Wheels (Australia)

ED’S LETTER

“I WAS ASKED WHY WE DIDN’T HAVE ANY DUAL-CAB UTES AT CAR OF THE YEAR LAST ISSUE, AND THE ANSWER WAS EASY: AS A PASSENGER VEHICLE, THEY’RE JUST NOT GOOD ENOUGH”

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THIS MONTH I found myself driving Australia’s best-selling new vehicle, the Toyota Hilux, and not to immediatel­y throw shade on it, but I couldn’t help but wonder why it’s so popular.

I’m probably better off talking about dual-cab utes in general, but last year it was the Hilux that topped the new vehicle sales charts in Australia with 45,176 units. In second position, Ford sold 40,973 Rangers. The Mitsubishi Triton slotted in seventh (18,136 sales), meaning three dual-cabs were among the top 10 favoured vehicles of the nation. Indeed, that has been the case every year since 2016.

Now, people who own these vehicles love them, and I think that’s excellent. And if I may proffer further praise of the humble dual-cab, it does serve a good purpose. It’s a workhorse with plenty of torque, great for towing, can take a payload and holds its own off-road. There’s also a reassuring versatilit­y about dual-cab utes; they really are the multi-tool of vehicles. If I lived in the bush on a dirt road, and I have, I’d probably be driving a dual-cab ute, too. There isn’t another vehicle that makes me feel more Australian. And in terms of interior quality and finishes, some are getting super nice.

But I don’t live in the middle of nowhere anymore, and I see a lot of pristine-clean dual-cab utes in inner-city Melbourne, sometimes with kids in the back (as in the seats, not the tray...), being used, it appears, as general passenger vehicles. This is my beef with them. Fringe benefit tax breaks are the only way I could explain this.

Why do people buy them for city use? Generally speaking, they’re pretty terrible to drive. I love driving anything and everything, but do dual-cabs really need to be as compromise­d as they are? Built for payloads, they’re normally bumpy, uncomforta­ble and skip around in the rear. Most of them still have nasty, cheap interior finishes, are physically huge and are very thirsty. The Hilux I had – the latest SR5 dual-cab with its 150kW/500Nm 2.8-litre turbodiese­l – also languished with slow steering and, like every other dual-cab I’ve driven, suffered from an irksome, persistent wobble felt through the whole vehicle every single bump it hit.

As someone still fairly new to dual-cab utes, I honestly hoped for a lot more. If you’re not regularly using your dualcab for towing, or using the tray, I am at a total loss why anyone would buy one as a family vehicle in which to drive around the city or suburbia.

Obviously a lot of people feel the same way, and that would go some way to explaining the rise and rise of the SUV. Where a dual-cab ute is like a very light truck, an SUV is a car. For comfort and handling, there is literally no comparison.

I was asked why we didn’t have any dual-cab utes at Car of the Year last issue, and the answer was easy: as a passenger vehicle, they’re just not good enough. Relevant as they may be as Australia’s favourite four-wheeled machine, for a nation that coveted, understood and practiced great automotive engineerin­g and vehicle dynamics for so long, the ongoing and even growing popularity of the dual-cab ute is an oddity. We’ve regressed, in a sense.

Given their popularity, we actually want to do a better job of covering them online and in print, but it will be while campaignin­g for improvemen­ts to their dynamics, comfort and safety. Lord knows there’s plenty of room for all that.

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