COMPARISON TEST - THREE - UTE THROWDOWN
Spec-wise the latest top-of-the-line utes from Mazda, Mitsubishi and Toyota are very similar. So what are they like on and off the road? We spent a long day finding out…
In which we take three top-spec turbo-diesel double cab utes and spend a day on seal, gravel and mud to report on what we liked and what we, er, didn’t.
Time was when the words ‘ute’ and ‘Hilux’ were virtually interchangeable. New Zealand was a simpler place back then of course. These days consumers have virtually unlimited choice and a ‘one size’ Toyota ‘no longer fits all.’ To that end all the key players in the local ute market have created comprehensive ranges which – in theory anyway – cater for every possible use. One ‘sub-set’ which, no doubt, would have Toyota’s original ‘brand ambassador’ Barry Crump lifting his battle-worn slouch hat and scratching his head, is the luxury-trimmed, large diameter alloy wheel-equipped top-of-the-liners. It’s these that are selling though so we resolved to test both on and off the road and come up with our own conclusions.
For want of as level a playing field as possible we settled on a standard configuration – 4WD automatic transmission turbo-diesel double cab, ‘preferably the ‘Boss’s model’ (rather than the ‘boys’ one)’ we said in our email to the (by now, many and varied) distributors. Because we test out of the usual cycle of new vehicle launches it is getting harder and harder to find like-for-like vehicles to compare and contrast. What we ended up with could hardly been better though, Toyota’s new SR5 Cruiser, Mazda’s BT-50 ‘Special Edition’ and Mitsubishi’s premier
Vrx-spec Triton, all finished in a variation of what you could call ‘chic graphite grey.’ Price-wise there was a bit of a range with the BT-50 SE 4WD auto kicking things off at $53,995, the Toyota chiming in at a middle-of-the-road $55,990 and the Triton VRX rounding things out with an RRP of $62,990.
Originally I was going to use a mix of city and country tarseal and a gravel loop in Auckland’s rural northwest linked by one of those elusive ‘paper roads’ our columnist Peter Vahry often talks about. However, contributor Ashley Lucas did a quick recce and came back with good and bad news. The bad was that the paper road had been hacked into a series of deep waterfilled ruts and diff-snaring ridges which he felt could end up unnecessarily damaging our ‘dealer demos.’ The good, however, was that he knew ‘a farmer up that way’ with a property he might let us borrow.
With just three utes in our 2018 sample the driver choice was simple. There’d be me ( NZ4WD mag Editor and chief truck cleaner/detailer) Ross Mackay, colleague and off-road racing media man Mark Baker, and long-time contributor Ashley Lucas.