The newest ute on sale in Australia takes on the top two sellers and the benchmarks of the class.
Utes have been our top two selling vehicles outright for the past three years in a row.
If the Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger continue to sell at their current rate, it will be four years in a row for these workhorses turned show ponies – and the fifth year at the top for the Toyota HiLux.
Sedans dominated the Australian landscape for more than half a century, and hatchbacks held the top sales spots for five years before the ute takeover.
Toyota’s stranglehold on the mining and construction industries has been a big part of the HiLux’s success, but as utes have become safer and more advanced, they are increasingly being embraced by families who are using them to replace SUVs.
Buyers have been shifting from passenger cars to SUVs due to their added practicality, and the promise of one day leaving the big smoke. Now it seems SUVs are becoming passé and utes are seen as more authentic weekend getaway machines.
The Toyota HiLux has been the top-selling heavy-duty ute for more than two decades, but it is facing fresh competition.
Four-wheel-drive versions of the Ford Ranger outsold the Toyota HiLux 4x4 for most of last year. And now there is a new challenger to the dominance of this pair.
The previous Isuzu D-Max had a loyal following of diehard fans who seemingly didn’t mind that the old model was a bit agricultural and lacked mod cons compared to newer alternatives.
Now a completely new Isuzu D-Max has arrived. Has Isuzu done enough to challenge the top two sellers?
We’ve tested the Ford Ranger Wildtrak with the 2.0-litre twin-turbo diesel ($64,490 drive-away), Toyota HiLux SR5+ (between $63,990 and $65,990 drive-away at full retail, prices vary from state to state), and the Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain ($58,990 drive-away).
We primarily stuck to the city, suburbs and the open road, and tested these utes unladen for this test to assess them as daily drivers. Some heavy-duty towing, load carrying, and gnarly off-road tests will follow. For now, here’s how they compare when driven off the showroom floor.
|AT A GLANCE||Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain||Ford Ranger Wildtrak||Toyota HiLux SR5+|
|Year of platform introduction||2020||2011||2015|
|Country of manufacture||Thailand||Thailand||Thailand|
|RRP before on-road costs||$62,900||$65,790||$62,420|
|Drive-away prices||$58,990||$64,490||$63,990 - $65,990|
|Engine||3.0-litre four cylinder diesel||2.0-litre four cylinder diesel||2.8-litre four cylinder diesel|
|Automatic transmission ratios||6||10||6|
|Fuel consumption average claim (L/100km)||8||7.4||7.9|
|Fuel consumption average tested (L/100km)||10.8||10.7||10.7|
|0 to 100kmh (unladen, tested on GPS equipment)||10.2 seconds||9.7 seconds||10.4 seconds|
|100kmh to 0 (unladen, tested on GPS equipment)||41.6 metres||42.8 metres||41.9 metres|
|ANCAP safety rating||Not yet tested||5 stars||5 stars|
|ANCAP safety rating year||2020||2015||2019|
|Warranty||Six years/150,000km||Five years/unlimited kilometres||Five years/unlimited kilometres|
|Service intervals||12 months/15,000km||12 months/15,000km||6 months/10,000km|
|Routine capped price servicing over five years||$2215||$1676||$3537|
Ford Ranger Wildtrak
Ford has done such a good job of updating the Ranger that we almost forgot this generation has been around since 2011. Its rugged good looks have also stood the test of time. The Ford Ranger ‘PXIII’ (as we have dubbed it) still looks new.
The Ford Ranger remains one of the benchmarks of the class, because the company has been making running changes throughout its life cycle.
The detail-oriented among us may have noticed the LED low-beam lamps have a rectangular rather than round housing (the internals were upgraded to project a brighter and whiter beam), and the rear-view mirror mount has a USB port to power a dash cam.
All new Rangers fresh off the boat gain FordPass Connect, a smartphone link that pinpoints the parked location of the vehicle and enables owners to lock/unlock the doors and start the engine remotely.
Ford Australia engineers have also constantly tinkered with the suspension tune, and although the XLT is a favourite of ours among the mainstream Ranger line-up for its plush ride on 17-inch wheels and tyres, the Wildtrak is also extremely comfortable and superbly balanced even though it runs on 18s.
Standard equipment includes dual-zone air-conditioning, sensor key with push-button start, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, AM/FM and digital radio, embedded navigation, and a digital speed display.
It is the only ute among this trio to retain a CD player, and comes with such comfort and convenience items as an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, illuminated vanity mirrors, extendable sun visors, illuminated central-locking switches in both front doors (so you can see at a glance if the doors are locked when driving through a dodgy area), puddle lamps, a spring-loaded tailgate, a remote-controlled roller shutter cover for the ute tub, and automatic ‘000’ emergency dialling after a crash.
The Ford Ranger was the first ute to earn a five-star safety rating (back when this generation was introduced in 2011), and in early 2019 became the first ute with autonomous emergency braking, radar cruise control, speed sign recognition, and lane-keeping assistance across the range.
However, the Ford Ranger lacks more recent advanced safety aids such as rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot warning or a 360-degree camera.
Front and rear parking sensors are standard (as they are on each of these three utes), but the Ford Ranger’s rear camera has the highest-quality image of the trio – and is the only one with guiding lines that turn with the steering.
The Ford Ranger Wildtrak’s full list of features – and how they compare to the Toyota HiLux SR5+ and Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain – can be found at the bottom of this story.
On the road, the Ford Ranger remains one of the most capable and most comfortable utes to drive in the city, suburbs, and on the open road.
The suspension is supple over bumps, the balance front-to-rear is reassuring in corners, and it tucks the nose in on tight turns. The electric power steering initially felt too light when it was released with the PXII update in mid-2015 – now it feels just right against the demands of the daily grind.
As testing has shown time after time, Ford’s 2.0-litre twin-turbo four-cylinder diesel (157kW/500Nm) is faster, more powerful and more fuel-efficient than the 3.2-litre five-cylinder (147kW/470Nm).
The old 3.2 – which is expected to be retired when the next-generation Ford Ranger arrives in late 2021 or early 2022 – still sounds the business, but Ford has at least injected a subtle engine growl into the 2.0-litre.
There are no complaints about its performance (0–100km/h in 9.7 seconds tested in windy conditions is second quickest to a VW Amarok V6 that stops the clocks in about 7.8 seconds), but the 10-speed auto needs some further finessing. Most of the time its shifts are smooth and intuitive, but every now and then the 10-speed can shunt abruptly in indecisive moments.
Another unusual trait: the Ford Ranger’s automatic gearbox doesn’t like being left parked for extended periods, or in severe cold overnight.
After waking to zero degrees Celsius, I warmed up the Ranger’s engine for a minute or more to clear frost from the windscreen. But when I engaged drive, it felt like a clutch was slipping and the vehicle was slow to move from rest. It felt like the automatic had arthritis. So I pulled over for a moment and tried again. Same problem.
After a third time, the transmission eventually built up enough oil pressure to do its job. This is apparently standard operating procedure. Given that the Ford Ranger is sold in 180 countries, surely some of them have cold climates. Please, Ford, is there a way to address this for the next model?
Other observations: the interior is starting to look dated (particularly the instrument cluster), but it’s comfortable, practical, user-friendly and has many convenience features other utes lack.
Ford deserves credit for supplying the Ranger with a tow bar and a 12-pin plug. But it would be great if Ford could tuck that tow bar up a bit higher to improve ground clearance.
Overall, though, the Ford Ranger Wildtrak is still a benchmark in the class as far as we’re concerned, both on-road and off-road (the details for which we will save for another test). It’s a credit to the design and engineering teams that the current-generation Ranger has stood the test of time. Few vehicles are still landing punches this late in their model cycle. Even after almost a decade, it can see off newer rivals.
Ford certainly appears to be in tune with changing market tastes. For family buyers, the Ford Ranger Wildtrak is a turn-key solution. You don’t need to option anything on this ute because Ford has sweat the details. It’s ready for action, and just happens to be one of the best equipped and the best to drive.
Toyota HiLux SR5+
Toyota reckons if the HiLux had an accent it would be Australian, such is the level of local input into the updated model.
The styling makeover – new headlights, tail-lights, and a bold new grille inspired by the Toyota Tundra in the US – was led by Toyota Australia’s design studio in Melbourne.
But the new model hasn’t gone too metro. It still lacks a driver's vanity mirror and a few creature comforts that are standard on the other utes gathered for this test.
Toyota Australia engineers also led the charge for suspension changes to improve ride comfort without sacrificing load-carrying ability. The locally developed changes will be incorporated on updated HiLux models sold around the world.
A quick recap on our extensive coverage of the 2021 Toyota HiLux so far. In addition to the changes mentioned above, the cabin gains a larger infotainment screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as volume and tuning dials, which are especially helpful on bumpy back roads. The instrument cluster now has a digital speed display.
Oddly, Toyota has retained the same number of charging ports in the cabin, even though motorists are more connected than ever. There are still only two 12V sockets, one USB port, and a 220V, 100W household power socket in the centre console to charge a laptop.
Back-seat passengers still have air-conditioning vents (and a pair of helpful shopping bag hooks on the back of the front seats), but no new charging ports.
As before, back-seat space in the Toyota HiLux is a bit tighter than it is in the Ford Ranger (and the new Isuzu D-Max), which can be attributed to the HiLux’s slightly shorter wheelbase.
The HiLux’s 2.8-litre turbo diesel four-cylinder has had a major overhaul (see full details here) to produce 150kW/500Nm when paired to a six-speed auto, which has been recalibrated to give more assertive – yet smooth – shifts. Towing capacity is now 3500kg, on par with the benchmarks for the class, and the legal maximum with a 50mm towball.
We’ve tested the Toyota HiLux SR5+, which is the flagship model until the top-of-the-range Rogue and Rugged X arrive in showrooms later this year.
Pricing as this test was published was listed at $62,420 plus on-road costs, which is between $63,990 and $65,990 drive-away at full retail. Prices vary from state to state depending on stamp duty and registration fees.
It wasn’t that long ago this sort of money would have bought a Toyota HiLux Rogue; the SR5 has been priced from $53,990 drive-away for the better part of the past two years.
The significant increase – close to $10,000 when comparing advertised prices on Toyota’s website – may have been more palatable had the 2021 Toyota HiLux SR5 received a major boost in equipment.
Toyota is banking on buyers being prepared to pay for more power, a bold new look, more comfortable suspension, and a better infotainment system. However, it could be argued the Toyota HiLux is playing catch-up with these improvements.
The Toyota HiLux SR5+ lacks features that are standard on cheaper rivals. While all three utes have radar cruise control, speed sign recognition and autonomous emergency braking, the HiLux lacks advanced tech such as rear cross-traffic alert, blind-zone warning and wireless Apple CarPlay, all of which are standard on even the cheapest model in the Isuzu D-Max range, for example.
The HiLux SR5+ also lacks a rear tub liner, roller shutter ute cover, power to the ute tray, and perseveres with single-zone air-conditioning in a price range where dual-zone cooling has become the norm.
On the road, there is no doubt the 2021 Toyota HiLux is a big improvement. The suspension is much more comfortable when the vehicle is unladen, though it must be said in our opinion the Ford Ranger and Isuzu D-Max still have a plusher ride.
The steering turns in sharply in the updated HiLux, and the revised hydraulic power steering set-up is communicative, linear and accurate.
Driven in isolation, the updated HiLux’s steering is well weighted and precise (for a double-cab ute), and most buyers will be happy with how it feels. However, after getting accustomed to the electric power steering in the other two utes and then jumping into the HiLux, the Toyota steering feels heavy – almost as though it doesn’t have power steering at all.
This may seem like an exaggeration, but when twirling the steering wheel to negotiate tight parking spots, in this company the HiLux is starting to become a chore.
The HiLux claws back lost ground with its excellent off-road ability, although separate testing has found the Ford Ranger has a better traction-control system in low-range and when a diff-lock is engaged.
The HiLux also deserves kudos for its readiness for modifications, such as space in the engine bay for a second battery, and a factory-fitted fuse box to run additional accessories.
A lot must be said, too, for Toyota’s vast dealer network, including in remote areas. Service and parts back-up make the HiLux a popular choice for those working in remote areas or anyone planning a big trek.
The downside is the HiLux still has six-month/10,000km service intervals (versus 12 months/15,000km on most rivals), and capped price service costs for routine maintenance step up after thee years or 60,000km. Over five years, the Toyota HiLux is dearest of this trio to service: $3537 versus $2215 for the Isuzu D-Max and $1676 for the Ford Ranger.
Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain
After spending much of the past decade at the back of the ute pack, has Isuzu done enough to rub shoulders with the top-selling Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger?
We’re testing the flagship of the new Isuzu D-Max range, the X-Terrain. For now it replaces the LS-T, but is more of a rival to the Ford Ranger Wildtrak and upcoming Toyota HiLux Rogue.
The Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain comes with a body kit, a painted version of the 18-inch wheels off the Isuzu D-Max LS-U, a roller shutter hard lid, a tub liner (which reduces tie-down points from four to two), a sensor key with push-button start, and remote engine start.
The roller shutter cover on the Ford Ranger Wildtrak and upcoming Toyota HiLux Rogue can be operated via remote control; the D-Max’s manual roller shutter cover requires a bit of practice to finesse its at times frustrating operation.
A tow bar is optional on the Isuzu D-Max, even though it is standard on the top three model grades of the Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger. Isuzu says a genuine tow bar with a 12-pin plug costs $1164 fitted and including GST.
Inside, the Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain comes with premium audio, a digital speed display, Android Auto, wireless Apple CarPlay (but not yet wireless charging), and dual-zone air-conditioning.
Every model in the Isuzu D-Max range also comes with the full suite of advanced safety tech – including the first centre airbag in a ute in Australia, as outlined here.
However, some of the warnings and beeps are at times unnecessarily intrusive and the technology would benefit from further calibration. We spent some time figuring out the menu in the instrument cluster, to turn off some of the audible warnings that were too easily triggered.
We left the visual warnings in place, because they are less distracting. The D-Max was a more relaxing drive after that.
The new Isuzu D-Max also has the longest list of standard tech in the ute class – and against these dearer rivals.
The full retail price of the 2021 Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain is close to $65,990 drive-away ($62,900 plus on-road costs). However, Isuzu launched the D-Max X-Terrain with a special-offer price of $58,990 drive-away which, we suspect, will become permanent.
Car companies routinely list high RRPs because fleet discounts are based off this number, but advertise attractive drive-away offers to target private or ABN buyers.
We’re basing this test on the published, publicly available drive-away prices for each of these utes. Even with an optional tow bar, the Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain undercuts the Ford Ranger Wildtrak and Toyota HiLux SR5+ by at least $4000.
Under the bonnet is an all-new 3.0-litre turbo diesel four-cylinder (140kW/450Nm). Even though the capacity is the same, the only components carried over from the previous-generation 3.0-litre are the conrods.
The engine is a smooth operator and certainly quieter than before. The CarAdvice team was divided on just how refined the Isuzu engine is compared to the others. Some insisted it was quieter than the HiLux, while others said all three engines were line-ball.
For what’s it worth, none of these engines is going to be mistaken for a luxury car, and all have moments when they are noisy and when they are quiet. We didn’t get a chance to put a dB meter on them, but for now we're going to make a subjective call and say there wasn’t a stark noise difference in the conditions we tested in. In fairness, all three engines are quieter than what was the norm for utes a few years ago.
The revised six-speed auto is a smooth operator, and helps the D-Max move off the line sharply and feel faster than it is, especially from 0–60km/h.
Although they’re not race cars, we put a stopwatch on these three utes to see how their power figures translate to performance. It was a windy day, so the 0–100km/h times could be a bit quicker in better conditions.
But in this test, the Ford Ranger twin-turbo 2.0-litre and 10-speed auto was the fastest of the trio from 0–100km/h, stopping the clocks at 9.7 seconds.
The Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain was second quickest with a time of 10.2 seconds, which was surprising given it has the least claimed power and torque among these three.
And the updated 2.8-litre in the Toyota HiLux delivered a 0–100km/h time of 10.4 seconds. These times were averages of four runs in each vehicle.
The Isuzu had the best braking performance, pulling up from 100km/h in an emergency stop in 41.6m. The HiLux was next with a stopping distance of 41.9m, and the Ranger had the longest emergency braking distance despite having the most power: 42.8m.
In a mix of city and highway driving without carrying a load, the fuel consumption average of all three utes were line-ball at 10.7 or 10.8 litres per 100km. We saw better than this during open-road driving, with the Isuzu and HiLux dipping into the nines and the Ranger into the eights. Of course, these numbers go out the window the moment you’re towing or carrying a load.
With the placard tyre pressures (33psi in the D-Max versus 29psi in the HiLux and 30psi in the Ranger), the Isuzu has a plush and comfortable ride, with good bump absorption around town or on the open road.
Other highlights, in addition to the comfortable SUV-like suspension, include the D-Max’s awesome bi-LED low and high beams (arguably the best among this trio, subjectively even outdoing the HiLux for brightness and coverage).
The superbly weighted electric power steering also deserves a special mention.
Electric power steering systems used to be dull and lifeless, but Isuzu has class-leading steering feel in our opinion, whether at car park speeds or on the move. It’s a highlight of the car that hopefully rival brands will try to imitate.
In this company, the Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain has a long list of advantages such as price, equipment, safety, and technology, but alas it’s not perfect.
While the steering feel is excellent, this is not matched by front-end grip. Even though all three utes coincidentally had identical Bridgestone Dueler HT 684 II tyres, the Isuzu D-Max did not turn in tight corners as well as the Ford Ranger and Toyota HiLux.
On the D-Max, the tyres squealed more readily and the stability control cut in earlier. Most drivers may not experience this behaviour except in an emergency manoeuvre – and this trait is not a deal-breaker in our opinion – but we wanted to point it out because it is an area for improvement.
We asked all three brands for their wheel alignment settings – because we suspect there is a difference in front-end geometry – but none were supplied in time for publication.
Overall, though, the Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain genuinely surprised and impressed the CarAdvice team. It’s rare for a vehicle to catapult from the back of the pack to rubbing shoulders with the class leaders, but that’s the case here.
|DETAILED DATA||Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain||Ford Ranger Wildtrak||Toyota HiLux SR5+|
|Overall length (mm)||5280||5446||5330|
|Body width not including mirrors (mm)||1880||1867||1855|
|Height including roof rails if applicable (mm)||1810||1848||1815|
|Towing capacity (kg)||3500||3500||3500|
|Kerb weight (kg)||2130||2246||2055|
|Gross combination mass (kg)||5950||6000||5850|
|Fuel tank capacity (litres)||76||80||80|
|Wading depth (mm)||800||800||700|
|Turning circle (metres)||12.5||12.7||12.6|
|Tray length, floor (mm, our tape measure)||1450||1405||1425|
|Tray depth (mm, our tape measure)||480||490||480|
|Wheelhouse to wheelhouse (mm, our tape measure)||1110||1100||1100|
|Tray width (mm, our tape measure)||1490||1400||1470|
|Tie down points||2||4||4|
|Front disc size (mm)||320 x 30||302 x 32||319 x 28|
|Rear drum brakes (mm)||295||295||295|
|Tyres fitted to test vehicle||Bridgestone Dueler HT 684 II||Bridgestone Dueler HT 684 II||Bridgestone Dueler HT 684 II|
|Unloaded tyre pressure front and rear||33psi, 230kpa||30psi, 210kpa||29psi, 200kpa|
|Loaded tyre pressure (front)||33psi, 230kpa||38psi, 260kpa||33psi, 230kpa|
|Loaded tyre pressure (rear)||44psi, 300kpa||44psi, 300kpa||36psi, 250kpa|
|EQUIPMENT||Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain||Ford Ranger Wildtrak||Toyota HiLux SR5+|
|Forward crash alert||STANDARD||STANDARD||STANDARD|
|Autonomous emergency braking||STANDARD||STANDARD||STANDARD|
|AEB with intersection detection||STANDARD||N/A||N/A|
|Radar cruise control||STANDARD||STANDARD||STANDARD|
|Lane wander warning||STANDARD||STANDARD||STANDARD|
|Lane keeping assistance||STANDARD||STANDARD||N/A|
|Blind spot warning||STANDARD||N/A||N/A|
|Rear cross-traffic alert||STANDARD||N/A||N/A|
|Speed sign recognition||STANDARD||STANDARD||STANDARD|
|Speed sign control||STANDARD||N/A||N/A|
|Trailer sway control||STANDARD||STANDARD||N/A|
|Digital speed display||STANDARD||STANDARD||STANDARD|
|Individual tyre pressure monitors||N/A||STANDARD||N/A|
|Emergency assistance ‘000’||N/A||STANDARD||N/A|
|Remote engine start||Via key fob||Via phone app||N/A|
|Auto headlights (dusk sensing)||STANDARD||STANDARD||STANDARD|
|Daytime running lights||STANDARD||STANDARD||STANDARD|
|Front parking sensors||STANDARD||STANDARD||STANDARD|
|Rear parking sensors||STANDARD||STANDARD||STANDARD|
|Rear camera guiding lines turn with steering||N/A||STANDARD||N/A|
|Auto dimming rear view mirror||N/A||STANDARD||N/A|
|Power folding side mirrors||STANDARD||STANDARD||STANDARD|
|Push button start||STANDARD||STANDARD||STANDARD|
|Sensor key opens both front doors||STANDARD||STANDARD||STANDARD|
|Sensor key opens driver door only||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|Turn-key start with remote fob||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|Auto-up power window (driver only)||STANDARD||STANDARD||N/A|
|Auto-up power window (all four)||N/A||N/A||STANDARD|
|Wireless Apple CarPlay||STANDARD||N/A||N/A|
|Wireless phone charging||N/A||N/A||N/A|
|Volume and tuning dials||N/A||STANDARD||STANDARD|
|USB front cabin||1||3||1|
|12V front cabin||1||1||2|
|USB rear cabin||1||N/A||N/A|
|12V rear cabin||N/A||1||N/A|
|Household power socket||N/A||230V, 150W||220V, 100W|
|12V power to ute tub||N/A||STANDARD||N/A|
|Single zone air-conditioning||N/A||STANDARD||STANDARD|
|Dual zone air-conditioning||STANDARD||STANDARD||N/A|
|Rear air vents||STANDARD||N/A||STANDARD|
|Illuminated central locking switch in both front doors||N/A||STANDARD||N/A|
|Extendable sun visors||N/A||STANDARD||N/A|
|Height only steering adjustment||N/A||STANDARD||N/A|
|Height and reach steering adjustment||STANDARD||N/A||STANDARD|
|2 x Isofix child seat mounts||STANDARD||STANDARD||STANDARD|
|2 x top tether mounts or straps||STANDARD||STANDARD||N/A|
|3 x top tether mounts or straps||N/A||N/A||STANDARD|
|Rear seatback tilts forward||STANDARD||STANDARD||N/A|
|Tow bar fitted as standard||N/A||STANDARD||STANDARD|
|Spare wheel||Steel, full size||Original alloy, full size||Original alloy, full size|
|Roller shutter ute cover||STANDARD||STANDARD||N/A|
|Remote control roller shutter ute cover||N/A||STANDARD||N/A|
|Hydraulic power steering||N/A||N/A||STANDARD|
|Electric power steering||STANDARD||STANDARD||N/A|
|Off-road only 4WD system||STANDARD||STANDARD||STANDARD|
|Rear differential lock||STANDARD||STANDARD||STANDARD|
|Euro V emissions||STANDARD||STANDARD||STANDARD|
This was one of the hardest three-way tests we’ve done in recent times. All three vehicles have unique attributes, and plenty of buyers won’t be swayed by what anyone else says. So, if you’re already sold on one of the utes listed above, read no further. You can’t make a dud choice.
However, we are here to rank them, not sit on the fence. When asked which ute we thought was the best all-rounder out of the three if money were no object, as the video shows we unanimously said the Ford Ranger Wildtrak – with a few qualifications.
The Ford Ranger Wildtrak is superb on-road and off-road, has a long list of comfort and convenience features the others lack, and is a turn-key solution for many buyers. However, has the dearest RRP in this test, the 10-speed auto needs some finessing, and it could do with improved braking performance.
The Toyota HiLux was praised for its improved road manners and off-road ability – and ability to accessorise. There is also the benefit of Toyota’s vast dealer network. However, in this company it lacks too many features to justify its new higher price, and these factors weighed heavily against it.
The Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain is the winner of this test because, though it’s not perfect, it has the longest list of advanced features and technology, is more comfortable than the others to drive, and undercuts its rivals by at least $4000. The six-year factory warranty – versus five-year coverage for Ford and Toyota – sweetens the deal.
Rarely does an underdog become the top dog in comparison tests – especially in the super-competitive ute market.
The CarAdvice team drove all three utes over the same roads back-to-back over several days, buried our heads in the spec sheets, swapped notes, swapped cars, and debated this decision at length.
The final scores are extremely tight, but the Isuzu inched ahead in this contest even though we rate safety as a maximum 8 out of 10 until the vehicle is crash-tested by ANCAP. The results are due by the end of the year.
Given all of the D-Max's advanced safety tech, Isuzu is hopeful of a five-star result, which would further elevate its overall score. We'll reserve final judgment until then, but it comes out on top in this test either way.
This result might seem like a major upset to the establishment, but we’re not afraid to make the tough call. Especially when it’s a worthy winner.
Notepad: jobs for the next model
Whether it’s a hatchback, SUV, ute or performance car, no-one makes the perfect vehicle. They all have compromises and room for improvement. With that in mind, we compiled a 'to-do' list for each of these three utes to keep them honest.
The Ford Ranger has been trucking along so well we almost forgot it is approaching 10 years old. Constant and worthwhile updates have been key ingredients in the Ford Ranger’s sales success.
Of the three vehicles here, the Ford Ranger has the shortest ‘to-do’ list, but there is some feedback we’d like to share.
The 10-speed auto needs some calibration work to smooth out the random rough and abrupt shifts. The brakes need an upgrade. As it stands, the fastest and most powerful ute in this test has the smallest brakes and longest braking distance.
A bigger engine that doesn’t need to work as hard as the twin-turbo 2.0-litre would be welcome. Hopefully the rumours about a turbo diesel V6 for the next Ranger turn out to be true.
In addition, by the time the next Ford Ranger arrives, it ought to have a full suite of advanced safety aids. Here’s hoping Ford keeps the high-definition cameras and continues to sweat the details on all the creature comforts.
The Toyota HiLux has been under threat from the Ford Ranger for some time, and the competition is only getting tougher.
There is much to like about the changes to the updated Toyota HiLux; however, it falls on equipment and yet comes with the steepest price.
As this article was written, the Toyota SR5+ (with leather seats) costs more than a Ford Ranger Wildtrak and Isuzu D-Max X-Terrain, and yet has less standard kit than those models.
The HiLux steering is fine when driven in isolation, but in this company, lighter steering feel would be welcome.
Toyota also needs to address its short service intervals (six months/10,000km) when the rest of the industry has moved to 12 months/15,000km.
The Isuzu D-Max is a deserving winner of this test, but as we said above, no-one makes the perfect car.
The 2021 Isuzu D-Max is a great platform to build on. With running changes it will be able to keep pace with new competition that’s just around the corner.
The Isuzu D-Max's electric steering feel is a revelation, but that now needs to translate into better front-end cornering grip. It’s not meant to be a hot hatch, but even by ute standards there is room for improvement.
The infotainment system is a step up, but it could do with some tweaks, such as volume and tuning knobs (which most brands are now reinstalling after removing them from touchscreens), a more user-friendly interface, and cleaner graphics.
The infotainment could also probably afford to lose the old-school chimes that sound like a computer game. Rear camera image quality needs to improve, especially in low light.
Extendable sun visors and illuminated central door locking switches are some details the D-Max could borrow from the Ford Ranger.