Load ’em up

The HiLux’s suc­ces­sors play off. We pick the best

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Cover Story - STUART MARTIN stuart.martin@carsguide.com.au

LOAD-LUG­GERS that dou­ble as fam­ily wag­ons march on un­abated in the in­dus­try, fu­elled by “free” trade agree­ments and duty re­bates that keep them keenly priced.

They end the dom­i­na­tion of the pas­sen­ger-car based ute on build­ing sites or at the boat ramp.

Min­ing fleets drive the vol­ume but the user-chooser trades­peo­ple and pri­vate sales con­trib­ute a grow­ing chunk of the sales.

Toy­ota’s HiLux has long been the dom­i­nant force in this mar­ket but the ad­vent of five-star safety re­quire­ments in fleet ve­hi­cle poli­cies has brought sev­eral other play­ers into con­tention.

Up­dates to key com­peti­tors have war­ranted re­vis­it­ing the utes vy­ing for a chunk of the grow­ing light-com­mer­cial mar­ket.

Holden’s un­der­whelm­ing Colorado has had a midlife up­date, in­clud­ing a brain trans­plant for the au­to­matic — sadly Holden couldn’t get us one for this lit­tle bat­tle so we’re stuck with a man­ual, which hasn’t had much done to it at all.

Volk­swa­gen’s Amarok has been en­dowed with a lon­gau­to­matic trans­mis­sion — an eight-speed no less. The Mazda BT-50 has been given a boost, with the six-speeder added to more mod­els. Ford’s Ranger might not have had much done re­cently but it didn’t need it — the Aus­tralian-de­vel­oped util­ity has gath­ered quite a fan club since its de­but.


The fea­tures list varies lit­tle in this quar­tet — 17-inch al­loys (and full-size spares), rear diff locks, side steps, a leather­wrapped steer­ing wheel, car­pet floors, cli­mate con­trol (al­though Colorado’s is only sin­gle zone and none has rear vents), power mir­rors, mud­flaps all-round, cloth trim, rear sen­sors and Blue­tooth.

The Colorado LTZ crew-cab gets power ad­just­ment for the driver’s seat, soft ton­neau, re­vers­ing cam­era, the app-based MyLink touch­screen and al­loy sports bar to match the side­steps.

The Amarok High­line lacks a USB port and rear seat 12-volt out­let (but gets three up front). It is the only one with — wait for it — reach and rake ad­justable steer­ing, some­thing of a rar­ity in this seg­ment. It also has a sports bar for the tray, cargo bay light, in­su­lated glass, heated ex­te­rior mir­rors (shares with the fold­ing ex­te­rior mir­rors of the Ranger).

The Ranger XLT and BT-50 XTR sib­lings are dif­fer­en­ti­ated by the Mazda’s sat­nav and a re­duced war­ranty (to two years or 100,000km; ac­cord­ing to the man­u­fac­turer’s web­site, if you haven’t reached 100,000km at the end of two years, the cover ap­par­ently ex­tends to three years or 100,000km).

The Ford’s stan­dard fea­tures list gets some gear re­served for the top-spec Mazda, in­clud­ing an auto-dim­ming rear vi­sion mir­ror, auto head­lights, rain­sens­ing wipers, tow­bar and 12-volt out­let in the tray.


Drum brakes and leaf springs at the rear? You’d be for­given for con­sign­ing them to the scrap heap (at least there are wish­bones up­front) but it’s not all bad.

Min­i­mum trans­mis­sion tech is six-speed au­to­matic and all four have vari­able ge­om­e­try tur­bos, in­ter­cool­ers and com­mon-rail di­rect-in­jec­tion.

The Amarok has two tur­bos — a smaller first-re­spon­der and a sec­ond, larger but lazier — to spread and sus­tain the torque curve. Its eight-speed ZF auto doesn’t get a trans­fer case but runs con­stant 4WD and a has an ex­tra-low first gear in lieu of low range.



No, re­ally, the only de­sign el­e­ments that de­part from the square-jawed au­to­mo­tive in­car­na­tion of Roger Ram­jet are on the BT-50 and to some ex­tent the Colorado.

The Mazda’s “sur­prised Dame Edna” looks weren’t pop­u­lar when it ar­rived and the Holden is of­ten looked on less favourably than its Isuzu sec­ond cousin.

Dual-cabs mean the tray sizes aren’t long enough for se­ri­ous loads, though pay­loads are about one tonne.

The Amarok takes the hon­ours at just over 1.5 me­tres long and 1.2m be­tween the wheel arches. It also has the least braked tow­ing ca­pac­ity (3000kg; the oth­ers are 3500kg) and ground clear­ance (200mm).

The Ar­gen­tine-built VW also falls short when wad­ing (max­i­mum depth 500mm) while the Holden gets to 600mm and the twins 800mm.


All earn five safety stars and have six airbags, sta­bil­ity and trac­tion con­trol and anti-lock brakes. The Colorado has a lim­ited-slip diff but can­not match the oth­ers’ lock­ing rear diffs.

All have hill start as­sist and trailer sway con­trol. Only the Ford gets rain-sens­ing wipers.

The Amarok drops du­al­range but is unique in this group with con­stant 4WD and can run that way on the black­top.

The oth­ers’ old-school part­time 4WD runs rear-wheel drive when con­di­tions are at op­ti­mum.

Rear benches are equipped with lap-sash seat belts and the abil­ity to strap in kid­die booster seats; the Amarok and Colorado get three fac­to­ryin­stalled tether points.

The Holden and VW both re­quire both pull­straps to re­lease the back­rest — po­ten­tially a two-per­son job, while the other two are solo ef­forts.

The VW’s an­chor points are in­te­grated into the seat back­rest, the Colorado’s are welded in and the Ford and Mazda need bolts in­stalled post-fac­tory.


Sit­ting be­hind the driver’s po­si­tion is a good test of any cabin and all four can take four of me with­out a prob­lem.

The Colorado’s rear seat is the most up­right, with tight head­room but rea­son­able space for legs and feet. The driver sits high­est in the Colorado and gets power ad­just­ment but it’s eas­ier to get a bet­ter spot be­hind the wheel of the re­main­ing three and the Amarok’s driv­ing po­si­tion is best thanks to its reach’n’rake ad­justable steer­ing. The VW’s rear pas­sen­gers get a bet­ter back­rest an­gle and greater head­room but leg room is not as am­ple.

Ford and Mazda oc­cu­pants are well ac­com­mo­dated, al­though none of this group has vents for the rear pas­sen­gers. The Ford and the Mazda both ac­com­mo­date well in the back pew. The Mazda’s USB and aux­il­iary in­put are lo­cated in the glove­box in­stead of the Ford’s cen­tre con­sole po­si­tion­ing. Man­ual gear­boxes let the twins down — six-speed auto is the way to go in ei­ther.

The Colorado’s man­ual is bet­ter than that pair, but un­less you are des­per­ate for a clutch pedal the au­tos are much bet­ter op­tions. Off-road work in th­ese four has shown that there’s life in the el­derly ca­nines yet and if you need to cart kids to far flung lo­cales any of th­ese will do it.

Un­der­body pro­tec­tion, low range (not in the Amarok) and rear diff locks (the Colorado gets LSD in­stead) will con­quer most 4WD ter­rain with­out is­sue — Volk­swa­gen has cho­sen four solid rails in­stead of a bash plate, which leaves some small chance of pen­e­tra­tion of a vi­tal or­gan.

The vet­eran power plants of the Thai-built trio feel un­der­stressed and brawny com­pared with the lit­tle 2-litre twin turbo in the Volk­swa­gen.

At cruise the VW is the qui­etest and of­fers solid in-gear ac­cel­er­a­tion as well as a seam­less eight-speed auto — it was a lit­tle in­de­ci­sive in hills driv­ing but the sport mode took care of that.

The Amarok’s day-to-day re­fine­ment, ride qual­ity and fuel use is bet­ter than the oth­ers, cabin qual­ity is good, falls short in terms of some equip­ment no USB and nav.

Colorado is im­proved but still un­der­done, Ranger is still the one to beat in terms of equip­ment, Mazda’s in­te­rior is too black pla­s­ticky and the ex­te­rior is the least ap­peal­ing of the four.


Tough choice. As the cheap­est, the Colorado falls short on the fea­tures and re­fine­ment front, the Mazda shares the ex­cel­lent (in au­to­matic guise at least) turbo diesel driv­e­train with the Ford and has ex­tras such as sat­nav but the small car styling hasn’t car­ried across to light com­mer­cials.

The Amarok is fru­gal, quiet and re­fined but the twin-turbo 2.0-litre is un­der more pres­sure and is up against a proven five­cylin­der. Re­tain­ing low-range, the Ford has the VW beaten for off-road work and it’s just ahead on tow­ing. For a daily driver, the auto Amarok puts its square snout just in front.

The Mazda BT-50 aes­thet­ics in­side and out will de­ter some but it’s good value for money (you could step up to a GT for the same cash) and a more co­he­sive me­chan­i­cal pack­age than the im­proved Colorado — but the Holden should have been to this point in its de­vel­op­ment 18 months ago.

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