SAND&

The four-door work-and-play utes look good, but MARKHINCHLIFFE wanted to see how they go off road— a long way off road . . .

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Special Report -

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:

TRAYS

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.

HAN­DLING

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.

EN­GINES

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.

FUEL ECON­OMY

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.

QUAL­ITY

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.

COM­FORT

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.

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