Tradies are a sophisticated bunch. When it comes time to buying a workhorse, the days of the blue-collar mob making an 'eeny-meeny' choice between a Holden or Ford rear-wheel drive ute are long gone. Now, when looking for a work vehicle, tradies do thorough research, ask their colleagues and clients for their opinion on salient vehicular-related issues... and then they still buy a HiLux! Joking. (Or am I?)
Gone also are the days where, in a yarn such as this, we could merely suggest all of the entry-level utes in 4x2 guise because they're generally the cheapest options, and their very basic, hose-out-interiors and no-nonsense approach have been traditionally well suited to those who don't wear suits to work – but, as we said, times have changed.
Tradies need tough work trucks, sure, but they also often have families so they need plenty of safety gear; they're human beings, too, so they don't mind a bit of comfort, air con and music every now and again. Price is a factor, obviously, but tradies are some of the richest blokes I know, so it's not too much of an issue.
We're not going to patronise plumbers or belittle builders, we're going to focus on dual-cab utes because tradies, who have their own businesses (and families), will likely err on the side of comfort, safety and versatility, rather than go for cheaper, more basic vehicles. Here are our top five utes for tradies.
Please note: All weight-related figures (payload, towing capacity etc) are official figures provided by vehicle manufacturers. Cab-chassis payload figures do not take into account the weight of tray body, toolbox or gear etc. As always, make sure your vehicle is loaded according to legal limits. (Thanks to Brad Luke of Luke Bodyworks for the reminder.)
1. Isuzu D-Max
The D-Max has recently been updated and now comes with a new six-speed auto or manual, new engine (Euro 5 compliant 3.0-litre four cylinder turbo-diesel, 130kW/430Nm) and a bit of a facelift. Who cares about the refreshed looks? This is a rock-solid old-school ute for better or worse – mostly better.
As mentioned, where we might normally suggest the entry-level version of a ute (here, it's the 4x2 single cab chassis SX at $28,500), the lack of safety gear (in this case, a reversing camera) immediately puts the cheaper choices out of contention.
Opt instead for a top-of-the-range crew cab (dual cab) LS-T, from $54,200. The five-seater has most of the creature comforts you'd expect in something at this price – 8.0-inch media display, air con, comfy seats, leather-like trim, three USB ports, cupholders galore – without being pretentious about it.
More importantly, the D-Max's tray is 1552mm long (on the floor), 465mm deep and 1530mm wide across the top, and 1105mm wide, between wheelarches. The tray has four tie-down points, one at each corner.
The D-Max has a 924kg payload, a class-leading maximum braked towing capacity of 3500kg* and 750kg unbraked (*same as HiLux, Holden Colorado, and Mazda BT-50). It has a maximum five-star ANCAP rating. Fuel consumption is a claimed 7.9L/100km; it has a 76-litre fuel tank.
Not cheap, not flash, but it's a great towing vehicle and load-carrier, and it's more than strong enough to cope with any job site duties.
2. Mazda BT-50 XTR Dual Cab
This is a near-perfect package for tradies: a mix of passenger-car comfort, maximum five-star ANCAP safety and real-world strength. The BT-50 has a towing-friendly 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbo-diesel engine (147kW/470Nm), mated to a super-smooth six-speed auto.
As standard, priced at $50,890, the BT-50 gets a stack of good stuff – not the least of which is a 7.8-inch touchscreen media display, dual-zone air con, reversing camera, three 12 volt power outlets and USB port – and looks good with it all.
It is rated to tow 3500kg (maximum, braked). The tray is 1549mm long, 1560mm wide (1139mm between the wheelarches), and 513mm deep. Fuel consumption is a claimed 9.7L/100km; it has a 80-litre fuel tank.
It has a two-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty (or up to three years, limited to 100,000km).
Smooth-driving and strong, the BT-50 is one of the best workhorses around.
3. Ford Ranger XLT Double Cab
Its 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbo-diesel engine (147kW/470Nm) and six-speed auto make a gung-ho combination, and the whole package is a real natural fit when it comes to work duties – loaded-up tray and all – so it's ideal for the tradiest of tradies.
Standard work-friendly features include 8.0-inch touchscreen, reversing camera, dual-zone air con, USB port, 12 volt socket in the tray, front and rear parking sensors and more. This Ranger can tow up to 3500kg (braked). The tray is 1549mm long, 1139mm wide (between the wheelarches) and 511mm deep.
The XLT has a five-star ANCAP rating but if you want more bang for your safety buck, get the tech pack (an $800 option), which adds adaptive cruise control, automatic high beam, lane-departure warning and more to the existing suite of safety features.
It's pricey but this Ranger is cool, comfortable and more than capable – which is why you see plenty of them around work sites.
4. Toyota HiLux SR5 Dual Cab auto
The HiLux continues to top sales charts because it blends new-school levels of refinement* with good ol' durability and reliability (*its ride is harsh but it has improved over previous models).
While not as tow-capable as some rivals (the auto is max rated to 3200kg, braked), the HiLux is armed with a hard-working 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel (130kW/450Nm) and slick six-speed auto and so remains a master of the job-site domain.
The interior is not as flash as its rivals, but it's adequate, with a 7.0-inch media display and plenty of storage spaces – great for tradies. The tray is 1550mm long (on the floor), 1515mm wide (on the floor), 1110mm wide (between the wheelarches), and 495mm deep (from floor to top of deck). The tray has four tie-down points, one at each corner.
At $55,990, the SR5 is not cheap and, for the cash, it's not as refined as Ranger and Amarok, but it has been supremely well-built and -engineered and, despite its new ‘softy' looks, it's still bloody tough. A stack of safety and off-road tech help its cause.
5. Toyota LandCruiser 70 Series Double-Cab Chassis GXL
Speaking of old-school utes which are low on pomposity, but chock-full of charm, here's the 70 Series. Its straight up-and-down, no-fuss looks and gutsy Euro 5 compliant 4.5-litre V8 turbo-diesel engine (151kW/430Nm) make it a real winner in the workhorse stakes.
A heavy-duty steel tray (with zinc chequer plate floor) is 1800mm long, 1840mm wide (1755mm internal width), weighs 246kg and costs approximately $3024 (fitted); the underbody tyre hanger kit (installed) is $508.38.
Fuel consumption is a claimed 10.7L/100km. Yep, the GXL's price ($68,990) is on the wrong side of cheap, it has a three-star ANCAP rating (only the single cabs have five stars) and it has few creature comforts as standard (air con is a $2761 option fitted!), but it is still a dead set working legend.
What's that, you say? You have a penchant for steel wheels and even fewer frills? Go for a double cab chassis Workmate – it's cheaper at $64,990.