Work­horse and show pony

Ver­sa­til­ity is the dual-cab ute’s stock in trade

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Used Showroom - STU­ART MARTIN stu­art.martin@cars­

TOW­ING the tools dur­ing the week and the toys at the week­end has never been eas­ier or more com­fort­able.

Where once the tradie ute was a two-door three-on-abench cabin with a column­shift gear­box and anAMra­dio that made an alarm clock/ra­dio sound good, 21st cen­tury machines are far closer to pas­sen­ger cars.

The ven­er­a­ble Toy­ota HiLux has come un­der fire from all sides, cop­ping blows from Ja­panese, Ger­man and even lo­cally devel­oped Thai-built Ford prod­ucts in re­cent years.

Yet the Toy­ota work­horse fin­ished 2012 as the sec­ond big­gest-sell­ing ve­hi­cle on the lo­cal mar­ket, as well as the most pop­u­lar ute and best­selling four-wheel-drive within a seg­ment that’s grown sub­stan­tially.

By the end of 2003, there were 50,670 4WDpick-up/cabchas­sis ve­hi­cles sold in a mar­ket that to­talled 909,811 sales. Fast-for­ward five years and the4WD ute seg­ment to­talled 83,308 with 12 models from nine brands on sale in a to­tal mar­ket of 1.01 mil­lion.

Last year, in a to­tal mar­ket of 1.11 mil­lion, it speared well past the six-fig­ure mark, record­ing 124,536 sales for 14 models from 11 brands. The rea­son: ver­sa­til­ity. The more re­cently re­leased dual-cabs now war­rant some de­sign fo­cus to make the rear seat use­ful for more than short trips to the shop at smoko.

Right-an­gled seat cush­ions have made way for more com­fort­able benches, lap-sash seat belts and child an­chors. Road man­ners are far less rudi­men­tary.

The features lists have im­proved— FMra­dio, seat ad­just­ment and air­con are no longer con­sid­ered nam­by­pamby— as has the level of safety gear, with airbags, an­tilock brakes and even sta­bil­ity con­trol fit­ted in re­cent times. The fleet mar­ket was largely re­spon­si­ble for putting the HiLux into the top 10 ve­hi­cles list but plenty of user-chooser cus­tomers need a more ver­sa­tile ma­chine.

The re­sult of ex­panded choice in the seg­ment and in­creased com­pe­ti­tion has led to a wide range of makes and models, each with plenty of kit.

HiLux still rules the roost but the oth­ers are gain­ing, adding features and sharp­en­ing prices to get a big­ger chunk. (Note: Im­ages, prices and odo read­ings are rep­re­sen­ta­tive. See cars­ for hun­dreds more choices)

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