Delivery Magazine’s Ute of the Year contest promotes some interesting results in the fit-for-purpose equation

It’s the thriving segment of the light commercial vehicle industry and utes figure large in the buyer’s mindset as a bridge between workhorse and status symbol. But just which models work better than others can only be debated after extensive comparison testing running at the same laden weight and over the same course.

Judgement Day

Stuart Martin leads the evaluation team as the contest begins

Delivery_Ute_testing_27Ford Ranger Wildtrak

The defending titleholder, in its new brutish suit, picks up where its predecessor left off and tops the table yet again.

Park it next to the BT-50 and it’s not hard to see why it outsold the Mazda so comprehensively despite the Japanese brand’s better value equation. That dollars-for-sense argument goes on unabated, but it boasts the strongest list of active safety equipment you can find in the segment.

The Ranger also offers a genuine one-tonne payload and with 400 kg on board its road manners are second only to the Amarok in terms of ride, but corners with slightly better behaviour than the VW.

The smart six-speed auto and the 147 kW/470 Nm five-cylinder turbodiesel form a smooth, quiet and effective pairing, the only problem perhaps being too much torque on slipperier surfaces, waking the traction control more often than most.

Holden Colorado LTZDelivery_Ute_testing_18

The dual-cab from Holden is a price-point fighter at $50,490 and in possession of some good numbers on the spec sheet, but it is still a little rough around the edges.

The six-speed automatic 2.8-litre turbodiesel lays claim to 147 kW and 500 Nm, but its torque spread is not that of the Ford’s five-cylinder with Ranger’s transmission.

The hard-plastic dated interior doesn’t score, but the features list is within the segment’s acceptable level with some worthy safety features. Its ride quality isn’t to the level it needs to be, nor does it steer or handle well enough to topple the others. It will carry a decent load without complaining and its transmission does try to assist with down changes. Payload isn’t quite up to the top of the table but braked towing capacity of 3.5 tonnes is.

Isuzu D-Max LS-TDelivery_Ute_testing_24

One of the more honest machines of the ute field, the interior is on the cheap and dated side (like the Colorado) and its drivetrain has been around for some time as well, but the Japanese load-lugger wears that as a badge of honour. It retains the 3.0-litre turbodiesel, which produces 130 kW and 380 Nm, neither of which is class leading, and it feels a more solid, if unspectacular, unit.

Understressed and flexible, the D-Max goes about its chores with a slow-n-steady demeanour; a five-speed auto isn’t cutting edge either but it beats its GM cousin for payload.

Delivery_Ute_testing_2Mahindra Genio 4×2 dual-cab chassis

The surprise packet of the group, my time behind the large plastic steering wheel of the Mahindra yielded a pleasant ride and determined power plant.

Encumbered with small wheels and a large overhang from the rear cab-chassis tray, the proportions were a little askew but it completed the rough bitumen section with unexpected aplomb. An odd-shaped gear shifter, which tickled the left knee on a regular basis, and some cabin layout quirks that had pedals a little out of ideal placement and switchgear in odd places were all that bothered; cabin space for leg and head was among the best of the competitive set.

Even with some accessories – the tray, floor mats, a nudge bar, Bluetooth and a towbar among them – the Genio slipped in under $30,000, which makes it a lot of crew-cab ute for the money.

Delivery_Ute_testing_23Mazda BT50:

The Mazda reputation here was represented by two combatants – a 2.2-litre turbodiesel XT single-cab/chassis 4×2 with tray and racks, and the more-macho 3.2-litre dual-cab GT 4×4 model.

The former works hard and toils diligently, getting from A to B in even time. It hovers around the $30,000 (before on-road costs) mark and its road manners are more than adequate – what works against it is the exterior, which remains in a fight with the Triton and Mahindra as the least attractive of the brigade assembled here.

The beefed-up $52,000 (before on-road costs) GT came complete with the Boss pack, which includes a solid bull bar to hide the facelifted but still unattractive snout. That Ranger has outsold it despite sharing much of the mechanicals, but at a higher price, speaks volumes for the impact of the aesthetics.

Once behind the wheel, the BT-50 is a firmer riding version of the torquey five-cylinder six-speed auto diesel drivetrain it shares with the Ford. Its cabin hasn’t received the same comprehensive overhaul that has been wrought on the Ranger, but the BT-50 has been bestowed with an updated (if not as user-friendly) touchscreen infotainment system. A bronze medal winner for me.

Delivery_Ute_testing_3Mitsubishi Triton:

The updated Triton was also delivered in two guises, a $30,490 (RRP) 4×2 GLX single cab chassis auto and the $43,490 (RRP) 4×4 GLS dual cab ute auto, with neither disgracing the triple diamond badge.

Quiet under acceleration and at cruise, the new diesel powerplant wasn’t producing the highest outputs, but what was being delivered was used to good effect. The ride quality was above average and the cabin was quiet and comfortable, but its exterior also put it behind the eight ball when it came down to competing with more handsome machines.

Ride quality is toward the top end of the field, but still afflicted with a bit of jiggle on the nastier bitumen sections, if anything the lower-spec model rode a little more compliantly on its loaded heavy-duty suspension than the GLS; both boast payloads over one tonne and braked towing capacity of 2500 kg and 3100 kg respectively.

Delivery_Ute_testing_21Nissan Navara:

The Navara duo – the petrol and diesel-powered leaf-sprung workhorses released after the coil-sprung flagship ST-X – offered useful drive lines but the suspension was once again the let down of the Nissan representatives.

Both claimed payloads just over 1.2 tonnes and didn’t appear to be lowered significantly in the rear by the load, whereas last year it was the coil sprung rear end that shirked such duties. It was ride quality that let this duo down, the leaf-sprung rear and double-wishbone front juddering and shimmying across bumpy stretches of bitumen at both suburban and highway speeds while under the same 400 kg load.

The Nissan pair – the DX 4×2 single-cab/chassis 122 kW/238 Nm 2.5-litre petrol and the RX single-cab/chassis 4×4 120 kW/403 Nm 2.3-litre turbodiesel – were out of serious contention.

Toyota HiLux SR5 dual cab auto 2.8-litre turbodiesel

With the 130 kW/450 Nm 2.8-litre turbodiesel hooked up to the six-speed multi-mode auto, the drivetrain is a solid step forward over the outgoing Delivery_Ute_testing_19powerplant, so too is the touchscreen-controlled infotainment system within the much nicer cabin, which (while needing better cowling) is far easier to use.

A standard rear camera, LED lights and seven airbags also scored well for the HiLux, but the improved ride quality has not gone far enough to put it at the top of the list for road manners – again, it’s a solid step forward over the superseded veteran, but not far enough.

Tray size is good but not great in comparison to the Ranger or Amarok either, nor is the payload or braked towing capacity of the auto, both of which fall just short of the aforementioned opposition. Resale and reputation are on the HiLux’s side and it is on middle step of the podium.

Delivery_Ute_testing_10Volkswagen Amarok Core

The biggest tray and a one-tonne payload are among the VW’s claims to fame, as is ride quality, which is the best of the vehicles here.

Cabin space and comfort – if lacking a little personality – are also good, but the eight-speed auto does hunt up and down its gears a little as the small twin-turbo 2.0-litre sends its 132 kW and 420 Nm to all four wheels all the time, something only the Triton GLS can offer on sealed surfaces.

It’s the only ute-bodied vehicle here that can squeeze a pallet between the rear wheel arches, not surprising given its the widest of the utes on test here.Payload is one tonne, and braked towing capacity falls short of the segment’s best at 3.0 tonnes, but, with around half of that maximum tray load on board, the Volkswagen remains a composed creature despite some seriously rumpled road.

Delivery_Ute_testing_26Second Opinions

As Rob Randazzo discovered, one of the biggest surprises of the pack was the Mahindra Genio. This little dual-cab/chassis was never going to be a winner, but the exclamation from most drivers was: “Well, I didn’t expect that!”

It is not a pretty ute, but it is extremely roomy and the 2.2-litre 88 kW/280 Nm diesel engine coupled to a great five-speed manual gearbox carried its 400 kg test load (payload is 1100 kg) around the loop with unexpected agility.

The Ford Wildtrak, at $66,345 (drive away), was the most expensive ute on test. Like our test HiLux, it was dripping with extras (if that is what you are in to) but was it fit for purpose?

In my opinion, no! By definition and construction (a tub or tray hanging off the back), a ute is a load carrier. But the Wildtrak (and the two Mazdas on test) bottomed out on ‘the bump’ in our test loop with less than half its 907 kg payload sitting in the tub – and the top of that tub was a towering 1340 mm above the ground (loaded), making it impossible to reach the centre of the deck. Sure, its 147 kW/470 Nm engine matched to a six-speed auto would make this ute capable of towing a (quoted) 3.5-tonne braked trailer, but there are plenty of other SUV and commercial vehicles that will do the same for a lot less money – and still be fit for their designed purpose.

Volkswagen’s Amarok made my top three. This ute was car-like to drive and its 132 kW/420 Nm, 2.0-litre, twin-turbo diesel engine was matched to one of the best auto gearboxes in the business, the ZF eight-speed. At 100 km/h the engine and eight-speed kept things ticking over at just 1650 rpm. Its payload of 1051 kg is 144 kg better than the Wildtrak, and with 400 kg in the tub it shot around the test route, including ‘the bump’, like it was unladen. It’s plain to look at, and it’s rated to tow 500 kg less than the Ford, but it is fit for purpose as a load carrier, the top of the tub sits 100 mm lower than the Wildtrak, and at $51,540 (drive away) it will leave an extra $14,704 in your bank account (compared to the Wildtrak).

The final ute in my top-three was a tireless workhorse, the Isuzu D-Max.

Delivery_Ute_testing_1The D-Max has won Delivery’s award in previous years, and, after driving this great little truck around our real-world test loop, it was easy to see why. The LS-Terrain D-Max on test had plenty of added extras, including sat/nav, leather seats, alloys, side steps, reversing camera, climate control, airbags front and rear, roof rails, colour multifunction control screen, proximity ignition, tub liner, towbar, cruise, ABS and EBD just to name a few.

Its 130 kW/380 Nm turbodiesel engine matched to a very smooth five-speed auto gearbox will pull the same braked trailer weight as the Ford – but the Isuzu is also fit for purpose to carry a load. With our test load of 400 kg in the back, the D-Max manoeuvred our test loop smoothly and quietly, revving at just 1750 rpm at 100 km/h. The top of the tub sat just 1220 above the ground, making equipment retrieval from this ute a doable task.

With an engine capacity of 3.0-litres, engine braking was up with the best, and Isuzu’s five-year/130,000 km warranty also adds gold stars to this ute. At $58,900 (drive away), this top-level D-Max is $7445 cheaper than the Wildtrak and $7360 dearer than the more basic model Amarok.

In all evaluations my selections are made with the view of finding the best ‘commercial’ vehicles. They must be fit for purpose, safe and have a competitive TCO (total cost of ownership), as these criteria form the essence of Delivery Magazine.

Drive-away prices can also vary, as manufacturers or individual resellers introduce special pricing, usually short term and to vacate older or overstocked models. My quoted prices all come from a single source on the same day. They do not include short-term special prices and are calculated by adding NSW on-road costs to the RRP (recommended retail price). This puts all makes on a level playing field for the purpose of this comparison, but could affect your buying decision if special prices are running at the time of your purchase.

For all the reasons above, my choice for Delivery Ute of The Year 2016 would be the tough and trusty Isuzu D-Max.

Fleeting Glances

Kurt Grossrieder splits personalities here into dual-cabs and single-cab traybacks and nominates a winner in each category, together with the outsider that got everyone talking.

“I’ve separated the dual-cab 4X4 utes and single-cab trayback utes because in my mind they really are different categories.

“In the dual-cabs, I still like the Amarok. It’s car-like to drive, the cabin is spacious, the dash is uncluttered and it’s easy to find what you’re looking for. Oh, and the drivetrain’s still superb. The Amarok as tested missed out on a reversing camera – really, they should be standard equipment in all vehicles.

“My pick for dual cabs remains the Ranger. Just about everything about it is on the right side of my ledger, from its killer drivetrain, to its appointments, drive quality, safety features and, hallelujah, a quality reversing camera.

“I liked the look of the new HiLux. The cabin was well appointed and, as with most Toyotas, nicely trimmed.Delivery_Ute_testing_7

“On the road, however, there were a few things about the HiLux that threw me. In the car we drove there were driveline vibrations I hadn’t expected to find, and the transmission thumps into ‘Low’ after you stop the vehicle.

“And the little Mahindra Genio? I felt it was almost in its own category, and I was impressed. It wasn’t nearly as bad as I had expected it to be, the cabin was roomy, well laid-out and well appointed. A real surprise package,” said Kurt.

Fleet Thoughts

With his bets laid on Ranger or new HiLux, Terry Bickerton gets distracted by a beguiling newcomer to Australia’s powerhouse 4X2 and 4X4 ute market.

“If it was my money I was putting it on the counter, in this category it would come down to either Ranger or HiLux. But I think that in the end, I’d buy the HiLux. Simply because of how good its fuel economy is, how good its resale is, and I know that I can get it fixed anywhere.

“The Wildtrak is really well equipped, with things like its terrific sporty seats and matching orange stitching on the top of the dash. But I felt the HiLux was really plush inside. The ride was fairly good, too. Being an SR5, Toyota’s gone for the softer handling option, and ours didn’t like the mid-corner bump that caught out just about everything.

“The Triton definitely gets my Most Improved Award in this category. The dynamics of that vehicle are vastly improved on what they were when that body shape first came out. So much so, the cabin now looks a bit dated as far as I’m concerned.

“The Mahindra was so much better than I expected it to be, especially since it has looks only its mother could love. It’s certainly not on par with any of the Japanese vehicles but, gee, considering where it’s come from and how it’s been built, it’s very good. But I think Mahindra has got the price point so wrong with this one,” said Terry.Delivery_Ute_testing_14

Counterpoint by Chris Gable

The sales performance of last year’s Delivery Magazine Ute of the Year winner, the Ford Ranger, has now climbed to rival sales of the HiLux, and Mitsubishi’s Triton is now ahead of Commodore.

The new Genio is less agricultural-looking than its predecessor, but nevertheless still looked ungainly…..until you drove it.

Perched on wheels that appeared to be way too small, the Mahindra’s bulbous body looked out of place between the slicker Japanese utes and traybacks. And a close look revealed that in some areas its build quality left something to be desired. But, gee, it was fun to drive.

Unfortunately, the cab-chassis Navara trayback was especially disappointing. Whereas most 4X2 and 4X4 utes suffer from front-end looseness over bumps, the bare-bones Navara RX with 400 kg onboard squirmed at both ends over Delivery Magazine’s test loop. Bumps were telegraphed through the seat and steering wheel, and, despite Navara’s drivetrain being pretty good, it’s just a shame about its chassis.

Mitsubishi’s Triton was impressive all round. Smooth, car-like, well appointed and driver-focused, the Di-D common-rail-injected Triton was strong up the gradual Bendooley Hill section and relatively unfussed over the notorious mid-corner bump at Cordeaux Creek. The cruise control remained steady when set, too, even on the run down the other side of Bendooley, which wasn’t always the case in others.

The privately donated new HiLux on test put a lot of things in perspective as it brings new levels of cabin refinement to the 4X2 and 4X4 PU/CC market. The nameplate’s bulletproof reputation for reliability, fuel economy, resale and the rest should again help it dominate its segment, while in the process still taking chunks out of the passenger car market.

On the road, the HiLux was quiet and probably had the best cruise-control of all contenders. You felt the bumps throughout the test loop, and its 2.8-litre diesel felt a bit doughy up the Mount Misery climb.

The BT-50 tray back and 4X4 both impressed, and the D-Max and Amarok proved they were still capable of holding their own in the category. The Colorado LTZ 4X4, it must be said, didn’t excite too many judges, and last year’s winner, the Ranger, still impressed, although there were reservations expressed by some judges about its pricepoint and fuel economy.

Delivery-Small-Van-Test_24Final Thoughts

Chris Mullett puts his perspective into play

I’ve been a strong supporter of the Triton range and I find that in terms of value for money it sets a standard that’s hard to beat. The suspension settings give good ride and handling performance and the seats feel really supportive in a cabin that’s well laid out. The voice actuated Bluetooth for phone connection also works well and is a strong safety initiative.

As the owner of a D-Max, it’s the ute you buy to get the job done. Its 3.0-litre diesel is ultra-reliable and it matches the adaptive five-speed Aisin auto to form a very capable driveline. It’s not as flashy as some, but neither is it nasty, and it never makes claims it can’t substantiate.

Mazda and Holden just fall short of the higher levels of ability achieved by the competition, but the big disappointment was HiLux. Toyota had the opportunity to set the bar far higher but sadly settled for lower achievement levels in ride and handling, and safety features. The engine felt doughy and the suspension was lumpy. The ‘trout snout’ is also less than attractive.

Ranger stays at the top of the tree with its 3.2-litre strength for those that like to tow, but Amarok climbs into second place for its excellent driveline and higher standards of ride and handling through having the best suspension of any contender. With the announcement of a new 3.0-litre V6 with 555 Nm of torque heading here before Christmas, it’s soon going to be a very tough act to beat.

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