Work and play
Tested: dual-purpose utes that balance business with pleasure
YOU see it in the traffic. Utes account for four of the Top 10 sellers and are the third biggest segment in the new car market behind small cars and SUVs.
The Toyota HiLux had a stranglehold on the workhorse market for three decades but is losing its grip. The Ford Ranger in particular has closed the sales gap.
In their most popular configuration — four-door 4WDs — the Ranger has outsold the HiLux in four of the past seven months.
Now Holden has returned to the fray with a revitalised Colorado that brings big changes under the skin and a sharp price.
With the heavyweights on a more even footing, welcome to the toughest three-way test we’ve done so far this year.
FORD RANGER XLT
It’s easy to see why buyers are queuing for the Ranger. Its tough looks get them into the showroom, then its strongsounding five-cylinder turbo diesel and plush car-like comfort intoxicates them. It feels like a Range Rover compared to the other two tested here.
The Ranger XLT — the most popular variant — comes better equipped than its peers.
Standard fare includes a tow bar, ute tub liner, rear-view camera, 12V power socket in the tray, ample USB ports and 12V sockets in the cabin plus a household power point to charge a laptop.
The touchscreen will be updated by the end of this year to add Apple Car Play and embedded navigation.
The digital speed display in the instrument cluster is a rarity among workhorse utes.
Radar cruise control and automatic lane-keeping are an $800 option and, to date, remain exclusive to the Ranger in this class.
The materials might feel cheap but the cabin is well presented and practical, with massive door pockets and a glovebox so huge you’ll never find spare change again.
The Ranger’s steering is not reach adjustable but it has the equal most comfortable driver’s seat (shared with the HiLux).
Downsides? Brake feel could
be improved; the front discs are equal smallest among this trio yet the Ranger is significantly heavier than the others.
And a question mark is emerging over the Ranger’s long-term durability. For now the evidence is anecdotal but there is enough feedback to arouse our suspicions.
HOLDEN COLORADO LTZ
We are among the first to test the new Colorado LTZ alongside its peers — and it largely lives up to our initial impressions. The Colorado’s cabin looks good and is practical but the materials are “hard wearing” rather than luxurious, even if there is carpet in the door pockets.
Welcome additions: four “auto up” power windows, digital speed display, Apple Car Play and embedded navigation, rear view camera with guiding lines that turn with the steering, and electric adjustment for the driver’s seat.
However, it could do with better under thigh support.
The update also brings “forward crash alert” (although not auto braking) and lane wander warning (although not lane-keeping), the only one among its peers with these safety aids standard.
On the road, the turbo diesel in the Colorado was the loudest and least refined among this trio but it also has the most mumbo.
These are not performance vehicles but we did 0-100km/h acceleration tests and the results surprised. The Ranger was slower (10.5 seconds) than the Colorado (9.8) while the HiLux trailed the pack (12.2).
Apart from the extra engine noise, the list of criticisms of the Colorado is relatively short. Below 60km/h on city and suburban roads the Colorado suspension is not as plush as the Ranger but, once at cruising speeds. comes close to matching the Ford for comfort.
The Colorado LTZ doesn’t get a tub liner, tow bar, or 240V power socket as standard and there is only one USB port. But the Colorado has an ace up its sleeve: price.
TOYOTA HILUX SR5
Sit in the HiLux and you immediately feel the step up in quality.
The steering wheel could be from a VW Golf GTI, with its bulging grips and leather stitching.
Uniquely among this trio, the steering wheel has height and reach adjustment and the driver’s seat is superbly comfortable, with ample adjustment and under thigh support.
All four windows have an “auto-up” function and there is a household power socket to charge a laptop.
The SR5 is the only one among this trio with a chilled console above the glovebox, a sensor key with push-button start and tinted rear glass.
Interior presentation is best in class, although not everyone is a fan of the tablet-style touchscreen, which lacks an audio dial and Apple CarPlay but comes with embedded navigation.
The screen in the instrument cluster lacks a digital speed display.
From this month onwards, the SR5’s price has risen by $400 to cover the cost of a standard tow bar.
A tub liner is still an extracost option and there’s no plan to add a power socket to the tray.
On the road the HiLux is quieter and more refined than the others here when the engine is at cruising revs but there’s no mistaking it for a diesel once you put your foot down.
As the only one here with hydraulic power steering (rather than electric), the HiLux has the best steering feel, which inspires confidence in corners. It also has the best braking performance and feel.
On smooth surfaces the suspension is fine but once the road gets choppy it feels too firm.
In an unusual twist, the SR5 flagship is not as comfortable as the more affordable HiLux models on smaller rims and more cushioned tyres.
We wouldn’t talk anyone out of buying any of these three utes.
If you want superior off-road ability, the most refinement and the best quality, reliability and fuel economy, look no further than the HiLux.
If you want the most comfortable and best equipped workhorse for the daily grind, the Ranger is the pick.
However, the Holden wins. The Toyota and Ford utes come with hefty prices — and the Colorado’s drive-away price is at least $8000 cheaper. It drives almost as well as a Ranger, has a stronger (if noisier) engine and is relatively well-equipped.
Holden has just flung a hand-grenade into the booming ute market.