The Ford Ranger and Toyota HiLux have a serious rivalry going on in the 4x4 ute segment, - but as we all know, there are more than just two utes to choose from: in fact, there is more than a dozen dual-cab pick-up models on sale.
And now, there’s the Mercedes-Benz X-Class pick-up, which is the first such model from the brand with the three-pointed star.
Yes, Mercedes has entered the dual cab pick-up fray - and why not? This part of the market continues to grow, and now accounts for almost one in every six new vehicle sales in Australia. So we thought we’d take the new X-Class ute, which is broadly based on the Nissan Navara, and put it against the two best-selling utility vehicles in Australia - the HiLux and the Ranger.
Not only are the HiLux and Ranger big sellers, they’re also representative of different benchmarks within their competitive set. The Ranger is renowned for its on-road polish; the HiLux for its ready-to-go durability. In many ways – not just on the sales charts – these two are the utes that every manufacturer wants to replicate, or better.
It’s great news for consumers, because more competition breeds better value models, and invariably with every new model that launches, so to do some new-to-the-segment features.
Broadly speaking, the Mercedes X-Class model range is more expensive than its mainstream competitors, but we’ve assembled the top-of-the-range versions of each of these utes - the Mercedes-Benz X-Class Power X250d, the Toyota HiLux Rugged X, and the Ford Ranger Wildtrak - to see how they stack up against each other across a range of diverse criteria, including on-road, off-road, loaded, unloaded, towing and more.
Myself and Adventure editor Marcus Craft spent a few days putting these three dual cab utes through their paces, and when it all came down to it, we came up with a convincing victor.
Which will win? Where should you spend your money? Read on to find out...
Buyers are spending more money on their four-wheel drive pick-up trucks than ever, and our trio of top-of-the-range 4x4 automatic offerings are designed to work and play hard - as well as possibly offering up a bit of a statement to the neighbours about how much you spent on your double cab ute.
Our Power X250d had a list price of $64,500 plus on-road costs - and while the standard equipment is decent, there are some notable omissions compared with the other utes we have here.
Our trio of top-of-the-range 4x4 automatic offerings are designed to work and play hard.
First, let’s look at a span of standard gear across all three: alloy wheels (17s for the HiLux, 18s for the others, 19s on our test Benz ute), touchscreen media systems with Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, USB connectivity, DAB digital radio and sat nav (see the interior section for notes on usability), leather steering wheel and gear-knob, leather seat trim (part-leather in Benz and Ford), electric driver’s seat adjustment (the Merc adds electric passenger seat, too), heated front seats, power side mirrors, and climate control air-conditioning (single zone for Toyota, dual-zone for the other two).
In the Mercedes there is no standard tub liner ($899 - standard in the Toyota and Ford), towbar ($1298 including wiring - the others have that standard), and no alarm ($590 - again, standard in the other two). The other utes have all of the standard, and there are some other things that you might expect in a high-end ute that you have to pay extra for, too, like the sports bar ($1551) and side steps ($1337).
Our X-Class had the 'Style Pack', too, which is a $2490 pack with tinted rear glass, an electric rear window to the tray, side steps, roof rails, and those aforementioned 19-inch wheels.
However, it did have a few things the others couldn’t match, like an eight-speaker stereo (the others have six), plus an in-built hard-disk for music storage, and a DVD player. And it’s the only one with colour-coded mirror caps.
Even so, with the options on our X-Class, it was more than $70,000 plus on-road costs.
It has plenty of hardcore gear that the others don’t get, like a winch-compatible heavy-duty steel front bar with an integrated (5mm thick) bash plate, an LED lightbar and driving lights, heavy-duty side rock rails (which can double as side steps), rated front and rear recovery points, a new steel rear bar and a sports bar that can support a vertical load of 75kg. Price those options up from an aftermarket supplier, and you’d be pushing towards the $70K mark, too.
The other utes here are on 18-inch wheels, but the HiLux rides upon 17-inch wheels because, Toyota says, 18s are harder to get serious off-road tyres for, if the buyer so chooses. But it falls short on a few niceties that the other utes here have - things like rain-sensing wipers, heated side mirrors, a Wi-Fi hotspot to share your data plan with friends or family, and there’s no tyre pressure monitoring, either.
For that expenditure you’re getting a Ranger that stands out from its more affordable stablemates with items such as model-specific design elements (dark grey grille and Wildtrak decals), dark grey handles and highlights, a sports bar, roller lid for the tray, roof rails, model-specific floor mats, and a full redo of the interior compared to the lower-spec Ranger models, with orange/grey/black trim and stitching.
However, it lacks some of the goodies the other utes here have. The Wildtrak doesn’t have a smart key, so therefore no keyless entry or push-button start. And its headlights are dowdy halogen things, which aren’t nearly as crisp at illuminating the path ahead as the LEDs of its rivals. It hits back, being the only one with auto high-beam tech.
And in case you’re wondering, metallic paint is optional on all three utes, priced at $550 for the Ranger, $580 for the HiLux and $950 for the X-Class.
You can read all about the safety features in the safety section below - and there's a bit to talk about, too…
These three utes take pretty different approaches to dual cab style.
The HiLux is the rough and tumble workhorse adventure truck. The Ranger is the sporty, speedboat-style unit. And the X-Class? Well, some might say it’s a bit more of a poser ute - posh, high end. I’d agree, to a degree.
The Benz has more road presence - not just because of that huge three-pointed star on the grille, but because it’s wider, has a great signature to its LED daytime running lights, and the tail-end is broad and purposeful, with slender LED tail-lights that accentuate the width of the tray - it’s the widest of these three, thanks to its expanded track and pallet-friendly load area.
Some might say the X-Class is a bit more of a poser ute.
Yes, the Mercedes ute is based on the Nissan Navara, and yes, if you parked them both next to one another you’d notice some similarities. But there is no doubt the exterior design of the Merc brings something new to the ute class. If it were an outfit, it’d be a three-piece suit… just maybe one from Roger David.
As for the HiLux? Well, it’s a snouty thing, isn’t it? But that’s down to the heavy-duty hoop-less bullbar (with integrated LED light bar and driving lights), and underneath that it has rated recovery hooks, underbody protection with a 5mm bash plate for hardcore off-roading, rock rails on the side sills (no side skirts here, but you can sort of use them as side steps), and the rear bar is a heavy metal unit, too. It has recovery points and a tow bar, too. If the HiLux were an outfit, it would be Ruggers, steel-cap Blundstones and a flanno.
The Rugged X is a snouty thing, isn't it?
The Ranger has aged a bit in the three years or so since the facelift model arrived, and there’s an imminent update due later in 2018. Still, it has plenty of cred on the street, with more and more of these bad boys being heavily modified with bigger wheels, flared wheel arches and so on. But even in stock standard guise, the Wildtrak is like the jeans and jacket of these three - you could wear it anywhere and not look too daggy…**In orange though, it’s more of a Nike tracksuit.
The Ranger is the only one with a hard top for the cargo area, a roller lid that is both secure and annoying in equal measure (it eats in to space, is a pain to use, but does keep prying eyes and hands away from your stuff). The Toyota and Mercedes both have the option of hard or soft top tonneau covers. All three have rear step bumper bars, but the HiLux’s metal bar is harder to get a foothold.
The Ranger has aged a bit, but certainly doesn't look daggy.
There’s no body kit or side skirts to be had on any of these models - but hey, we can live in hope that there’ll be an AMG kit for the X-Class at some point… Until then, the Mercedes has the biggest alloys of this trio, with 18-inch wheels fitted on the Power spec (19s fitted as part of the Style Pack on our X-Class). The Wildtrak also gets 18s, and the Rugged X gets 17s.
For the record, the HiLux and Ranger are built in Thailand, while the X-Class harks from Spain.
Obviously if you’re shopping for a dual cab you’ve foregone the idea of an extra or single cab model, and cargo capacity is not as important to you as interior size and dimensions. You will be able to fit a family of five in each of these utes, just with varying degrees of comfort.
All three utes feature five seats, plus dual ISOFIX child-seat anchors and top tether points if you have kids. The back seats offer a little bit of flexibility, too, if you need to store tools or hide things away. But only the Ranger lacks rear seat air-vents - it makes up for that shortcoming with a 240-volt power point in the back.
That power point was one reason the Ford Ranger set the benchmark several years ago for interior tech, and it remains the standard setter - at this price point, anyway. The media system is a cinch to use, and with the smartphone mirroring tech, you hardly even need the standard platform (neither of the other utes have Apple CarPlay or Android Auto). The Mercedes was next best for multimedia, with a system that is fine once you get used to it, but not the most intuitive initially. The Toyota ran last in the multimedia stakes, with a slow and frustrating touchscreen system.
The Ranger Wildtrak's interior feels properly special.
Plus in Wildtrak guise the interior trim looks and feels properly special for what you’re paying. The finishes on offer truly set it apart in this trio, even if orange isn’t your favourite colour. Plus of these three, our judges all agreed the Ford’s seats were easily the most comfortable, whether up front or in the back.
The Ford feels the best, even in the back seat.
The interior of the HiLux doesn’t feel as premium as it’s price tag suggests, and in this company it actually feels pretty cheap. The plastics are harder and shinier, and the media screen is a bit of a disaster zone: a knob for the volume would be much appreciated, and so would the ability to use the navigation or connect a phone while the vehicle is moving. This is seriously annoying if you’re in a rush to get somewhere and can’t get the voice control to work.
The HiLux feels pretty cheap in this company.
However, the fit and finish was good, and the fit for purpose was pretty bang on, too. Sure, it’s not the most comfortable truck out there - front or rear - and it was by far the narrowest feeling of these three as well, but the storage is thoughtful, and while you have pretty tight kneeroom, the seating position in the back row is pretty good.
The seating in the back row of the HiLux is pretty good.
The back seat of the Mercedes was the worst here for taller occupants, with limited headroom and a ‘stoop-to-see-outside’ window-line making it feel more uncomfortable than it actually was. At least it has a little extra width to work with.
The X-Class had a sub-par fit & finish despite the C-Class steering wheel and leather/suede seats.
And the Mercedes, surprisingly, suffered poor fit and finish. The glovebox in our test car fell out in my hand, some of the headliner sections weren’t tucked into the rubber seals, and it generally just didn’t feel close to the standard we’d expect for the money being asked.
Admittedly there are some typically Benz finishes here and there, like the C-Class steering wheel and the leather/suede seats, but even then it doesn’t feel like a true Benz.
The rear seat of the X-Class had limited room and smaller windows.
It does, however, live up to the brand’s safety credentials - it’s the only ute on sale currently with auto emergency braking (AEB). You can read more about the safety specs below.
In terms of size, there’s a bit of variance between these three trucks.
The largest of the trio is the Ford, measuring 5426mm long and riding on the longest wheelbase (3220mm) of these three. That should translate to good interior space and solidity on the road, particularly when towing. It isn’t the widest at 1860mm, but it sits the tallest at 1848mm.
The Ford is the largest of the three trucks at 5426mm long.
The Toyota is 5350mm long thanks to its more hardcore metal bars front and rear, but has the shortest wheelbase (3085mm) of these three. It’s wider than the Ranger thanks to its flared guards (1885mm - the interior is much narrower, however), and it’s shortest ute here (1815mm).
The Toyota is wider than the Ranger, but the interior is narrower.
The X-Class is 5340mm long, and it has a slightly longer wheelbase than the HiLux (3150mm). It’s easily the broadest of these three, measuring 1916mm wide, by way of a widening program undertaken by Mercedes by expand the footprint of its donor ute, the Navara. The cabin, track and guards are all wider than the competition as a result. It sits 1839mm tall.
The Benz is the widest of the lot by far at 1916mm wide.
It’s a given that dual cab tub dimensions aren’t as capacious as a flat tray cab chassis model, but there’s still some excellent practicality on offer with these three.
Let’s start off with the X-Class, which - along with only the VW Amarok pick-up - can fit a standard Aussie pallet between its wheelarches, unlike its rivals in this test. The dimensions for the tub are 1581mm long, 1560mm wide and 1215mm between the arches. The tray depth is 475mm. But you don’t get a tray liner fitted standard - it’s the only one of these three without that.
Unlike the others, the X-Class can fit a standard Aussie pallet between the wheelarches.
The Ranger has a tub that is 1549mm long, 1560mm wide and 1139mm between the arches. It has the deepest tray of these three, at 511mm. But its big built-in roll-top cargo lid impacts on cargo space at the cab end of the tray.
The Ranger has the deepest tray, but space is impacted by the roll-top cargo lid.
The HiLux’s tray is 1569mm long, 1645mm wide (1109mm between the wheel arches), and the sports bar eats into space on both sides of the tray, so keep that in mind. Its tub is shallower than the X-Class, at 470mm.
The HiLux tray is the widest, but smallest between the arches.
Now, while you mightn’t think of the room in the back of a ute as boot space, you could theoretically option a hard tonneau cover or ute canopy, and all three makers have options for you to choose in that regard. But, as mentioned, they’re all built in the pick-up body style, so if you want an aluminium or steel tray, you’ll need to do that yourself post-purchase.
Only the Ranger has roof rails fitted standard (our X-Class had them as part of the optional Style Pack), making for much easier fitment of roof racks for even more storage.
Three different utes, three different approaches to the drivetrains they use, and therefore the horsepower they produce. Here’s a rundown on the engine specs for each ute here.
The Ford Ranger Wildtrak has a 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbo-diesel motor with 147kW of power and 470Nm of torque. You can have it with a six-speed manual if you want, but the vast majority of buyers choose the six-speed auto. That’s the one we have, too.
The Ranger's 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbo puts out 147kW/470Nm.
The next biggest diesel engine by capacity is the Toyota HiLux Rugged X, which uses a 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo unit with 130kW of power and either 420Nm (six-speed manual) or 450Nm (six-speed auto) of torque.
The single-turbo 2.8-litre four-cylinder in the HiLux puts out 130kW/450Nm.
The smallest in terms of engine size is the Mercedes-Benz X250d, which uses a 2.3-litre diesel engine producing more than the larger HiLux drivetrain because it uses not one turbocharger, but two. It produces 140kW of power and 450Nm of torque, no matter which transmission you choose - the six-speed manual or the seven-speed automatic.
The X-Class has a 2.3-litre twin-turbo four-cylinder that produces 140kW/450Nm.
You can forget that age-old diesel vs petrol issue, because none of these have petrol versions on offer.
All three of these utes are 4x4, meaning they have 4WD systems with transfer cases, unlike the AWD Volkswagen Amarok. So, you’ll mostly drive around as a rear-wheel drive (RWD / 4x2), but you have the option of 4x4 in high- (4H) and low-range (4L).
And if you're worried about all that stress on your ute’s engine, and if it has a timing belt or chain, you needn’t fear - all three have maintenance-free timing chains.
The Ford Ranger and Mercedes X-Class both have the benchmark 3.5-tonne braked towing capacity, whether you opt for the drivetrain with a clutch or if you choose the automatic gearbox. The Toyota HiLux has a lower rating - 3.2 tonnes braked - for the auto, but the manual matches the other utes here - so, you’ll need to weigh up the whole manual vs automatic thing based on what your needs are. All three have 750kg un-braked capacity.
Of this trio, only the Merc doesn’t come with a towbar fitted as standard. But we made sure all three were fitted with a towbar and electric brake controller to ensure we could stop all the weight behind us. And we chucked on a set of trailer mirrors to see what was behind, too.
The gross vehicle weight or gross vehicle mass (GVM) of the HiLux is the reason it has such a low payload - it’s just 3000kg, with a gross combined mass (GCM) of only 5650kg. The GVM of the Ranger is 3200kg and GCM is 6000kg. The X-Class reigns supreme, with a GVM of 3250kg and a GCM of 6130kg.
And if you’re curious, the X-Class is actually the lightest in terms of kerb weight, at 2155kg. The HiLux is 2252kg (and, for reference, the SR5 auto weighs 2045kg - the Rugged X adds lots of extra weight through its accessories). But even so, the Ranger weighs the most, at 2289kg - and as anyone who tows a lot will know, extra weight is good because it helps keep the towing vehicle planted.
Other considerations we kept in mind included wheelbase length - the longer, the better the stability on offer. To recap, the Ranger has the longest at 3220mm, followed by the X-Class (3150mm) and the HiLux (3085mm).
And we also measured the distance from the rear axle to the towball - this time, the lower the figure, the better. The Ranger again came out on top, at 1305mm, followed by the HiLux at 1340mm and the X-Class at 1385mm.
To ensure we really put these utes through their paces and therefore highlighted any differences among them, we teed up about the biggest thing you can tow with a dual cab ute - an Avida Topaz Multi Terrain caravan*, a family van that will set you back about $105,000 tow-away. And you thought the utes were pricey!
This, clearly, is a bloody big van, measuring nearly nine metres long and with a mass of almost three tonnes when empty. We figured it would definitely offer up a challenge to our three utes over our extensive test loop that encompassed urban, country road and freeway driving.
To properly test the utes we used a $105,000 Avida Topaz Multi Terrain caravan weighing in at 2880kg.
At a weighbridge-verified 2880kg, it was entirely legal for us to tow this big Avida ‘van behind all three of these utes, but if it were loaded to its maximum capacity with all the stuff you’d normally include on-board (water, food, bedding, etc), an automatic HiLux wouldn’t be able to tow legally, as the maximum weight is 3300kg. It may have been a compromise, but it was a small one.
Before we set off on our three loops, we measured the amount of sag at the rear and the amount of lift at the front, with and without the ‘van attached. The results were surprising.
The Ford exhibited the most sag, dropping almost 4.8 per cent at the rear with the load attached to the bar, and lifting 1.3 per cent at the front.
The other two didn’t move quite as much. The X-Class sagged 3.7 per cent at the rear and lifted 1.2 per cent up front, while the Toyota drooped 3.8 per cent at the back and lifted just 0.7 per cent up front.
You might think that would mean the Ranger felt less stable - but because of its long wheelbase and shorter ball-to-axle distance, that wasn’t the case at all.
Despite sagging the most, the Ranger felt better at everything.
The Ranger was simply better at everything when it came to towing. It felt more settled at all times, and hauled the weight without any fuss. It swayed less than the other two, and its steering remained true to form.
In fact, the near-three-tonnes on the back felt more like about two tonnes, both to the driver and the passengers. It was the most relaxed and composed tow vehicle of these three - by far - with its torquey five-cylinder engine feeling gutsier, its transmission more intuitive and thoughtful, and its suspension composure just brilliant.
The Ranger’s reversing camera was judged the best when it came to lining up the tow bar to the hitch point, too, while the Mercedes’ configurable surround view camera (can be a reverse camera if you need it that way) came in second. The Toyota’s camera was fine, but not as crisp in its display.
The HiLux was judged to be second best overall for towing, however, despite its short wheelbase. It was found to have a pretty compliant transmission, and while the engine was good enough to keep things moving, it was notably short on torque at times, and the booming noise of the diesel clatter from under the bonnet was a bit frustrating on the hillier sections of our loop.
The X-Class felt like it was struggling the most with this much weight behind it.
The engine braking in the HiLux was better than in the X-Class, and so was its transmission – as we found, engine braking is only helpful if the transmission is willing to cooperate with the driver’s demands. But the Ford was another league above both of its competitors on both counts.
The suspension of the Toyota wasn’t as plush as the Ranger, and it didn’t settle as quickly, but it was a confidence-inspiring drive - aside from the drivetrain quibbles. Our other big concern is the lack of a digital speedometer - the dials of the HiLux aren’t that easy to discern, and when you’ve got something this heavy behind you, a digital readout would be handy… hey, they had them in a VK Calais and XF Fairmont way back in the mid-1980s!
The Mercedes felt it was struggling the most with this much weight behind it, with more side-to-side (yaw movement) and fore-aft pitching (or front to back wobbling) evident from the moment we set off, and that can be attributed to its longer rear axle-to-towbar measurement. The suspension, too, was by far the worst of these three, with both softness and sharpness mixed in, and no real sense of driver or passenger comfort whatsoever.
The engine and gearbox didn’t feel up to the task, either, overruling the driver with up- and down-shifts. It was the slowest of these three, despite having more torque than the HiLux, and the drivetrain felt it was struggling with the weight.
All three utes feature electronic stability control systems with trailer sway control, which works to settle the trailer by braking wheels to eliminate the swooshing movement at the back. With some crosswinds to contend with and a slab-sided caravan on the back, this can be a terrific technology - and in the Ranger and Toyota, it worked terrifically - imperceptibly, in fact. The Mercedes? Not so much - it was unnervingly aggressive in its action, leaving its occupants a bit on edge.
Both Crafty and I deemed the Ranger the best for regular road driving. I’ll explain why in a sec, but first here’s why the Toyota and Mercedes weren’t the picks of our judges.
The HiLux sets no new standards in the ute class in terms of the way it drives, but it feels solid on the road. The ride is the firmest of these three, but the steering offers decent feel - even if it’s a bit heavy.
The engine is a bit noisy, revving loudly but pulling honestly enough - but in this company it feels pretty slow, without the levels of refinement of the X-Class or the grunt of the Ranger.
The Ranger was the most well-rounded of the three when it came to on-road performance.
The X-Class may have a wider track than its competitors but it doesn’t feel like it has as firm a grip on the road below as some other Mercedes products. It handles in twisty corners pretty well, but in day-to-day use the steering is slow, especially in roundabouts. It’s better at highway pace, but still not nearly as good as the Ranger.
The coil spring rear end doesn’t move the game on in terms of feeling settled with nothing in the tray, with some notable jitterbugging over offset bumps. We expected a bit more of the Merc, here.
And the engine? Well, it’s fine; but the transmission can be a little confused at times. It’s not fast, but it’s faster than the Toyota, gathering pace without as much fuss as we’ve found in the Navara donor vehicle, as it doesn’t quite flare between shifts as much.
As for the Ranger, it’s pretty hard to beat. The steering is the best in the ute segment - not just in the way it pivots through corners, but the usability of it all round. It’s good at high speeds, when you’re parking, and around town as well.
The ride is very good, too, coping better with big and small bumps than either of the other two utes on test.
The drivetrain has the most grunt of these three and it feels the punchiest as well. And while it is a bit noisy and the transmission is a bit busy at times, the overall everyday drive experience is the best of these three.
There’s a bit of variance between these three in terms of their payloads. These figures relate to the specific automatic models tested.
Load carrying capacity is again a bit of a low point for the HiLux, which has a claimed payload in Rugged X guise of just 748kg because of all of its added heavy duty off-road hardware. The Ranger Wildtrak has a payload rated at 950kg, and the Power X250d is rated at 1016kg (or 979kg with the options fitted). Surprised the Merc is the most work ready? Maybe the vest of that three-piece suit should be high-vis.
We loaded each of the utes up with 500kg of sand for the payload test.
We didn’t push these vehicles to their payload limits, but not many big-buck ute buyers will. Still, we chucked 500kg of weight in the back of each*, with 20 of the finest 25kg bags of sand hand loaded evenly across the base of the tray. We took the same loop for all three with the aim of finding out which is the most effortless workhorse.
This was another easy decision for us - the Ranger was simply more effortless when it came to driving with weight in the back.
From the way it steered, rode over bumps and handled corners and higher speed driving, there was no question which would be our pick as a work ute that doubles as a lifestyle truck.
That said, it wasn’t perfect. It didn’t settle at the rear as quickly as the Mercedes or Toyota, but it felt more comfortable in regular driving, with better general compliance and comfort, not to mention a level of security and assuredness that wasn’t matched by its rivals.
It was neck and neck between the Toyota and Mercedes when it came to running around with 500 kilos in the tray.
The Mercedes was the quickest when it came to in-gear acceleration on our load test.
The Toyota felt stiffer over bumps, feeling the most jittery of these three when it came to coping with smaller offset bumps and minor road irregularities. But it rewarded with quicker steering in roundabouts and through corners than the Merc, meaning more assuredness for the driver.
The Toyota’s engine felt up to the task, but it was the slowest of these utes when it came to getting things moving with the weight on board. It was also the noisiest, and its transmission was a little on the slow side. It may take some time to get used to the aggressive nature of the grade braking system, as well.
The Mercedes was the quickest when it came to in-gear acceleration, with its twin-turbo drivetrain offering up surprising pace, while also being decidedly quieter in terms of engine, road and wind noise.
But its steering was slow, and while it had a lot of rear suspension sag to contend with because of the weight in the tub, it rode over bumps reasonably well but didn’t quite feel that comfortable with that much weight in the back compared to the other utes here.
We didn’t just go by the feel at the wheel for this - there was some science behind our testing, too.
We measured the amount of rear suspension sag in all three, and also how much the front end lifted up. Then we compared that to how they sat on the same patch of flat ground without any load in the back.
Without boring you with a spreadsheet and hundreds of numerical values (we have one if you want to see it), the evidence was clear: the Ford sagged the least at the back (5.9 per cent compared with the unladen level), and lifted the least at the front (0.5 per cent compared with unladen).
The HiLux lifted more at the front than either of its rivals, up 1.0 per cent compared with its unladen stance. It didn’t sag as much at the rear as the X-Class did - though it did still drop a not-unsubstantial 7.0 per cent compared to how it sat when unladen.
The Mercedes split the difference in terms of how much lift it exhibited at the front end (0.8 per cent - it looked worse than that in the video!), but at the rear it drooped the most, 7.7 per cent. And it looked a bit ungainly as a result, too.
They’re all proper four-wheel-drives with low range, and bragging rights were at stake, so we mapped out an off-road loop in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney which we reckoned would give us a perfect indication of just how these utes fare in the rough stuff.
Our off-road course consisted of a mix of different terrain and included deep ruts, mud holes with rocky bases, patches of bush sand, tight gravel tracks and more. Leading into that we did a loop of fast, winding gravel tracks with some undulations.
On paper you’d expect these three to perform pretty close to one another in a hardcore off-road challenge.
But that wasn’t the case. Those specs (above) are quite telling because, while the Merc's wide track – the widest of this trio, front and back, by far – and its softer suspension yielded a nice even ride when driving at speed on lightly corrugated gravel tracks, it was sorely let down by other measurements that can be directly related to off-road ability in slow-going, technical scenarios.
The Merc felt least at home, but this can be blamed on factors like dimensions and dynamics.
Of this trio, the Merc felt least at home in the bush, whereas the other two did – and that could be blamed on some factors as simple as dimensions and dynamics. Sure, it’s four-wheel drive system and its suite of off-road tech works fine, but the fact it has the lowest ground clearance of the three (222mm), the lowest wading depth (600mm), the largest turning circle (13.4m) and the lowest departure angle (15.8deg) consistently work against it. Even without knowing those figures, after driving it and the others in this comparison, you almost instinctively know that the X-Class isn’t as well-suited to off-roading as the Rugged X or Wildtrak. It just doesn’t ‘feel' like it is.
Case in point (1): When Crafty was faced with a short section of mud-filled wheel ruts carved into a hard-packed dirt base studded with sharp rocks and curving away along the track to our right, he initially baulked at the idea of driving the X-Class through. He had just watched the Rugged X and Wildtrak do it - no worries - but it still looked like a bouncy, jerky and unpredictable ride. It didn't help that the centre section of the ruts was high and topped with jagged rocks; Crafty was concerned the Merc would belly out on that high section and might cop a severe touch-up from a few pointy stones. Of course he did it for the sake of comparison and, sure, it got through without any damage, but only just.
Case in point (2): Later, on a very tricky deeply rutted section – a 4WD-tipping thrill ride – we drove all three utes through the deepest ruts of the set-piece going downhill, but we took only the Rugged X and Wildtrak through the wrong line of that same section going uphill because the X-Class simply didn’t feel like it would cope with tackling those deep lopsided ruts on the way up without sustaining damage. It was an executive decision not to tackle this section in the Mercedes, but was a choice we were all more than comfortable with.
As it turned out, the X-Class was the only vehicle of the three to sustain any damage during off-road testing: a plastic underbody protection plate broke free from its mounting.
Safe, sensible and fun four-wheel-driving is all about taking your time, choosing your wheel placement carefully, getting your tyre pressures right, going slowly – and a large part of the enjoyment of off-roading hinges on confidence in your vehicle's capabilities; the Merc never quite gave us the same level of confidence as its competitors.
The Ranger, on the other hand, did feel right at home in the bush. Despite its larger overall size it’s an all-round package of tech, drivetrain and dynamics that make it a super comfortable off-road tourer, and super capable in the roughest terrain we threw it at.
Despite its dimensions, the Ranger felt super comfortable and capable in the roughest terrain we threw at it.
Like the other utes here, the Wildtrak has a part-time four-wheel drive system with low-range gearing. Modes are switchable between 2H (two-wheel drive high range), 4H (four-wheel drive high range) and 4L (four-wheel drive low range) via a small dial to the right of the shifter.
The Ranger has an e-locking rear diff and tyre-pressure monitoring system – great on-board additions for those interested in off-road touring.
Bonus: it has decent underbody protection aimed at keeping off-road bumps and bruises away from the mechanicals. Our Wildtrak was on 18-inch alloy wheels shod with Bridgestone Dueler H/Ts, and that road-biased rubber was one of the few flaws in the Wildtrak's touring package.
But, when it all comes down to it, you simply can't beat good ol’ fashioned toughness and reputed reliability in the form of an “Unbreakable HiLux”, albeit a HiLux with a fair few trimmings, most practical, some for the sake of appearance.
It’s no surprise that the Rugged X did really well in this trio. It has that undeniable history of Toyota toughness and HiLux go-anywhere durability. What is a surprise is that it pipped the Ranger off-road, largely because the Rugged X always felt more connected or dialled into the terrain, and we unanimously judged it the best of the three. Especially noteworthy is the fact the steering felt tighter and more direct at low speeds and that super low-down torque kept the HiLux ticking up, over and through any and all terrain with complete control and no fuss.
The Rugged X was unanimously the best of the three off-road.
Yep, its ride and handling over fast corrugated gravel tracks remains on the wrong side of firm – let's call it harsh – and it's not the most refined ute here, but it is the most bush-ready and bush-capable of this test group, straight out of the showroom.
The Rugged X is supremely well-built and engineered, feels as tough as teak and, with its stack of bush-cool add-ons, this HiLux easily looks tougher than anything else in this field. It was hands-down winner of the off-road component of this comparison.
Let’s talk fuel consumption figures, long range mileage and fuel tank capacity for each of these utes.
Of the three, the one with the best official combined figure is the X-Class, rated at 7.9 litres per 100 kilometres (or 12.7km/L). The HiLux is rated at 8.6L/100km (11.6km/L), and the Ranger is above both of them, with a claim of 8.9L/100km (11.2km/L).
Each ute has an 80-litre fuel tank, so theoretically the range will be best in the Mercedes (1013km), and worst in the Ranger (899km). The HiLux almost splits the difference in terms of theoretical range, at 930km.
What about actual real world fuel use figures? Well, here’s how it panned out for the tests we put these three utes through:
Our loaded loop saw us throw 500kg in the tray, and drive with two people on-board across a mix of urban / stop-start, B-road and highway testing.
Measured at the fuel bowser, the X-Class was the most efficient, using 12.5L/100km (8.0km/L); the Ranger was the next best, using 13.9L/100km (7.2km/L); and the HiLux was the worst, at 14.2L/100km (7.0km/L).
Our towing loop saw us hitch the 2880kg caravan, and we had three adults on-board. It included some urban and stop-start driving, with longer stretches of 80km/h driving and a span of 110km/h freeway.
The Ranger was best under pressure, using 22.0L/100km (4.5km/L). The Toyota was second, using 22.7L/100km (4.4km/L), and the X-Class lagged, using 23.9L/100km (4.1km/L).
Our off-road and on-road long loop was comprised mainly of highway, given few of us are lucky to live on the doorstep of a proper off-road destination. About 15 per cent of this part of the test consisted of serious low-range off-road and rough gravel fire trails.
The X-Class used 9.4L/100km (10.6km/L) across this longest section of testing, bettering its competitors and living up to its claim of being the most efficient of this trio. The Ford was second, with actual use of 9.9L/100km (10.1km/L), while the Toyota couldn’t live up to its second-best fuel use claim, coming third, with actual use of 10.4L/100km (9.6km/L).
If you’re interested, the Ford and Toyota were virtually bang-on for their displayed fuel use on the trip computers when compared with our at-the-pump results - 10.0L/100km and 10.4L/100km respectively - but the Mercedes was well off, displaying 8.4L/100km.
The Ranger is the only one that doesn’t have an Eco Mode, but all three have a diesel particulate filter. None have AdBlue, either - the X-Class does in other markets, but not here.
Now, what about tank size? All three have the same size tanks - 80 litres - and none have reserve tanks for super long-range driving.
There are differences in what you get for your dollar in terms of safety equipment and features in all three of these utes, but standard across the trio is a reversing camera - in fact, the X-Class Power comes standard with a surround-view 360 degree camera system (and so does its sibling flagship Nissan Navara ST-X). As for parking sensors, the Rugged X doesn’t have any, where the Wildtrak and Power X250d both have front and rear sensors.
As for further safety technology, the HiLux Rugged X is limited in its offer. Sure, it has LED headlights, equalling the Benz and bettering the Ranger’s dull yellow halogens. But the Ranger Wildtrak adds lane keeping assistance and lane departure warning, driver fatigue monitoring, and forward collision warning.
The Benz goes even further, introducing auto emergency braking (AEB) to the ute segment. Indeed, it’s the first ute in Australia to get that tech, despite the fact you can get it in the HiLux in Europe.
Mercedes is the first in Australia to offer AEB on a ute.
The Ford is the only one with adaptive cruise control. That’s right - a luxury inclusion the ute with the three-pointed star misses out on. And the Ford is the only one with auto high-beams, too.
How about airbags? The Ford has six - dual front, front side, full-length curtain - while the Toyota and Mercedes both have seven (adding driver’s knee protection). All three utes have ISOFIX child seat anchor points and top tether baby seat / child restraints, too.
Aside from the Merc’s dislodged undertray and some poor fit and finish inside the Mercedes (a glovebox that struggled to close and some badly fitted headliner trim) we had no serious problems with these vehicles during our week and a half of testing. Any issues that crop up in the long term are likely to appear on our HiLux, Ranger and X-Class problems pages, however.
Out of the three trucks the Ranger Wildtrak has the most promising ownership outlook.
Manufacturer warranty cover for the Toyota is the shortest of this trio, with a three year/100,000km warranty. The Mercedes has a three-year/200,000km plan, which is promising if you spend a lot of time behind the wheel. You also get three years’ roadside assistance included for free with the Mercedes, but you only get one year of cover included with the Ford, and none with the Toyota. But the Ford hits back with the best warranty of this trio, a newly introduced five-year/unlimited kilometre plan that puts it up there with the best in the class.
As for service costs, there are capped price servicing plans for maintenance of each of these utes. The Toyota requires the most frequent servicing, every six months/10,000km, while the Ford is due every 12 months/15,000km. Mercedes is the best bet if you do a lot of long-distance driving, with servicing every 12 months/20,000km.
As for servicing costs? Here’s how they stack up in terms of value when it comes to maintenance.
The Toyota is $240 per visit through the Toyota Service Advantage plan, but you need to go twice a year. So, the average is $480 per annum for the first three years/60,000km.
The Ford will cost you an average of $492 per year if you’re only travelling 15,000km, but if you push it to 60,000km over the first three years, you’ll be averaging $681.
The Mercedes 'ServiceCare Promise' is decidedly dearer. The average annual cost over the first three years/60,000km is $783. But if you pre-purchase at the point of sale, you get a discount that sees costs drop to an average of $617.
It’s arguably worth spending the money to keep those genuine service stamps in your owners manual / log book, as it can help out if something were to go wrong outside of the warranty period, and may have an effect on your ute’s resale value.
After a few days of rigorous testing, we came away with a clear pecking order for these three utes, even though each offers a different way of approaching the dual cab segment.
The Mercedes-Benz X-Class Power X250d came in third place. It fell short of expectations during our towing test, and its interior wasn’t up to the standard we would have expected for a ute of this price.
The X-Class Power X250d came in third place overall.
But we have to applaud Benz for making AEB a reality in the ute segment… and we think the V6 version will be an even more likeable vehicle.
In second spot was the Toyota HiLux Rugged X, which offered up an ‘I’ll do anything you want me to’ attitude off-road, and that’s absolutely where it excelled. It was fine in loaded driving, surprised a little in our towing test, great off-road, but the least enjoyable in regular commuting.
The HiLux Rugged X was second overall.
Despite being a recent design the engine is noisy and feels underdone though, and we could understand why you might feel short changed at this end of the price scale.
That leaves us with our winner, the Ford Ranger Wildtrak. It was a convincing victor, nailing almost everything we threw at it - and one of the biggest things we took away from our testing was that it felt the most liveable and likeable, with its special interior treatment, terrific steering and strong drivetrain combining to push it to top spot in this test.