They’re NZ’S most pop­u­lar utes, but be­yond brand loy­alty, is one bet­ter than the rest? We put them to a de­cathalon of tests to find out the gold medal cham­pion of cham­pi­ons.

New Zealand LCV - - CONTENTS - Story: Dean Evans Pho­tos: Ger­ald Shack­lock

Gath­er­ing the great­est to­gether for a 10-event ute shootout, as they go for gold.

FORD RANGER, TOY­OTA HILUX AND Holden Colorado have dom­i­nated sales charts over re­cent years. With such brand loy­alty and fierce sales com­pe­ti­tion, in the wake of the Win­ter Olympics, we felt it was time to put to­gether our own chal­lenge: the Ute-lympics.

Each of th­ese utes has earned its right to com­pete, as the top spec of their re­spec­tive mod­els: the Ranger Wild­trak, Colorado Z71 se­ries and the up­dated Hilux SR5 Cruiser. Like the qua­dren­nial sport­ing event, we’ve gath­ered to­gether the most elite in their class, all closely matched, and put them over a gru­elling – well, at least chal­leng­ing – de­cathalon of tests to find out their strengths and weak­nesses, in a grab for gold, sil­ver and bronze medals and points, across a se­ries of eclec­tic tests mix­ing hard num­bers with sub­jec­tive opin­ion, to see who wins which events, and who comes out on top.

Each in­di­vid­u­ally bril­liant and beloved, it’s only when the best come to­gether that the sub­tle nu­ances and dif­fer­ences can be as­sessed, high­light­ing strengths and weak­nesses. So, as th­ese top three look to reestab­lish them­selves as the top sell­ers in 2018, we present the first LCV mag­a­zine Ute-lympics. Let the games be­gin!

All closely matched, we put them over a chal­leng­ing de­cathalon of tests in a grab for gold, sil­ver and bronze.

Round 1 – Price

The first hur­dle for al­most any new ve­hi­cle buy­ing de­ci­sion be­gins with price. But if it were that sim­ple for th­ese three, Hilux SR5 Cruiser wins by a mile, be­ing $7000 cheaper than Colorado Z71, and $11,500 cheaper than Ranger Wild­trak. But we’ve also con­sid­ered their range sib­lings and price span, en­try price and like-for-like com­par­isons.

The choice of spec­i­fi­ca­tion level across the three brands is vast: there are nine vari­a­tions of Colorado, 14 of Hilux and 16 of Ranger. Cheap­est of the lot is the Hilux 2WD cab chas­sis man­ual at $32,790, top­ping out at the $57,990 4WD SR5 Dou­ble Cab SR5 Cruiser auto, for a span of $25,200.

Colorado starts with the LS sin­gle cab chas­sis 2WD man­ual at $39,990, up to the range-top­ping 4WD Crew Cab Z71 auto at $64,990 – a sim­i­lar span of $25,000.

The Ranger starts at $36,040 for the 2WD XL sin­gle cab chas­sis, top­ping out at $69,640 for the Wild­trak – a large $33,600 span cov­er­ing the equally large 16 vari­a­tions, and ba­si­cally cre­at­ing a Ranger price point for just about any buyer bud­get.

On those fig­ures, the Hilux jumps to an early win, not just for its cheap­est en­try point, but its value against its top-spec peers. That does come with com­pro­mise to some equip­ment, but that’s a sep­a­rate test. Sec­ond place is a tough one. Colorado is a tighter choice, with a slightly cheaper en­try

With price put aside, it’s sim­ply an easy win for the Ranger. Its price does com­mand a pre­mium, but for that the Wild­trak of­fers tech­nol­ogy like ac­tive cruise con­trol, speed lim­iter, col­li­sion warn­ing and lane-keep as­sist, auto lights and wipers, a fully con­fig­urable dash and gauge lay­out, of­fer­ing ev­ery­thing from an LCD tacho to trip com­puter specs. Smart­phone repli­ca­tion is of­fered (also Colorado), and the leather and stitch­ing looks and feels qual­ity, and with nav­i­ga­tion and elec­tric seats, Ranger’s price be­comes ap­par­ent. It has the big­gest en­gine, mated to a six-speed auto with a se­quen­tial shift ori­ented the ‘cor­rect’ way, to flow with in­er­tia (for­ward while brak­ing to down­shift). Dual zone cli­mate con­trol, heated seats… the list goes on and while the oth­ers aren’t short on some of this tech and spec, they don’t have it all.

Sec­ond place isn’t as clear: Colorado just edges ahead, with heated seats, col­li­sion warn­ing, lane­keep­ing, sin­gle-zone cli­mate, smart­phone repli­ca­tion and a large touch­screen that works well with the tactile but­tons. Want the ra­dio? Press the but­ton. Want­ing to change sta­tions, then con­sult the touch­screen; then there’s the fail-safe home but­ton. It’s loaded with tech, and leaves the feel­ing that it’s for­got­ten noth­ing – un­til com­pared to Wild­trak. And then there’s the Colorado’s neat­est and very prac­ti­cal party trick: re­mote key­fob start­ing, per­fect to get the AC or heater pump­ing, or to re­motely ac­ti­vate all four win­dows.

That leaves Hilux in third, but only by de­fault. It’s the only one with prox­im­ity key­less en­try and start­ing, and when jump­ing in and out mul­ti­ple times a day, that’s quite ap­peal­ing. Cruise con­trol, cli­mate con­trol, heated seats are all there, along with an idle-up but­ton. The large touch screen is very tablet­like, though lack­ing smart­phone mir­ror­ing. There’s also eco and power mode but­tons to tai­lor throt­tle map­ping and air-con use. Price doesn’t al­ways dic­tate spec, but for th­ese three, it’s like three subtly dif­fer­ent lev­els.

Wild­trak of­fers ac­tive cruise con­trol, speed lim­iter, col­li­sion warn­ing and lane-keep as­sist

We loaded up the rear seats with three boofy blokes to re­ally test the com­fort lev­els.

Round 3 – Prac­ti­cal­ity

Ba­sic us­abil­ity and prac­ti­cal­ity is the abil­ity to sim­ply get in and use day-to-day. Things like seat com­fort and ad­justa­bil­ity, driv­ing po­si­tion, num­ber of pock­ets, cup-hold­ers and bins, phone con­nec­tiv­ity and rear seat ac­com­mo­da­tion, with con­sid­er­a­tion to some prac­ti­cal driv­ing as­pects and re­lated spec­i­fi­ca­tions.

All three are re­mark­ably sim­i­lar, with the Colorado’s driv­ing po­si­tion slightly higher.

Only Hilux of­fers ad­justable reach for the steer­ing, which pre­vents long-arm fa­tigue. Hilux also wins the stor­age con­test: along with a pair of cuphold­ers in front of the shifter plus a small prac­ti­cal stor­age bin in front of them, there’s another phone/wal­let sized pocket be­tween the seats and even shop­ping hooks on the rear of the front seats. Ranger is next best, with bins and pock­ets and stor­age dot­ted around the cabin. Colorado’s shal­low stor­age pock­ets are OK – in­clud­ing neat lit­tle leather pock­ets on the front of the front seat bases – but just not quite up with the oth­ers for day-to-day us­abil­ity and prac­ti­cal­ity. A pair of re­mov­able cup-hold­ers in front of each vent is a nice touch, though Hilux bet­ters this idea by mak­ing them in­te­grated into the dash, and stow­able. Both Ranger and Hilux also get in­ver­tor 230v sock­ets, while Ranger also gets an air-con­di­tioned cen­tre con­sole.

Across the rear seat, they’re all fairly sim­i­lar, in slightly dif­fer­ent ways. Loaded up with three boofy blokes to re­ally test the com­fort level, the Colorado stands out with its high cen­tre seat, and Hilux is slightly more of a squeeze, par­tic­u­larly for foot room, but all are re­mark­ably com­fort­able with just two in the rear seat.

Ex­ter­nally, size could be an is­sue with some garages or un­der­ground ar­eas: Ranger is long­est at 5351mm, ex­clud­ing tow bar; Hilux is 5335mm and Colorado 5347mm, but Colorado is also widest at 1882mm, vs Ranger 1860mm and Hilux 1855mm. Ranger is also 68mm taller than Colorado, at 1.85 me­tres, which may be an is­sue in some low spa­ces.

Another small vic­tory for Hilux is the turn­ing cir­cle, which at 12.2m is tighter than the Ranger’s 12.4m, a re­sult that’s equally im­pres­sive for the Ranger given its much longer wheel­base of 3220mm (vs Hilux 3090mm). Colorado’s three-point-turn in­duc­ing 12.7m turn­ing cir­cle is at odds with its short wheel­base (3096mm), also ham­per­ing its agility in park­ing spa­ces.

Con­sid­er­ing off-road prac­ti­cal­ity, we put a slight slant to­wards ap­proach/de­par­ture an­gles, then wad­ing depth. Hilux has the best an­gles of 31/26 de­grees, with 700mm wad­ing, just ahead of Ranger with 29/28 de­grees, and 800mm wad­ing, while Colorado man­ages 28/22 de­grees and 600mm.

We’re start­ing to see a pat­tern form­ing; of­ten one ute stands out against the oth­ers

Round 4 – Safety

All three ve­hi­cles get five-star ANCAP crash rat­ings, re­vers­ing cam­eras and an ar­ray of airbags - to some ex­tent, the prices re­flect the safety equip­ment. Along with the usu­als, Ranger Wild­trak scores adap­tive cruise con­trol, speed lim­iter, col­li­sion mit­i­ga­tion with dis­tance alert, lane de­par­ture, hill as­sist and de­scent con­trols, load-adap­tive con­trol and trailer sway con­trol.

Colorado is equally equipped with for­ward col­li­sion alert, lane de­par­ture warn­ing, roll-over mit­i­ga­tion, hill-start and de­scent con­trol, and trailer sway con­trol.

Hilux isn’t short on fea­tures ei­ther, with trailer sway con­trol, hill-start as­cent and de­scent con­trol, and an emer­gency stop sig­nal. Nei­ther the Z71 nor Hilux are in any way less safe, it’s just that in the Wild­trak, the higher price brings with it a few ex­tras, and price-for-fea­tures, they rank where their dol­lars sug­gest.

Ford Ranger has larger mus­cles, but Colorado uses bet­ter steroids.

Round 5 – The Drive

The drive is vi­tal, and for this test, we’re start­ing to see a pat­tern form­ing; of­ten one ute stands out against the oth­ers, and it was cer­tainly the case with our 20km drive loop, taken con­sec­u­tively with each ute, over the same con­di­tions, each loaded up with the same peo­ple, for driver and pas­sen­ger opin­ion. Then it was driver-only, all sec­tions eval­u­at­ing en­gine per­for­mance, ride, steer­ing and han­dling.

Both Ranger and Colorado of­fer very sim­i­lar driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ences, each with solid steer­ing, very ca­pa­ble han­dling and good power. But the Colorado’s en­gine bumps it up another level, al­ways eager to shoot the ute down the road like an ex­cited Al­sa­tian on its first walk in a week.

The Ranger does it in a to­tally dif­fer­ent way, with its 12 per­cent larger 3.2-litre en­gine. In a way, the Ford has larger mus­cles, but Colorado uses bet­ter steroids, via higher (18psi) turbo boost. From an au­ral sense, the Ranger sounds fan­tas­tic, al­most de­void of any diesel rat­tle, and in its place a dis­tinc­tive five-cylin­der war­ble full of char­ac­ter. On top of that, it’s also the qui­etest cabin, by a no­tice­able mar­gin. And for those el­e­ments, it just edges ahead.

The Hilux is the stand­out here, but mainly for its ride-qual­ity: sav­ing the new­est for last, we were all a lit­tle sur­prised to dis­cover how firm and jit­tery the Hilux’s ride qual­ity is, es­pe­cially over slight cor­ru­ga­tions, but even over smooth road. It’s no­tice­ably firmer, which would pay off for heavy duty work, but with pas­sen­gers aboard – ei­ther driver or four-up – the Hilux wasn’t as com­pli­ant.

Hilux’s 2.8-litre en­gine is sim­i­larly ca­pa­ble – de­spite lack­ing ei­ther the char­ac­ter or torque of the Ford, or in­stant ur­gency of the Holden – and the gear­box and steer­ing ev­ery bit as good as the oth­ers. But in a round where all are so sim­i­larly matched, where we even have a tie for gold, it’s the lit­tle things we have to iso­late to find the fin­ish­ing or­der.

Round 6 - Per­for­mance

The 100m dash is the blue riband event at the Olympics, and while per­for­mance times and 0-100km/h may not be vi­tal statis­tics for utes, they do re­flect an abil­ity to get it­self out of trou­ble, rather than in it. Over­tak­ing, hill­climbs and the daily dash are all fac­tors, whether it’s lug­ging around the tools or the fam­ily. And of course there’s the all-im­por­tant mine’s-fasterthan-yours brag­ging rights.

So with that in mind, we found our­selves at the home of NZ drag rac­ing, the Fram Au­to­lite Drag­way, also known as Mere­mere drags, and its strip of sticky quarter-mile. That’s the the­ory, with to­day’s rain nor­mally can­celling the party. But in 4x4 utes, in 4H mode, grip sim­ply isn’t af­fected – we even tested the utes in 2WD the day af­ter in the dry, and the times were iden­ti­cal.

So on a triv­ially wet track, we slipped into the Ranger, with VBOX tim­ing gear. With the throt­tle and brake loaded a lit­tle to take away driv­e­train slack, the Ranger raises the nose and just gets on with it, do­ing it all rather ef­fort­lessly. Zero to 60km/h and 100km/h times flash up and set the mark­ers for the other to beat: 4.7 and 11.5 sec­onds re­spec­tively, on its way to a 17.7 sec­ond quarter-mile. Will that be enough? Into the Hilux…

We have to give the Toy­ota some lat­i­tude here, as this SR5 Cruiser was reg­is­tered just for us, for this test, with just 250km on the clock. Be­ing 15 per­cent smaller en­gine ca­pac­ity than the Ranger, it’s al­ready fac­ing two chal­lenges. Im­pres­sively, how­ever, the Hilux jumps to 60km/h on its first run, with a very quick 0-20km/h leap, be­fore ta­per­ing off a lit­tle and equalling the Ranger at 4.7 sec­onds, and bet­ters it on the sec­ond run to 4.6 sec­onds. Be­yond 60, how­ever, Hilux still feels tight, and with 0-100km/h times of 12.3 and 12.1 sec­onds, it was ac­tu­ally get­ting a lit­tle freer and faster with each run, but two more runs also net­ted the same 12.1.

Sim­i­lar story over the quarter-mile, ini­tially run­ning 18.2, then a pair of 18.0s, a frac­tion slower than Ranger with 121km/h. Give it another 1000km and a looser en­gine, and we’re sure the no­tice­ably new Hilux would pick up a bit of speed, but we don’t think it’d be able to match or bet­ter Ranger on all mark­ers.

Then the Colorado am­bled in, with a glint in its eye and a wicked rep­u­ta­tion. We’d pre­vi­ously tested a black Z71 and broke un­der both the 4.0 and 10.0 sec­ond bar­ri­ers, but this newer white ver­sion was a frac­tion off. Not that it mat­tered: the Colorado still hauled its way down the strip. It jumps to 60km/h in 4.1 sec­onds, 0.6 faster than the other two, ex­tend­ing the gap to 1.3 sec­onds to 100km/h, be­fore cross­ing the 402m fin­ish line not just 0.6 faster than the Ranger, but at a faster 127km/h.

So the Usain Bolt tro­phy goes to Colorado, with the Ranger just man­ag­ing to hold off the new, tight Hilux, for a close sec­ond-third fin­ish.

Round 7 – Tow­ing

Utes tow, that’s a real strength, so we need to break down the dif­fer­ences here on spec and prac­ti­cally. They’re all tow-rated to 750kg un­braked/3500kg braked, but there’s also fine print. Ranger is same across the range, ex­cept a spe­cial-or­der 2WD en­try level model rated to 2500kg. Pay­load is 950kg.

Colorado has the same 3500kg ca­pac­ity across the range, but its class-lead­ing 500Nm is only of­fered when cou­pled with the auto: a man­ual gear­box drops torque to 440Nm. Pay­load varies a lit­tle, but in Z71, it’s 1007kg.

Hilux has the most anom­alies from 3500kg, with three of the four en­try level mod­els rated to 2500kg. It also has the light­est pay­load, at 925kg.

We found our way back to Ken­nards Hire, Hamil­ton, where we hooked up three iden­ti­cal en­closed trail­ers, each loaded up with bal­last to tip the scales at 1000kg. Not a huge chal­lenge for th­ese three, but at least typ­i­cal and iden­ti­cal, given that man­u­fac­tur­ers claim most own­ers tow be­tween 1-1.5 tonne.

With all three utes tak­ing the same loop, the dif­fer­ences are sub­tle. We chal­lenged them to another 0-60km/h drag race, with Ranger feel­ing strong against the ex­tra weight, clock­ing 6.4 sec­onds (against its un­laden 4.7), a 1.7 sec­ond and 36 per­cent in­crease.

Hilux ben­e­fited most from the tow­ing test, the ex­tra weight set­tling down the firm rear end and mak­ing it more com­pli­ant. Our blue SR5 Cruiser was so new, Toy­ota didn’t get a chance to fit a tow bar, so we did the same loop a few days later with another iden­ti­cal tow-barred white SR5 Cruiser, and man­aged a 0-60km/h tow­ing time of 6.6 sec­onds af­ter three at­tempts, just off the larger-en­gined Ranger, but 2.0 sec­onds and 40 per­cent slower than its un­laden time of 4.6 sec­onds.

Prov­ing big boost is best, Colorado was least re­sis­tant to the tow­ing bal­last, clock­ing just 5.4 sec­onds for 0-60km/h, just 0.7 slower than the other two’s un­laden times! And just 1.3 sec­onds and 31 per­cent slower than its own un­laden time.

Ranger does it so ef­fort­lessly, and uses its en­gine ca­pac­ity rather than turbo boost to haul the weight. But tow­ing isn’t about speed and tenths of a sec­ond, it’s about torque and fuel use and feel. Colorado grunts out 500Nm at a low 2000rpm, but Ranger does ba­si­cally the same job us­ing less fuel and what ‘feels’ like less ef­fort. It’s another case of three ve­hi­cles, let-alone two, be­ing so closely matched, it’s dif­fi­cult to split. So in this case, we won’t for the gold. Hilux’s tow­ing ca­pa­bil­ity in re­al­ity is just as good, if not bet­ter suited, but when we’re try­ing to split them, it’s just the num­bers that aren’t as good, as it could quite eas­ily be a three-way tie.

Round 8 – Econ­omy

Power and per­for­mance of­ten comes at a price, and it’s the fuel econ­omy that some­times suf­fers, and the abil­ity to be both fast and fru­gal is a rare de­light. So we re­set our trio’s fuel me­ters be­fore our test loops, en­com­pass­ing all our days’ test­ing over near 500km. For a fairer eval­u­a­tion, we also cross-ref­er­enced our test ar­chives for fuel us­age dur­ing longer terms with each ve­hi­cle.

Man­u­fac­turer claims are a good start­ing point, and we’ve used those to cal­cu­late a the­o­ret­i­cal range from each tank.

We’ve also in­cluded the fuel use from the tow­ing tests into the fi­nal anal­y­sis, and though our Hilux’s num­bers were high on test, we’ve con­sid­ered the less-than-500km en­gine, and taken into ac­count sep­a­rate fuel re­sults from pre­vi­ous long-term tests. The over­all re­sult is hard to ig­nore, its smaller ca­pac­ity en­gine and lower boost (than Colorado) be­ing two com­bi­na­tions that re­ally score well for econ­omy, cou­pled with its 80-litre tank of­fer­ing the largest the­o­ret­i­cal range of 941km.

Colorado and Ranger were harder to split, with strengths in dif­fer­ent ar­eas. Though its en­gine is 12 per­cent larger, Ranger’s claim uses just two-per­cent more fuel; it is a grunty beast while tow­ing, do­ing it with less ef­fort and fuel use than Colorado. Its 80-litre tank, ver­sus the Holden’s 76-litre of­fers a frac­tion more the­o­ret­i­cal range, but in our test­ing, we’ve seen the Ranger is a lit­tle more thirsty, and it used al­most 15 per­cent more fuel than Colorado dur­ing this test, and over a longer term.

For all its power and per­for­mance, the Colorado does a great job, and if not for the Hilux’s larger tank and longer range, Colorado could have been a win­ner here, too.

Round 9 – She Said

Though not part of the di­rect com­par­i­son, I was able to drive each ute over three dif­fer­ent nights dur­ing our time with each model, and for me, as a fe­male con­sumer who rep­re­sents a part (some say a large part) of the buy­ing de­ci­sion, as pre­sented, I liked the Hilux SR5 in its black and blue hue. The rugged, mas­cu­line rep­u­ta­tion is soft­ened a lot inside, where it’s re­ally mod­ern and I liked the look and feel and drive. On its own, I didn’t no­tice the firm ride dis­cussed ear­lier, but I was driv­ing mostly over smooth roads. Value for money, it’s hard to go past the Hilux.

There’s some­thing about the Colorado I also like: it’s my favourite look­ing of the three, and the high seat­ing po­si­tion of­fers a good view. Stor­age is a mild pain, when jump­ing in a find­ing an easy spot for a purse and phone, but the re­sponse from that en­gine is just fan­tas­tic.

But there are so many ap­peal­ing things

Round 10 – Af­ter-sales

War­ranty and ser­vic­ing and af­ter-sales sup­port is also an im­por­tant as­pect of any new ve­hi­cle, with Holden of­fer­ing Com­plete Care, its three-years/100,000km of free ser­vic­ing, which also cov­ers it war­ranty terms. There’s also 24/7 road­side as­sist, and 56 ser­vice cen­tres na­tion­wide.

Ford of­fers the same three-year/100,000km war­ranty, plus free road­side as­sis­tance, and free nav­i­ga­tion map up­dates with ev­ery ser­vice, sched­uled ev­ery 15,000km.

Toy­ota of­fers the same three­year/100,000km with a paid op­tional fiveyears/150,000km, plus a pre-paid ser­vic­ing op­tion that can be con­fig­ured into a fi­nance or lease pack­age.

For our money, pun in­tended, Holden’s Com­plete Care gives it the win, with Ford’s road­side as­sis­tance putting it ahead of the op­tional paid ex­tras for Hilux. about the Ranger, from the car-like cabin feel and cushy seat, to the quiet cabin de­void of al­most any rat­tly diesel truck sound.

Pick­ing an or­der is like pick­ing favourite chil­dren, as they each ap­peal to me in dif­fer­ent ways. As much as I love it, Hilux is third only be­cause the rear door aper­ture is quite short, mak­ing ac­cess to the rear tight, es­pe­cially if reach­ing for kids’ seat­belt buck­les. And I feel a bit bad about rank­ing it on that, but it’s that tight.

So the choice be­tween Colorado and Ranger comes down to price. If it’s hubby’s money, it’s Ranger hands-down. If it’s mine,

I love the Hilux, but pick­ing an or­der is like pick­ing favourite chil­dren

Ken­nards Hire Hamil­ton looked af­ter us for our tow test, with three iden­ti­cal en­closed trail­ers, loaded with the same bal­last, to be around 1000kg. Though Hilux would have to be tested a few days later.

It’s just a sim­ple plastic holder, but it’s enough to help make Hilux the most prac­ti­cal inside.

Ranger in­te­rior is the nicest, due to its form-fit­ting seats, and most amount of equip­ment, in­clud­ing ac­tive cruise con­trol and lane de­par­ture, though its price is in­dica­tive.

Hilux in­te­rior gets a lot of good gear, in­clud­ing touch­screen, cli­mate con­trol, dual USBS and a power/eco mode that af­fects shift­ing and AC. It’s also the most prac­ti­cal.

Colorado is well equipped with heated seats, col­li­sion warn­ing set­ting on the steer­ing wheel, and a very good com­bi­na­tion of but­tons and touch­screen

Above, left to right: Colorado’s re­mote key start is bril­liant, and its can cool­ers are re­mov­able. Hilux is only one with key­less push-but­ton start.

point, but through each mod­els’ range, there are mod­els that go head-to-head. But given the Colorado Z71 is $4650 cheaper than Wild­track, that’s too hard to ig­nore.

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