Stand by for some real action this year as the ute market gets more competitive
The average car buyer has probably become accustomed to new cars being released almost every year, plus some mid-term upgrades that freshen the exterior appeal or interior comfort levels. But for those buying a ute or van, significant changes happen only occasionally, usually after an extended vehicle life that can in some cases be as long as a decade.
This year already promises to have more surprises than we’ve had for a long time, as Nissan brings in its new Navara, Mitsubishi launches its new Triton, Ford takes the Ranger through an upgrade and Mazda increases the appeal of its BT-50.
Volkswagen has already gone through a facelift and trim upgrade for its Amarok, and, with production now roaring along in Germany, in addition to the initial production facility in Argentina, the German company appears most intent on global domination for the brand.
Adding to the mix of makes in the market come the Indian manufacturers of Mahindra and TATA. As our road test programme shows, both the Genio and the Xenon have their own levels of appeal, perhaps not in such glamorous ways as the competition coming out under the Japanese brands, but nonetheless interesting in their own right.
The Chinese-manufactured utes did make their mark when first introduced, but brands such as Great Wall have suffered by not being able to hold any effective resale value. If you bought one of the original models it’s quite possible that you’ll be keeping it until it goes to the tip at the end of its working life.
Foton Ute is perhaps capable of being the exception to the Chinese experience, and this is largely due to it possessing a capable Cummins diesel rather than an extremely old petrol engine that’s been built under license in China for decades.
Make no mistake, China is catching up with the design and ability of its vehicles in rapid form, but it could still be another ten years before it manages to rank its products equally against the established brands that Japan and Europe can offer.
Delivery has been sworn to secrecy over details of a first drive of the new Triton that launches here in May. But in the global world in which we live we can discuss certain bits of information that were made public at the Geneva Motor Show.
The Triton replacement, known as the L200 in the European market,was launched in Thailand in November last year and is being introduced sequentially over the globe into some 150 countries.
While featuring improvements in its functionality and reliability as a work vehicle, it was developed as “the ultimate sport utility truck”, and to provide an interior space with comfort levels on par with a passenger model.
The diesel version of the L200 for the European market uses a turbocharged 2.4-litre MIVEC diesel engine, which complies with European emission regulations. This is not the same engine rating that will power models destined for our shores.
Four-wheel-drive models employ the Super Select 4WD-II drivetrain from the Pajero, with four selectable drive modes to give the driver the ideal traction for any types of road conditions and outstanding all-terrain performance.
The final specifications for models heading to the Australian market were still under wraps as of the time of writing, but it’s a fair assumption that the Australian market will share some, if not most, of the features made available to the British.
Expect to see engines featuring the Auto Stop & Go idling stop system, a six-speed manual transmission and a variable geometry turbocharger. For those that like to have the gears changed for them, the L200 features a five-speed auto made by Aisin, similar to that already used by Isuzu Ute in the D-Max, and Toyota in the Prado.
Nissan’s Navara launches in Australia in May, around the same time as the Triton, and this is one model that we can comment upon, having been invited to drive it in Thailand late last year.
First impressions are that the new Navara NP300 will significantly lift Nissan’s performance in our market. With a seven-speed auto matched to a new 2.3-litre diesel, and using a two-stage turbocharger, the drivetrain is smooth and effective.
Nissan has decided to follow the route of car suspension design and is fitting a coil spring independent rear suspension in the top spec, crew-cab ute versions. All other models will revert to the traditional leaf sprung rear end with a live axle.
Isuzu Ute’s D-Max is scheduled for some trim upgrades, and it’s interesting to see how this model has found so much support from the tradies. No doubt much of its success comes from it sharing some of the heritage of its development with that of Isuzu Trucks, a company that this year celebrated 25 consecutive years as the top selling truck brand in the Australian market.
The 3.0-litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged Isuzu has what some of the other manufacturers don’t have, in the form of engine capacity. If you tow regularly you’ll find the trend to downsize engines from 3.0 litres down to 2.3 or 2.5 litres means you will not have the same level of engine braking when heading down hill. If you don’t tow heavy trailers it won’t bother you. If you do tow heavy trailers you’ll need to keep it in mind, so that you don’t just rely on the braking system, and make the effort to select appropriate gears during the descent.
Holden’s Colorado received some upgrades towards the end of last year and sales have started to climb as a result. Remember that the latest version does not share the same engine and driveline with Isuzu as in the days of yore, opting these days for a 2.8-litre and a six-speed manual or auto transmission.
Our suggestion to anyone looking at buying a new ute or cab/chassis with a tray this year is to hold off decision making until Delivery’s June issue. We’ll be announcing the result of the Delivery Magazine Ute of the Year awards for 2015, having evaluated everything we can get our hands on and driven repeatedly over the same route, by the same test crew, as we swap from vehicle to vehicle.
Delivery’s Ute of the Year award sets the scene for many buyers making their decisions, and, one thing’s for sure, the result will be interesting.