Searching for Space

It’s all well and good to live the Australian dream and buy a ute. But it’s only when you try to stow something inside that you find there are shortcomings of buying a single-cab version. Fortunately there is an easy solution, a step up to a mid-range, extended depth cabin.

Whether called Extra, Space, Super, King, Club or Freestyle, we’re talking here about 2+2 utes.

Characterised by their junior-sized ‘jump’ seats in the rear of an extended single-cab cabin, 2+2s are a curious niche in the expansive one-tonne ute segment most populated by crew or single cabs. Almost all are built in Thailand where they proliferate as a ‘family’ car, avoiding crew cabs’ higher tax, and are often 2+3 or 2+4, plus a few more in the tub!

Here in safety-conscious Australia, 2+2s now all come with two seats, lap/sash seat belts and varying other amenities, evidencing a shift to offering at least temporary accommodation for adults over short trips.

Trail bikers like 2+2s too, as they can strap their bike in the tub diagonally with the tailgate shut and still have some stretch room in the cab. They’re a good compromise for long distance work also, with room to recline the front seat(s) for that roadside power nap with a longer-than-crew-cab tub or tray out back.Holden-Colorado-space-cab

Not all ute brands or models offer 2+2s. Absentees are VW’s Amarok and Transporter, Nissan’s D22 Navara and Patrol, Toyota Landcruiser 70, Great Wall V-series, Ssangyong Actyon, Mahindra Pikup, Land Rover Defender 130, and of course Falcons and Commodores.

There are 21 variants of 7 brands currently selling 2+2 utes in Australia, 17 4x4s and 4 4x2s. Toyota has five HiLux Extra-Cabs; Ford, five Ranger Super Cabs; three each for Nissan’s D40 Navara King Cab and Mazda’s BT-50 Freestyle; and two each for Holden’s Colorado, Isuzu’s D-Max Space Cabs and Mitsubishi’s Triton Club Cab.

Moving from single cab to 2+2 lengthens cabs by around 0.5 m and shortens load floors on trays from 2.55 m to 2.1 m, or from 2.4 m to 1.95 m, and, in ute (pickup) tubs, from 2.3 m to 1.8 m. However, it also shifts the load floor rearwards so that between 55 and 72 percent of its length in a 2+2 is overhang, depending on brand. That, ideally, restricts any heavy cargo to the front 28 to 45 percent of the load floor length.

After the rash of new generation utes in the last two years, all but two brands now offer vastly better rear access, thanks to the removal of the B-pillar and hinging the smaller side doors from the rear. All the brand marketers justifiably bristle at these being glibly labelled ‘suicide’ doors just because they’re rear-hinged, notwithstanding that they can’t open unless the front doors are opened first. Unsurprisingly, the two utes not so configured are the oldest current models: Toyota’s HiLux and Mitsubishi’s Triton.

Popularity no benchmark

Here then is the first quandary. The current shape HiLux Extra-Cab has had such doors for years in Thailand, no doubt for that 2+4 market, but never here. Granted, its doors are 150 mm longer than the fronts on its Double-Cab, so access is not too bad. No matter as HiLux luxuriates in its brand power. Despite now being seriously uncompetitive in safety kit, amenities, and with drivetrains that are either ordinary or irrelevant guzzlers, it remains a perennial top ute seller, and in some months it’s the top-selling vehicle of any sort in Australia. Yes, it does have the biggest service network, service costs have now moderated, resale value lunches off the brand and it has a good reliability reputation – now seriously challenged by Isuzu’s D-Max.

Talking extra-cab, there’s no stability control or traction control, even in SR5, ABS finally arrived fairly recently, but without EBD (Electronic Brakeforce Distribution) or BA (Braking Assist), air-con is extra cost up to SR5, no 4×2 gets side or curtain airbags, and they only roll on 15” wheels while SR’s auto is an old style four-speed non-sequential.

Front occupants – air-con apart – are reasonably well serviced with cruise, audio and Bluetooth, all accessed via the steering wheel which, like all utes here, only adjusts for tilt, not reach. USB, AUX and iPod ports, cup and bottle holders, lockable glovebox, single-bin centre console, power windows and mirrors, map lights and remote entry are all there in HiLux and form the base spec for all other 2+2s.

Rear seating is strictly steerage, not only for lack of room but also amenities: no head restraints, cupholders, 12-volt power, coat hooks, heater ducting or bottle baffles in the side pockets. There are seat-back pockets and the side glass back edge opens out.CARS_UTES_Mazda-BT50-interior2

The seat pads are a pain to access the ‘secret’ storage recesses underneath as they aren’t hinged, lift up awkwardly and detach loosely, as do the recess cover panels. It’s similar in Ranger and BT-50, but their storages are lined, HiLux’s aren’t. SR’s floor is thick, heavy-duty, sponge-backed vinyl – excellent.

HiLux ute has a near-useless, tailgate-mounted, ‘high’-mount brake light (HMBL), which is hardly any higher than its taillights and which disappears in tray models. Same for Triton. D-Max and Colorado fit them to all their cabs and sports bars, Ranger and BT-50 only on utes.

HiLux SR’s and Triton’s cab guard frames are too low to act as over-roof ladder racks and, as they’re welded to the tubs, have to be gas-axed off to fit a canopy, risking rust. All newer utes’ guard frames unbolt and clear cab roofs. Ranger’s is so high it needs an aero front face to cut drag.

Trays

Toyota endorses a 2.1 m long load tray for the Extra-Cab HiLux cab/chassis, resulting in nearly 70 percent load length overhang aft of its shortish 3.085 m wheelbase (WB). D40 King Cab is the only other 2.1 m endorsed tray, but its 215 mm longer 3.2 m WB reduces its overhang to 61 percent. The prior D-Max and Colorado Space Cabs had 2.1 m trays too, when their cab/chassis variants shared Isuzu’s extra-long 3.2 m WB, but that’s gone and their now 3.095 m WB shrinks the newies to 1.95 m trays.

Other 2+2s also specify 1.95 m trays (Ford Ranger SuperCab 2.04 m) including Mazda’s BT-50 Freestyle with its 3.22 m WB and just 59 percent overhang. Triton Club Cab’s overhang is 72 percent due to its short 3.0 m WB.

Ranger’s endorsed alloy tray is 1.8 m wide inside. All others’ low spec alloy trays are 1.79 m, while high spec are 1.77 m due to internal rope tie rails.CARS_UTES_Holden-colorado-interior

Colorado and Ranger offer just one spec level of alloy tray: high spec and middling respectively. Others offer various levels with optional extras, BT-50’s the most comprehensive. Steel trays are also available, which add cost, weight and durability.

Ute tubs

In 2+2 ute tubs’ load floors, D40 King Cab is longest at 1.865 m, followed by HiLux at 1.827 m (Toyota’s 1.805 m spec is at tub rim), which has the best sidewall ridges for supporting above-wheelarch crossbeams to cart full-tub-width cargo, if anyone ever bothers with such.

Ranger SuperCab and its clone BT-50 Freestyle nominally each have a 1.847 m tub, but their floors push 27 mm into their front wall joins, the wall then angles steeply rearwards up to 90 mm of the deck then ascends near-vertically to the rim, so that the tub’s real under-rim load length is 1.82 m, the same as Colorado and D-Max Space Cabs, which don’t have any front wall fudging. Triton Club’s tub is 1.805 m and sports the same ineffective tailgate HMBL as HiLux.

BT-50 and Ranger are the widest inside at 1.56 m, 1.139 m between wheel arches, and the deepest at 513 mm – hard to reach over on all but low-ride variants. D40 is 1.55 m, 1.134 m and 454 mm; D-Max/Colorado 1.53 m, 1.139 m and 466 mm; HiLux 1.51 m, 1.105 m and 450 mm; and Triton 1.47 m, 1.085 m and 460 mm.

Amenities

No 2+2 ute, except Ranger and BT-50, can accommodate baby capsules or child seats, as no top tether anchor points are provided. A tick for Ford Australia Product Engineering, as Rangers are the only 2+2 utes suitable for baby and/or toddler transport, befitting of the world’s first utes to gain five-star NCAP crash rating. But where are the rear head restraints? Only in Navara D40 King Cab, and, for this feature, it’s the pick for children and (brief) grownup rides. Be aware though that its 13.2 m turning circle diameter is the most unwieldy in the troupe.

D40 King is also the only 2+2 ute offering full cabin height space in the rear, at the expense of secret stowage as its floor step extends very little into the back of the rear area. It has a pair of cupholders, pockets on the front seat backrests and bottle holders in the rear doors. Missing are side rear opening glass, coat hooks and heater ducting to the rear.

Colorado heats its rear, as does D-Max, but misses side airbags, even in LTZ SpaceCab, and which D-Max includes. BT-50’s rear coat hooks are above the child seat anchors where, if used, would badly block rear vision and foul any child seat fitted. D-Max’s are correctly on the sides, and Colorado misses out.

Rear side windows pop open at their rear edges on D-Max, Colorado and HiLux, but not in Ranger/BT-50, Navara or Triton.

So, if people-carrying in the rear isn’t a priority, the best pick defaults to your choice between Ranger and BT-50, which share the most developed safety and dynamic engineering.

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