Mainstream Compact SUV Off-Road Showdown Has a Surprising Chinese Star

Mainstream compact SUV off-road mega-test 11 photos
Photo: YouTube screenshot
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People who own SUVs such as the ones in this clip rarely treat them to the discomfort of leaving the flat, smooth surface of the road, if ever. Still, even if it's totally irrelevant to them, they do like to know how well their vehicle would do in the event it would happen.
“Why", you ask? Well, because if the tests show their make and model can handle itself better in this scenario than that of their neighbor, it will make their life a lot more pleasant. It's always nicer to have the bragging rights than to be everyone's butt of the joke.

Since the models involved in the monster test come from mainstream brands, they are pretty affordable, which automatically makes them popular choices for a large portion of the public. It also means some corners were cut during their development and the one regarding their off-road capabilities is often a preferred target for most manufacturers.

So, maybe you shouldn't go into this comparison test expecting too much from the contenders. Then again, you can't help but have some expectations from SUVs wearing a Mitsubishi, Nissan, or Toyota badge, and envoys from all three are indeed present here.

The full lineup includes no fewer than nine models, though two of them are essentially the same vehicle with different engine options. Speaking of engines, most of them have a four-cylinder naturally aspirated unit with a displacement greater than two liters. The only exceptions are the Chinese model, the Changan CS75 with its 1.8-liter turbo, and the two Tiguans that have a 1.4-liter turbo and a 2.0-liter turbo.

Mainstream compact SUV off\-road mega\-test
Photo: YouTube screenshot
So, in the order they went up the hill, the lineup reads as follows: Changan CS75, Mitsubishi Outlander, Nissan Rogue (X-Trail), Kia Sportage, Subaru Forester, Toyota RAV4, VW Tiguan 1.4T, Mazda CX-5, VW Tiguan 2.0T. A little something for everyone.

Care to make any bets at this stage? We wouldn't because, in this segment, you really can't tell what will happen. Even the manufacturers with links to the off-roading world can surprise you with poor products, and it's perfectly understandable considering how these vehicles are going to be used. Want to see disappointing? Check out the premium SUV test we covered a while back and see how the Land Rover Discovery Sport fared.

The honor of opening the trail fell to the Changan CS75, arguably the test's wildcard as not many people know too much about the Chinese model. For a newcomer, it did reasonably well. However, a little dirt under the wheels proved it can cause problems, forcing the driver to lock the central clutch. That didn't help either, so an easier line had to be taken. Then, at the main obstacle - a rock step on a more severe incline - the CS75 had to roll back a little to gain momentum in order to go over.

Mainstream compact SUV off\-road mega\-test
Photo: YouTube screenshot
The Chinese was followed by the Mitsubishi Outlander with its Super All-Wheel Control AWD system. That could be just a fancy name for a system that's in no way special, but the fact of the matter is the Outlander cruises through where the CS75 got stuck. After shuffling through various driving mods, the Mitsubishi has to roll back a little and rely on momentum to get over the rocky obstacle. Once it does that, its climb looks very smooth and controlled, just like the one a good off-roader should produce.

Like the Outlander, the Nissan Rogue (X-Trail) is another one with a reputation to keep. You don't want to go back home and have all the Patrols shaking their heads at you. The Nissan, however, gets stuck at the main obstacle and only manages to overcome it using momentum.

Next up was the Kia Sportage, and it's safe to say the Korean SUV offered the biggest surprise. Like its predecessors, it too got stuck at that infamous rocky step, but then it managed to get over with the shortest of runs.

Like all the others, the Subaru Forester starts very convincingly before stopping in front of the main obstacle. It takes a very long run to get the front axle over the bump, but even then, the rear wheels can't get over. A bit of steering manages to find grip and the Forester gets to the top.

Mainstream compact SUV off\-road mega\-test
Photo: YouTube screenshot
Things are getting serious now as the Toyota RAV4 takes the stage. Like everyone before it, the Japanese SUV also has trouble conquering the obstacle, particularly since all the previous attempts did was to dig a big hole in front of it, making it even more difficult to navigate. With a short run, however, the RAV4 has no problem going over.

It's time for the first European contender to have a go, and the Volkswagen Tiguan with the 1.4-liter turbo sure puts on a show. The driver knows the SUV needs high rpms to make the traction control system work, so he does just that. Still, it fails to go over the obstacle from standing right in front of it. What's more, the transmission makes some worrying noises. The driver goes into Off-Road Mode, and the Tiguan successfully gets its front wheel over the rocks without using momentum. The aggressive driving takes its toll on the transmission and an overheating warning reportedly shows up on the vehicle's display. Like everybody else before it, the Tiguan rolls back to gain some momentum and, in a cloud of dust, it manages to get to the top.

The second to last one to hit the trail is the Mazda CX-5. The fancy-looking SUV seems out of place out in the dirt, and sadly its performance confirms that. The CX-5 is the only one to fail in reaching the top by navigating over the obstacle, taking a clear route instead after overheating its transmission very quickly.

Finally, we have the Volkswagen Tiguan with the larger, more powerful 2.0-liter turbocharged engine. Well, it looks like the extra power and torque help the VW as it manages to get over the obstacle without the use of momentum - not without kicking up tons of dirt in the air, though. After engaging the Off-Road Mode, the Tiguan climbs the hill in one continuous motion, though a bit too aggressively and with lots of wheelspin.

Just in case we couldn't make up our own minds, the test organizers provide us with their own classification of all nine models. No surprise at all, the fifth and last place is taken up by the Mazda CX-5, the only one that couldn't reach the top using the given route. In fourth are four models - the Chinese Changan CS75, the Subaru Forester, the Mitsubishi Outlander, and the Volkswagen Tiguan 1.4T.

The 2.0T Tiguan manages to gain one position over its sibling but sits below the Kia Sportage and Nissan Rogue, which share the second position. That leaves the Toyota RAV4, which offered the most convincing performance: a smooth, controlled ascent with minimum fuss and maximum efficiency. Check out the video footage below.

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About the author: Vlad Mitrache
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"Boy meets car, boy loves car, boy gets journalism degree and starts job writing and editing at a car magazine" - 5/5. (Vlad Mitrache if he was a movie)
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