We throw the physics textbook at a fun car challenge - which top-selling pickup will win a tug of war?
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Can the ultimate automotive battle in Australia be solved with physics?

If you've read our comparison between Australia’s two favourite cars, you’ll know that the battle for the top sales position is being fought on many fronts, with each vehicle giving or taking ground depending on buyer criteria.

One leads in tech, the other in ergonomics. One has more load space, the other has more cabin space. One is better on-road, the other better off it. Key points for many buyers, but the importance and weighting essentially depends on your specific needs.

So is there a better way to solve this neck-and-neck battle? And if there isn’t a better way, is there, say... a more fun way?

To find out, we’ve thrown process out the window and resorted to basic shenanigans by strapping the 2020 Toyota Hilux to a 2020 Ford Ranger in a four-by-four tug-of-war!

We are well aware that despite the high-school physics problem presented here, this is not a very scientific test. That said, we’ve tried to keep things as managed as possible.

Both cars are showroom standard and are running their placard recommended tyre pressures. Our strap is an 8,000kg-rated winch extension strap which is connected via an identical hitch receiver shackle to each vehicle’s factory tow hitch.

The Hilux is packing a 130kW/450Nm 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel that offers its peak torque in a band from 1600 to 2400rpm. Where the Ford runs a 3.2-litre 5-cylinder turbo-diesel with 147kW and 470Nm in a band from 1750 to 2500rpm.

Vehicle mass has a near 10 per cent variance though, with the Toyota weighing in at 2045kg to the Ford at 2230kg.

In a perfect physics environment, the Newtonian equation of force = mass x acceleration puts the result in favour of the Ranger. It has a larger mass and will exert a greater force on the ground to be overcome by the Toyota. But this isn’t a perfect environment, and we have to deal with the big challenge: friction.

We wanted to avoid a high friction surface as it may have transferred some of the stresses to the car’s driveline, so have opted for a level grass carpark.

To test our setup, and make sure we weren’t going to damage anything, we made a few attempts with both cars in rear-wheel drive with traction control off. Here, any potential friction afforded by our grass and gravel surface was quickly transferred into a thermodynamics experiment with the cars just spinning and smoking rubber on the hard-packed base of the car park.

Suffice to say, our cars didn’t move an inch.

Upping the ante to low-range four-wheel drive with rear differential locks engaged, and choosing a new patch of ground, was hopefully going to give us a bit more traction.

And as you can see in the video, this was harder than expected.

With a near sequential start, both vehicles would simply start spinning all four wheels. The friction of the surface reduced to nothing, a system of balanced forces at play.

We tried a number of different setups and managed to seal victory for the Ranger in one round and the Toyota in another. But was the grass slicker at one end, did a driver get the jump, was there a slight incline? The number of variables are too many to factor in for a truly balanced experiment.

What we did find though, was that when testing everything with our production team’s Ford Everest, which full of gear would further extend its weight advantage (2408kg kerb weight) over the Toyota, it simply walked away with the Hilux each time.

Its 30 per cent advantage in mass was seemingly enough to counter the other physical forces at play.

So what did we learn?

Not much, other than when properly set up in a controlled environment, a tug of war is a good deal of fun. But in terms of a satisfactory victory, the two big hitters on the Australian car landscape remain as equally matched as ever.

Personally, I would love to live in a world where every sales battle was fought in a physical duel between vehicles, and we might try this again with some different setups.

Got any tips on Newtonian physics, or requests for a tug of war battle? Let us know in the comments below!