The Ford Endeavour is our favourite of the big, tough, seven-seat premium vehicles that can also transport your family in comfort while simultaneously fording a medium-size perennial river. Last year, it emerged bloodied and battered, but victorious, when it locked horns with the mighty new Toyota Fortuner, and that's part of the reason it also drove off with our annual 'SUV of the Year' award in January. It's because it does a bit of everything and not just the tough stuff, but comfort, luxury and technology too. The thing is, all of this comes at a price, and, compared spec-for-spec with the MU-X 4x4 automatic we've just tested on the pages prior, the Endeavour in the top Titanium trim is a hefty Rs 31.50 lakh! For a whole Rs 5.5 lakh less, you could have the Isuzu, which claims to do all of those things as well. So which SUV deserves your money more, the expensive favourite, or the value upstart?
What meets the eye
Which one do you think looks more the part? The two have virtually the same dimensions, apart from a bit more length on the Endeavour, but in passing, the Isuzu looks far more compact. Perhaps it's because of that pointy nose, but whatever the case, it definitely looks the more aggressive of the two. Its dark-coloured 17-inch alloy wheels may be a size smaller than the Ford's but they do look very attractive hanging below the huge wheel arches. The Endeavour, is more subtle, if you can call something so huge 'subtle'. It doesn't have as many obvious lines and details and instead uses its sheer size and upright proportions to make its presence felt. It also piles on the chrome, with loads of it in the grille, on the tailgate, and of course, the 18-inch wheels, which are made of the shiny stuff.
Inside, the Isuzu's dash design is actually quite attractive, but it's let down by hard plastics that just don't feel rich enough, as well as an all-black colour scheme that doesn't look exciting either. The Endeavour, in comparison, feels altogether richer. It has a horizontally segmented dash, the top of which is wrapped in brown faux leather with a gunmetal grey plastic insert in the middle and beige around the bottom. It may not have the cool, round climate control dial of the Isuzu, but it does get dual-zone climate control.
And on the topic of equipment, though the MU-X seems to have all the bases covered in its single trim, the Endeavour in Titanium spec is just a cut above. Both have touchscreens, but while the Isuzu's is a simple, monochrome item, the Endeavour has Ford's latest Sync 3 system with a high-res colour screen, voice commands, smartphone integration and so much more. And while the MU-X has the unique advantage of keyless entry and go, as well as a 10-inch roof-mounted entertainment screen for rear passengers, the Ford's list just trumps it. Semi-auto parking assist, navigation, an electric tailgate, electric-folding third row seats, a panoramic sunroof, five more airbags and then some.
Isuzu dash actually has an attractive design, but hard plastics and all-black colour scheme are what make it unexciting.
Where the MU-X takes a crucial victory is with its seats; no matter where you're sat, you'll be more comfortable and have more space than in the Endeavour. The front chairs don't look like much, but their cushioning is very comfortable, space in the middle row is immense and the third row is placed high enough that you get enough head and knee room and a decent seating position too. The Ford's front seats are fine, if a bit flat, cushioning all round is a touch firmer, the middle row doesn't have quite as much knee room or thigh support, and the third row is really cramped and uncomfortable. Plus, access to the third row is tricky as the middle row doesn't flip forward, whereas in the Isuzu, it tumbles with just one lever pull.
The MU-X, with its 177hp, 380Nm, 3.0-litre motor, is clearly outclassed by the Endeavour's 200hp, 470Nm 3.2, and worse still, when you're on the road, the performance feels really strained too. Surprisingly, however, up against our testing equipment, the performance gap is not nearly as wide as it feels. The MU-X is only 1.35sec slower to 100kph, and in rolling or kickdown acceleration, it's about a second slower than the Ford.
From behind the wheel, it's a whole different matter. Both SUVs have quite industrial-sounding, pick-up-truck-sourced engines, but the Isuzu is clearly noisier, most of the time. Ford's fancy noise-cancelling tech might have some part to play here. The Endeavour's motor is a lot more responsive and lets the SUV just leap off the line, whereas you get a lot of hesitation, followed by strain and noise, and then eventually progress from the Isuzu. The gearboxes have a huge part to play here, with the Ford's six-speeder being a lot more clever, and the MU-X's five-speeder almost never finding the right gear for the situation. Things are a lot better when you drive sedately and smoothly, but then, that's the case with the Ford too.
The Isuzu's hydraulic steering feels extremely heavy at parking speeds, making U-turns a challenge, but giving a bit of relief is the surprisingly good turning circle.
The Endeavour doesn't have a good turning circle, but what it does have is electric power steering, and this is an example all ladder-frame SUV makers should follow. It simply takes the bulk away from the car, shrinking it down in city confines, with not much loss in feel at higher speeds. In fact, the Isuzu has a huge dead zone at centre and suffers from a lot of steering shock, neither of which are problems in the Endeavour.
Endeavour's torquey motor and quick auto are well matched.
Also, the Ford corners with much better poise thanks to a better calibrated suspension – it feels firm enough to control body movements better, but not enough to corrupt the ride. Combine it with that superb steering and you could almost have a bit of on-tarmac fun with this thing. The MU-X's dynamics feel altogether more utilitarian. It rolls a lot and the steering, though well-weighted, has too much slack to give you confidence. And then there's the ride. You might think, in this sort of tough SUV, just hammering through everything would work fine, but in truth, if you drive the MU-X even slightly quickly over bumps it creates a bouncy ruckus in the cabin. However, if you drive carefully, slowing down for potholes and bad roads, you'll be treated to a seriously plush, pillow-like ride.
So it really does beg the question, should you really bother stretching your budget for the Ford Endeavour at all? It's a lot of money, and as the Isuzu has proven in our test, it can get the job done. In fact, if your budget is tight, we could still recommend it, as, other than the slow-selling SsangYong Rexton, you can't get a full-size, 4x4, automatic, seven-seat SUV for this price. It's also got superb passenger space and comfort, and, provided you drive it gently, it's really comfortable as well. It's the no-nonsense choice that covers all the practical bases very well.
Trouble is, the Endeavour does practical too. Its only real shortcoming is space and seat comfort, but here too, it's not all that bad. In just about every other area, it's got the Isuzu licked. It feels more luxurious inside, all the controls and equipment (of which there is a lot more) are more modern, it rides better overall, it handles better and it's much easier to drive. Most of all, the engine is much stronger and far more refined. Is that worth Rs 5.5 lakh more? Some might think so, but even if you don't, you have to consider that for a more reasonable Rs 28.62 lakh you could have the 2.2-litre 4x2 Endeavour Titanium, which, though still dearer than the Isuzu, gets most of the creature comforts, and feels like much better value. So, VFM the MU-X may be, but in this day and age, we think customers won't mind making the stretch for a better all-round experience.