The title fight is on, as the resurrected HiLux and Ford’s revamped Ranger go toe-to-toe for ute supremacy. Words and images by Stuart Martin
Toyota’s top-seller has undergone considerable change to bring it back to the pointy end of the LCV ute field – new engine, new gearbox, new load capacities and a new look inside and out – but it was a long time coming.
Ford’s Ranger shifted the goal posts to a whole new playing field with its previous-gen PX Ranger, and Mark II hasn’t had to move far to keep it at the top – a nose job and added features for the flagship Wildtrak.
Neither brand is shy about charging for the ability to pull over three tonnes or cart kids.
The new HiLux SR5+ is a $57,990 proposition in six-speed auto guise, which drops the braked towing capacity by 300 kg to 3200 kg.
Now powered by the 2.8-litre, turbodiesel, particle-filter equipped four-cylinder shared with the Prado, it offers 130 kW and 450 Nm – the latter a 25 percent increase and available between 1600 and 2400 rpm thanks to a smaller, quicker, variable-vane turbocharger.
The test vehicle had the six-speed auto, which lays claim to a fuel economy rating of 8.5 litres per 100 km, the six-speed manual equivalent has 20 fewer Newton-metres but 300 kg more braked towing capacity at 3500 kg.
Ford’s Ranger is $56,390 for the XLT auto – the much-improved six-speed manual is on offer range-wide for $2200 less if you can handle three pedals.
A “Tech Pack” adds a reversing camera and the adaptive cruise control system (with forward collision alert, lane keeping and departure warning and fatigue monitor) for an extra $1100.
The Ranger’s 3.2-litre, five-cylinder, turbodiesel had few changes made to it in the step from PX to PX Mark II – it still cranks out 147 kW and 470 Nm, drinks at around 9.0 litres per 100 km (8.8 in the XLS) and weighs in at around 2200 kg.
Toyota is claiming the longer and wider HiLux, which tips the scales at 2075 kg (a 210 kg increase), has a 20 percent improvement in torsional rigidity, a thicker front stabiliser bar, longer and repositioned rear leaf springs and larger-diameter dampers.
Both offer steering racks around 3.5 turns lock-to-lock, and, given the footprints, neither is going to have a tight turning circle, but both aren’t difficult to get through tight spots.
The SR5 sits on 18-inch alloy wheels while the XLT runs 17-inch alloy wheels (the $50,290 XLS has 16s) and the road-biased rubber on all does the job without serious complaint.
The HiLux ups the airbag count by one on the Ranger, adding a driver’s knee airbag to the usual six, and both trucks get a list of active safety features that includes stability and traction control, anti-lock brakes, trailer sway control, hill start and descent control.
A reversing camera is standard on all HiLux pick-up style utes and part of an option pack on the XLT (which does get standard rear sensors and tyre pressure monitoring) – not good enough Ford.
The Ranger does have standard Emergency Assistance, using a paired mobile phone to call emergency services after a crash, but it doesn’t make up for the missing camera.
Both have reach and rake adjustable steering, part-time 4WD (but no on-road 4WD like the Triton, which would be useful), low-range transfer cases and a rear differential lock as standard. The latter is range-wide on the Ford but is only offered on Toyota’s 4×4 SR and SR5 HiLux models, but neither is setting world records for pace of operation.
Both of these vehicles are much quieter than workhorses have a right to be – the Ford’s driveline is not as intrusive as the Toyota’s four-cylinder under acceleration, but at cruise the HiLux just pips the Ranger due mainly to less wind noise around the A-pillar and mirrors.
The features list for both the SR5+ and XLT include digital radio reception, sat/nav, touchscreen controls, climate control, leather-wrapped steering wheel, side-steps, a 220-volt domestic plug for charging devices (HiLux has its three-pin plug in the centre console while Ford has put its version on the back of the centre console), 12-volt outlets, power-adjustable driver’s seat, and leather trim.
The LED low-beam headlights, leather trim, keyless entry and ignition and power-adjustable driver’s seat are trumps in the HiLux deck, while dual-zone climate control, rain-sensing wipers, the Sync 2 system, towbar, auto-dimming centre mirror, heated mirrors and a 12-volt outlet in the tray feature on the XLT.
The Toyota and Ford both have three-year/100,000 km warranties and capped price servicing – the HiLux at $180 every six months or 10,000 km (for the first three years or 60,000 km), while the Ford’s service is every 12 months or 15,000 km and costs $390, but the coverage runs for the vehicle life.
Both have tie-down points, but tray size is a win for the Ford – anecdotal evidence had 12 hay bales easily accommodated in the Ranger’s tray to the HiLux’s 11, backed up by the manufacturers’ listed dimensions.
The Ford dual-cab’s tray is 1549 mm long (1485 mm when measured at the top), 511 mm deep, 1560 mm wide (1139 mm between the wheel arches, which was the ha
y-bale difference); the HiLux fell short in width (overall and between the wheel arches) and in depth.
The Toyota has a slightly lower payload (970 versus 925 kg) and braked towing capacity – the Ford retains 3500 kg regardless of transmission choice while only the HiLux manual rates at 3500 kg, with the auto slipping back to 3200 kg.
When unladen, both utes ride well enough for daily use, although the Ranger rounds off the rough edges better than the HiLux.
Once the tray has around 200 kg in it the bounce is reduced, although neither could qualify for boulevard ride status; the HiLux is still just shaded by the Ranger.
Steering (now electrically-assisted) and handling is still a Blue Oval win – the local engineering talent developed a chassis package for which they should still be gettin
Toyota has done a good job with its local team to tidy up the trucky manners of its HiLux – it is a close-run thing now.
The cabin comfort for both is good, with room for four adults – although the Ranger has a little more headspace and less “knees-up” in the rear. Child-seat users get straps in the Toyota and integrated metal clips in the Ford and the latter has more appeal.
The new HiLux power plant has a broader torque range and it’s noticeably improved under load, with strong in-gear surge dictated by the Power or Eco modes. The Ford still has an output advantage as well as a gearbox that’s a little smarter, but again the gap is considerably closer.
The road-test vehicles – an XLS was substituted for an XLT when scheduling prevented the latter from arriving – both performed solidly in workhorse and leisure pursuits, returning 11.2 litres per 100 km for the Ford and 11.8 for the HiLux.
New HiLux has started to claw back market status from Ranger, but the Ranger is superior in all areas of direct comparison. That said, its renewed form is formidable, as is the resale and reputation.
The LCV ute class is bigger and better than ever, and it will be interesting to watch which of these two ends up on top – my vote still goes to the reigning Delivery Ute of The Year, Ford’s Ranger, but it was a much closer and tougher fight than ever before.