We test 11 of the best double-cab utes on sale in Australia today, including towing, loading, in the city and suburbs, and off-road.
It’s the most comprehensive test we’ve undertaken: 11 of Australia’s top-selling double-cab utes compared side-by-side across multiple disciplines.
From towing a caravan, carrying a heavy load, to driving them unladen in the city and suburbs – as an increasing number of family buyers do – we’ve experienced each of these vehicles across all their likely habitats.
We also tested them off-road, just in case anyone decides to use these as their makers intended.
It’s no secret Australians are gorging themselves on double-cab utes right now. They have, in effect, replaced Ford Falcons and Holden Commodores in driveways across Australia because they appeal to our sense of adventure. As the ads say, they’re built for work and play.
While utes are still not quite ‘car-like’ to drive, they are largely safer and better equipped than before, and some almost feel like an SUV from behind the wheel.
As we discovered, the ute category is one of the few segments where there are still stark differences in the way each vehicle drives – even if they all follow a familiar formula. We distinguished the shades of grey, and found some differences are black and white.
It’s worth noting these types of vehicles are among the hardest for manufacturers to get right.
Double-cab utes are the automotive equivalent of the pentathlete: they need to have car-like comfort and features, five-star safety, tow up to 3500kg, carry up to 1000kg, and be capable off-road.
No other vehicle on sale today is required to excel across so many disciplines.
After driving them empty, with 650kg in the tray, and towing a 2200kg caravan over an entire week, we reckon some customers might already be asking too much of some of these utes.
We’ve had to take everything into consideration when comparing these vehicles, though we recognise buyers will favour certain elements over others.
Most models tested are in the $50,000–$55,000 price bracket, the sweet spot of the ute market. We’ve published drive-away prices that were advertised during our test or available as this article was published.
As we discovered, the RRP is largely academic and not a true guide to the prices people actually pay because drive-away deals are often thousands of dollars cheaper.
Here’s how they compare.
EDITOR'S NOTE: for full specifications, including power and torque, fuel use, acceleration figures, towing data and more, see the table at the bottom of this story.
Ford Ranger XLT 2.0TT
The Ford Ranger is nearing the end of its model life, with an all-new model due in about two years.
However, Ford has invested heavily since the PXI was released in 2011 and the PXII arrived in 2015 to ensure the Ranger stays at the top of the class.
The Ranger received its most recent update in September 2018 in what we’ve dubbed ‘PXIII’ (the example tested here), and yet there is a minor model-year change imminent for 2020 that will bring better headlights and a USB port near the rear-view mirror for easy connection of dash cams.
The Ford Ranger might be the second-best-selling ute in Australia behind the Toyota HiLux, but it remains the benchmark for comfort, features, drivability and technology – much of which the Mercedes X-Class lacks.
Speed sign recognition, multiple fast-charging USB ports, a household power socket to charge a laptop, digital speed display, high-resolution infotainment screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, large door pockets, a sizeable glovebox, comfortable seats and a roomy cabin add to the appeal.
Other examples of attention to detail: an extendable sun visor that blocks side glare, and illuminated central locking switches on both front doors to add peace of mind when driving through dodgy areas. No other ute has all these creature comforts.
The 2.0-litre twin-turbo diesel with 10-speed auto is a formidable combination, the second-best performer in terms of acceleration behind only the VW Amarok TDV6 – empty, loaded, and when towing – and comfortably quicker and gutsier than the Ranger’s old 3.2-litre five-cylinder diesel, despite industry perceptions. (See tables below.)
The only criticism with this drivetrain is the 10-speed auto isn’t always smooth or intuitive between shifts.
The Ranger is the most supple over bumps among the heavy-duty workhorses following a subtle softening of the suspension in September 2018 with the PXIII update.
It’s nicer to drive unladen than the others, but the compromise is the rear suspension sags slightly with a heavy load or when towing. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it’s worth noting this if you plan to fit a permanent toolbox on the back.
The Ranger is one of the most capable utes off-road; however, the departure angle is compromised by the position of the standard tow bar.
As our 100km/h to zero brake testing showed, there’s room for improvement with stopping performance. And there could be some merit in making heavy-duty rear suspension an option. Perhaps there’s room for two Ranger XLTs: Luxury and Pro packs.
One final note: the Ford website lists the XLT double cab with the twin-turbo 2.0-litre and 10-speed auto – the vehicle we tested – at about $65,000 drive-away, however prices vary dramatically depending on supply. When Ford is low on stock, it tries to charge full freight. However, this model limboed to $55,490 drive-away in June 2019.
NEWS AND REVIEWS: Ford Ranger
Toyota HiLux SR5
The Toyota HiLux is one of the newest utes on the market, with this generation arriving mid 2015. As with the Ford Ranger, Toyota has made regular updates to help the HiLux stay on top of its game.
The HiLux has been Australia’s best-selling vehicle outright for the past three years in a row, and is on track to notch up its fourth straight victory.
Regular updates, discount offers, and a bulletproof reputation have helped the HiLux remain almost untouchable.
However, it has hit a few bumps in the road. The HiLux received a more macho-looking front bumper in mid 2018 after a lukewarm reaction to the original design. And it gained a switch that enables customers to manually activate a diesel particulate filter burn-off.
Toyota is in the middle of addressing issues with the 2.8-litre turbo diesel in the HiLux and other models with the same engine.
The intermittent clouds of white smoke seem to affect vehicles that are driven shorter distances at suburban speeds; the HiLux (and other diesel utes with particulate filters) prefer to be driven for more than half an hour and at freeway speeds from time to time to assist with the burn-off.
While Toyota is still sorting through the issue and urges customers to take affected cars back to their dealer, we’ve never experienced it firsthand and know of plenty of customers who haven’t had a drama.
It appears Toyota is getting on top of the DPF issue, which is a good thing because the HiLux excels in many ways. Indeed, diehard fans won’t consider any other ute.
Despite the 2.8-litre engine’s modest power output, it gets the job done whether the HiLux is empty, carrying a load, or towing. Performance is middle of the pack, but it feels effortless.
The front suspension was softened slightly in 2017 to make it more comfortable in the daily grind – and manufacturing tolerances were tightened even further this year – but the rear end remains suited to carrying heavy loads.
In our testing, the HiLux’s rear suspension was the benchmark both with the 650kg load in the tray and in our 2200kg towing test. So good, in fact, I checked the rear-view mirror to make sure I had the 650kg weight on board.
Now with autonomous emergency braking, radar cruise control and speed sign recognition standard across all models, the HiLux SR5 has closed the technology gap to the Ford Ranger XLT, which still charges extra for radar cruise.
Other noteworthy touches: the HiLux’s engine idle speed makes it easy to reverse in small increments when hitching a trailer; it has the biggest front brakes in the class backed up by four-piston calipers; and the most precise and reassuring pedal feel among the utes tested.
Off-road, the HiLux is class-leading. Generous clearance angles and excellent wheel articulation give it incredible traction. It feels unstoppable. It also has the best-tuned off-road traction control system in the ute class.
Room for improvement? It still lacks Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and a digital speedo. It only has single-zone air-conditioning when many rivals have dual-zone. Although the cabin has a household power socket (as with the Ranger), there’s no auxiliary power to the rear tray and it lacks a standard tub liner (unlike the Ranger), and the standard tow bar doesn’t include the hitch or wiring.
Towing is only rated to 3200kg with automatic transmission, and servicing is required every six months/10,000km when most other utes have 12-month/15,000km intervals.
However, as a genuine workhorse that’s gone to finishing school, it’s easy to see why this is Australia’s favourite car.
NEWS AND REVIEWS: Toyota HiLux
Mitsubishi Triton GLS Premium
The Mitsubishi Triton was given a sharp new suit in December 2018. While this looks like an all-new model, it is in fact the 2015 Triton with a major makeover.
The Triton has for a long time had price on its side – in the sub-$40,000 bracket, nothing comes close. However, in this price range, the Triton is playing with the big boys. The Triton still has a price advantage, but the Ford Ranger and Toyota HiLux have limboed closer.
The 2.4-litre turbo-diesel engine is unchanged, but the six-speed auto (up from a five-speed) does make it a little more perky. However, the official fuel consumption rating is thirstier than it was before the update because of the wider, grippier tyres, and a less aerodynamic front end.
Nevertheless, the Triton punches above its weight performance-wise, largely because it is about 100–200kg lighter than most rivals.
The updated Triton is a big step forward in terms of technology. Most variants come with autonomous emergency braking, and the flagship GLS Premium tested has rear cross-traffic alert and blind-zone warning, both features most other utes lack.
The cabin might be a touch smaller than most peers, but it’s still comfortable, plus it has the tightest turning circle in the class – about 1m less than most rivals, which makes it easier to manoeuvre in tight spots.
Infotainment includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but does not include embedded navigation and there’s no digital speed display.
The Triton has a seven-year warranty when most rivals have five-year coverage, and its running costs are among the best in class, although capped-price servicing runs out after just three years.
Room for improvement? The rear suspension noticeably sagged with 650kg in the tray, and the Triton can only tow 3100kg. It didn’t feel as sure-footed as most others when carrying a heavy load or when hauling, due to both the suspension tune and shorter wheelbase than most rivals.
The Triton remains the only ute in the class available with a switchable four-wheel-drive system that can be driven on sealed roads when engaged, which can give peace of mind on wet roads.
On-road in day-to-day driving, though, the Triton is not as well rounded as the Ford Ranger and Toyota HiLux – especially in the wet. But it remains the value champion.
NEWS AND REVIEWS: Mitsubishi Triton
Holden Colorado LTZ
This generation of Holden Colorado has been around since 2012. As with its rivals, it’s had numerous updates, though they’ve not been as extensive.
In September, Holden realigned the range and added a spray-on bed-liner to the LTZ ute tub, and added flashes of black to the bodywork to distinguish the model-year change.
Holden also wound back the price of the Colorado LTZ to between $49,990 and $51,990 drive-away with auto, depending on how generous it feels and how much stock remains from month to month.
The Colorado needs to be priced sharply because the company hasn’t been able to add the latest safety and technology as its rivals have done.
The last major update was in 2017, when Holden engineers were able to work some of their magic on suspension and gearbox calibrations.
Not everyone is a fan of the Colorado’s 2.8-litre turbo diesel, even though it has been heavily modified from its original VM Motori design.
Despite its origins, the engine is strong, willing and able. It was the best of the rest behind the Ford Ranger and Volkswagen Amarok in terms of acceleration across all disciplines.
That said, the Colorado has an unusual driveline vibration during acceleration, the brakes feel a bit iffy (although it pulled up in the middle of the pack in our 100km/h to zero test), and the engine sounds agricultural, even by ute standards.
By way of comparison, since September 2018 the Ford Ranger XLT has had an acoustic windscreen and front side glass, plus better sound deadening behind the firewall.
The Colorado handled the 650kg load and 2200kg towing well. The rear suspension easily took the weight with little sagging, and it was near the pointy end of the field in this regard.
Inside the cabin, the Colorado’s plastics feel cheap, although the layout is straightforward and easy to use. There’s a digital speed display and the infotainment includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Among the traditional mainstream workhorse utes, the Colorado has equal-best back seat space with the Ford Ranger.
Although individual service costs are competitive, the routine maintenance intervals are 12 months/12,000km (the industry norm is 12 months/15,000km).
Room for improvement? The Colorado needs advanced safety aids to bring it up to speed with the class-leaders. It only has forward-collision alert and lane-wander warning, but not autonomous emergency braking. And the Colorado would benefit from further refinement.
NEWS AND REVIEWS: Holden Colorado
Nissan Navara ST-X
It’s a case of fourth time lucky for the Nissan Navara. That’s how many attempts Nissan has made at getting the rear suspension right, and has finally nailed it.
The rear end no longer sags when loaded. In our 650kg weight test and 2200kg tow test, it was level-pegged with the Holden Colorado for stability.
The twin-turbo 2.3-litre diesel is relatively refined and makes the most of the seven-speed auto, though its performance was middle of the pack when tested empty, with a load, and when towing.
Nissan has made continual improvements to the Navara since this generation launched in 2015; it’s one of the few in the segment that has improved with age.
The suspension changes in August coincided with the arrival of Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and a digital speed display.
However, as with most utes in this segment, modern safety aids such as autonomous emergency braking are still not available.
Service intervals are generous at 12 months/20,000km; however, the individual costs for routine maintenance are higher than most others.
Room for improvement? The Navara lacks advanced safety aids. And Nissan needs to stop playing around with pricing. If the Navara ST-X could stay at its current offer of $49,990 to $51,990 drive-away, it has a chance of challenging the class leaders in the sales charts.
NEWS AND REVIEWS: Nissan Navara
VW Amarok TDV6 Sportline
The Volkswagen Amarok is holding its age well. Released in 2011, it's now one of the oldest vehicles in the segment. However, it remains the benchmark in many ways, largely due to the initial engineering work and improvements along the way.
The turbo-diesel V6 was added in November 2016 to the flagship model, but quickly trickled down to more affordable versions. There’s even a TDV6 Core edition.
The most powerful engine here combined with an eight-speed automatic transmission and permanent all-wheel-drive have, in effect, created the hot hatch of utes.
This engine used to be in the Porsche Cayenne and Audi Q7 SUV. Fortunately, the 550Nm version in this grade of Amarok does not require AdBlue, only the 580Nm version does.
These aren’t supposed to be performance cars, but the acceleration times show just how potent and effortless the Amarok TDV6 feels to drive.
It is almost two seconds quicker to 100km/h than its closest rival with a time of 7.8 seconds (behind the Ford Ranger 2.0TT), and it was daylight to the rest of the field.
Whether it had 650kg in the tray or a 2200kg caravan behind it, the Amarok powered on like it was brushing its teeth.
The rear suspension was equal best with the Toyota HiLux for carrying a load. If you plan to leave a toolbox on the back permanently or tow more often than not, look no further than the Amarok.
The suspension can feel a bit firm around town when unladen, but it still corners and handles better than most other utes in this class, and it has above-average capability off-road.
Four-wheel disc brakes in a market dominated by rear drums are a welcome addition. The braking distance was average in our 100km/h to zero test, but that was largely due to the all-terrain rubber. On highway tyres, the Amarok pulls up almost as short as a passenger car.
Basic creature comforts are covered: digital speedo, tyre pressure monitors, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. And it has a wide cabin and massive door pockets, although back seat space is a bit tight; you can’t even fit a slab on the floor behind the driver.
However, the Amarok hasn’t kept pace with the ute market in terms of advanced safety and other technology. For example, there’s no push-button start, no radar cruise control, no rear cross-traffic alert or blind-zone warning – and no autonomous emergency braking. All features available on the top-selling utes.
The Amarok doesn’t even have rear airbags, but it retains its five-star rating from 2011 because there was no time limit imposed on scores back then.
There’s no prospect of the Amarok getting these safety and technology features in this model cycle. We will need to wait until about 2022 when the Ford Ranger joint-venture version of the next-generation Amarok arrives.
In the meantime, if advanced safety and technology features aren’t a priority and you need to haul heavy loads, the Amarok is an epic vehicle.
NEWS AND REVIEWS: Volkswagen Amarok
Mazda BT-50 GT
This generation of Mazda BT-50 went on sale in 2011, about the same time as its twin under the skin, the Ford Ranger.
Many Mazda buyers choose the BT-50 thinking they’re getting a Ranger at a cheaper price, but that’s no longer the case. Ford has made continual engineering changes to the Ranger over the past nine years, whereas Mazda has barely put a spanner on the BT-50.
It has a new fascia (fitted in Australia because the factory didn’t think it needed to update the design) and a new touchscreen that enables Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. But that’s about it as far as updates go, and as a result the BT-50 is starting to show its age.
The 3.2-litre five-cylinder diesel sourced from Ford sounds epic and was once the benchmark of the class. However, our testing shows it’s demonstrably slower than the 2.0-litre twin-turbo four-cylinder in the Ranger – and slower than most smaller-capacity four-cylinder diesels in the class.
As with the Ford, the brakes feel a little underdone and the BT-50 was back of the pack when it came to pulling up in an emergency from 100km/h to zero.
That said, it’s a solid vehicle for towing and carrying a heavy load due to its heavy-duty rear suspension. Indeed, the BT-50 handled the 650kg weight better than the Ranger since Ford softened the rear end.
Room for improvement? The BT-50 needs advanced safety tech and other creature comforts. It lacks tyre pressure monitors, digital speedo, push-button start, and radar cruise control, for example.
Unfortunately, these features will need to wait until the next Mazda BT-50 arrives some time in 2021 as a joint venture with the new-generation Isuzu D-Max.
NEWS AND REVIEWS: Mazda BT-50
Mercedes-Benz X250d Power
We tested the Mercedes X250d Power four-cylinder over the TDV6 as that lines up closest on price in this comparison.
We all know it’s a Navara underneath and built in a Nissan factory in Spain, but that doesn’t do justice to the significant changes Mercedes has made to the X-Class.
The chassis has been strengthened, the footprint has been widened, and Mercedes has fitted four-wheel discs even to models powered by Nissan’s twin-turbo 2.3-litre four-cylinder.
The interior gets classy Mercedes instruments and infotainment from the waistline up, and it’s one of the few utes in the segment with autonomous emergency braking.
However, it lacks Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and cabin storage is limited. The door pockets are bigger than in the Nissan, but oddment storage near the centre console has been taken up by Mercedes’s cabin control system.
On this model’s 18-inch wheels and tyres, the X-Class is comfortable to drive, although acceleration is blunted slightly by approximately 200kg weight added due to the changes.
Riding on highway tyres rather than all-terrain rubber, the X-Class has one of the shortest stopping distances in the ute segment (a car-like 35 or so metres, about 5m less than the rest of the pack).
Even though the rear suspension sagged heavily when loaded, it still drove pretty well with 650kg in the back and when towing the 2200kg caravan.
Unfortunately, however, the Mercedes price premium remains an impediment. And the world is truly upside down when Ford, Toyota and Mitsubishi utes have safety and technology features that Mercedes lacks.
NEWS AND REVIEWS: Mercedes-Benz X-Class
SsangYong Musso XLV Ultimate
This is the surprise packet of this test. If it had a more conventional or more macho appearance – and didn’t have an unfamiliar badge – the SsangYong Musso would be a serious threat to the main players.
SsangYong has recently returned to the ute market with two variants: a standard wheelbase and a long wheelbase.
We tested the Musso XLV Ultimate long wheelbase, which lines up closest to these rivals on equipment and yet pulls up shorter than most on price: $41,990 drive-away with auto.
Another advantage: it has a seven-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, the best in the ute class, and competitive capped-price servicing costs.
You can choose between coil rear suspension with an 880kg payload or a leaf spring rear that can handle 1025kg. We tested the 880kg payload version as our 650kg weight would be inside the limit. Plus, it’s still rated to tow 3500kg and our caravan weighed 2200kg.
Powered by a relatively small 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel matched to a six-speed automatic transmission with an off-road-only four-wheel-drive system (as per most in the class), the SsangYong is middle of the pack in terms of performance when unladen, carrying a load, or towing.
It was one of the most comfortable and car-like to drive around town in this test, aided in part by its highway tyres rather than all-terrain rubber. Equipped with four-wheel discs, it had the second-best braking performance behind the Mercedes X-Class.
The cabin is noticeably roomier and more upmarket than most rivals, and the Musso has a long list of standard safety tech, including autonomous emergency braking, rear cross-traffic alert and blind-zone warning.
Unfortunately, however, it’s the only vehicle in this test without a five-star safety rating – in fact, it hasn’t even been tested – because it has only a lap belt in the centre rear seat position. Until ANCAP conducts a series of crash tests, we don’t know how well the Musso will protect occupants in a collision.
The rear suspension sagged badly with 650kg in the back, even though it was rated to 880kg. The Musso has the power to tow (its performance was middle of the pack despite the relatively small engine), but if you’re planning on hauling heavy loads, you’re better off with the leaf rear suspension as the steering was too light when we had the 2200kg caravan in tow. In this regard, the Musso is more of a lifestyle vehicle than a go-anywhere ute.
The Musso performed relatively well off-road in terms of traction, even though it only has highway tyres and a limited-slip differential rather than a rear diff lock. However, the long tray and long wheelbase mean its clearance angles aren’t as good as the class leaders.
The ute tray is among the biggest in the class. According to our tape measure, the Musso XLV ute tub is 158cm in length, 107cm from wheel arch to wheel arch, and 58cm high (compared to the 148cm/118cm/50cm in the VW Amarok, 155cm/110cm/49cm in the Toyota HiLux, 140cm/110cm/50cm in the Ford Ranger, 151cm/110cm/49cm in the Holden Colorado, and 137cm/104cm/46cm in the Mitsubishi Triton, to name a few examples).
NEWS AND REVIEWS: SsangYong Musso XLV
Isuzu D-Max LS-T
The Isuzu D-Max has a loyal following of diehard fans whose passion for their utes is rivalled only by Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger buyers. Despite its age the D-Max is the fourth best selling ute in this segment.
Part of the appeal is the tough-truck appearance and the 3.0-litre turbo diesel. Let’s not forget this engine also has another life in a 4.5-tonne Isuzu delivery truck, so it gets the job done.
Although the power and torque figures are modest, our 0–100kmh times show whether unladen, carrying a 650kg load, or towing a 2200kg caravan, the D-Max’s acceleration is surprisingly strong.
The leaf spring rear suspension was changed last year in an attempt to find a better blend between cargo carrying and comfort; it’s skewed more towards comfort now.
However, with a new model just around the corner, the D-Max is starting to show its age in other ways.
While it has a five-star rating from 2013, it lacks the latest safety aids required to earn that score today. It doesn’t even get automatic headlights.
Isuzu buyers might eat gravel for breakfast, but the D-Max could definitely benefit from better sound insulation – it’s a bit rowdy even by ute standards these days – and a few more creature comforts.
There’s no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, no digital speed display, and the rear camera is a bit fuzzy by modern standards. The infotainment screen isn’t bright enough if you drive with your headlights on during the day (as an increasing number of safety signs advise drivers to do in remote areas).
The cabin is roomy and practical, although larger door pockets and more charging points would be welcome.
The D-Max should be epic off-road given its clearance angles, and it performed well on our test except in the cross-axle exercise where it struggled for traction. The D-Max doesn’t get a rear diff lock or even a limited-slip diff. It’s an open diff, so can’t tackle really gnarly obstacles.
The off-road traction control system isn’t so great on the D-Max, either, which is another reason it struggles on such terrain.
The Isuzu warranty of six years is better than average, though the coverage runs out once you hit 150,000km and servicing costs are middle of the range.
NEWS AND REVIEWS: Isuzu D-Max
LDV T60 Luxe
The LDV T60 was the first Chinese ute to score a five-star safety rating, and it remains a lot of ute for the money. We tested the top-of-the-range LDV T60 Luxe automatic that costs from $35,490 drive-away.
This makes the LDV T60 Luxe $10,000–$15,000 cheaper than most others here.
It has the largest infotainment screen in the class, and has some technology – such as Apple CarPlay and blind-zone warning – the Mercedes X-Class lacks.
The LDV T60 received a lukewarm reception from some sections of the media when it went on sale in 2018, but the company has since updated the vehicle with Australian-tuned shock absorbers.
It hasn’t suddenly transformed the LDV T60 into a vehicle to rival class leaders, but the net result of this suspension change is that the driving experience is now closer to, say, an Isuzu D-Max.
The LDV T60 is one of the few utes with four-wheel disc brakes, and it pulled up middle of the pack in our 100km/h to zero emergency braking test.
Unfortunately, however, the 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel is underdone in this company. A newer, more powerful engine would transform this vehicle.
In addition to being noisy and lacking power (even by ute standards), the LDV version of this 2.8-litre has a narrow power band. Our 0–100km/h testing showed it struggled with big loads (see table). That said, the six-speed auto does a good job of disguising the power deficit.
The cabin is roomy and visibility all around is excellent, although unfortunately the 360-degree camera display is fuzzy.
The LDV T60 has a decent-sized tray and the vehicle was surprisingly capable off-road. For example, it didn’t get stuck on the same cross-axle obstacle that left the Isuzu hanging.
Towing capacity is limited to 3000kg and the warranty of five years/130,000km is less than all other utes tested. Capped-price servicing is not yet available, though the intervals are the industry average of 12 months/15,000km.
NEWS AND REVIEWS: LDV T60
New Age has recently become entirely owned by the Walkinshaw Automotive Group, the same outfit that operates Holden Special Vehicles and remanufactures Ram and Chevrolet vehicles from left- to right-hand-drive in Clayton.
The Manta Ray 16-foot Series 3 range starts from $58,690 in basic form. The next model up is the $69,290 Adventure version. The caravan used in this test is the $72,600 luxury version.
It comes furnished with an ensuite with shower and toilet, a gas cooktop, air-conditioning, a 110-litre water tank, a 164-litre fridge, two 9kg gas bottles a 150W solar panel, a lithium battery, reverse camera and a front loading washing machine.
The 16ft, 18ft & 19ft models are designed for couples or solo travellers but the 20ft and 22ft models come with triple bunks to fit the whole family.
The Manta Ray tested was 2500mm wide (the maximum allowed), 7285mm long and 3050mm high.
It was equipped with a DO35 hitch designed for more robust use than a standard 50mm ball hitch. Although we didn’t go off the beaten track, the universal joint was handy even when pulling over on the side of the road; some of the spots we stopped at had steep approach or departure angles from the main roadway.
This test showed us there are three main groups of utes: the top of the pack, the middle of the pack, and those with some work to do.
The Ford Ranger XLT 2.0-litre twin turbo won this test because it has the best blend of capability, comfort, and advanced technology. No other ute has as much on its standard equipment list as the Ranger, and it’s clear Ford has sweat the details.
It might be a workhorse, but it’s the closest to an SUV to drive unladen. And, contrary to perception, that engine is the second-fastest here, beaten only by the VW Amarok TDV6.
The Toyota HiLux ranked second in our test because it is finally crammed with the latest technology to complement its broad-reaching abilities. The HiLux’s power and towing numbers might seem modest in comparison, but it more than gets the job done.
The Mitsubishi Triton pulled up in a well-deserved third place because it is well equipped and sharply priced, but can’t quite match the big boys for overall capability.
We didn’t rank the middle group of utes because, as we said in the introduction, individual tastes and needs will play a big role for most buyers.
However, you can throw a blanket over the Holden Colorado, Nissan Navara and Mazda BT-50 in terms of load carrying and off-road ability. Personal tastes with the appearance of the vehicle – and the price you can negotiate – will likely be determining factors for many.
The Volkswagen Amarok TDV6 is unbeatable if you really need to haul heavy stuff, provided you can live without some basic and advanced safety and technology features.
The Mercedes X-Class is a better ute than it gets credit for, but the price is a deal-breaker unless you can pinch one at the right money.
The biggest surprise was the SsangYong Musso XLV. Badge-snobs may turn up their noses, but this is a more capable ute than we were expecting. If SsangYong could get its safety score sorted and work on a more conventional design, it would be a no-brainer at this price.
The Isuzu D-Max proved to be gutsier than many people realise, but it’s in real need of safety and tech upgrades, even by ute standards.
The LDV T60 shows a lot of promise now it has Australian-tuned suspension – and it has a five-star safety rating and a massive price advantage over its rivals – but it needs a more powerful engine, and better infotainment and rear camera technology.
Heading off-road? The order at the top of the charts changes slightly. If four-wheel-drive ability is your highest priority, the Toyota HiLux, Ford Ranger, Nissan Navara and Volkswagen Amarok lead the pack.
Note: this table scrolls horizontally. See bottom scrollbar on desktop, or scroll by finger on mobile. (If on mobile, you'll see more detail in landscape view.)