Guides Vehicles

The Five Best Dual-Cab Utes for Under $15,000 (AND ONE OF THE WORST)

Dual-cab utes have become the bread and butter of the 4X4 scene in Australia, and it’s easy to see why. They’ll be a comfortable daily driver, they’ll fit in tight car spaces, you’ll fit five in there (just), and there is space for a bucketload of gear in the back. They’re also capable off-road, and are supremely well-supported for aftermarket gear.

Because there is a plethora of dual-cabs out there these days, you can pick up an awesome second hand 4X4 for a really reasonable price. To prove it, we’ve set ourselves a budget of 15 grand, and scoured the used markets for the best utes that’ll get you out there exploring.

Holden TF Rodeo

Years made: 1988-2003

Engine: Isuzu 4JB1-T 2.8-litre
turbo-diesel, 74kW @ 3800rpm,
225Nm @ 2,300rpm

Gearbox: 4-speed auto or 5-speed manual

Expect to pay: you’re looking at around $10,000 for low kilometre diesels, but there are some bargains to be had out there, pending a good inspection.

There’s one great reason to have a good look at this old Holden, and this is because of the Isuzu diesel under the bonnet. In fact, this vehicle is much more Isuzu than Holden, based on the Japanese ‘Faster’ model, before the two companies parted ways.

You could go for the more powerful, very flexible Isuzu V6 petrol, but the diesel is an absolute ripper. It obviously won’t hold a candle to modern offerings in outright power, but it has enough grunt where you need it, and the earlier 2.8 motor is absolute mechanical goodness. It’s called the 4JB1-T, and it has a great reputation for strength and longevity.

After 2001, the an electronically controlled ‘4GJ2’ intercooled turbo-diesel found its way under the bonnet, increasing power, torque and comfort levels in exchange for the old-school simplicity. Power went up to 96kW @ 3800rpm, and 265Nm @ 2000rpm. This, teamed up with a 5-speed manual (or a 4-speed auto, if you must) makes for rapid enough progress. The 63-litre fuel capacity could do with a bump, and there is a good raft of aftermarket options ready for the mods.

Mitsubishi MK Triton

Years made: 1996-2004

Engine: Mitsubishi 4M40 2.8-litre turbo-diesel, 92kW @ 4,000 rpm, 314Nm @ 2,000rpm

Gearbox: 4-speed automatic, or 5-speed manual

Expect to pay: No more than $14,000 for a really good example.

Mitsubishi’s Triton is one of the cheaper new dual-cabs on the market, offering really good value for money. It makes sense that the second-hand market reflects this as well, showing some great value for a used rig. Seeing as it has only had mild updates and tweaks since launching almost ten years ago, a good condition used Triton could make for a dollar dazzler.

The diesel MK sports a 2.8-litre turbo-diesel, which isn’t intercooled but makes some good quality figures for a dual-cab of this vintage. The 2005 model year brought on a 3.2 and 2.5-litre turbo-diesel, but finding a good one under the the $15,000 mark could be tough. The V6 petrol is much more powerful and quite reliable, but thirsty. Look for a late model diesel MK in good nick, and you’re laughing. With the all-new 2015 Triton coming soon, you can expect these prices to potentially drop even further over the coming years, making for an even more palatable proposition.

Nissan D22 Navara

Years made: 1997-present

Engine: Nissan ZD-30 3.0-litre
turbo-diesel, 110kW at @ 3,400 rpm,
314 Nm @ 2,000rpm.

Gearbox: 5-speed manual

Expect to pay: as little as $8,000 for a really early one with a 3.2 diesel, or up to $15,000 for a 2005-2009 model sporting the 2.5 or 3.0-litre turbo-diesel.

Another aged new vehicle with a seriously long production life, the D22 Navara has become a staple and respected cheap and cheerful dual-cab. Introduced in 1997, early models come with the 3.0-litre ZD-30 turbo-diesel. Don’t believe what the naysayers claim about the 3.0 litre; although a handful went through a phase of blowing up, there are countless others out there operating as honest and reliable power plants. After 2006, the 2.5-litre YD25DDTi was used, which has 98kW @ 4,000 rpm, and 304Nm @ 2,000 rpm, providing a slightly more modern and revvy option.

Sure, it’s an old design, and the interior looks more dated than a floppy disk, but it still has all of the ingredients that make the dual-cab such a multipurpose and practical beast. Being around for so long means there is a sea of options and spares out there, with plenty of aftermarket support. Also, there is a veritable sea of them out there, ready for purchase.

Toyota Hilux

Years made: 1997-2005.

Engine: Toyota 1KZ-TE 3.0-litre turbo-diesel, 85kW @ 3600rpm, 315Nm @ 2000rpm.

Gearbox: 5-speed manual

Expect to pay: The earlier turbo’d models can be had for around $15,000 with low-ish kilometres, but you will have to shop around for it.

If you are shopping for a HiLux on a budget, you’ll have your work cut out for you. Because they have sold so many over the years, there is a bucketload on the second hand market. You’ll have to keep your wits about you; huge volumes mean there are a lot of dogs to sort through. Amongst those dogs, however, are some gems. A great value proposition is the 2004 model that sports the pseudo-modern 1KZ-TE motor, with not-too-shabby figures of 85kW @ 3,600, and 315Nm @ 2,000rpm. Jumping up to the 1KD-FTV makes for a big jump in cost, and going down one notch sees you in a particularly asthmatic non-turbo diesel for not much less.

You’ll get IFS for on-road manners at this price, with leaf springs in the rear and a temperamental limited-slip differential. To be honest, not much other than the engine has changed in the HiLux over the years, so shop around for one that has been well-cared for with low kilometres, and you’ll be laughing.

Mazda B3000 BT-50 /Ford PJ Ranger

Years made: 2006-2011

Engine: Mazda WEC 3.0-litre
turbo-diesel,115 kW @ 3,200rpm,
380 Nm @ 1,800 rpm.

Expect to pay: There aren’t many around for $15,000, but they do exist. And they don’t all have huge amount of kays on them, either.

Built from from 2006 to 2011, Mazda’s BT-50 and Ford’s Ranger provide a heady mixture of both low second-hand prices and quality components. Namely, the Ford Duratorq 3.0-litre turbo-diesel donk, which is actually a Mazda motor. It puts out 115kW and 380Nm, which is good stuff from the DOHC electrickery, and many might prefer the more subtle styling of this model, compared to the later T6 Ranger-based BT-50.

You can get a five-speed BorgWarner auto or manual gearbox, and they come in significantly cheaper than other models out there, while often being equally or better specced. It’s a bit of a forgotten model, but is well supported in terms of aftermarket by your big names like ARB, Ironman, TJM and Opposite Lock. Give it a bit of a lift, throw on a canopy, and you’ve got yourself an awesome touring 4X4.

Ssangyong Musso

Years made: 1997-2006

Engine: Mercedes Benz OM602 2.9-litre turbo-diesel, 88kW @ 4000rpm, 256Nm @ 2250rpm

Gearbox: 4-speed automatic, 5-speed manual

Expect to pay: Not much; a late model can be had for as little as $6,000.

Reading about the Ssangyong Musso Sport compiles a pretty good argument about why it’s a good, cost effective option for a dual-cab 4X4. Funnily enough, the main reason why the Ssangyong rates a mention is the fact it has as little to do with Ssangyong as possible. It’s actually a Mercedes-Benz parts-bin special, compiled out of old Benz parts and made in South Korea. Just to get something off my chest, I think that this would have to be the worst looking vehicle of all time. It just looks awful. There, that’s better.

If you are going to buy one, you’ll want the 2.9 litre, five cylinder turbo-diesel, a Mercedes-Benz number they stopped using in the mid-nineties. It’s also got a Benz gearbox, not too bad. I even read that the Ssangyong won a design award, which surprised me. But then I also remember that, sometimes, people make mistakes. The Beatles were knocked back on their first audition at the Decca; Adolf Hitler was named Time Magazine’s 1938 Man of the Year, and someone allowed a giant wooden horse into Troy. And then, to top it all off, someone awarded the Ssangyong Musso a design award at the Birmingham Auto Show in 1994. To make matters worse, they did it again in 1996, just to prove they were indeed clinically mad. How you give something that looks like a Musso an award is absolutely beyond me.

By Sam Purcell


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scott morris
scott morris

awsome gear


Never get a dual cab. Biggest way to die in a rear collision. Seen children killed in front of me. DANGEROUS cars. Only popular due to Australian tradesmen. God knows why…