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Toyota HiLux vs Nissan Navara vs Mitsubishi Triton 2008

THEY'RE called “Tuppies” - tradie urban professionals - and they are buying utes in record numbers.

In fact, the Toyota HiLux has been the top-selling vehicle in Queensland over the past year and was the top seller in Australia in April.

And it's easy to see why. They are versatile vehicles that fit work, family and lifestyle needs.

During the week they ferry kids to school, carry tools to work sites, bring home everything from groceries to furniture, and on the weekend they are packed with the family and their bikes, surfboards, camping gear and hitting the great outdoors.

Here, the four-wheel-drive capacity of most of these vehicles extends the versatility even further.

So we decided to take the three most popular dual-cab four-wheel-drive utilities as far from their comfort zones as possible.

Far from the clutter and rush of city life.

Far, even, from the usual recreation sites on the beaches and the coastal countryside.

Out beyond cultivated crops, traffic lights, fences, livestock.

Out into the Simpson Desert, one of Australia's last great destinations for adventurers.

The line-up naturally included the HiLux, plus the Nissan Navara and Mitsubishi Triton, all turbo diesels and autos, except for the HiLux.

We packed them to the rafters with two people per vehicle, a host of camping gear and provisions, a trail bike each, plus seven 20-litre jerry cans full of back-up diesel and unleaded petrol for the desolate journey ahead.

It was an expensive payload, not just for the bikes and gear, but for the fuel with diesel prices ranging from about $1.76 a litre in Brisbane to over $2 at Birdsville.

The cast and crew on the trip included: 4WD touring expert Brad McCarthy; Craig Lowndes's race engineer, Jeromy Moore; and mechanic and owner of two Ultratune stores, Shane Plumridge.

And this is what we found:

TRAYS: This is the pivotal point of these vehicles; their ability to haul your gear.

On paper, the HiLux was the longest and widest, but in the real world of packing awkward-shaped equipment such as generators, bikes, jerry cans and camping gear, it is the practical space that matters, not statistics.

That made the versatile Navara the clear winner with its numerous movable tie-down points which could be placed in any position and the low and small wheel arches which meant the effective load area was bigger and more usable.

The HiLux and the Triton had only four fixed tie-down points and the Triton struggled to fit a bike with the tailgate strapped half open.

HANDLING: Around town and without a load these things jiggle about a fair bit.

They all bounced around and lost traction easily, particularly in the wet. These vehicles really should come with traction and stability control as standard.

The worst was the HiLux, while the Triton was the easiest to lock under brakes.

Navara and Triton had the best ride with little or no load and felt at ease in the 'burbs.

It was a totally different story with a load and serious piece of track underneath the wheels.

Suddenly the jiggly HiLux was smooth and controllable, while the Triton tended to wallow, pitch and roll around.

Moore said the Navara felt “nervous” in the steering, but I found it and the Triton more precise than the rather vague feel of the HiLux.

Despite them all having fairly equal load weights, only the Navara bottomed out.

If you spent the price difference between it and the HiLux on springs and shocks, you could equal the HiLux handling.

ENGINES: The Triton has the largest capacity engine, but the least amount of power.

But with a diesel engine, it is the torque that does the talking and all vehicles acquitted themselves well when presented with the ultimate obstacle to torque: a big sandy hill.

And the biggest and sandiest of them all is Big Red, over 50m of steep, red sand which lies about 40km west of Birdsville and marks the start of the Simpson Desert.

As McCarthy said: “All three vehicles waltzed up Big Red like it was a speed bump.”

The only one to baulk at the hill was the HiLux on one occasion but only because the driver chose the wrong gear and had to quickly try to manually change his selection half way up; always a recipe for losing momentum which is critical in the war against sand.

Auto transmissions really are the way to go in the sand.

While these diesels are not smooth and quiet like most modern car diesels, they were not obnoxiously loud. The best performance on noise, vibration and harshness is the Navara, while the HiLux and Triton are not far behind.

FUEL ECONOMY: Even though the HiLux had the advantage in the fuel economy stakes because of the manual box, it was no better than the HiLux which has the biggest capacity engine.

Both recorded about 10 litres per 100km on the two-wheel-drive trot out to Birdsville with full loads.

Despite all vehicles loping along at around 2000rpm at 100km/h the Navara chewed the most fuel at 12L/100km.

Although we couldn't accurately test economy in the sand where we were refuelling from jerry cans, we predicted that the slow going in low-range four-wheel drive raised consumption by as much as 20 per cent with no real advantages for the manual.

BUILD: They have to make them tough to take the beating they get from tradies, but we were surprised by the ease of the trays to scuff up and buckle from the loads, even though they were tied down.

The HiLux and Navara are well protected underneath, but the Triton had a couple of exposed wires on the drive actuator which Plumridge said looked vulnerable.

His assessment proved correct when a wire was torn loose on the return journey. While it didn't effect drive operation, it left the display confused.

Running bush mechanic repairs with superglue and the refill from a Bic pen proved helpful.

McCarthy expressed surprise at the Triton's underbelly vulnerability “considering Mitsubishi's Dakar heritage”.

Bulldust and the fine sand of the Simpson Desert was largely kept out of the vehicles, except for when you opened the door. However the Triton and Navara had minor leakages around the doors.

Wading through shallow water and bog holes after recent rains proved no problems for any of the vehicles.

None used a drop of oil, despite a long haul in low-range across the endless Simpson Desert dunes.

We cleaned the air filters on a couple of occasions, glad to see they had all worked very well.

ACCOMMODATION: Even though these vehicles are made for blokes and therefore don't include a vanity mirror on the driver's side, passengers are well looked after in modern utes.

There are few features missing and the modern adventurer can only wonder how tough it was for the pioneers with their camels and lack of aircon.

Still, each could do with reach-adjustable steering wheels, audio controls on the steering wheel and 12 volt outputs in the tray, although they have two each inside.

What we liked was the Navara's cruise control, spacious interior and folding back seat, the Triton's comprehensive on-board computer, and the HiLux's simple compass, its 10 cupholders and Bluetooth capability.

Goldilocks would find the Navara seats too hard, the HiLux seats too soft and the Triton seats just right. But none had good lateral support.

VERDICT: The Triton is the cheapest and feels the nicest inside, the tamest in the concrete jungle and the best on fuel economy without sacrificing power and torque.

Despite being a city slicker at heart, it still managed to rocket up Big Red and had few qualms about any of the terrain where we took it.

Suspension and vulnerability underneath are its weak points, but these could be rectified with a bash plate and stronger springs and shocks.

The Navara is a very capable machine in any environment, but is let down by its suspension and economy.

We like the rugged macho style inside and out, especially the well-thought-out tray with its clever tie-down points.

Spend a few thousand on suspension and it could be a winner.

However, the HiLux comes out on top, despite its price (this auto version costs another $2000).

It feels robust, well-equipped and drives well with a heavy load.

McCarthy admits he is a Toyota fan, but said the HiLux confirmed it: “The HiLux really did feel "unbreakable" in the desert conditions.

“The HiLux felt like it could easily take all 1100 of the Simpson's dunes in its stride and come out unscathed and eager for more. It really did feel bulletproof.

“I must admit the Triton and Navara coped pretty well too … but I felt I had to be a quite a bit gentler with them.”

You also have to pay some attention to the outback locals who seem to favour Toyota.

On the drive from Miles to Quilpie, we passed 79 cars, 57 Toyota SUVs, 40 trucks, 21 Nissan SUVs, 12 vans, 10 Ford SUVs and nine Mitsubishi SUVs.

West of Quilpie it's almost entirely Toyota.


Toyota HiLux Double Cab SR5

PRICE: $50,430

ENGINE: 3.0-litre EDI twin-cam turbo-diesel

POWER: 120kW @ 3400rpm

TORQUE: 343Nm @ 1400-3200rpm

TRANSMISSION: 5-speed manual ($2000 for 4-speed auto)

DIMENSIONS (mm): 5255 (l), 1835 (w), 1810 (h), 3085 (wheelbase), 210 (clearance)

TRACK: 1540mm

Angles : 30_ approach, 23_ departure

TRAY (mm): 1520 (l), 1515 (w), 450 (h)

KERB WEIGHT: 1815-1865kg

TOWING: 750kg (unbraked), 2250kg (braked)

FUEL: 76-litre tank

ECONOMY: 10L/100km (highway and fully loaded)


Nissan Navara D40 Dual Cab STX

PRICE: $47,990

ENGINE: 2.5-litre intercooled turbo diesel

POWER: 126kW @ 4000rpm

TORQUE: 403Nm @ 2000rpm

TRANSMISSION: 5-speed auto

DIMENSIONS (mm): 5220 (l), 1850 (w), 1779 (h), 3200 (wheelbase), 217 (clearance)

TRACK: 1570mm

ANGLES: 29_ approach, 22_ departure

TRAY (mm): 1511 (l), 1560 (w), 457 (h)


TOWING: 750kg (unbraked), 3000kg (braked)

FUEL: 80-litre tank

ECONOMY: 12.1L/100km (highway and fully loaded)


Mitsubishi Triton GLX-R Dual Cab

PRICE: $47,490

ENGINE: 3.2-litre DOHC, 4-cylinder, 16-valve, intercooled turbo diesel

POWER: 118kW @ 3800rpm

TORQUE: 343Nm @ 2000rpm

TRANSMISSION: 4-speed auto

DIMENSIONS (mm): 5174 (l), 1800 (w), 1760 (h), 3000 (wheelbase), 205 (clearance)

TRACK: 1520mm (front), 1515mm (rear)

ANGLES: 33_ approach, 29_ departure, 27_ breakover

TRAY (mm): 1325 (l), 1470 (w), 405 (h)


TOWING: 750kg (unbraked), 2500kg (braked)

FUEL: 75-litre tank

ECONOMY: 10L/100km (highway and fully loaded)

The Courier Mail 

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