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.
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.