The V6 Volkswagen Amarok is the winner of a comprehensive Australian shootout of nine one-tonne utes, all of which are also on sale in New Zealand.
Writers from two of Australia’s most authorative motoring magazines, Wheels and 4×4 Australia, ran the double-cab utes on-road and off-road for five days north of Melbourne.
It was perhaps the most definitive test of one-tonne, four-wheel-drive turbo-diesel muscle ever done on either side of the Tasman. Ute sales in New Zealand – 4×4 and 4×2 – so far this year account for 25 per cent of overall new vehicle sales.
Five of the utes were either new (the Nissan Navara-based Mercedes-Benz X-Class) or had undergone mechanical upgrades within the past couple of years.
On-road tests involved ride and handling and performance evaluation. Off-road, the utes had to negotiate set-piece hill climbs, make their way over and around obstacles on endless rough trails, and cross Victorian high country creeks.
Each ute was also put through a payload test carrying 900kg, made up of 650kg in the tray, plus driver and two passengers. The weight of towbars and bullbars, where fitted, were taken in account.
The testers spent time in each vehicle. At the end of the five days they all agreed: the V6 Amarok – the only ute with permanent four-wheel-drive – was the best all-rounder, ahead of the Ford Ranger (2nd) and Toyota Hilux (3rd).
Amarok, Ranger, and Hilux had the first three places to themselves. Thereafter, the remaining six utes shared ratings.
The Holden Colorado and Mazda BT-50 finished in equal-fourth place; the Mitsubishi Triton and Mercedes-Benz X-Class shared sixth; and the Isuzu D-Max and Nissan Navarra shared eighth place.
How they were summed up in the pages of 4×4 Australia:
No 1 – VW Amarok: 3.0-litre 165kW/550Nm V6; eight-speed auto: With stellar performance, confident handling, comfortable ride, spacious cabin and excellent refinement, Amarok is in a class of its own. Throw in hardcore off-road ability as good as it gets, ease of off-road driving that you won’t believe, and class-leading power and torque for heavy-duty load hauling and towing, and Amarok is impossible to go past. No airbags in the cab’s rear is, however, a notable omission in this company.
No 2 – Ford Ranger: 3.2-litre five-cylinder 147kW/470Nm; six-speed auto. A big tough ute that does it all, especially when there’s hard work to do or a difficult trail to conquer. A spacious cabin, a relaxed and smooth-running engine, nicely sorted suspension and a stable chassis also make the Ranger an agreeable drive, especially if there’s distance to cover.
No 3 – Toyota Hilux: 2.8-litre four-cylinder 130kW/450Nm; six-speed auto. Hilux isn’t the strongest performing, nor does it offer the confident feel of the best here, but it’s unbeatable on ownership practicality and offers top build quality and excellent refinement. Like Amarok and Ranger, it’s also a top tier performer in difficult off-road conditions while the chassis isn’t fazed by heavy loads.
No 4 – Holden Colorado: 2.8-lite four-cylinder 147kW/500Nm; six-speed auto. Thanks to the excellent work of Holden’s engineering team in its 2017 model-year ‘rebirth’, the Colorado has been dragged up by its bootstraps from the bottom of the pack to what is now a much more respectable mid-field place in the pecking order. Highlights include a punchy engine, well-sorted on-road dynamics, and heavy-duty load and tow ability, It’s also much better off-road than it originally was.
=No 4 – Mazda BT-50: 3.2-litre five-cylinder 147kW/470Nm; six-speed auto. For most of the reasons Ranger is an excellent ute, so too is the closely related BT-50 a good ute. It just lacks some of Ranger’s on- and off-road polish that came about with the 2016 upgrades adopted by Ranger but not with the BT-50. Interestingly, the next-generation BT-50 looks like being off the back of a joint venture with Isuzu and not Ford, breaking a lone-running relationship.
No 6 – Mitsubishi Triton: 2.4-litre four-cylinder 133kW/430Nm; five-speed auto. Thanks to ongoing factory discounting, the Triton’s trump card is pricing, which is probably part of the reason why it’s outsold (in Australia) only by Hilux and Ranger. Full-time (Super Select) four-wheel-drive is also a notable safety and functionality advantage, while its small size and tight turning circle help make it a handy city or general-duties ute. It’s not a good choice for heavy load carrying or towing, or for more hardcore off-road driving.
=No 6 – Mercedes-Benz X-Class: 2.3-litre four-cylinder 140kW/450Nm; seven-speed auto. X-Class is very strong on refinement, comfort and safety, and has a notable solid and robust feel that contributes to a high level of driving enjoyment, all testament to the good work put in by Benz’s engineers. But all this comes at a price and the X-Class isn’t a star off-road performer, not does it appear to have the chassis for heavy-duty load and tow duties.
No 8 – Isuzu D-Max: 3.0-litre four-cylinder 130kW/430Nm; six-speed auto. The D-Max doesn’t perform particularly well on- or off-road and isn’t the last work for heavy-duty load or two performance given its modest engine and softer rear springs. Nor does the D-Max offer much in the way of refinement, but it does have a reliable and easy-to-service engine and proven six-speed auto similar to Hilux. If you lined up all the utes here and drove them around Australia until they dropped, D-Max feels like it would be among the last standing.
=No 8 – Nissan Navara: 2.3-litre four-cylinder 140kW/450Nm; seven-speed auto. Driven in isolation and not driven and tested side-by-side against its peers, as we have done here, the Navara acturally fells like a good thing and impresses with its spritely performance and equipment. The chassis, too, is now much better sorted for general driving, even if heavy-duty load and tow still isn’t its forte, not would it be the first choice for more serious off-road driving.
The last work goes to 4×4 Australia editor Matt Rudonikis: “I don’t rate any of the double-cab one-tonne utes highly. They’re all too compromised to do anything exceptionally well, as they try to be everything to everyone and don’t excel in any discipline. If I had to choose any of them, I’d reckon the V6 VW is a pretty good town and country road car.”
- The X-Class and Navara are the only two utes using a rear live axle with coil springs. The remaining seven utes have a live rear with leaf springs.