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Top of this heap

Maybe you're wanting an SUV, but you're leaning towards the multi-functionality of a double-cab ute. You don't want to go as far as an expensive 'real' 4WD like a Cruiser or Patrol, but you need (or want) some hefty chassis strength because of a towing requirement, or it just makes you feel good. Unfortunately the limited room in the 'crew' section makes the kids winge even more than usual.

Luvvy likes the SUVs that are blown-up cars and sport rear seats that are actually comfortable and roomy. So you're in a quandary.

Enter the middle ground. Most manufacturers have taken their double-cab utes, replaced the body with a car-type version and presto, you have your full chassis, plus a proven driveline, and an interior that will largely keep the complaints down, even though everyone has to climb to get on board.

The contenders are Holden's Trailblazer (what's left of them), Isuzu MU-X, Mitsubishi Pajero Sport, Toyota Frontera, Ford Everest and Ssangyong Rexton. I've driven most and recently spent a week testing and comparing the overall usability.

So, up front, the top of this heap is the Pajero Sport - in my view. It has better equipment than the Toyota, quieter and more refined than the Holden and Isuzu, more agility than the Ford and more all-round appeal and road manners than the Ssangyong.

But it's also crammed with latest tech, so you can comfortably look to the next few years without grumbling about your neighbours having a gadget that you don't.

All of these are tall - the chassis makes it so. You won't be chasing WRXs around bends. They're long and thin, so parking takes practice and care, but when you're settled, either on your own or with your family, you'll cruise in quiet and comfort for as long as you like, using relatively little fuel and towing a decent sized van if you want with little impact.

I towed a 20' Roadmaster down south in the Isuzu and 100km/h barely raised a sweat.

The 133kW power and 430Nm torque of the Pajero's 2.4-litre diesel matches the Isuzu and does it quieter as well, though it is keen to rev a little higher. Certainly in the dual-cab market, I think the same engine is the gem of the bunch.

Additionally, the off-road options on the Pajero lead this group comfortably. There is little scrabbling for traction when the terrain gets lumpy and switching between modes is dead simple. Low range is a stump-puller and the eight speeds keeps the engine slap-bang in the middle of the torque band.

Pajero's off-road cred includes hill descent, hill hold control and for those really tough spots, you can lock up the centre differential as well, even in high range. Trailer anti-sway is standard.

I don't think raw numbers reflect this but I sensed the Pajero was more manoeuvrable than the others as well.

You sit high in this car because you have to. The sheet metal is tall, so to maintain decent vision the seats are mounted high. Admittedly it does give you an edge in traffic, particularly in peak hour when cars fill the road as SUVs are on the school run.

Pajero Sport has seven seats, but you'll probably reserve the rear ones for the kids you dislike the most. But there's plenty of storage space and even with the back row in use, you'd need an awful lot of shopping to run out of room.

Over the week that I used the car, it grew on me quite a bit. Not one for dawdling on the road, I appreciated its liveliness, even though it is a heavy unit and nowhere near as chuckaboutable as I like cars to be. The interior trim is good quality and all the dials and switchgear made sense and were easy to put a finger on.

Yep - I'd buy one of these.

Models: Mitsubishi Pajero Sport GLX; GLS; Exceed

Price: $46,990 (5-seat); $51,490 (5-seat); $52,490 (7-seat); $57,190 (7-seat)

Engine: 2.4-litre four-cylinder diesel

Output: 133kW/430Nm

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic

Fuel: 8.0L/100km (ADR Combined)

CO2: 212g/km (ADR Combined)

Safety rating: Five-star ANCAP

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