'Luxury' and 'ute' are two words that, in the past, never spent any time in the same sentence together – and if they did there was always an uncomfortable silence between the two.
However, now that utes have assumed their rightful place in the mainstream as a workhorse-daily driver-people mover, it's only natural that, along with their ever-improving refinement and car-like qualities, some utes now have very high levels of build quality, fit and finish, as well as leather, shiny bits and pieces, heated this and that, plenty of top-notch standard features and a stack of optional extras – at a cost, obviously. (You always pay to play, remember?)
1. VW Amarok V6 Ultimate
The Amarok is a great – and great-looking – package. Nice to drive, stylish and supremely comfortable, it's been made even better with the addition of a V6 model – and the Ultimate ($67,990 plus on-roads) is the top-shelf pick of the two-model V6 range; Highline – $59,990 plus on-road costs – is the other.
The Ultimate's cabin is cool and classy – leather and chrome-look touches everywhere – and, with seats as comfy as these, it's a very nice place to spend any length of time as driver or passenger.
The Ultimate is full to the brim with standard features and some of the more poshy-sounding ones include: LED puddle lights, heated 14-way adjustable seats (12-way electric, 2-way manual), leather steering wheel with paddle shifters, alloy-finish pedals, 6.3-inch* colour touchscreen with sat nav and VW's 'AppConnect' suite (with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto), and much more. (*We reckon that's too small.)
Leather seat options include Alcantara ($1890) and Nappa leather trim ($2690).
The 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel (165kW/550Nm; overboost: 180kW/580Nm) is the same engine used in the Porsche Cayenne and Audi Q7, so even the engine has a prestige pedigree. The eight-speed automatic transmission from the 2.0-litre bi-turbo model has been retained. Driving the Ultimate on- or off-road is a smooth and refined experience; no strife there.
Classy, comfortable and functional, the Ultimate is one very appealing unit.
The class-leading tray, a 2.52m (squared) cargo area (1222mm between wheel arches), gobbles up a full-sized 1160mm Aussie pallet. It has the lowest load height (780mm) on the market and has up to six tie-down points (four standard and two optional).
The tray also has a 12 volt socket and has a third brake light with load space lighting. Towing is 3000kg (braked) and 750kg (unbraked). Payload is 1000kg. (Not that you'll be using the Ultimate to do any actual work, rich boy.)
Classy, comfortable and functional, the Ultimate is one very appealing unit.
2. Ford Ranger Wildtrak
The Ranger rules the sales charts these days in a back-and-forth tussle for the top spot with old rival HiLux. And if that doesn't indicate to you the quality of this Ford you need to give yourself a solid uppercut – and perhaps a Chinese rope burn.
The Wildtrak (from $60,090 for the auto, excluding on-roads) is the Ranger line-up's best of the best and this top-spec model has real presence and is bloody awesome to drive. It is also stuffed to its lockable roller-shutter tray-top with a heap of great stuff.
Standard and notable features include: 'SYNC3' with high-resolution 8.0-inch touchscreen and voice-command capability, navigation with 'Traffic Management Channel', electric power assisted steering (EPAS), a tyre pressure monitoring system, rear box illumination and dual colour 4.2-inch instrumentation screens.
Driver-assist features, such as 'Adaptive Cruise Control with Forward Collision Alert', 'Lane Departure Warning', 'Lane Keep Assist', 'Driver Impairment Monitor' and reverse camera are available as part of the Wildtrak's 'Tech Pack' option.
Outside, the Wildtrak has a strong truck-like stance but looks good with it.
The interior is all highly stylised but understated class, replete with leather accents, soft-touch materials and striking hand-stitched surfaces. Fit and finish can't be faulted and the spacious cabin is also very comfortable.
Outside, the Wildtrak has a strong truck-like stance but looks good with it. It's available in five colours: 'Cool White', 'Metropolitan Grey', 'Aluminium', 'Black Mica', and 'Pride Orange'.
This big unit – 5355mm long (3220mm long wheelbase), 2163mm wide and 1848mm high – tackles all driving duties – city, suburban and bush – with no-sweat aplomb.
The Wildtrak has six airbags and a five-star ANCAP rating.
The tray is 1549mm long (at floor level), 1560mm wide (1139mm wide between wheel-arches), and 511mm deep (at centreline of axle). The Wildtrak has a tray liner, which houses a 12 volt socket and tie-down points. Maximum towing capacity is 3500kg (braked).
3. Ram Laramie 2500
At 6027mm long, 2009mm wide, 1974mm high, and with a 3797mm long wheelbase, the 3577kg Ram Laramie 2500 4X4 is almost as monumentally bloated as a certain US president's ego, but the difference is this Yank has oodles of class and is worthy of your respect.
For one, it's a towing behemoth: drawing all-out space-shuttle-dragging strength from a 6.7-litre six-cylinder Cummins turbo-diesel engine (276kW/1084Nm!). The only thing stronger on wheels is probably a coal mine dump truck.
Its hardcore towing prowess is further bolstered – as if it needed to be! – by a monster-stopping exhaust brake, intelligent six-speed auto box, and 4x4 drivetrain designed to tackle heavy-duty towing.
Two, this top-spec Laramie does all of its work – or none at all – while you cruise in absolute style: six couch-like comfortable seats and leather everywhere you look and touch. Also notable is the inclusion of a heated steering wheel, power-adjustable pedals and a high-mount camera for monitoring the load in the tray.
There's plenty to love about the Ram Laramie.
Speaking of the tray, it has a spray-on liner and is 1939mm long (on the floor), 1687mm wide (1295mm between wheel arches) and 511mm deep. In other words, it's massive.
The numbers get even bigger from there; this Ram's towing max (braked) is 6989kg – yep, almost seven tonnes! – and that's with a full 913kg payload.
The Ram Laramie has not been ANCAP tested but it has passed the ADR crash test. It has a three-year/100,000km warranty (plus national roadside assistance during that period) with service intervals of six months/12,000km.
Fuel consumption figures for the Laramie are unavailable but CarsGuide has recorded about 20.0L/100km (with a lot of heavy towing) and about 15.0L/100km (no towing).
How are these gigantic things even here, I hear you ask. Well, they're imported, cop a factory-approved RHD conversion (courtesy of American Special Vehicles) then released, like enormous wild beasts, into the wilds of the Aussie ute-buying market.
It's a monster truck with a whopper of a price-tag ($139,500 plus on-road costs) but there's plenty to love about the Ram Laramie. You want to payWave that?
4. Nissan Navara ST-X
Though there was much gnashing of teeth when the new Navaras arrived sans 100Nm – down from 550Nm in the previous models to 450Nm in the current ones – and many a raised eyebrow at Nissan's decision to ignore ute tradition and replace leaf-springs at the rear with coil springs, those moves have largely paid off.
The engine may not reach the torque heights of its D40 predecessor and it's not even a class-leader, torque-wise, in the contemporary ute mob – that's Colorado's title at 500Nm (ignore the Laramie's 1084Nm!) – but it does power-cruise along with nary a worry in the world, with or without a load. The seven-speed auto is a handy partner for it.
It's not the best load-carrier, but the ST-X is otherwise a real premium product.
The ST-X's list of luxury features is extensive and includes heated and leather-accented front seats, leather-accented handbrake, heated power door mirrors, eight-way power-adjustable driver's seat, chrome highlights on the exterior, polished alloy sports bar, alloy roof racks and side steps, a slide-adjustable load-securing system in the tray and more.
It's very comfortable inside for long stints and, with a five-star ANCAP rating, it has active safety features (electronic stability controls, with brake force distribution, reversing camera and sensors etc) and airbags aplenty. There are three top tether child-seat anchor points but no ISOFIX.
The ST-X's tray is 1503mm long, 1560mm wide (1130mm between wheel arches) and 474mm deep. It is rated to tow 3500kg (braked).
Fuel consumption is claimed to be 7.0L/100km. It has an 80-litre fuel tank.
The ST-X has a three-year/100,000km warranty, with three-year 24-hour roadside assistance. Servicing intervals are 12 months/20,000km; capped price servicing applies to the first six services up to 120,000km.
It's not the best load-carrier or tow vehicle – the rear coil-spring set-up works against it – but the ST-X is otherwise a real premium product: good looking, nice to drive, and packed with plenty of great stuff.
5. Toyota HiLux SR5 Dual Cab auto
The HiLux continues to top sales charts – it was Australia's favourite car last year – and for very good reason; it's a farm-tough truck that's doing its darnedest to move with the times by maintaining what it's renowned for (hard work and off-roading) and improving that which it has tended to lag behind in (refinement, ride and handling).
The SR5 is neat, tidy and well-appointed. The interior is not as full-blown flash as some of its high-brow rivals but, kitted out with a 7.0-inch media display, six-speaker sound system, 12 volt and 220 volt plugs, USB port, and plenty of storage spaces, it's perfectly fine. It's a solid, rather than sophisticated, interior.
The 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel (130kW/450Nm) and six-speed auto work well as a team, but the SR5 loses out to others on this list in the ride and handling stakes with its too-firm bounciness.
The HiLux has a five-star ANCAP rating, but could do with more safety measures for the price.
The HiLux has a five-star ANCAP rating (seven airbags in the cabin, reversing camera, and ISOFIX points in the rear seat) but could do with more safety measures for the price. Fuel consumption is a claimed 8.5L/100km; it has a 80-litre fuel tank.
The tray is 1550mm long (on the floor), 1515mm wide (on the floor), 1110mm wide (between the wheel arches), and 495mm deep (from floor to top of deck). The tray has four fold-away tie-down points, one near each corner. It can tow a maximum of 3200kg (braked).
Sure, the SR5 is not as refined as the others on this list but it is very well built and, despite what its new softer exterior may indicate, it's still bloody tough.
Do any of our pics meet your luxury ute criteria? Tell us what you think in the comments below.