REPRINT FROM ISSUE #9 1996
COMPARISION TEST OF 16 4 WHEEL DRIVE VEHICLES
WILL YOUR NEXT VEHICLE HAVE 4 WHEEL DRIVE?
4x4=16, if you want to be funny. The 16 tested cars is far from every 4WD vehicle available on the market, yet we think that it is a quite fair representation of what you can get nowadays.
If there is one thing that car people never seems to agree about, it is if front wheel drive is superior to rear wheel drive, and vice versa. Wouldn’t it be ideal then to let all four wheels drive the car forward, especially in a country with our climate?
Sure, but it have had its drawbacks, and there is reasons why the classic Willys Jeep probably is what most people is having in mind when they hear about “4 wheel drive”, and why the system mostly saw military duty for so many years. But things have happened in the last 15 years. Now, you can’t find a WRC car that is 2 wheel drive anymore, and instead of being crude penalty boxes with bare metal interiors and leaky canvas tops, 4WD vehicles available for the civilian market are now comfortable, easy to drive and has a level of equipment that sometimes surpasses what regular family cars can offer.
But of course, choosing the right 4WD vehicle is not any less of a challenge than choosing the right 2WD vehicle. And we can’t say which one that suits your needs or your budget the best. Of course the $13600AMU BOG A10 is not competing with the $36500AMU Mons Granite. And we could of course base our ratings on pure offroad performance and laugh at the Forea HRC-4 already at the first look - but a safe and secure daily driver that can provide handling and traction on bad roads is not necessarily the same thing as the vehicle that will be able to cope with the toughest trail.
We have split the cars up in four groups, to make it easier to have an overview of them. Since they may still be completely different animals, it does not mean that the cars in the group are necessarily competing against each other. Instead, they are purely based on the size of the car. Group 1 - the tiny sized mini SUVs. Group 2, the somewhat larger but still compact class vehicles. Group 3 for the midsized ones and group 4 for the fullsize beasts. At the end of the article, however, there will be an overview of all the tested vehicles, with our rating and an in-depth opinion about the actual cars. Still, it does not mean that a vehicle that scores 32 out of 45 is a better buy for you than a vehicle scoring 29. We rather hope that you can use this as a guide to pick the vehicle that fits your needs the best.
THE FIRST DUEL - GROUP 1
From left to right: The GSI Bergsget, Heros VaraCross, BOG A10, FM StreetSUV and Ardent Ozette.
You have probably heard people complaining that “all cars looks the same nowadays”. It has seldom been more true than among the smallest of our test cars. Except for the BOG, they seems to have been baked in the same mold, a small, boxy, upright body with the wheels far out in the corners. The BOG is trying to be more of an open top, fun summer car.
The only car in this class still using a ladder frame is the BOG, the rest is using an unibody construction, even if the Ardent and FM still has something underneath that could be mistaken for frame rails, but they are welded to the floor. All cars have solid rear axles, all of them are using coil springs, except for the Heros that still is using leaf springs. FM and BOG has coil sprung solid axles up front, the Heros has double wishbones and the Ardent and GSI has a somewhat unusual setup for an offroader with McPherson struts up front. All cars except the Heros is running inline four cylinders, which has a turbocharger in the GSI. The Heros has a V6.
Offroad the FM StreetSUV, despite its name, is a real climber. But with a soft coil sprung suspension giving lots of flex, high ground clearance, locking differentials and the wheels far out in the corners, that should not be a surprise. Neither is it a surprise that it is nimble in city traffic. But surprisingly enough it is also a decent drivers car. The handling is stable and secure, showing some tendencies of understeer but always being predictable. Despite the soft suspension, the body roll is moderate. ABS is standard and the brakes did not show any terrible amounts of fade. There could have been a little bit better bite in them though.
The Ardent Ozette is not on par with the best climbers offroad even if it should absolutely be good enough to suit most peoples needs. One explanation could be the relatively small tyres with street pattern. If offroading is your hobby, an update should not be out of question.
Also, its behaviour on the road is nice, actually among the better in our test despite its 80s roots. It is fun and nimble to drive, feels “grippy” in the corners for an offroader and is easy to control. The brakes are far from exotic stuff with solid discs up front and drums in the rear, but they stop the light car very well. Though we found some fading with the car loaded to max and the lack of ABS is of course a major drawback.
It is maybe a bit unfair to call the Heros VaraCross a softroader but it really doesn’t shine at the side of the pavement. One explanation might be the viscous LSD - a compromise that is easier for mr. Average to use than a manual locker, and is not as unpredictable on the road as an auto locker. But it is not as good as a real locker off the road.
That would maybe be acceptable if it had a little less flaws on the road. It is nimble and easy to handle - but to a limit. We have kind of a concern about its tendency to swing out tail-first in the corners if you aren’t careful. Short wheelbase, extensive body roll and a high center of gravity does not really do it any favours there either, and there is a risk that a sudden emergency maneuvre with a VaraCross will end up ugly.
The brakes have good bite and ABS is standard, but some light fading was noticeable.
The GSI Bergsget is a good offroader - on paper. In reality, though, the turbo lag got extremely annoying and challenging off the road. On the road, however, we think that all the criticism it has recieved in the US for being “unsafe” is highly unjustified. It actually handles very well for an offroader - maybe too well. You are easily tricked into driving faster than this type of car allows for - which soon can end up in a dangerous situation, since the short wheelbase and high center of gravity is still there.
The brakes was a pleasant surprise. ABS, short stopping distance and no fading at all.
The BOG A10 is not as good as an offroader as the FM. Still, the offroad performance should be enough for most peoples needs. Like the Ardent, it could probably benefit from a tyre upgrade if offroad performance is your major concern. It is however a bit obvious that it is a simple and dated construction when driving on the road - but we would still say that it handles well for what it is. The brakes are a drawback though. Mediocre performance and obvious fading. But they do have ABS.
The FM StreetSUV feels sluggish and underpowered. The slowest vehicle in our test with a top speed of 160 km/h, 0-100 time of 14.6 seconds and doing the quartermile in 19.5 seconds. More of a concern, maybe, is the 12.6 second time between 80 and 120, meaning that a safe overtaking needs some planning.
The Ardent feels marginally faster, but not by much. The top speed is the same at 160 km/h and the quartermile actually a bit slower at 19.75 seconds, but 0-100 in 13.9 seconds and 80-120 in 10.8 is better results than the FM got.
The Heros is one of the fastest vehicles in our test. A top speed of 219 km/h is a bit unnecessary in a vehicle like this, but a 0-100 time of 8.47, a 80-120 time of 5.76 and quartermile in 16.15 seconds are really good results for the vehicle type.
However, it is still in the shadow of the GSI Bergsget, which is not only “fast for an offroader”, it is almost sports car fast with a 230 km/h top speed, 0-100 time of 7.14 seconds, 80-120 time of 4.68 and quartermile time of 15.55 seconds.
The BOG may be in the slower end of the spectrum among our test cars, but the light little car never feels underpowered. Top speed is 190 km/h, 0-100 takes 12.1 seconds and 80-120 takes 8.76 seconds. Quartermile is done in 18.67 seconds.
In this class, it is not easy to build a comfortable car, and that shows in the FM. However, the soft suspension and high profile tyres soaks up bumps well and combined with power steering and autobox it gives adequate comfort at least for the short trips.
The Ardent is only marginally better than the FM with slightly more comfortable seats, a suspension tuned mainly for comfort and also here power steering and autobox.
The Heros is however the proof that you can build a small offroader without sacrificing all the comfort, it is actually quite decent, maybe due to its refined front suspension and soft suspension setup. Also, compared to the Mons or Hillstrom V6 engines, it is smooth as silk.
The GSI feels like the little penalty box you suspect it to be. Small car, damping on the firm side and an overall feeling that GSI didn’t even care to try to build some comfort into this vehicle.
Of course, BOG did care even less, but with an open top, simple offroader who would have thought something else? If one should say something positive, the seats are very supportive despite looking kind of simple.
Another area where small cars does not shine is when it comes to space. The Ardent has one advantage over the others - it’s a 5-seater, as opposed to the other cars that only seats four. It is maybe not a comfortable ride for 5 people - but at least it is legal if you have to do it. Other than that, there is not much to say, neither the passengers or the cargo has very much room in either one of them, and the differences are only marginal
Not even small cars in general could be considered “spartan” today. All of the cars in the group has equipment levels that could be seen as more or less standard today, most often featuring things like remote controlled mirrors, clock, central locking and tachometer. The Heros VaraCross and BOG A10 had better sounding radios than the rest of the bunch though, that featured only a very simple tape player with weak sounding speakers. Power steering is standard even in this class today, and the Ardent, Heros and FM even features the variable ratio type.
A big drawback for the Ardent is the lack of ABS.
ENGINE AND DRIVETRAIN
The 4-cylinder in the FM StreetSUV has the somewhat unusual setup with a single cam and 4 valves per cylinder - other than that it could be seen as a fully modern unit with VVT and multi point injection. It runs reasonably smooth for a 4-cylinder and the power output is a bit thin at 87 hp - but the low end torque is fair, which is a good thing for offroading purpouses. The autobox is of the computer controlled type, with 4 ratios and a quite wide spacing, and it worked well during our test conditions.
The Ardent engine feels surprisingly much alike the FM engine, but despite simpler technology with 3 valves per cylinder, no VVT and a smaller volume, it manages to get the same power output, and works about as well. But the low end torque is a bit worse and its emissions are on the dirty side for being a modern car.
Similar to the FM, the Ardent also has a 4-speed computer controlled autobox, but with tighter ratios. We could not complain about its function.
The 155 hp 3-litre V6 in the Heros feels very suited for the car. A modern unit that is running smooth for being a V6. The automatic transmission is one of the most refined on the market, a computer controlled 5-speed. The viscous differential is a tradeoff when it comes to offroad performance, but improves road manners and ease of use for the average driver.
The GSI Bergsget has an engine that looks good on paper. A fairly modern 12 valve 2.4 litre four that with its 181 horsepowers gives the car good performance and yet being sparse on fuel. But the turbo lag kinda ruins it in this application. It would maybe have been acceptable in a sports car but quickly gets annoying in an offroader.
One thing GSI should have credit for is how low the emissions are, though. The cleanest running engine of them all in this bunch.
The 5 speed manual gearbox works as intended and the gearing seems to be sane.
Unfortunately, there is not much positive to say about the drivetrain in the BOG A10. It is a throwback 15 years in time. A quite bland 110 hp 2V SOHC 2 litre 4-cylinder. While everyone else has switched to multi point injection, BOG (as well as Hillstrom) is still stuck with their single point injection systems, hampering throttle response, effiency and emissions. The BOG and Hillstrom engines are by far the dirtiest polluters in the bunch. And why they put a tubular header on this uninspiring unit is beyond our recognizion.
And the gearbox is almost tragic. A 4 speed manual is more or less a joke nowadays. We thought that we left all of them in the 80s, but it appears like some of them managed to sneak into the 90s too (more about that later).
The FM StreetSUV has galvanizing of the structural parts and panels of treated steel - it will not fall apart from rust in many years. Predicted reliability is above average and for a car in its price class it feels reasonably well bolted together.
We could not find any sloppy fit and finish in the Ardent and mechanically they have proven to be reliable. The structural parts of the unibody has shown good corrosion resistance during the ages, but the outer steel panels - not so much.
The Heros is protected well against rust and feels well bolted together but predicted reliability is below average. Advanced technology will probably take its toll.
The GSI has decent rust protection and feels reasonably well bolted together. Predicted reliability is about average.
The BOG has proven to be reliable and despite being a simple steel box, there is an aura of build quality around it. However, the resistance against rust is more or less a disaster. If you still decide to buy one - get it rust protected immediately.
The FM is among the lowest priced cars in our comparision at $16900 AMU. Also, its fuel economy (8.4 l/100 km) and service costs ($587.9 AMU) are among the best. From an economical standpoint, the FM will be a sane buy in our opinion.
Another sane buy is the Ardent. Even lower priced at $15100 AMU and with the lowest service costs in the test at $553.5 AMU. A little bit less sparse on gas than the FM at 9.4 l/100 km but that’s far from a bad number in this case.
Why anyone would pay $26200 AMU for a Heros VaraCross is, to be harsh, something we don’t understand, at all. 10.4 l/100 km is not really excellent for a car this size, but service costs are sane at $695.5 AMU.
At $17800 AMU, the GSI Bergsget is still relatively cheap and it is really the fuel economy champ in this test. 6.6 l per 100 km is simply amazing. $697.4 AMU in service costs is not too bloody either.
The BOG A10 has the lowest sticker price of the bunch. $13600 AMU for a new car - how about that? 11.5 litres per 100 km is however on the thirsty side for a car like this. Service costs are about average at $652 AMU.
A car this size will never be as safe as a larger car, but we would say that the FM, GSI and Heros are at about the same level, all of them modern constructions with a fair level of safety equipment, like a drivers side airbag, seatbelt pretensioners and side impact beams in the doors.
The Ardent is getting old, and despite getting safety updates lately, american crash testing have shown mediocre performance. It is never as easy to implement better safety in an aged construction as it is to implement it on the drawing board.
The BOG is another old fashioned design, built on a ladder frame which doesn’t make for as good crumple zones as an unibody construction, and it has not seen any safety update since the 80s. No airbags, no seatbelt pretensioners and the only side impact protection being a door that is about as thick as card board. Being an open top really doesn’t help either, though it at least has a roll bar.
Next page: The second duel - Group 2
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