The four-door work-and-play utes look good, but MARKHINCHLIFFE wanted to see how they go off road— a long way off road . . .
THE ‘‘Tuppies’’ of the world are buying work-and-play utes in record numbers. These tradie urban professionals have always been big in business, but now they have helped propel the Toyota HiLux to third spot in the Australian new-car sales race.
The new-age pickups fit work, family and lifestyle needs and the fourwheel-drive capacity of most adds an extra dimension to their versatility.
Every major maker now has some sort of super-sized ute, usually with four doors and four-wheel-drive, though the switch to the VE Commodore took the popular Crewman off the Tuppies’ shopping list.
We took them far from the clutter and rush of city life, right out to the Simpson Desert, to see how good they really are.
We had to have the HiLux to lead the expedition and teamed it with the Nissan Navara and Mitsubishi Triton.
Each has a turbodiesel engine and automatic, except for the HiLux, and we packed them to the rafters with two people each, a host of camping gear and provisions, a trail bike, seven 20-litre jerry cans of back-up diesel and unleaded petrol for the desolate journey ahead. It was an expensive payload.
This is what we found:
THIS is the pivotal point of these vehicles — their ability to haul gear.
On paper the HiLux was the longest and widest, but in the real world of packing awkwardly-shaped gear such as generators, bikes, jerrycans and camping gear, it is the practical space that matters.
That made the Navara the clear winner with its numerous movable tiedown points and low and small wheel arches, making the effective load area bigger and more usable.
The HiLux and Triton have only four fixed tie-down points and the Triton struggles to fit a bike with the tailgate strapped half open.
AROUND town and without a load, these things jiggle a bit and lose traction easily, particularly in the wet. They really should come with traction and stability control as standard. Worst was the HiLux, while the Triton
was easiest to lock up under brakes. Navara and Triton had the best ride with little or no load and felt at ease in the ’burbs.
It was a totally different story with a load and serious piece of track under the wheels. Suddenly the jiggly HiLux was smooth and controllable, while the Triton tended to wallow, pitch and roll around.
Despite them all having fairly equal load weights, only the Navara bottomed out. If you spend the price difference between it and the HiLux on springs and shocks, you could equal the HiLux handling.
THE Triton has the largest capacity engine but the least amount of power.
But with a diesel engine it is the torque that does the talking and all vehicles acquitted themselves well when presented with the ultimate obstacle to torque: a big sandy hill.
Biggest and sandiest of them all is Big Red, more than 50m of steep, red sand which lies about 40km west of Birdsville and marks the start of the Simpson Desert.
All three cars waltzed up the sand. The only one to baulk at the hill was the HiLux, but only because the driver chose the wrong gear and had to try to manually change his selection halfway up. Auto transmissions really are the way to go in the sand.
While these diesels are not smooth and quiet like most modern car diesels, they are not obnoxiously loud.
The best performance on noise, vibration and harshness is the Navara, the HiLux and Triton not far behind.
EVEN though the HiLux had the advantage in the fuel economy stakes because of the manual gearbox, it was no better than the Triton, which has the biggest capacity engine.
Both recorded about 10 litres/ 100km on the two-wheel-drive trot out to Birdsville with full loads.
Despite all loping along at about 2000 revs at 100km/h, the Navara used most fuel at 12 litres/100km.
We couldn’t accurately test economy in the sand while refuelling from jerry cans, but predicted the slow going in low-range four-wheel-drive raised consumption by up to 20 per cent.
THEY have to make them tough to take the beating they get from tradies, but we were surprised by how easily the trays scuffed up and buckled from the loads.
The HiLux and Navara are protected underneath, but the Triton had a couple of exposed wires on the drive actuator. One wire tore loose on the return journey. It didn’t affect drive operation but left the display confused.
Running bush mechanic repairs with superglue and the refill from a ballpoint pen proved helpful.
Bulldust and the fine Simpson sand was largely excluded, except when the door opened. The Triton and Navara had minor leakages around the doors.
None used a drop of oil, despite a long haul in low-range across the rolling Simpson Desert dunes.
We cleaned the air filters on a couple of occasions, glad to see they had all worked very well.
THESE vehicles are made for blokes and therefore don’t include a driver’s side vanity mirror, but passengers are well looked after in modern utes.
We liked the Navara’s cruise control, spacious interior and folding back seat; the Triton’s comprehensive onboard computer; and the HiLux’s simple compass, its 10 cupholders and Bluetooth capability.
Goldilocks would find the Navara seats too hard, the HiLux’s too soft and the Triton’s just right. But none had good lateral support.
Big Red one: the Simpson Desert utes lineup for action on Big Red.