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Utes are moving upmarket


The battle for Australia's best workhorse has turned into a technology race.

The all-new Toyota HiLux due in showrooms in October has a digital dashboard display inspired by the new Mercedes-Benz C Class, and top-end models are expected to get automatic emergency braking and pedestrian avoidance.

The HiLux is loaded with more technology and capability as it faces its stiffest competition since the original was launched in 1968.

In addition to the arrival of a new Mitsubishi Triton last month, a new Nissan Navara on sale next week, there is a refreshed Ford Ranger due in July -- which also has a more upmarket interior and equipment once reserved for luxury cars.

Top end versions of the new Ford Ranger will be available with radar cruise control, forward collision warning, blind zone alert, and lane keeping technology that beeps at the driver if they wander from their lane.

The Ford also has an 8-inch touchscreen including navigation and a rear-view camera, voice control, and a 240 volt power socket to charge a lap top while on the move.

Toyota is yet to release the complete list of standard equipment on the new HiLux, but camouflaged prototypes have been photographed testing pedestrian detection technology.

Never before have so many brand-new or heavily revised contenders been launched so close together

Able to scan the road ahead, top end versions of the new HiLux are understood to be available with automatic emergency braking, which stops the car at speeds up to 30km/h if the driver is distracted and about to hit the car in front.

The arrival of a refreshed Ford Ranger and an all-new Toyota HiLux within months of a new Mitsubishi Triton and Nissan Navara is likely to increase the competition between the top selling utes in Australia.

Never before have so many brand-new or heavily revised contenders been launched so close together.

The HiLux once had more than one-third of the workhorse market, but its leadership has been eroded by the Ford Ranger and others; the Toyota currently represents one in five utes sold.

Even though the HiLux has been the top-selling four-wheel-drive pick-up for more than three decades, Toyota says it welcomes the competition and believes that it will remain number one because the ute market has grown.

Anecdotally, the growth in ute sales has been driven not only by the mining boom, but also by families switching from large cars and SUVs.

"Traditionally the HiLux was very much a workhorse-based, tool-of-trade vehicle," said Toyota Australia executive director of sales and marketing Tony Cramb.

"What customers are looking for now is a more family-oriented vehicle that they can take to work."

To create the new HiLux, Toyota appointed the same person who developed one of the world's smallest cars.

The chief engineer Hiroki Nakajima was also responsible for Toyota's tiny European city car, the iQ, about the same size as a Smart and known for its clever use of available interior space.

Toyota insists the eighth generation model has retained the HiLux's ruggedness, even though it is available with seven airbags, a remote sensor key, LED headlights and other mod cons.

Toyota will be the first car maker to fit a standard rear camera to so many ute models

A rear-view camera is standard on every model in the new HiLux range, except for the cheapest cab-chassis fitted with a drop-side tray (it's a dealer fit accessory).

With 31 variants in the new line-up, Toyota will be the first car maker to fit a standard rear camera to so many ute models.

The other big news is that the new HiLux will be able tow literally a tonne more than before, with capacity increased to 3500kg to match the Ford Ranger and Holden Colorado pick-ups.

Payload has also increased to a maximum of 1240kg on certain models.

Perhaps the biggest telltale sign that the new HiLux hasn't gone soft, though, is the fact that the driver still does not get a vanity mirror.

Meanwhile, Toyota's Australian engineers have for the first time had a hand in how the top-selling ute drives.

"Australia is a very important market for the HiLux and Australian engineers have played an important role in its testing," said Cramb.

"Australia has 80 per cent of the world's harshest road conditions so that made it an ideal place to test the new HiLux."

More than 16 million HiLux utes have been sold worldwide since 1968, including 850,000 in Australia.

Toyota estimates there are more than half a million HiLux utes still on Australian roads.

The HiLux is not only Australia's favourite ute, it is also our biggest selling four-wheel-drive, and has been our top-selling vehicle outright on 13 individual months over the past five years.

Perhaps the biggest indication of our changing taste in cars: the Toyota HiLux now comfortably outsells two former Aussie favourites: the Holden Commodore and Ford Falcon.

Toyota HiLux fast facts

Price: $21,000 to $60,000 (estimated)
On sale: October
Engine: 2.8-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder
Power: 130kW and 450Nm
Transmission: Six-speed manual or six-speed auto
Economy: TBC but Toyota says 10 per cent better than today's model
Towing capacity: 3500kg
Payload: 1240kg maximum on certain models
Available technology: Seven airbags, rear view camera on all models except the cab-chassis, sensor key, LED headlights, iPad-style display in the dashboard.

How new is new?

Mitsubishi Triton

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  • 2016 Mitsubishi Triton Exceed 2016 Mitsubishi Triton Exceed
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  • 2016 Mitsubishi Triton Exceed 2016 Mitsubishi Triton Exceed
  • 2016 Mitsubishi Triton Exceed 2016 Mitsubishi Triton Exceed
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The body, engines and 80 per cent of the undercarriage are new and the suspension has been heavily revised. But the main chassis rails are unchanged from before, which is why the new Triton looks so similar to the old one. The chassis dictates that the body's "hard points" are largely unchanged, even though not a single panel can be swapped from the new model to the old one. Engine: 2.4-litre turbo diesel. Peak power: 133kW/430Nm. Maximum towing capacity: 3100kg.

Nissan Navara

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  • 2015 Nissan Navara 2015 Nissan Navara
  • 2015 Nissan Navara 2015 Nissan Navara
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  • 2015 Nissan Navara 2015 Nissan Navara
  • 2015 Nissan Navara 2015 Nissan Navara
  • 2015 Nissan Navara. 2015 Nissan Navara.
  • 2015 Nissan Navara 2015 Nissan Navara
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  • 2015 Nissan Navara 2015 Nissan Navara
  • 2015 Nissan Navara 2015 Nissan Navara
  • 2015 Nissan Navara 2015 Nissan Navara
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As with the Mitsubishi, the body, engines and 80 per cent of the undercarriage are new and the suspension has been revised, including the option of independent rear suspension on top end models. As with the Mitsubishi, the main chassis rails are unchanged from before, which is why the new Navara looks similar to the old one. The chassis dictates that the body's "hard points" are largely unchanged, even though not a single panel can be swapped from the new model to the old one.
Engine: 2.3-litre turbo diesel. Peak power: 140kW/450Nm. Maximum towing capacity: 3500kg.

Ford Ranger

  • 2015 Ford Ranger 2015 Ford Ranger
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The Ford Ranger is new from the windscreen forward, with a completely different bonnet, front fenders, headlights, grille and front bumper. It also gets a completely new dashboard, with a larger touchscreen and a rear camera on more models than before. Electric power steering and better noise insulation join the technology highlights such as radar cruise control and lane-keeping assistance. The drivetrain and towing capacity is unchanged from before however. Engine: 3.2-litre turbo diesel. Peak power: 147kW/470Nm. Maximum towing capacity: 3500kg.

Toyota HiLux

Toyota says every part of the eighth generation HiLux is new, including the body, chassis rails, suspension, steering system, interior and engines. Even the badges and rear bumper are new (the bumper from the superseded model actually came from the predecessor, so it's been around for 20 years). If we had to take a guess, the rear mudflaps might be carried over from before. Engine: 2.8-litre turbo diesel. Peak power: 130kW/450Nm. Maximum towing capacity: 3500kg.