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by Matt Campbell

This is the new Ford versus Holden battleground. Forget sedans, forget V8s: diesel dual-cab utes are where these two brands stand to garner the most credibility among their true blue Aussie buyers in the coming years.

As a result we’ve brought together the Ford Ranger Wildtrak and its heavily updated rival, the Holden Colorado Z71, for a duel.

You may have read our previous eight-ute mega test in which the Ranger trumped all-comers to be named CarAdvice’s pick of the dual-cab ute crowd. In that same test, the Colorado came last. Yep, eighth out of eight.

But a lot has changed between now and then. The 2016 Colorado you see here has basically been re-engineered to be better to drive than it was previously, and that’s good because it wasn’t very impressive on the road when we last drove it.

Rather than assembling all eight utes for another mega test shoot-out, we decided to put the new top-spec Holden Colorado ute up against its flagship Ford Ranger rival.

Which will be victorious? Let’s find out.

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Pricing

The Ford Ranger Wildtrak remains one of the most expensive utes on the market, priced from $60,090 plus on-road costs – but it does come packed with equipment that many rival utility vehicles can’t match.

That price tag also puts it above the Holden Colorado Z71, which is listed at $57,190 plus on-road costs. So, we’re talking a difference of $2900, with the advantage to the Holden. So does it miss out on some kit by comparison? Not really – in fact, the Holden has some items the Ford misses out on.

One of the main differentiators – for now, at least! – is the fact the Holden comes with Apple CarPlay phone connectivity. Ford is adding that to the Ranger in the coming months. Of course, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming is standard, as well as USB connectivity (one for the Holden, two for the Ford) and auxiliary jacks.

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Both have 8.0-inch screens with satellite navigation, rear-view cameras with front and rear parking sensors and active back-up guidelines, digital speedometer readouts, electric driver’s seat adjustment, heated front seats and cruise control.

Both have 18-inch alloy wheels and a full-size spare under the tray, and the Colorado betters the Ranger with LED daytime running lights – both utes have auto headlights and wipers, though. The Ranger hits back with dual-zone climate control – the Colorado has single-zone climate only.

The Ranger – in Wildtrak guise – comes with a roller hard-top for the tray, compared with a soft tonneau for the Colorado. Both have sports bars on their styleside trays, too, as well as roof rails; and neither can be had as a cab-chassis in this specification.

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With so many buyers of these types of utes using them as dual-purpose vehicles – work during the week and family fun on the weekend – it’s good to see both with strong safety credentials.

The Ford has six airbags (dual front, front side and full-length curtain) while the Holden has seven (adds driver’s knee airbag), and the Holden has forward collision warning and lane departure warning as standard.

The Ranger – when equipped with the optional $600 Tech Pack – adds adaptive cruise control with forward collision warning, not to mention lane departure warning, lane-keeping assistance (the steering wheel will buzz to let you know you’re drifting) and driver drowsiness monitoring.

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Now, we don’t call dealers to find out their best prices – we figure that’s better done by potential purchasers, after all! However, a cursory glance online suggests you could expect to pay list or thereabouts for the Ford, while the discounts could be pretty hefty for a Colorado. Shop around, compare dealers and deals, and you could save a stack on a Colorado.

But if we’re going by the list prices, does the Ford justify its extra $3500 asking price, when you include that optional safety kit? That’ll depend on how the rest of it stacks up, won’t it?

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Interior

The Ford’s interior was quite impressive in our eight-ute test, and it remains fairly well received even now.

That’s partly because it feels quite special inside – some may even go as far as to suggest it’s a bit chintzy – but with all of its fake leather bits and orange stitching, it definitely makes you feel as though you’re in a high-spec ute when you slide into the driver’s seat.

Does the Holden, too? Not really. Admittedly the Holden’s full leather seat trim could appeal to some buyers more than the Ford’s part-cloth/part-leather upholstery, but it doesn’t have the visual or emotional drama of its counterpart. The Ford’s black headlining makes it feel moodier inside (the Holden’s head lining is light coloured), and that combined with the rest of the styling touches means the Ford gets the win for wow factor.

But what about space and convenience? Well, there’s a reason it won our mega test.

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Well, both the Colorado and Ranger offer acceptable levels of rear-seat space and comfort, with decent leg and toe room in both utes, and a little more head room in the back of the Ranger. The seat bases in both utes are a bit high, meaning that those in the back will find themselves in a knees-up position.

The middle seats of both utes are a bit tight for leg and foot space, and while both middle sections have fold-down arm-rests, only the Ranger’s features cup holders. The Ranger has a pair of coat hooks above the rear seat, while the Holden has two coat hooks mounted alongside its rear grab-handles.

The Ranger has it for practicality, with a 230-volt powerpoint allowing you to charge tools, toys or devices on the move. There is a 12-volt point in both back seat areas, though, and neither of these utes has rear-seat air vents that can be directed at the faces of those in the back.

The Ranger beats the Colorado for door pocket space, with cavities large enough for a decent sized bottle and a couple of loose items, too, where the latter has just a small pocket that isn’t as good at holstering loose bits and bobs. But the Colorado’s seatback pockets are bigger by some margin.

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And if you’re using either of these as a dual-purpose family hauler, each has dual outboard ISOFIX points, plus top-tether seat attachments. The bases of both rear seats can be folded up (the Ford in one piece, the Colorado in a 60:40 split) and there are storage bins under each base. The backrests fold down, too, allowing access to those top tether points.

Up front both of these trucks are pretty well appointed and thought out, though again it is the Ford that trumps the Holden for spaciousness and cleverness.

The Ford’s seats are considerably more comfortable, and it has better storage placement – the cup holders are further forward between the seats, the door pockets are markedly larger and better for storing big bottles, and the little bin in front of the shifter is deeper, housing the USBs in the most logical position, along with a pair of 12-volt outlets.

The Colorado has carpet-lined front door pockets, which is great for those who carry lots of loose items around in their doors, but the pockets are physically smaller, as are the centre cup holders and the loose item storage. There’s a small storage bin on the dash top, but it’s too shallow to be useful, and the Colorado’s centre console is smaller than the Ford – it also houses the USB point, which is a bit of a pain to access, and the lid of the centre console is still flimsy like the pre-facelift model. It has a single 12-volt point up front.

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The steering wheel in the Ford is more comfortable in the hand and has better control placement, but neither has reach adjustment, which could be annoying for drivers with long legs and short arms.

The new dials in the Colorado are nice, complemented by a digital readout for the car’s trip computer and digital speedo – we like the engine hours and idle hours display, which makes you feel like you’re driving a proper truck – but the Colorado can’t match the high-tech look and feel of the Ranger’s dual digital mini screens either side of the speedometer. The left side screen allows you to scroll through entertainment, navigation, and phone details using the left triggers on the tiller, while the right side has trip, fuel and speedo info.

As for infotainment, Holden’s new screen is perhaps not as pretty as the previous one in terms of its menus, but it has added functionality and there’s always CarPlay to keep things ultra simple if you prefer to just use that. The Ford’s screen – soon to be superseded – is easy enough to get a handle on, but the slower loading times could be annoying.

Still, if you’re using the car’s in-built navigation or radio menus, the Holden’s loading time is considerably faster than the Ford’s, and the graphics are better, too. The sound quality in both utes – the Ford with a six-speaker stereo and the Holden with seven speakers – could be crisper and meatier, but in most situations the stereos suffice.

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And while it might not be a deal breaker, the Holden has auto up/down windows on all four doors, where the Ford only has that on the driver’s door. And on the topic of buttons, our Ford test vehicle’s climate control buttons were sticking, which doesn’t scream high quality.

That said, the Ford still has the better cabin overall. 

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Drivetrain

Both of these powerhouse utes are, of course, diesel powered, but there are some sizeable differences between the two in terms of their engines.

The Holden has a smaller 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel powertrain that has been mounted on new engine mounts (and so has its six-speed automatic gearbox – you can get a manual transmission if you want, at a $2200 discount) to help lower vibration. And with 147kW of power at 3600rpm and 500Nm of torque at 2000-2200rpm, there’s good reason for some grumble. Indeed, the gruffness and vibration of the engine was a key criticism of the Colorado pre-update.

Consider that the Ford has a bigger capacity engine with an extra cylinder: under its bonnet is a 3.2-litre turbo diesel five-cylinder powertrain teamed to a six-speed automatic gearbox (again, a manual is available, cutting $2300 from the price), and it has an identical 147kW of power at 3000rpm but a lower torque figure – 470Nm – available across a broader range (1500-2750rpm).

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The Ranger’s drivetrain certainly feels as though it delivers its power in a slightly more refined – and considerably more urgent and linear – manner.

The five-cylinder churns away with a level of resolution that no four-cylinder diesel can really match, and while it is a bit noisy, some may say the sound is quite nice – but after a few hours in city traffic it can be a bit draining.

There’s still a little bit of vibration at idle, as is also the case in the Colorado, but it’s the touchiness of the throttle in the Ford that makes it feel so speedy off the line. It can also make it a little difficult to balance the amount of response you’d like when you’re off-road – more on that soon.

Still, it doesn’t feel as though it has a deficiency in torque, but that’s just because it spreads its torque better than the Holden.

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The Colorado’s engine is considerably improved compared to the pre-update model: it feels notably more refined in the way it revs, with far less vibration felt in the cabin at idle and under throttle.

It is more muted at lower speeds, which would appeal to some buyers, but it’s not quiet. Still, its transmission proved a revelation: it shifts smoothly and thoughtfully, where the Ford can be a little lazy in choosing when to choose to drop back a gear.

The Colorado’s grade braking feature works a treat – it’ll rely on the engine to help slow the vehicle down or maintain a speed down hills, even blipping the throttle a touch in doing so. There’s less lurching between cogs in the Colorado as well.

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But the fact the torque is across such a narrow band means it falls a little short of the Ranger in terms of the usability of the engine around town. There’s notably more lag below that 2000rpm mark, although it does boogie once you hit it.

And the fact the Holden doesn’t have adaptive cruise control means its speed will get away from you on descents: that’s not the case in the Ranger, which will hold speed and brake down hills.

As for fuel use, Ford claims the Ranger Wildtrak will use 9.6 litres per 100 kilometres, and we saw an average of 10.5L/100km across a mix of highway, city and off-road driving. The Colorado claims a lower 8.7L/100km and it turned out to be a little more efficient in the real world, too: we saw 10.1L/100km on test.

On- and off-road

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Keeping on the theme of using these utes as dual-purpose vehicles, we submitted each to on- and off-road testing, with nothing in the tray: the aim being that we wanted to see just how well behaved – or misbehaved – each was in each circumstance while unladen.

And at the risk of harking back to that previous mega test once more, the Colorado was below par in this regard last time around. But boy oh boy is it a different vehicle now.

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That’s because the suspension has been completely retuned, and there are new shocks, new springs, and new stabiliser bars to make the Colorado ute ride and handle better than it did. And it does. Like, heaps better.

So much so that the Colorado is now more comfortable on the road – both at high and low speeds – than the Ranger, which was up there with the best in the class (the Amarok remains our ride champion). Over speed humps it settles quicker than the Ford, and it doesn’t feel anywhere near as jittery as it used to.

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The Ranger’s ride is more fiddly on good surfaces and bouncier over speed bumps and the like, taking longer to settle due to its spongier tune. Still, the Ranger is a lot softer over hard bumps when you’re off road, and it’s softer suspension setup means it feels less fidgety over minor bumps, too – ruts and the like still buck the back end of the Holden, where the Ford feels more planted. The Ranger, then, is better balanced and more controlled when the going gets tough.

The electric power steering in the Colorado is improved, but still a bit lazy the more lock you apply. The Ranger’s steering remains the benchmark: it’s light at low speeds when parking, nicely resistant around town and at higher speeds, and while it doesn’t have as much feel as the Holden, it offers better precision and usability.

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The Ford’s brakes are better, too – the response is more linear and the feel through the pedal is more responsive, too, even though our test vehicle had a clicky noise under initial application.

But another way in which the Colorado has greatly improved is noise insulation. The Holden was quieter on coarse chip roads, dirt roads and in urban duties than the Ford, with less road and wind noise intrusion.

We put both through some rugged off-road terrain: a couple of steep climbs and descents with offset craggy bumps, some steep ramp-over sections, and a few deep mud plunges. The good news? We didn’t get stuck in either of the utes: the Colorado was a little harsher over the crankier bumps and it did feel quite firm, where the Ranger bounced up and down more over the deeper rutted sections.

That said, the tow bar of the Colorado touched down more, and while we didn’t challenge the wading claims of either of these utes, it has a lower 600mm capability (Ranger: 800mm). The Colorado also lacks a rear differential lock – the Ranger has one.

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Load area and capacity

If you’re going to use either of these utes for their intended purpose – that is, being a ute, rather than a 4×4 toy – then you’d be better off considering a cheaper model from either of their respective ranges. That’s because these two don’t have the best payloads of their packs. Indeed, the Ford’s payload is rated at just 907 kilograms – a full 100kg less than the Colorado.

Further, the silly sports bars on both aren’t overly work friendly (although the tray light in the bar of the Ranger is nifty), and nor are their tray covers.

The roll-top unit on the Ranger eats into space massively, and also means you’re limited as to what you can slide underneath it. The soft tonneau on the Colorado is at least removable (if you can figure out how!). It’s fiddly to roll back – at least with the unit fitted to the Ford, you simply unlock it using the pull-tab and slide the lid back.

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The Ranger has the bigger tray capacity in terms of its dimensions, even if it doesn’t have the higher weight ability. The Ranger’s tray floor is longer (1549mm v 1484mm), wider (1560mm v 1534mm) has a wider gap between the wheel-arches (1139mm v 1122mm), and is also deeper (511mm v 466mm).

The Ranger further tops the Colorado with six tie-down points (four for the Holden), and the Ranger has a tub-liner (Holden doesn’t), and it has a 12-volt outlet in the tub (Holden doesn’t). Oh, and it has that light: the Holden’s tub doesn’t.

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The Ranger also has a centrally positioned rear-view camera, which is better for lining up a trailer when reversing: the Holden’s camera is offset a little to the left.

On the topic of towing, both of these trucks have the benchmark ability of 750kg un-braked towing, and 3500kg braked capacity. The gross combination mass of both vehicles is 6000kg, with the Colorado’s gross vehicle mass rated at 3150kg, and the Ranger’s at 3200kg. The Ford comes as standard with a tow-bar, too.

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Ownership

Both the Ford and Holden have warranties that span three years or 100,000km – less than the best utes in the class for warranty coverage (the Mitsubishi Triton and Isuzu D-Max have five-year warranty coverage).

As for servicing, both of these two have lifetime capped-price service campaigns – but they differ in the way they’re set up.

The Ford requires maintenance every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever occurs first. The minimal service costs average out at $459 per visit over the first five years or 75,000km.

Holden asks its owners to bring their Colorado in every nine months or 15,000km, whichever occurs first – that could be less than ideal if you’re using this as a work vehicle. The minimum average cost over 75,000km, or 45 months is $361.

Ford gives its owners seven years or 105,000km of roadside assistance if they service their vehicle at Ford dealerships. Holden only offers one year of roadside assistance with new car purchases.

Verdict

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The Holden Colorado came last in our eight ute mega test last year, but there’s no way the updated version is anywhere near the bottom of the pack any more.

This is a much-improved vehicle – one that addresses most, if not all, of the criticisms we had of it in the first place: it’s more refined, better to drive and better equipped.

That said, the Colorado Z71 still lacks some of the equipment and capability of the Ranger, and it doesn’t have as good an interior in terms of practicality, nor presentation.

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For those reasons, the Ford Ranger remains the ute we think is the more convincing high-spec pick-up truck.

It is more expensive, and you may be harder pressed to find a great price on one. But if you must have the top of the pops model with all the kit, the Ford Ranger Wildtrak is the victor of this battle.

Click the Photos tab above for more images by Brett Sullivan.

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FORD RANGER BREAKDOWN

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HOLDEN COLORADO BREAKDOWN

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