TOYOTA HILUX VS FORD RANGER
They’re Australia’s two favourite 4WDs, dominating the ute segment mercilessly.
We reckon there aren’t really any duds in the current crop of modern utes. But the Ranger and HiLux manage to comprehensively outsell the competition every month. To find out what’s going on, we jumped in one of each and found some hard tracks.
Up until the end of November 2017, Ford has managed to sell 33,827 4X4 Rangers. In comparison, Toyota has shifted 32,183 4X4 HiLux utes. Between them, they account for 44.1% of all 4X4 ute sales. Crazy. Depending on December sales, one of them will be the top seller for the year.
It’s a close-run race for sales supremacy. When you add in 2WD versions as well, the HiLux takes a clear dominance with 43,144 versus 35,694 – such is the strength of the ubiquitous ‘lowlux’.
The Ranger as we know it today came out in 2011. It’s fundamentally the same, but Ford has continued to tweak and develop the recipe since then. Most notably, a facelift was kicked off in 2015 – with more technology and a tweaked look.
The Ranger Wildtrak isn’t about being humble and basic; aside from having a very modern and tech-laden SYNC-3 setup, the comfortable and well laid out interior is finished off with plenty of orange stitching and accents. Most importantly, it all works and is easy to use. The adjustable screens that flank the speedo are a winner for me; and the seat has some good adjustability for comfort. The HiLux, hitting showrooms in this form back in 2015, has been continuing Toyota’s dominance of this segment since Moses took up recorder classes. The updated interior is quite nice and well laid out, though I’m not a huge fan of the infotainment system.
While the Ranger is definitely more loaded and better with tech, I found the HiLux to be a little more comfy. Having softer seats with good bolstering is nice, and the adjustable reach on the steering wheel does help you dial yourself in.
I’ll leave looks and aesthetics alone, because it’s such a subjective subject. Neither are bad-looking units, and both definitely score points with some tasteful mods and accessories. The main difference between these two is wheelbase. The Ranger has an extra 135mm in length (3,220mm versus 3,085mm), which doesn’t sound like much but is definitely noticeable in some situations. There are positives and negatives to bigger and smaller wheelbases, depending on the situation. Your turning circle and rampover angle are generally better with a shorter wheelbase; whereas a longer wheelbase will be more stable on climbs and descents and give you a better ride.
Ground clearance and underbody suitability are both quite good. Major differences are a slightly lower mounted DPF in the Ranger, and a fairly exposed transfer case solenoid on the HiLux.
Truth be told, both of these utes are quite nice to drive on the road – especially if you’re upgrading from an older 4WD. They are quiet, comfortable and noticeably easy.
Toyota has given the HiLux range a slight update, probably because Ford’s Ranger has been towelling up sales this year. There’s no more petrol V6, and there are more options for vinyl with a 2.8-litre motor. We’re in the SR5+, with the premium interior option.
No doubt the best improvement with this HiLux is the unladen ride. Where it used to jiggle and bounce on your typical country bitumen, it now feels much more settled. The engine is willing yet fairly tranquil for a diesel, and the gearbox is a winner as well.
The Ford Ranger, on the other hand, does have a performance advantage through extra power and torque – with those 3.2 litres happy to surge along in the lower rev band. Where the Ranger does win unequivocally is in the technology stakes: There’s some pretty advanced stuff like adaptive cruise control and collision warning, as well as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay for the complete package.
Another big point is EPAS (Electric Power-Assisted Steering) in the Ranger, compared to traditional hydraulic steering in the HiLux. Along with a fuel saving (3%), the Ranger does get finger-light steering feel at stop… which gets progressively heavier with speed. The HiLux is never a chore, but the Ranger does feel more refined.
One area where the HiLux has undisputable dominance over the Ranger is off-road traction control: Where the Ranger was pausing, spinning wheels and jerking forward when cross-axled, the HiLux felt very seamless and less flummoxed. My gut tells me the HiLux has slightly better articulation in the rear as well, which puts the traction control under less pressure.
Both 4WDs have locking rear differentials which (when engaged) level the playing field noticeably. Truth be told, you’re going to run out of ground clearance with both of these 4WDs before you run out traction when navigating technical terrain; both are impressively capable. The Ranger scores extra points for keeping the traction control working on the front axle with the rear locker engaged, where the HiLux cancels traction control completely (open front diff).
It’s hard to separate these two vehicles in terms of off-road ability; both are really capable and will give any 4WD owner enough to start with. Then you’ll start looking forward to adding some steel around the place and underneath to protect yourself. Add some proper tyres for even more traction off-road, and some aftermarket suspension to go up another step for ground clearance.
FOR THE 4WD TOURER
In a nutshell: The Ranger is good, but the HiLux is a little better. Along with having a foolproof second battery location and auxiliary fuse panel under the bonnet, the DPF is better located underneath as well. Where the Ranger wins back a little is in sheer volume: The extra size and wheelbase are beneficial for a touring rig. In terms of payloads and towing, it’s a fairly even ballgame between these two.
At the end of the day, it’s hard to go past a 4WD ute for a touring base. Your options for canopy fit-outs are almost endless, and the combination of an efficient, grunty diesel with decent payload and storage space is pretty priceless. Do a smart fit-out with the right kind of mods, and you’ve got a true jack-of-all-trades… serious capability on touring trips, tough tracks and the weekly family grind.
So, the million-dollar question: Which is the best ute? Like everything else in the world, it depends on your own wants and needs. The HiLux has the edge in overall capability off-road and touring functionality, but you’d miss the technology and functionality of the Ranger’s interior setup.
At the end of the day, the Ranger has more cards up its sleeve than the HiLux. The motor is bigger and more powerful; there are plenty more features to keep you happy. It’s also worth noting you’re paying an extra five grand (roughly) for that. At the same time, the HiLux seems to get some of the core stuff really right. Off-road traction control is awesome, the seats are quite comfy and some basic accessories are easier to fit. Plus the new suspension tuning does fix that annoyingly jiggly ride. The HiLux has no doubt improved its game.
When the chips are down and you have to make a call, the Ranger wins it for me. It’s a personal choice, and there isn’t much in it.
In my mind, where these two utes really stand out compared to other utes is the fact that Toyota and Ford both spend a lot of time and money testing, developing and engineering their products to truly suit the Australian end-user. They both see the Australian 4WD ute buyer as a kind of elite market… the most demanding and discerning.
This means these two companies are employing hundreds, if not thousands, of Australians to push the limits of these vehicles’ capabilities every day, fine-tuning them to suit Australian conditions and buyers. And that should be celebrated.
SAM’S TOP 5 MODS FOR A TOURING 4X4 UTE
- Underbody protection
- Extra fuel filter