There’s a distinct pleasure in being able to take plenty of time to explore the features and benefits of three competing utes in a vehicle segment that is becoming one of the most popular amongst Australian buyers. Although the Ranger is not new for this year, it’s certainly not lacking when it comes to features or appeal. What is new, though, is the Triton, and with the top-of-the-line Exceed on hand there’s plenty to consider in the lead up to purchase.
The Amarok has kept up with expectations and appearances but has not kept up with the other two in sales performance, perhaps suggesting that VW dealerships are more focused on car marketing than getting their hands dirty in the light commercial world.
When it comes to top specification contestants, the Ranger has been able to woo buyers with its 3.2-litre engine, and, on paper, it certainly looks like a walk-up win, especially when other makes are downsizing in cubic capacity. But there’s more to this particular equation that simply looking under the bonnet.
There’s an expectation that the Ranger in its Wildtrak form brings to the buyer just about everything they might ever need, and with a price tag climbing over the $60,000 mark you can’t blame the buyer for believing it lacks for nothing.
It’s certainly giving the traditional leader of this segment, the HiLux, a run for its money, and with sales YTD July (VFacts) of 17,623 in 4×4 form, it’s line-ball with the HiLux at 17,795 units. If you add in the Mazda BT-50 performance of 5875 units, it actually beats Toyota soundly, albeit with a common similarity to the design between Ford and Mazda, even if it wears a different badge on the bonnet.
Meanwhile, the Triton is sailing along in third place with a sales performance of 11,044 units, representing 12.4 percent market share and saving its buyers in the region of $12,000 at the checkout. The Amarok 4×4 is currently holding 8th ranking, with sales of 4922 and a market share of 5.7 percent.
But there is a very discernible difference when, over a week of extensive driving of each of the models, it’s possible to continue to compare like with like.
Despite Ranger’s obvious appeal,
Triton is actually the more sophisticated design, and the Mitsubishi quickly displays a more supple ride quality against the Ford, which tends to lumber into a bend in
response to a steering alteration, rather than smoothly entering a corner. Seat comfort is also at a higher level in the Triton than provided by the Ford, with the Ranger feeling less comfortable after a couple of hours at the wheel.
Amarok is noticeably European rather than Japanese by design, but don’t be fooled into thinking all VW models are
built by German technicians wearing white coats. Most of the Amaroks for our market are built in Argentina, with other VW LCVs, such as the Caddy, built in Poland. This compares well with the Ranger and Triton, both of which are built in Thailand.
Sure, the initial designation for a ute was that of the versatile load carrier, sacrificing some of the upper levels of creature comforts for the ability to lug a cargo and tow a trailer. But in recent years something else has happened to make our analysis more critical, and that’s the expectation that the ute can now double up as a fully-fledged family transport without limitations.
All these vehicles start off life with a solid box section chassis, onto this framework is bolted the suspension, axles, engine and driveline. The body is also bolted onto the chassis. The suspension performance and its ability to provide high levels of ride comfort comes from enabling the springs and dampers to control the ride, without having to compromise because of body flex that often features in a monocoque construction.
It’s in this area of providing higher levels of comfort and a more refined ride where the Triton shows off its superiority. And for those spending time on the highway rather than off-road and into the scrub for an adventure, there’s another benefit, and it comes in the form of the Mitsubishi Super Select 4WD II system.
Using an all-wheel-drive system developed from the Pajero, the Triton can offer the added on-road safety of being able to drive in poor weather conditions with power passing through all four wheels. This is possible because the Super Select system has a centre differential, much the same principle as the Range Rover and Land Rover. The Ranger, by contrast, has to stay in rear-wheel-drive only when on the highway, because it does not have a centre differential in the driveline. Consequently, all-wheel-drive in the Ford is only an option when off the bitumen.
When taking the Triton into the soft and slushy stuff, the driver simply locks in the centre differential by turning the control knob and the front and rear axles then work together at the same rotational speed. If the going gets particularly taxing, in addition to locking in the centre diff the Exceed owner also has a practicality of a locking differential in the rear axle, minimising the risk of wheelspin. The Ranger Wildtrak also matches the inclusion of a rear locking diff.
Mitsubishi traditionally is more cautious than other competitors when it comes to towing limits, and, with 3100 kg for the Triton, it’s a safer level than the 3500 kg of the Ranger.
As covered in detail elsewhere in this issue, the whole question of towing limits is a real concern because of the misinterpretation of the weights involved. Despite claims by many manufacturers, Delivery’s view is that a safe understanding on towing ability is to keep the laden weight of the trailer below the kerbweight of the towing vehicle.
Vehicle makers have been downsizing their engines as part of the quest to reduce exhaust emissions and carbon dioxide levels coming from the tailpipe. The Triton is powered by a 2.4-litre, DOHC MIVEC 16-valve, common-rail injected, turbocharged and intercooled diesel. Maximum power of 133 kW is achieved at 3500 rpm with peak torque of 430 Nm rated at 2500 rpm.
Matched to this engine is either a six-speed manual gearbox or a five-speed torque converter automatic with instant shifting manually by paddles on the steering column.
As well as being quiet in operation, the 2.4-litre is also very fuel efficient, even by today’s standards, and achieves a combined consumption figure that ranges from 7.1 to 7.6 l/100 km, dependent on the model and the tare weight.
In this top spec form, the Triton Exceed offers a payload of 935 kg in the tub, or as a combination of the weight of the passengers inside the dual-cab and anything placed on a roof rack.
The list of safety features covers around 30 items, so for a definitive list we suggest heading for a brochure. The main features though in our book are the SRS airbags, stability control, traction control and one of the clearest-vision reversing camera displays we’ve yet encountered.
Over to the Ranger, and with its payload of 1000 kg the Wildtrak version weighs in at 2200 kg and offers a gross combined mass (GCM) of 6000 kg. Triton Exceed weighs in with 1965 kg and features a GCM of 5885 kg.
Despite having one more cylinder than the Triton (five vs. four), and 800 extra cubic centimetres of combustion space, there’s actually not a vast difference in power output (147 kW at 3000 rpm or peak torque of 470 Nm rated at 1500-2750 rpm). Ranger does feel as though it has more grunt, albeit produced in a slightly less sophisticated manner, and it tackles its power distribution through either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic.
Motorsport fans will know that when determining the chances of vehicles on the starting grid, presuming the drivers are all within similar capabilities, the final result comes down to the power to weight ratio and roadholding.
This is where the preconception of 3.2 litres vs. 2.4 litres becomes interesting, as the data shows that both vehicles are line-ball. The heavier Ranger with its higher power output manages 66.82 kW/1000 kg, compared to the Triton at 67.68 kW/1000 kg. It’s the same with the rated torque output where the Ranger achieves 213 Nm/1000 kg, once again just eclipsed by the Triton at 218 Nm/1000 kg.
Before contemplating disappointment, just adding a bullbar, maybe a winch, a roof rack, towbar, dual-battery set-up and a fridge blows any of this comparison to the breeze. But, at the end of the day, it’s power versus weight that rules.
With the Ford you don’t get the chance to fiddle with gear change paddles on the steering column, having to resort to manual selection from the floor-mounted gear selector. Fuel economy is also a casualty, with a combined figure for the Wildtrak dual-cab of 8.9 l/100 km for the auto and emissions levels of 256 g/km.
Each of the vehicles has audio control systems that the driver can have a chat with. If you fear rejection, you have to realise that if the voice control system doesn’t quite understand you it’s nothing personal. The Ford system is frighteningly capable, but the Mitsubishi system seems easier to use. When operating them manually, the Triton audio system and air conditioning controls are easier to operate, and one disadvantage of the Ford is that the driver has to divert their attention to the centre dashboard screen to find the right button to push.
The VW system reminded us of asking the teacher at school a question and often being ignored.
Safety features are pretty much similar, but there’s no availability of LED daytime running lamps for the Ford, whereas they are fitted to the Triton GLS and Exceed models, plus the Amarok. Being seen on the highway is equally important to seeing others, and, as has been proven by international research, daytime running lamps contribute hugely to accident reduction.
Where Wildtrak does better the Triton is with the availability of adaptive cruise control with forward collision alert, driver impairment monitor, automatic high-beam control, lane departure assist and lane departure warning.
There’s a big difference in manoeuvring a ute in the average car park, not just because of the high sides of the tub, but also because of a much greater turning circle than the average sedan. The Ford needs 12.7 metres of car park to do an about-face, compared to 11.8 metres for the Triton and 12.95 metres for the Amarok.
In terms of cargo space, the Triton has tub internal dimensions of 1520 x 1470 x 475
mm (l x w x h) and has a floor 850 mm from ground zero. It runs on 17×7.5 alloys with 245/65R17 tyres. The overall length is 5280 mm with a width of 1815 and a height of 1780 mm. Brakes are disc-front/drum-rear. Ground clearance is 205 mm.
For the Ranger, the tub internal dimensions are of 1549 x 1560 x 511 mm and it has a floor 840 mm from ground zero. It runs on 17×7.5 alloys with 245/65R17 tyres. The overall length is 5351 mm with a width of 1850 and a height of 1821 mm. Brakes are disc-front/drum-rear and the ground clearance is 237mm.
Image can conquer all buyer preferences, and the Ford certainly emits the beefy, Aussie man and the outback toughness appearance that can be such an important part of the selection of “Boy’s Toys”. The Triton, on the other hand, has softer features, more like a comparison between an Angus steer and an Alpaca. The VW just looks like all the other VWs.
When quietly toddling about over loose road surfaces, the Triton feels as though it’s more capable of providing grip where it’s needed, whereas the Ranger prefers to throw a bit of rear wheel slip, irrespective of the over-riding safety and non-slip intervention systems.
As our evaluation of the Triton and the Ranger continued through the week, we were able to include the latest version of the Amarok TD1420 Highline 4MOTION, complete with eight-speed ZF torque converter automatic transmission.
Ordinarily, we’d separate the different contenders. But, with the arrival of the Amarok, we added a different dimension. We had gained more gears in the transmission, but dropped in engine capacity to just 2.0 litres, notwithstanding that we had added a second turbocharger.
Power and torque figures are not dissimilar to the Ford and Mitsubishi, with 132 kW produced at 4000 rpm and peak torque of 420 Nm rated at 1750 rpm.
Let’s cut straight to the power to weight comparison and we find that with a tare weight of 2049 kg our trusty calculator shows 64.42 kW/1000 kg and a torque comparison of 204.9 Nm/1000 kg. Ball park certainly, but not outstandingly different, especially when remembering there are more ratios to play with in the transmission.
Amarok feels big and well built, sort of similar to the Ranger on that score, but its ride is more compliant, equalling the Triton.
The tub dimensions are 1555 mm x 1620 mm x 508 mm (L x W x H), with 780 mm distance from the ground, making the German entry basically the largest in cargo area. The overall length of 5254 mm x width of 1954 mm and height of 1820 mm again puts it line-ball but with a bit of extra shoulder width.
It’s interesting how European protocols affect the verbal commands of the Bluetooth phone system, as when calling a contact on the Ford or Mitsubishi system, the caller says “Call John Smith”. When using the Amarok voice control it’s necessary to say “Call Smith John”.
When it comes to towing with the Amarok, the figures are 3000 kg with a towball downforce of 300 kg, and without the trailer you can carry 989 kg in the tub.
The expectation with the VW is for disc brakes all-round, but tradition dictates here, and the Amarok, like the two others, has disc-front and drum-rear brakes. Similarly, if you expected a coil-sprung rear, a quick look underneath will demonstrate that Amarok remains firmly planted on semi-elliptical rear springs.
You could suffer dyslexia overload working out the safety features, which include EBS, ABS, EBD, EDL, hill hold, brake assist, traction control and off-road ABS including hill descent.
Additionally, there are SRS airbags galore, plus rollover mitigation and, once again, daytime running lamps. Park distance control front and rear is standard on the Highline, together with a clear rear-vision camera when reversing.
When the Amarok was first launched, Delivery was able to discuss its development with the leader of the project, Stephan Schaller, who, at the time, was intensely proud of the fuel economy returning under 8.0 l/100 km. That was certainly the case with the smaller output models, but the twin-turbo TD1420 raises its thirst slightly to return a combined figure of 8.3 l/100 km, putting its fuel consumption in between the Ranger and the Triton.
Herr Schaller also made the point that
VW’s DSG twin-clutch gearbox, so popular with the company and its affiliates in passenger car deployment, was never going to work in an off-road
situation, hence the fitment of the ZF eight-speed. Having made his point of disliking the DSG transmission, Herr Schaller suddenly disappeared from the company, subsequently surfacing later in another German company making glass and ceramic products.
The ZF is a delightful transmission, and in the light commercial world it’s only used by VW with the Amarok and Iveco with the Daily, where it called the Hi-Matic. It has direct drive of 1:1 in 4th ratio, while 5th and 6th are both overdrive ratios of 0.839:1 and 0.667:1 respectively
The 4MOTION nametag means that because of the inclusion of a Torsen centre differential, like the Triton, the buyer gets the benefit of extra traction and improved stability when on the highway. The engagement of the diff in this case is automatic, without driver intervention, and the all-wheel-drive action is permanent.
In normal highway use the torque split with the Amarok is 40:60 (front/rear), but this varies to suit the conditions, especially when seriously off-road. The drive system also features a mechanical rear diff lock.
Pricing of the Amarok Highline is midway between the Triton and Ranger, coming it at $56,990 with a choice of heavier capacity rear springs or slightly softer settings that VW calls “Comfort Springs,” that drops the GVM by 220 kg. There is another model further up the food chain called the “Ultimate” that rivals the Ranger at around the $63,000-$64,000 mark, with extra bells and whistles.
Delivery Magazine does not evaluate any light commercial purely for its ability to perform in severe-duty off-road situations. That aspect of road testing is well handled by Australia’s own 4×4 and off-road specialist publications. Our aim is therefore to evaluate a vehicle as it would be used in the majority of its service life.
Each of these three contenders is extremely capable of high standards of off-road performance, but in the cost conscious world of private vehicle purchase, Delivery’s focus is on whether it does the job intended, with high levels of safety, comfort and efficiency. On that score, all three models are extremely capable.
The inevitable question we are always being asked is, “Which is the Best”? We can honestly say that we would be extremely comfortable with any of the trio, but on a value for money basis the Triton is hard to pass. The VW feels the best built, whereas those looking for image will probably choose the Ranger.
What is certain is that each year brings new technology and further challenges. With the arrival of the 3.5-litre Amarok V6 later this year, the game will once again change.