CASH AND CARRY

HOW TO SPEND $75K ON A WEEK­ENDER ... UTE, THAT IS

Mercury (Hobart) - Motoring - - FRONT PAGE - JOSHUA DOWL­ING

Cashed-up tradies are now spend­ing lux­ury-car money on dou­ble-cab utes. More than half the Toy­ota HiLuxes and Ford Rangers sold cost in ex­cess of $50,000. For this test we’re in the $60,000 to $70,000 bracket, thanks to the ar­rival of the new Mercedes X-Class. Time to see if th­ese work­horses-turned- show-ponies re­ally can be dual-pur­pose fam­ily cars.

FORD RANGER WILDTRAK

The HiLux is the top-sell­ing ute over­all but the Ranger was Australia’s favourite dou­ble-cab 4WD last year.

It re­mains the bench­mark, even though an up­date is due in Septem­ber with au­ton­o­mous emer­gency brak­ing, push-but­ton start, and the op­tion of the 2.0-litre twin turbo diesel and 10-speed auto from the up­com­ing Ranger Rap­tor. The Wildtrak is cur­rently listed at $66,950 drive-away but you can pay closer to $60,000 in run-out with some hag­gling.

Un­til the Mercedes ar­rived the Wildtrak was the most tech­ni­cally ad­vanced ute in its class. It still has some tech­nol­ogy not yet avail­able in the Benz, such as radar cruise con­trol, lane keep­ing as­sis­tance, Ap­ple CarPlay and An­droid Auto.

Unique in this trio, the Ranger packs a 230V house­hold power socket. All three con­tenders have USB and 12V power in the cabin and a 12V socket in the ute tub.

Own­ers love the Ranger’s tough looks and the grunt from the 3.2-litre five-cylin­der turbo diesel, the big­gest ca­pac­ity en­gine in the class.

The Ranger was de­signed and en­gi­neered here — al­though it is made in Thai­land — so it feels at home on lo­cal roads, with an im­pres­sive blend of com­fort and han­dling for a ute.

In this trio, the Wildtrak has the most stan­dard equip­ment — al­though the roller shut­ter on the ute tub can be fid­dly — yet it’s priced less than the Benz and not much more than the VW. As a dual pur­pose fam­ily car, the Ranger has more knee room in the back seat than the other pair, light yet pre­cise steer­ing, and a strong en­gine.

None of th­ese utes, how­ever, have a se­cure place in the cabin to hide a de­cent sized bag.

The Ranger is nois­ier than the oth­ers and the front disc/rear drum brake set-up doesn’t have the same re­as­sur­ing feel as the four-wheel discs on the VW and Merc, but it’s the most com­fort­able on patchy roads.

VW AMAROK HIGH­LINE

The Amarok, now one of the old­est utes in the class, is hold­ing its age well. In­tro­duced in 2011 with four-cylin­der power, VW added the V6 turbo diesel in 2016 to give it a new lease on life. The V6 High­line tested, nor­mally $66,300 drive-away, is cur­rently $58,990 drive-away as part of a long-term deal.

It shares the 3.0-litre V6 with Audi and Porsche SUVs, so it’s no slouch. Paired with an eight-speed auto and con­stant all-wheel drive, it feels like a sports car in this com­pany, claw­ing its way out of tight cor­ners with ease and ac­cel­er­at­ing from rest like a sling­shot.

The en­gine has a tough, truck-like sound and the steer­ing is sim­i­lar to the Ford: light with plenty of turns lock to lock. This means you can place the Amarok ex­actly where you want, even in bumpy cor­ners. It’s an engi­neer­ing feat such an old chas­sis is still among the class’s best.

That’s why it’s so dis­ap­point­ing the Amarok hasn’t kept pace with safety and tech­nol­ogy. It has only four airbags, for driver and front pas­sen­ger (the Ranger has six and the X-Class has seven), a ma­jor over­sight in a ve­hi­cle that claims to dou­ble as fam­ily trans­port. There are ap­par­ently no plans in this gen­er­a­tion for radar cruise con­trol, lane keep­ing as­sis­tance, au­ton­o­mous emer­gency brak­ing or push-but­ton

start — tech­nol­ogy that VW has at its fin­ger­tips. The Amarok is the only one of this trio with leather seats as stan­dard and height and reach ad­justable steer­ing, for the op­ti­mum driv­ing po­si­tion. As the widest ute here it’s most ac­com­mo­dat­ing for shoul­der room but knee room comes up short for rear pas­sen­gers ver­sus the other pair.

All three utes tested have two Isofix child seat mount­ing points in the rear but the VW can ac­com­mo­date a non-Isofix child seat in the mid­dle thanks to an ex­tra top tether latch.

MERCEDES-BENZ X-CLASS

It’s well doc­u­mented the X-Class shares much of its un­der­pin­nings — and its key — with the Nis­san Navara. How­ever, there are sig­nif­i­cant changes.

The foot­print is wider, the chas­sis has ex­tra strength­en­ing, the steer­ing and sus­pen­sion have been given the Mercedes touch and there’s ex­tra sound dead­en­ing to mute the Navara’s 2.3-litre four-cylin­der twin turbo diesel.

The seven-speed auto is matched to 4WD hard­ware that can only be used off-road, at odds with the 4Mo­tion badge on the tail­gate. Con­stant AWD will be stan­dard on the TDV6 due mid-year.

It’s the only ve­hi­cle in the class to date with au­ton­o­mous emer­gency brak­ing. It has lane wan­der warn­ing, which vi­brates the steer­ing wheel to alert the driver — in con­trast, the Ranger’s ac­tive lane keep­ing as­sis­tance steers the ve­hi­cle be­tween the lines.

In­side, the X-Class’s pre­sen­ta­tion is a step up. The in­stru­ment clus­ter, tablet-style dis­play screen and in­fo­tain­ment con­troller in the cen­tre con­sole are from the C-Class sedan.

The ex­tra width in the body has en­abled Mercedes to fit large door pock­ets. They make up for the tiny cen­tre con­sole and lack of odd­ment stor­age be­tween the front seats.

The push-but­ton start is poorly po­si­tioned, there’s no reach ad­just­ment in the steer­ing, and no Ap­ple Car Play or An­droid Auto.

On the road, the X-Class is slow­est of the three, in part be­cause it’s 150kg to 200kg heav­ier than the Navara.

It isn’t far be­hind the Ranger but the Amarok TDV6 is three sec­onds quicker in the in­dus­try- stan­dard 0-100km/h dash, an eter­nity in the ute world. The X-Class does a fair job of sup­press­ing noise, vi­bra­tion and harsh­ness but on the op­tional 19-inch wheels and tyres it jig­gled over bumps more than the oth­ers.

The op­tions list is eye-open­ing. The top of the range X-Class starts from $64,500 plus on-roads but the ex­am­ple tested is $75,520 drive-away.

For ex­am­ple, the sports bar (stan­dard on ri­vals) is $1551 and the tinted rear win­dows and slid­ing back win­dow (stan­dard fit­ment on topend Navaras) are part of a $2490 op­tion pack that in­cludes the 19-inch al­loys, side steps and roof rails.

Leather seats are an ex­tra $1750. At least both front pews have elec­tric ad­just­ment.

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