Dual-cab ute comparison

3 November 2011
, CarsGuide

Multi-tasking is allegedly a female's domain and perhaps this is why cars are oft monikered with nametags from the fairer sex.

But the 21st century new car market in Australia has a growing number of multi-taskers - once-masculine machines that were previously tasked with towing the tools and weekend duties were limited to a dump run. Not any more.

The light-commercial brigade are now asked to carts the kids and tows the toys on the weekend, without depriving the family of passenger-car features and some small measure of comfort.

Toyota is - surprise, surprise - the market leader and HiLux has just had some rhinoplasty accompanied by a re-fit of features.

A host of newcomers have taken a swipe at the market leader but have failed to significantly erode its sales volumes - particularly its bread-and-butter fleet sales - but the Ranger/BT-50 cousins from Ford and

Mazda are the latest ute releases most likely to attract significant sales.

This trio boast the rough'n'tumble skills to get away from the black-top but customers are now demanding something akin to soft-roader tarmac manners - or better - from these utilitarian machines.


We've gone a little off-beat when it comes to guest test drivers.

Cara Jenkin is National CareerOne editor but has also moonlighted as a car-tester for Carsguide.

A V8 Supercar fan with one Red Eye, she's sampled a broad cross section of passenger and light-commercial vehicles in the course of writing Girl Torque stories foraif The Advertiser Carsguideaifin Adelaide.

When it comes to verdicts, our second test driver has delivered plenty - former prosecutor and judge (as well as the author's father) Brian Martin has driven and owned more cars than he cares to recall.

Everything from an old Simca (you'll have to Google it like I did) to early Range Rovers, big square Volvos, Subaru 4WDs to Lexus SUVs and Mercedes-Benz sedans has passed through the Martin garage.


This trio are the near-top-spec models currently available - Ford will bring a Wildtrak model in above the XLT - and all dwell in the $50,000 bracket.

The XLT Ranger in auto form is $55,390, the Mazda BT-50 XTR is priced from $50,810 and the HiLux SR5 dual-cab sits at $53,490 - the Ford and the Mazda have both gone up (but with an expanded features list) and Toyota has come down $2200.

Standard fare within all three includes climate control (Toyota is single-zone, the others are dual), MP3 audio with USB (the Ranger's is the most conveniently placed, in the centre console) and Bluetooth for phone and music, wheel-mounted controls for cruise, phone and audio, 17in alloys and trip computers are on all three, HiLux and Ranger both get automatic headlights but none of them have reach-adjustable steering - something less forgivable on the Ford and Mazda given the more recent clean-sheet design .

The Ford misses out on satnav that appears in the other two, with the HiLux's a larger touchscreen set-up.


The Ford and Mazda both run the 3.2-litre in-line 147kW/470Nm common-rail direct-injection five-cylinder and six-speed auto combination, while the HiLux has held onto the four-cylinder three-litre turbodiesel producing 126kW and 343Nm, teamed with a four-speed automatic.

It misses out on grunt but the HiLux driveline has been honed over time and doesn't feel as lacking as the numbers suggest.

The HiLux also retains the transfer case lever while the kissing-cousins have a rotary knob for selecting 4WD, as well as a push-button rear diff lock.

The front suspension across the triplets here are equipped with double-wishbone front ends, which are all well planted and don't jump around much - the Mazda's nose approaches enthusiastic on turn-in.

But don't look at the rear-end for any technological advances with suspension - leaf springs that have heritage dating back to the old west are still there, tweaked to offer better ride quality.


One is what the company calls a "major, minor facelift" and the other two are far more comprehensive.

The Hilux looks similar to its predecessor, taking the traditional line for light trucks and offering more front than a department store and presenting a macho nose.

The beast from Broadmeadows follows a similar path - Ford's new Ranger takes much inspiration from its American F-Series relative (albeit a distant one) and the Blue Oval's truck heritage.

It's a handsome brute and it's no surprise it's not being sold in the US (just everywhere else it seems) as the F-Series might not be as attractive a proposition if the Ranger was in the same line-up.

The Mazda follows a less traditional truck path, in some ways taking a similar path to the Mitsubishi Triton - swooping lines and a striking snout transplanted from the rest of the revamped family.

It turns heads, but then again so does a messy car crash - some love the Mazda look, others are less enamoured, as was the case with the adventurously styled Mitsubishi Triton.


This segment has come a long way in terms of active and passive safety equipment, but some have travelled further than others - the Ford and Mazda products both offer stability control as standard range-wide, while the Hilux puts the safety feature only into its top SR5 dual-cab models as standard.

Front discs and rear drums are also the staple braking set-up, with anti-lock and brakeforce distribution across the trio as well.

Anyone looking to tow a trailer (or something larger) will be assured by the trailer sway system, which uses single-wheel braking via the electronic safety systems to counteract "fish-tailing" - nothing worse than the tail wagging the dog, automotively speaking.

The airbag count stands at six - dual front, side and side-curtain - but the Ranger takes points here for having reversing sensors and Ford and Mazda score with an auto-dimming rearvision mirror; these two also get five lap-sash belts, where the HiLux still has a centre lap belt.


No longer is the compromise as great for the tradie who is looking for an all-rounder the missus can pinch and not want to give back.

These are big machines - all are around 5.2m long, 1.8m tall and wide, as well as tipping the scales at around two tonnes, although the HiLux is just under and the Ford and Mazda both go just over 2100kg - but none are drive like an aircraft carrier, except maybe in turning circle.

The turbodiesels are quiet at cruise but remind the occupants of their diesel nature under throttle load - it's not a harsh intrusion and the five-cylinder powerplants in the Ford and Mazda sound a little off-beat, but the Toyota has to work a little harder given the torque deficit.

All three finished the drive in the 9-10l/100km bracket - only the Mazda tipped into double figures, which could perhaps be explained by its more enthusiastic handling.

While it misses out in torque and ratio count, the HiLux drivetrain is by no means out of the hunt - but add the big gap in braked towing capacity (2500kg versus 3350kg) and the twins score towing points.

Inside, the Ranger and Mazda part ways - the Ford is funkier, with chunkier switchgear, while the Mazda goes flat and black, but both are easy enough to decipher.

The Hilux is a little easier to get into but the Ford's tubular sidesteps don't score as highly as the traditional flat steps adorning the Mazda and Toyota.

All three have backseats that are far more comfortable than the right-angled benches of ye olde trade machines, with extra storage under the rear bench in the Mazda and Ford - but none are easy to put a child's seat in and the Hilux loses out with a centre lap-only belt.

All three can hustle along a back road, sealed or unsealed, with reasonable aplomb, although the rear-end on any of the trio will wander without the benefit of stability control and/or 4WD being selected (for unsealed surfaces).

A load in the rear would benefit the ride quality as well from the leaf-sprung rumps on all three, but the Mazda's suspension feels on the sportier side, with meatier steering (befitting the Zoom Zoom mantra).

The larger newcomers have a little more length, width and tray wall height than the HiLux - but the tray size on any of them is useful for a dump run, but a trail bike is not going straight in.

The judges preferred the fit and finish in the HiLux cabin over the Ranger and Mazda, and also noted the Ranger's tray was fully-lined tray and had a 12-volt outlet, the Hilux tray had a bottom liner and there was no tray lining in the Mazda.

The Ranger and Mazda found favour for their drivetrains, with more gears, higher braked towing capacity and fuel efficiency, but the HiLux was noted for its ride quality.


The battleground has changed for the Hilux and its newest challengers - it is still the reigning monarch of the LCV kingdom just - resale history, resilience and reputation are on its side, but the margin is very narrow.

The Ranger's extra torque, towing capacity and six-speed transmission - as well as a less taut ride - put it into second (but again it's close), but those qualities and a handling bent to the Mazda's suspension will suit a different crowd.


Price: from $53,490
Engine: 3.0-litre DOHC common-rail 16-valve 4-cyl, 126kW/343Nm
Transmission: four-speed auto
Thirst: 9.3L/100km, 245g/km CO2, tank 76 litres
Towing capacity: 750kg, braked 2500kg
Clearance: 227mm
Warranty: 3 years/100,000km
Service: 12 months/15,000km.


Price: from $55,390
Engine: 3.2-litre turbocharged intercooled direct-injection common-rail 5-cyl, 147kW/470Nm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Thirst: 9.2L/100km, 246g/km CO2, tank 80 litres
Towing capacity: 750kg, braked 3350kg
Clearance: 237mm
Warranty: 3 years/100,000km
Service: 6 months/10,000km.


Price: from $50,810
Engine: 3.2-litre 20-valve DOHC intercooled turbodiesel 5-cyl, 147kW/470Nm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Thirst: 9.2l/100km, 246g/km CO2, tank 80 litres
Towing capacity: 750kg, braked 3350kg
Clearance: 237mm
Warranty: 3 years/100,000km or 2 year unlimited km
Service: 6 months/10,000km.