My short list is down to Pajero Sport, Subaru Outback or FJ Cruiser. I need room for a large dog, luggage and some off-road ability. Occasional towing the garden trailer and carrying passengers. Mostly used for short trips around town which is why I'm not fussed about diesel. We currently have a 7-seater Toyota Kluger.
I like the exterior look of the FJ although think it's old tech. I hate the look of the rear of the Pajero, otherwise it seems to tick many boxes. My concerns with the Subaru are around the longevity and reliability of the CVT transmission.
Up front I think you really need to quantify what degree of all-terrain capability you require. The harder you want to go off road, the more you'd lean to the Pajero Sport or the FJ - but you have to accept a certain lack of civility on road if you go that way.
When you say “some off-road ability” I’m assuming you mean dirt roads and very easy tracks, as opposed to the ascent of Mt Blue Rag in the Vic Alps. Big difference in the vehicles needed for either application.
I would say the Outback has little to no off-road ability whatsoever, but is quite at home on decent dirt roads and some very easy tracks. Subaru Outback review >> Pajero Sport and FJ Cruiser both have proper off-road capability: as in, they can do things that would terrify average owners.
I agree with you that the Pajero Sport rear is the metaphoric hatful of proverbials (what were they thinking?) but the FJ is an old Prado with a ridiculous Tonka Toy-style body, and only available with an OPEC profit pumping up, sailor-on-shore-leave thirst, thanks to its 4.0-litre inline petrol six … so it's not as if one’s a stunner and the other's a bush pig. Mitsubishi Pajero Sport review >>
I share your reservations about the CVT in the Outback, but I am told the 3.6 gets a higher capacity CVT than the 2.5. Perhaps that helps (and perhaps it's part of the $7k price hike from 2.5i Premium to 3.6R).
EyeSight is Subaru's brilliant safety system, which delivers a suite of camera-based safety features like auto emergency braking, adaptive cruise, lane-departure and blind spot warnings, etc. It's very advanced, and might save your life (or someone else's). You don'y get anything like that in the Pajero Sport or FJ Cruiser.
If you want to do some moderate to serious off-roading: The Pajero Sport. Make friends with the elongated lights. You can’t see them as you drive, in any case.