defender and its air suspension. The air suspension gave the Defender an impressive ride comfort, yet it remained calm when cruising the Lang Lang ride and handling course. When it came to driving comfort, the Toyota LandCruiser 300 Series was also a highlight, with its turbo-diesel V6 delivering impressive performance.
However, sticker prices for these vehicles were well over $100,000. Looking at the value proposition, one vehicle impressed me the most: the Isuzu MU-X.
After driving the MU-X it became clear that it hit the spot for value for money. Sure, the Ford Everest offers more tech and refinement, but the Everest range is more expensive overall than the MU-X.
Compare the MU-X to the similarly positioned Toyota Fortuner and stepping into the Fortuner feels like stepping back in time – the MU-X simply has a more modern and better-appointed interior.
The favorable price-performance ratio is also reflected in the handling of the MU-X. While the Everest and pricier rivals are more refined, the MU-X holds its own against established but aging rivals from Toyota and Mitsubishi.
Its 3.0-liter four-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine feels underpowered and the six-speed automatic it’s mated to shifts smoothly and totally got out of my way. Ride quality was good considering the MU-X is a Ute-based SUV and is a step ahead of the Fortuner it competes with.
Overall, the MU-X is a versatile performer that still offers good value for money.
The 4WD SUV Megatest in brief
After gaining experience from the Ute Mega test, the team worked like a well-oiled machine to produce a series of thorough, high-quality videos that provide concrete results that validate Paul’s riding impressions.
Taking part in performance and trailer testing at the legendary Lang Lang proving ground is as fascinating as ever, and completing an action-packed off-road test capped off the week perfectly.
However, no week is perfect and losing to Paul in karting was definitely a low point. However, all was forgotten when he saw Igor’s face when he realized that he had to climb to third place and not first place on the podium!
While the whole team worked hard the week felt more like a vacation where we could pursue our passion for cars and working with the CarExpert team is always great! A big thank you to the CarExpert team for having me on another mega test, it was a privilege!
MORE: Best 4WD SUV 2023