Profiling the Top TEN (plus a few randoms)
Sales figures suggest this multicultural mob might inherit the 4X4 earth Story by Bruce McMahon THESE days, the once-humble dual cab ute is a staple in sheds and garages from Cape Byron to the Kimberley. Across Australia, four-wheel drive, four-door utes are used (and sometimes abused) by tradies, fisherfolk, farmers, families and nomads for a swag of jobs and recreational experiences. Sales of four-wheel drive utes were up 11 per cent in 2013, with 140,000 sold last year. And dual cabs accounted for a deal of that number; in the case of Toyota’s HiLux some 85 per cent sold are four-doors. For most manufacturers, dual cabs make up at least 75 per cent of four-wheel drive ute sales. The rampant popularity of these most sensible machines has been driven by a number of factors over the past decade, in particular, more modern designs with passenger car-like features and comfort. There’s also the value equation, with any number today built in ute-crazed Thailand and enjoying free trade benefits, ie no tariff imposts into Australia. Japanese makers with plants there – and that’s all of them – also enjoy cheaper labour costs on building cars and utes. And there are more and more makes and models of dual cab to choose from, especially when compared with a limited number of proper four-wheel drive wagons. Continued growth in Australia’s get-away and touring market with caravan, camper trailers and slide-on camper sales on the rise is yet another factor pushing demand for competent four-wheel drive vehicles. Then, at the end of the day, four-wheel drive dual cabs are most pragmatic vehicles. They’re a work ute through the week and a playmate on weekends. They can be used to take the rubbish to the tip on Saturday morning and the family out for dinner on Saturday evening. They make a great touring wagon for outback adventures, and are well and truly capable of a big trip to Cape York. There’s a tonne (excuse the pun) of uses and a tonne of these machines to choose from in 2014. Most offer decent, if not different, attributes. Here, in alphabetical order, we run a look over 10 dual cabs on offer in a very competitive market segment.
FORD RANGER FORD’S Ranger is arguably the pick of the current crop of dual cabs for doubling up on work and play. It’s also one of the newest on the market; always an advantage. From the get-go, the Ford Double Cab looks the part with clean, handsome and no-nonsense lines. That style carries over into the cabin where it’s a fairly tidy place, although that centre console is a little too “blue-light disco” for some tastes. But the seats, driving position and forward visibilityare good. Just remember it’s a long and tall ute, so take care when reversing and make allowances out in the scrub when the trees close on the track. The Thai-built Ranger carries a five-star ANCAP rating and will carry five adults at a pinch. The range-topping engine is a five-cylinder, 3.2-litre turbocharged diesel, producing 147kW and 470Nm and driving one of the best chassis in this class. But the six-speed manual transmission can be clunky in the shifts, making the six-speed auto a better mate with this engine. Ford Australia’s engineers were responsible for the quality of the Ranger’s dynamics, and that shows with excellent on-road manners and class-topping abilities in the rough. Heading off road, there’s a centre console dial for four-high or four-low. And here the Ranger boasts a decent 237mm of ground clearance, an 800mm wading depth, locking rear differential and traction control. There’s always plenty of torque available from 1500rpm, and the 3.2 is a great power plant off, and on, the road. The Ford Ranger package makes for a comfortable, competent and settled ute whether crawling over boulders, splashing through muck or cruising down an old bush track. ENGINES 2.2 litre diesel, 110kW/370Nm; 3.2 litre diesel, 147kW/ 470Nm TRANSMISSIONS Six-speed manual or six-speed auto LENGTH/WIDTH/HEIGHT 5359mm/1850mm/1815mm GROUND CLEARANCE 237mm TOWING 3500kg BUILT Thailand PRICE From $42,890
HOLDEN COLORADO WITH the Holden Commodore and its stablemates not long for the Aussie production line, the Colorado will soon become our only Holden ute. (Unless there are moves to bring in and rebadge Chevrolet or GMC pickups.) While not as car-like as a Holden Ute, the Colorado range of two- and four-wheel drive load haulers does offer a fair choice of product for work or weekends. With the four-wheel drive Colorado Crew Cabs there are three trim levels, with most of the mechanical package the same – a 147kW, 2.8 litre diesel engine and the choice of six-speed manual or six-speed automatic. For 2014 the turbo diesel gained a little extra grunt, with a wider torque band and torque lifted to a handsome 500Nm when mated to the reworked auto gearbox. This is a different drivetrain to the Colorado’s kissing cousin, the Isuzu D-Max. This one is a little more sporting in its delivery, but all these four-door Holdens still boast a one tonne payload and 3500kg towing capacity. New for the 2014 model year were extra chassis control systems over and above ABS and stability control. Now there’s Trailer Sway Control and Hill Start Assist across the entire Colorado range, plus Descent Control System. Also added have been more infotainment features with Holden’s MyLink allowing connection to BlueTooth and access to apps. There are rear parking sensors for pick-up models. With all these new gadgets and an upgraded driveline, Holden’s Colorado is definitely out there chasing family customers this season. It is a comfortable machine and quite capable off-road. The value equation measures up, but some others offer better attention to interior detail. ENGINES 2.8 litre diesel, 147kW/500Nm (auto)/440Nm (manual) TRANSMISSIONS Six-speed manual or six-speed automatic LENGTH/WIDTH/HEIGHT 5083mm/1882mm/1780mm GROUND CLEARANCE 210mm TOWING 3500kg BUILT Thailand PRICE From $42,990 NISSAN NAVARA D40 NISSAN launched a top ute in late 2005 – a good-looking and comfortable dual cab powered by willing drivetrains and offering more cabin space than its rivals. Back then, the Navara’s handling, ride and interior detail were class-leading. Touches such as fold-up rear seats and a clever load tie-down system in the ST-X sealed the deal. But the ute world has moved on in the past eight years and the Navara is no longer leader of the pack. It remains a solid performer and, as with Mitsubishi’s Triton, there’s a value equation at play. Plus there’s that hero truck in the top-of-the-tree ST-X 550 with a 170kW V6 diesel. There are three engines – a four-cylinder diesel in two tunes with 126kW or 140kW, and that rip-roaring V6 which also offers 550Nm of torque through a seven-speed automatic. The other Navara D40s can be had with six-speed manual or five-speed auto transmission and both these 2.5 litre diesels are still good workers, if a little noisier than newer rivals. Mid-range torque is excellent. While a quick and reasonably comfortable tourer, the D40 can do with a bit of a lift for off-road work. Axle clearance isn’t bad, but those good on-road dynamics mean lower body bits than others and there’s no rear differential lock. Where the Navara has an advantage right now, with a new version surely not too far away, is in current showroom deals. ST dual cabs, with much the same gear as the previous ST-X, can be found for under $40,000 these days. The ST and ST-X models are built in Spain, and the RX in Thailand. And there’s also the previous Navara D22 dual cab still being sold alongside the D40. It’s cheaper again, but now two generations behind compared with most other Japanese utes. ENGINES 2.5 litre diesel, 126kW/403Nm + 140kW/450Nm; 3.0 litre V6 diesel, 170kW/550Nm TRANSMISSIONS Six-speed manual, five-speed auto, seven-speed auto LENGTH/WIDTH/HEIGHT 5296mm/1848mm/1795mm GROUND CLEARANCE 205mm TOWING 3000kg BUILT Spain and Thailand PRICE Deals from under $40,000 ISUZU D-MAX ISUZUS now stand on their own four wheels in Australia after years of running around badged as Holden Rodeos. The reputation is well-established, and here Isuzu have maintained that tough truck attitude with the D-Max (and its brother, the MU-X wagon). This Dual Cab D-Max is under-rated in some quarters, and a class-leading champion in others. The D-Max – another Thai-made ute – is a tad more biased toward work than play; it is not as refined, and not as car-like as some rivals. The cabin is comfortable enough but doesn’t go anywhere near plush. Ride and handling on the road are fine, but the D-Max can’t quite match the refined dynamics of Volkswagen’s Amarok or the Ranger. Yet since Isuzu went independent here in 2008, sales have seen steady growth year-on-year, in particular with fleets needing durable four-wheel drive utes. And it outsells, for instance, the much-heralded Amarok. The Isuzu has a five-star ANCAP rating and shares a basic body and chassis with the Holden Colorado. But the D-Max runs an Isuzu 3.0 litre turbo diesel engine ahead of either a five-speed manual or five-speed automatic. While this combination sounds, and is, a little old-fashioned compared with some one-tonne rivals, the Isuzu is one resolute ute. Last year it took four of the top ten places in the Australasian Safari, including a first in the diesel class. There is rarely any doubt about the Isuzu’s tough and honest approach to engineering. The reputation for reliability and durability is these days backed by a five-year warranty. Off-road, the D-Max may not be as calm as others when the going gets tough, but it does the job and always, always, feels unbreakable, unlike some rivals. ENGINES 3.0 litre diesel, 130kW/380Nm TRANSMISSIONS Five-speed manual or five-speed auto LENGTH/WIDTH/HEIGHT 5190mm/1860mm/1785mm GROUND CLEARANCE 225mm-235mm TOWING 3500kg BUILT Thailand PRICE From $42,000 LAND ROVER DEFENDER IT may not be the best of British and it may not be the biggest of sellers, but the Land Rover Crew Cab deserves recognition as one of the pioneers of this class since the 1980s. It’s also one of the best of off-road utilities in terms of ability. Until the end of 2015 when the current Defender production run ends, the four-door Land Rover ute is available as a 110 or 130 (wheelbase in inches). And it’s all very simple really – there’s a 2.2 litre tubocharged diesel engine with six-speed manual transmission, dual range transfer box and all-wheel drive. These British-designed and built utes are very much old-school, and nowhere near as quick and comfortable as Japanese rivals. For stalwarts this is all part of the charm, but just 81 Land Rover utes, of all variants, were sold in 2013. While they are most capable and utilitarian machines, Defenders and their ergonomics can be tiresome over long distances. For most drivers, it’s a long reach from the seat to controls and levers, sitting high in the saddle. While there are modern touches such as air conditioning, there’s a lack of niceties to tone down engine and road drone. Still, it makes for a practical interior to hose out. And the 130 Defender can still show younger generations a thing or two about toting a heavy load (it boasts an almost 1.4 tonne payload) through the toughest of conditions. It will also tow 3500kg. Allowing for its bulk, this is a great machine off-road with top marks for traction and ground clearance, and approach and departure angles of 49 and 35 degrees respectively. All that, and just 90kW, means it’s no road racer and past reliability issues plus a dearth of service further out have not helped the Land Rover’s appeal in recent decades. ENGINES 2.2 litre diesel, 90kW/360Nm TRANSMISSIONS Six-speed manual LENGTH/WIDTH/HEIGHT(130) 5152mm/1790mm/2060mm GROUND CLEARANCE 314mm TOWING 3500kg BUILT England PRICE From $47,230 MITSUBISHI TRITON THE Triton was one of the first of a generation of dual cabs which shifted the goal posts in this class. Stylish in an all-new way, quick and comfortable, this version of Mitsubishi’s ute arrived in 2006 and was then reworked in 2009 with more power, more safety features and a longer cargo tray. Power went up to 131kW and torque to 400Nm. The tray grew to 1505mm long. More importantly, the Triton became the first in class to offer stability and traction control, plus passenger side and curtain airbags as Mitsubishi realised the attraction of car-like features and safety in dual cabs to give their ute a four-star ANCAP rating. Not much has changed since 2009. The 2.5 litre engine, while willing, is outdone by the Ford/Mazda power plant. The Triton still uses a five-speed manual or five-speed auto gearbox while most rivals have at least six cogs. Here the upside is a 10-year warranty on the Mitsubishi power train. The Triton’s ride and handling, once among the best, have been outdone as newer utes arrived. It works well enough off the bitumen and is quite comfortable for a hard punt down a long dirt road, but cannot match the composure of the Ford/Mazda or Volkswagen in the rough. Yet sales of four-wheel drive Tritons of all types were up last year, leaping 57 per cent to more than 20,000. Supply was better and so were the prices. The Mitsubishi Double Cab, another built in Thailand, remains a value proposition while others offer more competent dynamics and more comfort. But it looks like there’s an all-new Triton not far away, maybe due inside the next 12 months, and that should give Mitsubishi fresh ammunition. ENGINES 2.5 litre diesel, 131kW/400Nm TRANSMISSIONS Five-speed manual or five-speed auto LENGTH/WIDTH/HEIGHT 5210mm/1800mm/1780mm GROUND CLEARANCE 205mm TOWING 3000kg BUILT Thailand PRICE From $40,990 MAZDA BT-50 MAZDA and Ford have long had a symbiotic relationship, whether it be Ford Lasers and Mazda 323s or the old Ford Couriers and B-Series utes. Among the longest of the liaisons has been with utes, and until this generation most of the heavy lifting was done by the Mazda engineers. This time around it was Ford’s boffins who took the engineering lead and, as already noted, the Ford folk have done a fine job. So the current BT-50, launched in late 2011, shares the same 3.2 litre diesel and six-speed manual and automatic transmissions as the Ford Ranger. The five-cylinder is a great motor but works best with the auto; like the Ranger, the manual shift can be a bit how’s-your-father. It also means the Mazda is a great drive for a utility vehicle, with wide-ranging abilities. While Ford did the bulk of the chassis design, Mazda also had engineers here through the ute’s development and tuned the BT-50 with slightly sportier steering and handling than the Ford. This sporting approach has not impaired the Mazda’s off-roading skills. Like the Ford it has good ground clearance, good forward visibility and good gearing in low range, plus a rear differential lock, so it offers a very civilised ride in tough conditions. This Mazda BT-50 is easily one of the best four-wheel drive dual cabs on today’s market, whether looking for a full-on workhorse or a family vehicle. The elephant in the room? That provocative style with a big and goofy chromed grin up front and weird tail light design. There are reports Mazda stylists are looking to tone all this down in a mid-life face lift. ENGINES 3.2 litre diesel, 147kW/470Nm TRANSMISSIONS Six-speed manual or six-speed auto LENGTH/WIDTH/HEIGHT 5365mm/1850mm/1821mm GROUND CLEARANCE 237mm TOWING 3500kg BUILT Thailand PRICE From $42,740 TOYOTA LANDCRUISER AUSTRALIA was the first market in the world to score the Double Cab LandCruiser. This Toyota LC79 was driven by demand from mining companies and others looking for a tough four-door ute that’d carry a tonne of gear. It arrived here in mid-2012 in two grades. Both the Workmate and GXL run the 4.5 litre turbocharged diesel V8 with a five-speed manual transmission and part time four-wheel drive with two-speed transfer case. Both have 130-litre fuel tanks, ABS, a snorkel, and an audio system with Bluetooth. The differences are largely in trim levels with the entry-level Workmate on 16-inch split rims and with vinyl cabin trim. The GXL scores alloy wheels, remote central locking, power windows and cloth seats plus differential locks. But these are not utes for the average or amateur four-wheel driver. It’s a climb up into the cabin of a serious machine with firm ride, big turning circle and a gearbox in need of an overdrive to better settle that V8 diesel at highway cruising speeds. The engine produces 151kW at 3400rpm with maximum torque of 430Nm from 1200rpm to 3200rpm, helping minimise gear changes. While the LandCruiser Double Cab’s on-road manners are trucklike, the Toyota is ready for anything in the rough and tumble. Differential locks emphasise the serious intent of the machine and enhance the ute’s off-road abilities (though the 151kW Toyota’s different track widths – wider in the front to accommodate the V8 – can be an issue in sand). It’s the toughest and roughest of today’s dual cab utes and about the only one still built in Japan. The Toyota LandCruiser Double Cab also commands a premium price, so it’s not going to appeal to a huge audience. ENGINES 4.5 litre V8 diesel, 151kW/430Nm TRANSMISSIONS Five-speed manual LENGTH/WIDTH/HEIGHT 5220mm/1790mm/1970mm GROUND CLEARANCE 235mm TOWING 3500kg BUILT Japan PRICE From $63,990 TOYOTA HILUX TOYOTA’S venerable HiLux ute remains one of Australia’s most popular vehicles of all types. In 2013 the HiLux, across a number of variants, finished third on the year’s sales charts; since arriving here in 1980 more than 440,000 four-wheel drive HiLuxes have been sold across the country. These utes have an enviable reputation, based not just around Toyota’s much-touted reliability but also noted for service and back-up in far-flung places. The current version of the HiLux arrived here in 2005, just ahead of the Nissan D40 and Mitsubishi’s Triton. At the time both those rivals were that little more family-friendly, better dynamically, and a little more comfortable as a tourer. Since then there’s been increased competition from the likes of the Volkswagen Amarok and the Ford Ranger. Now the HiLux Double Cab isn’t quite as refined on the road or as relaxed in slow and rough off-roading as the Ranger or Amarok, but it gets the job done with confidence. Its bush track ride is very good. The Toyota also can’t match that class-leading pair in cabin space and comfort, either. Taller drivers are left perched a little too high. Yet with a few mechanical and style tweaks plus some price re-adjustments over eight years, the HiLux continues to top the charts. Upgrades have meant better ride and handling, excellent NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) levels for this class and extra comfort and convenience gadgets. In the latest updates there’s now just SR and SR5 trim levels, plus a five-star ANCAP rating with stability and traction control, brake assist and electronic brakeforce distribution systems now standard across all HiLux Double Cabs. And, not before time, the diesel versions now have a five-speed automatic option. This mates well with the 126kW, 3.0 litre turbo diesel, making it a quieter and smoother powertrain even if newer rivals outpoint it in power and torque. ENGINES 3 litre diesel, 126kW/343Nm; 4 litre petrol, 175kW/376Nm TRANSMISSIONS Five-speed manual, five-speed auto LENGTH/WIDTH/HEIGHT 5260mm/1835m/1860mm GROUND CLEARANCE 217mm TOWING 2500kg BUILT Thailand PRICE From $42,490 VOLKSWAGEN AMAROK HERE is arguably the smartest and smoothest of four-wheel drive dual cabs on the market; a multi-award winner since landing here in 2011. It rides and handles good and bad roads with the manners of a well-sorted SUV, yet, with dual range, part-time four-wheel drive, or single range four-wheel drive, can match most utes in the rough. It has a big, smart and comfortable cabin, if a tad dour. Some of that excellent highway comfort and ride for this type of machine is down to the Amarok’s rear leaf springs mounted outside and alongside the chassis rails; conventionally these springs are fitted under chassis rails. This helps smooth out the VW’s back end ride, especially when there’s no load. Then there’s the ute’s refined drivetrain with a 2.0 litre diesel engine stirred along by a pair of turbochargers. This is a smooth operator, even if only developing 120kW of power for the six-speed manual, there’s 400Nm of torque from 1500rpm to get the Amarok on the move. With the eight-speed auto there’s 132kW and 420Nm. The manual ute has the choice of part-time and dual range four-wheel drive or full-time, single range four-wheel drive. The auto comes with the single range 4Motion system. With the aid of sophisticated traction systems, a locking rear differential and skid plates for the Amarok’s underbelly, both are good off-road workers, though those road-biased tyres could be a limiting factor in some situations. And that high-tech engine and drivetrain will no doubt need on-time and spot-on service from qualified technicians. The Amarok is a dual cab class-leader in terms of dynamics. It is most comfortable and very capable. Yet despite its many awards it hasn’t taken this segment by storm on the sales charts; maybe there remains some wariness about such sophisticated engineering bearing up under local conditions. ENGINES 2 litre diesel, 120kW/400Nm; 132kW/420Nm TRANSMISSIONS Six-speed manual or eight-speed auto LENGTH/WIDTH/HEIGHT 5254mm/1954mm/1834mm GROUND CLEARANCE 230mm TOWING 3000kg BUILT Argentina PRICE From $41,490 THE OTHERS THERE are a handful of other dual cabs out there now including the Chinese-made Great Wall and Foton, the Korean Ssangyong and the Indian-built Tata and Mahindra. All have some virtues, most based around price points below the Japanese and European products. All have been praised by some buyers, most have also been reviled by some customers. Experience with both the Korean Ssanyong Actyon and the Chinese-made Foton Tunland would suggest there is little wrong with their basics. Indeed the Foton boasts a Cummins diesel engine, Getrag gearbox and Dana rear end. Yet Great Wall saw sales fall away dramatically last year, so perhaps the niche for cheap utes has dried up. The issues at this end of the market lie with both the quality of the product and the backup. Is there an agent in Alice? Are there parts in the Pilbara? How long to wait in Wagga Wagga? So maybe these are best left to rural folk chasing a farm truck or city-based managers looking for a cheap fleet.