The new-age work-and-play dual cabs have become family cars with benefits and that’s a big reason why the Toyota HiLux has been Australia’s favourite, even trumping the compact Mazda3 and Toyota Corolla, for a number of months since the start of the year.

The HiLux has been the gold standard in utes almost since it arrived, despite the traditional following for the homegrown Commodore and Falcon workhorses, partly because of its relative value, also because of its 4x4 grip, and mostly because it is a Toyota and that’s good enough for a lot of people.

But in 2013 it’s the Ford Ranger and Mazda BT50 that have vaulted to the top of the Carsguide pick list because they are the best of the breed for double duty, combining payload practicality with safe and comfy family travel. The Ranger is our clear No. 1 because it’s the Aussie original, although Mazda buyers also benefit from the work by the Broadmeadows boys.

We should also mention the Amarok, VW’s first ute, although it’s costly and the model line-up is not as vast as the Japanese.The Ranger-BT twins reflect many changes in the business, from five-star safety — only a dream until very recently — to the price advantage that comes from Australian engineering translated into low-cost production in Thailand.

Until China comes fully on-stream with even cheaper utes that are more than just price fighters — and we’re not prepared to give a tick any time soon to a Great Wall or Foton — the Thai takeaway looks good for Australian workers.

But it’s not all good news on the Ranger-BT double act, with considerable waiting times for top-end models and prices which are not sharp as some of their opposition. We’ve also had some serious complaints from a few Ranger owners.

So, if you don’t want to spend big on a Ranger or join the hordes in a HiLux, the smart move is to join Mitsubishi and Nissan as they race to the bottom with their Triton and Navara. They’re not bad, but they are getting very old and that’s significant in a class where the model cycle is closer to 10 years than the five or six for a top selling passenger car.

The two Japanese brands are both serial contenders on the discount front, which means the Navara and Triton will get the red-pencil treatment during their run-out. And they’re already looking good.Forced to pick, we’d go for the Triton as the dollar deal, despite the quirky look of the tail-end workspace. The case for the Navara is not helped by capped-price servicing that is the dearest in the business.

The Triton scores with a car-like cabin, especially in the back of the dual-cab — although some drivers will find the driving position is cramped by a high floor — and a super-select system that means it’s all-wheel drive works on sealed roads. It’s not quite as nice to drive as the Navara, but beats the Nissan on payload as well as towing. And the clincher is Mitsubishi’s five-year warranty, combined with capped-price servicing that works.

Toyota Hilux Toyota Hilux

Toyota Hilux - see other verdicts
Price: from $26,990 (Workmate)
Engine: 2.7L 4-cylinder petrol, 116kW/560Nm
Transmission: 5-speed manual, RWD
Thirst: 11.0L/100km, 262g/km CO2

Mazda BT-50 Mazda BT-50

Mazda BT-50 - see other verdicts
Price: from $36,170 (XT Hi-Rider)
Engine: 3.2L 5-cylinder diesel, 190kW/560Nm
Transmission: 6-speed manual, RWD
Thirst: 8.4L/100km, 222g/km CO2

Volkswagen Amarok Volkswagen Amarok

VW Amarok - see other verdicts
Price: from $28,990 (TDI340 2H)
Engine: 2.0L 4-cylinder diesel, 103kW/340Nm
Transmission: 6-sp manual, RWD
Thirst: 7.3L/100km, 192g/km CO2

Nissan Navara Nissan Navara

Nissan Navara - see other verdicts
Price: from $31,990 (RX)
Engine: 2.5L 4-cylinder diesel, 
Transmission: 6-sp manual, RWD
Thirst: 9.1L/100km, 245g/km CO2

OTHERS TO CONSIDER

Ford Ranger Ford Ranger

Ford Ranger - see other verdicts
Price: from $30,240 (XL 4-door)
Engine: 2.5L 4-cylinder petrol, 122kW/225Nm
Transmission: 5-speed manual, RWD
Thirst: 10.4L/100km, 250g/km CO2

Mitsubishi Triton Mitsubishi Triton

Mitsubishi Triton - see other verdicts
Price: from $31,990 (GLX)
Engine: 2.5L 4-cylinder diesel, 131kW/400Nm
Transmission: 5-speed manual, RWD
Thirst: 8.1L/100km, 215g/km CO2

Great Wall V200 Great Wall V200

Great Wall V200 - see other verdicts
Price: from $24,990 (4-door ute K2)
Engine: 2.0L 4-cylinder diesel, 105kW/310Nm
Transmission: 6-speed manual, RWD
Thirst: 8.3L/100km, 220g/km CO2