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HSV SportsCat vs Tickford Ranger 2018 review


Matt Campbell
Reviewed & driven by
CarsGuide

18 May 2018

HSV. Tickford. Old racing rivals. Australian performance icons. But wait a second... today we're talking about HSV and Tickford dual cab four-wheel drive utes!?

No. Surely not. These two enthusiast brands are known for making performance-focused cars... but these days, the dual-cab pick-up is where people are spending their money.

So it makes a lot of sense for HSV and Tickford to have their way with the likes of their donor brand utes - these are much more than just chunkier looking versions of the Holden Colorado and Ford Ranger.

The two models we have are the HSV SportsCat and the Tickford Ranger - which take different approaches to offering ute buyers a high-end alternative to the regular double-cab brigade.

Before we go any further, you can't 'buy' the Tickford Ranger from a dealership. You need to bring your own ute, which can then be modded to suit. We're basing this test on a 2018 Ranger XLT with some Tickford upgrades.

The HSV, on the other hand, is available to order, holus-bolus.

Now, let's figure out which is best.

Design

These two utes have graduated from poser school, and there's no denying they have what it takes to stand out from the crowd... if the crowd only includes very basic dual cab utes, because most Rangers and Colorados you see these days are sporting very similar add-ons. Someone in Thailand is doing very well for themselves on eBay, that's for sure.

Back to the matter at hand. Let's first discuss what the entry-level HSV Sportscat has going for it.

How about a more aggressive looking body with widened guards, a bespoke grille and front bar, and LED daytime running lights and fog-lights.

A more aggressive looking body with 18x10 bespoke alloys make the SportsCat look the part. A more aggressive looking body with 18x10 bespoke alloys make the SportsCat look the part.

Its wider stance is enhanced by those big 18x10-inch alloy wheels with Cooper Sports all-terrain tyres, and it has retuned sports suspension that sits it higher than a regular Colorado, too, with a huge 251 millimetres of ground clearance thanks to its raised springs and dampers.

The next model up, the inventively named SportsCat+, also has rear decoupling anti-roll bar, plus AP racing brakes. We wish this vehicle had better brakes... but we'll get to that later.

At the rear, there's a restyled tailgate and a standard hard tonneau cover with cargo liner and illumination, and - thankfully - you can lock it up, plus if you need to, the channels on top of the hard lid allow for fitment of racks, and it has roof rails for the fitment of roof racks should that be on your must-have list.

If this isn't lairy enough, the even more modded SportsCat+ could be for you. It gets a bonnet bulge, fender flares like the Ranger (well, not quite as excessive as the Tickford ones) and the option of a sail plane rear sports bar.

The Tickford Ranger model we have is equipped with the popular 'Adventure package', and the donor car is the XLT dual cab. The pack includes a revised grille, widened and beefed up arches with flares, big 20x10-inch wheels, a sports exhaust with blackened side pipe outlets (which look great!), a sports bar, a soft tonneau cover, some Tickford badges and a build plate number under the bonnet. Plus there's a power upgrade, but I'll get to that later.

With all the options fitted, our Tickford looked more menacing. With all the options fitted, our Tickford looked more menacing.

That's just the Adventure pack. Then there are the other options our car has (price list below).

Our on-test Tickford Ranger also has a 50mm lift kit which isn't just to look extra menacing - it consists of Bilstein Dampers, King Springs, a centre bearing spacer and a greasable rear bush kit. Tickford doesn't have an official ground clearance figure but the donor XLT Ranger claims 237mm. That's still plenty high.

There's an optional black pack (with black grille surround, door handles, tailgate handle, mirror covers, quarter vent covers, tail-light guards), and it has a Tickford sticker pack (in addition to the Tickford grille, Tickford badge on the back, Tickford bolts on the arch flares, Tickford... yeah, there's about 40 Tickford branded bits on and inside this ute.

You mightn't want all those extras, but there's no denying the Tickford looks more menacing.

Now, what about all the usual ute things? Well, nothing has changed dramatically. The tub dimensions remain the same for both dual cab utes, for example.

The Ford Ranger's tub measures 1549mm long, 1560mm wide (1139mm between arches) and 511mm deep.

The Colorado's tub measures 1540mm long, 1534mm wide (1100mm between arches), and 510mm deep.

 HSV SportsCatTickford Ranger
Score:89

Inside

When you buy a ute, you get a ute interior. But both of these tuning houses have attempted to make the cabins better than standard - and both have succeeded, to a degree.

The HSV version of the Colorado builds upon the top-spec Z71 by adding some classy touches inside.

The nice bits include new 'Jasmine' leather and 'Windsor' suede trimmed seats front and rear, with quality stitching and materials used. That extends to some suede and fake leather on the dashboard, while the armrest pads on the doors have stitched leatherette, too... but the stitch work wasn't quite as high-end, there.

The HSV scores leather and suede trim that even extends to the dashboard. The HSV scores leather and suede trim that even extends to the dashboard.

There's even a red-stitched steering wheel with a HSV badge in the middle. But, just like the Colorado, it's one heck of an ugly steering wheel.

Not much else has changed inside, meaning you still get a 8.0-inch touchscreen media system with sat nav and Apple CarPlay, plus Bluetooth phone and audio streaming and a single USB port.

The Colorado doesn't have the best storage in the ute class, with a couple of small cup holders between the seats, a small centre console, and slim door pockets. In the back there are map pockets, bottle holders in the doors and a fold-down rear armrest, but no rear cup holders or air vents.

Up the back in the SportsCat there's a fold down armrest, but no rear cup holders or air vents. Up the back in the SportsCat there's a fold down armrest, but no rear cup holders or air vents.

The space on offer in the Colorado is very good by class standards, with more legroom, toe room and headroom than most competitors. Three adults across the back is more of a squeeze than the Ranger, but otherwise it's more comfortable than its rival in this test. The Ranger is which is juuuuust a touch tighter for legroom. Both utes have ISOFIX child seat anchor points and top-tether anchors, too.

As for the interior of the Tickford, it builds upon the XLT spec donor ute. So, like the Colorado, there's an 8.0-inch touchscreen, but time with Ford's Sync 3 control system and Apple CarPlay, plus Android Auto too.

The Tickford gets the already-great Ranger XLT interior. The Tickford gets the already-great Ranger XLT interior.

You get Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, sat nav, and a pair of USB ports, plus the instrument cluster has dual colour configurable digital screens either side of the main analogue speedo dial. The Colorado's driver info screen is a less-special-looking monochrome unit, but at least both have digital speedometers.

The storage is much better in the Ranger, with bigger and better-placed cup holders up front, and more loose item storage, too. The door pockets are bigger in all four doors, and it matches the Colorado with rear map pockets but betters it with cupholders in its fold-down armrest.

The Ford's fold-down armrest in the back seat helps it best the HSV. The Ford's fold-down armrest in the back seat helps it best the HSV.

Now, to the changes made for the Tickford version.

There are fully retrimmed leather seats with upgraded padding, There's custom blue stitching, and it has a retrimmed steering wheel with a racy straight-ahead stripe on it... because you'll need to know where to point your Ranger when you're tackling that final apex at Sydney Motorsport Park. Right?

That's not part of the Adventure pack, though. If you wanted to, you could get the exterior makeover and leave the cockpit mostly standard, should you wish to go without the leathery bits.

The seat base of the HSV model folds up in a 60:40 split fashion, while the Tickford model's seat base can be raised in one movement, which is a bit more cumbersome. Both have rear seat backs that can be lowered down to assist in fitting baby seats.

 HSV SportsCatTickford Ranger
Score:78

Value

Let's start off with the Ranger, which is more affordable if you're just buying the donor vehicle, but becomes increasingly expensive the more stuff you choose from the Tickford catalogue.

The Ranger XLT model our test car was based upon lists at $55,490 plus on-road costs for the manual, and $57,690 for one with an auto transmission like ours had.

It comes well equipped for that money, with standout items like the nice touchscreen media system with reversing camera, sat nav, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring technology, Bluetooth phone and audio, and DAB+ digital radio.

You'll also find niceties such as dual-zone climate control, rain-sensing wipers, auto headlights, a 240-volt plug in the second row, 12-volt in the tub, a tub liner, rear privacy glass, side steps, 17-inch alloy wheels (looooong gone on our Tickford), tyre pressure monitoring, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear selector, and manual seat adjustment.

Then there are the extras that you get when you take your ute to Tickford for some modifications.

Our test vehicle has pretty much the full gamut of extras, including: Adventure Pack, with the 'Tickford Performance Tune', side-exit exhaust, grille, wheel-arch flares, 20x9-inch wheels, BF Goodrich all-terrain tyres (285/55/R20), side steps, sports bar, soft tonneau cover, tailgate badge, interior badge and build plate under the bonnet ($9900); the tow pack with revised intercooler, hard intercooler piping and high-flow air filter ($2390); 'Black Out Pack' for the grille surround, door handles, tailgate, mirror covers, tail-lights and vents ($990); leather interior pack with upgraded padding and custom blue stitching ($3905); leather steering wheel with straight-ahead marker ($730); 2-inch lift kit ($2530) and Tickford decal pack ($859).

That brings the sum total for a brand-new XLT with all the goodies to a staggering $78,994.

The Tickford with all the extras costs a total of $78,994. The Tickford with all the extras costs a total of $78,994.

But - and it's a big but - you don't need to get all of that stuff if you don't want it. Tickford offers a range of individual options or packages to add some extra presence to your pick-up, and it'll be backed by the company, too.

The HSV Sportscat is priced from $60,790 for the entry-level manual version, while the auto model we have here lists at $62,990.

Over the Ford it has electric seat adjustment for the driver, but it has single-zone climate control rather than dual-zone. Plus the wheels fitted are 18x10-inch numbers, with chunky Cooper Sports 285/60/R18 tyres, and it has LED daytime running lights, which are a lot nicer than the halogens of the Ranger.

Rather than a soft tonneau, the HSV model gets a hard lid with rails for mounting a rack set-up if you'd like to. Plus, because it's based on the Z71 Colorado, it has heated front seats - you don't get them in the XLT Ranger. 

While over the Colorado Z71 it has a bespoke grille and fascia, LED fog-lights, wide fender flares, and restyled tailgate finisher. The interior sees the addition of premium HSV Sports seats (not like you would have found in a HSV Clubsport, mind) and red-stitched leather with suede touches.

The HSV came to a total of $62,990. The HSV came to a total of $62,990.

Of course the HSV has seen some fettling underneath by way of new sports-tuned suspension, but it doesn't see any output change to its engine. More on that soon.

If you're coming this far for the HSV, you might want to consider the HSV SportsCat+ model, which lists at $66,790 manual and $68,990 auto. This model gains hardcore additions such as a rear de-coupling anti-roll bar and AP Racing brakes, as well as the option of a sail plane rear bar ($1300) and SupaShock suspension ($3600).

 HSV SportsCatTickford Ranger
Score:87

Drivetrain

It's a tale of two different approaches when it comes to what's under the bonnet of these two utes.

No, we're not talking an eight-cylinder engine from either of these two former-V8 hero brands. But one sees no changes from its donor car, and the other is the Tickford.

Tickford has more than tickled the Ranger's 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbo diesel, with a big jump in power and torque - up from the standard 147kW to 169kW (an increase of 14 per cent), while torque has bumped up from 470Nm to a mammoth 564Nm (a 20 per cent hike).

The Tickford's uprated five-cylinder produces 169kW/564Nm. The Tickford's uprated five-cylinder produces 169kW/564Nm.

That's down to an engine retune, larger intercooler and hard pipe kit, a 2.5-inch stainless steel cat back exhaust, and new high-flow air filter.

You can have it either with the six-speed manual or six-speed auto versions of the Ranger. Remember, it's a BYO ute affair at Tickford.

HSV chose not to change anything under the bonnet of the Colorado, so it still uses a 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel without any extra power or torque. That means 147kW of power and 500Nm of torque - it remains the torquiest four-cylinder diesel in the ute segment.

The SportsCat maintains the regular Colorado's 147kW/500Nm. The SportsCat maintains the regular Colorado's 147kW/500Nm.

That big standard torque figure is for the Colorado with the six-speed automatic transmission. The six-speed manual version has just 440Nm.

There might be a more powerful version of the SportsCat (in manual and auto) later - but at this stage, HSV says a solution hasn't presented itself.

If you plan to use a ute like this to move heavy gear, these two are pretty closely matched. The payload capacity of the Ranger XLT is 995 kilograms (from the factory - it'll be less than that for any Tickford version, because you've got to add weight to add street cred), and the SportsCat is rated at 900kg.

 HSV SportsCatTickford Ranger
Score:89

Fuel consumption

Because nothing has changed mechanically for the HSV, the company doesn't state an official combined fuel use figure. So, you can assume that the Colorado Z71's existing 8.7 litres per 100 kilometres for the automatic (7.9L/100km for the manual).

Likewise, there's no change in claimed fuel consumption for the Ranger - even despite the big power bump. That means in auto spec, the claim is identical to the Colorado (8.7L/100km), while the manual claim is 8.3L/100km.

In reality? We saw 9.8L/100km displayed on the dashboard of the Tickford, and 10.2L/100km for the HSV. I'll call that a victory to the Tickford, given its extra grunt numbers.

 HSV SportsCatTickford Ranger
Score:78

Driving

I honestly don't know which one of these two I preferred. Both have some promising and likeable traits, and by the same measure, both have some issues.

Let's talk engines first, because the Ford is easily the one that wins in that department.

The 3.2-litre five-cylinder is a better base engine to work from, and with this tune it certainly 'enhances the drivability' of the Ranger, which is what Tickford was aiming for.

There's less turbo lag from a standing start, and the punch is delivered further across the rev range. It is more potent than a standard Ranger, that's for sure - but you need to bear in mind that all of the extra stuff that has been added has an impact on the power-to-weight ratio, so don't expect mega performance if you spec your car this way.

For me, just getting the engine tune would be the step I'd take... and it might be the only one, to be honest! It won't affect your Ford warranty, and the way the engine performs is greatly enhanced.

The transmission is well sorted, too. It can get a little busy when it comes to maintaining momentum on the highway - rather than just labouring in sixth, it'll drop to fifth when it really doesn't need to - but that's the same with any Ranger.

As for the noise? Well, it's not quiet. And the bad news is that although there's a 2.5-inch sports exhaust system, it isn't that noticeable from the cabin.

Now, to the other ute.

This is a HSV in name, but not nature. This would be such a good car if HSV had stayed true to its roots and chucked a chunky V8 under the bonnet. Hell, they could charge $80,000 if they did, and people would pay it. Heck, I might even pay that!

Still, HSV reckons this Colorado is better on-road and off, even if it sticks with the four-cylinder engine. But the drivetrain - as good as it might be in a regular Colorado - arguably isn't worth the money at this price point.

Admittedly, it's still the most torque-rich four-pot diesel ute out there, and when you promptly pressure the right pedal, it does push you forward pretty quickly. But there's more lag to contend with, and no more power to overcome the extra weight of the added bits and pieces.

But the transmission does a relatively good job of making use of the engine's grunt, shuffling through the ratios without too much fuss. It can be a little aggressive when it comes to gradient braking (dropping back gears to use engine braking when descending hills), but you get used to it.

The SportsCat has definitely seen worthwhile changes to its suspension. The MTV dampers change things for the better, taming the typical harshness of an empty dual cab ute nicely. It was definitely nicer to be in when driving on urban roads, 80km/h arterials, and at freeway speed, too.

The Ranger, with its heavily reworked and raised suspension, wasn't as comfortable. Part of that comes down to the bigger (and presumably heavier) wheels flunking over road joins, and there was some unlikeable pitching back and forth over Sydney main roads.

The discomfort continued in terms of the suspension of the Ranger off-road, because it was pretty eager to jostle the occupants of the cabin around in their seats. It simply didn't offer the compliance to deal with some mildly corrugated tracks, with a skittish rear end. In fact, it felt harsher than a regular Ranger by some margin.

The rough-road ride in the HSV is similar, but not quite as bad. It is terse: the dampers are tuned for smoother roads, and it can be twitchy and jumpy over rippled gravel. The company has even reworked the electronic stability control, and it was very well suited to slow-speed, low traction crawling.

It was never our intent to take these two too far off road, but it's not like anyone who buys one of these two utes is going to head out on a road trip to Big Red (that's a massive sand dune on the edge of the Simpson Desert). But that's the M.O. for these sorts of utes - plenty of ability, but typically with an owner who won't explore it. I can understand that - I wouldn't go out of my way to scratch up any circa-$70k car!

Back on the road, the Ranger reigned supreme in terms of its steering, which is an electric system that offers fingertip-light turnability at lower speeds, and excellent response and weighting at pace. The HSV's steering is heavier, making for harder work at lower speeds, but reasonably good assuredness when things are flowing at more speed. And both suffer pretty bad turning circle diameters due to their larger wheel packages, but the HSV's was exacerbated by the heavier steering.

The biggest negative, though, for the HSV, was its brakes. In the high-spec SportsCat+ model you get AP Racing brakes, which from all accounts are a game-changer. But in the base spec model, the pedal feel is wooden, offering little to the driver in terms of feedback, and therefore making it hard to anticipate at times.

If you're part of the speedboat crowd (and, without meaning to stereotype, but if you want a ute like this, you probably are), you'll be happy to know that both of these trucks retain their claimed 3.5-tonne braked towing capacity, with un-braked towing rated at 750kg.

 HSV SportsCatTickford Ranger
Score:88

Safety

Both of these utes - in their respective standard guises - have the maximum five-star ANCAP crash test score, based on testing conducted in 2015 for the Ranger and 2016 for the Colorado. But it's worth noting, neither the HSV pick-up nor the Tickford has been crash-tested under the Australasian NCAP scheme.

It's hard to say if the changed bits would do anything in the event of an impact, but one might assume that a higher riding vehicle could be a little more damaging should you strike a pedestrian or cyclist.

Now, let's talk hardware and software.

The Colorado has seven airbags (dual front, front side, full-length curtain and driver's knee), where the Ranger misses out on knee coverage.

Neither model has auto emergency braking (AEB) but the Colorado Z71 has standard forward collision warning and lane departure warning. The Ranger XLT has that if you tick the Tech Pack box ($800 at purchase), and in fact goes a little further, with lane-keeping assistance - meaning it'll help keep you in your lane by steering the ute - and adaptive cruise control, driver drowsiness monitoring, and automatic high-beam headlights.

Both have front and rear parking sensors, and a reversing camera with active parking guidelines (that move when you turn the steering wheel).

As mentioned above, both have ISOFIX and top tether child-seat anchor points.

 HSV SportsCatTickford Ranger
Score:78

 

Ownership

The new car warranties offered by Holden and Ford used to be identical - both are three-year/100,000km spans. But both brands recently announced permanent five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty for their vehicles. What about HSV and Tickford, though?

When Ford offered a three-year plan, Tickford stated it would cover "for the balance of the new vehicle warranty, any failure that occurs as a direct result of the functionality and fitment of our products". But in light of the updated warranty plan from Ford, Tickford hasn't extended its cover, sticking with the three-year plan for new Ford models, and 12 months for vehicles outside of Ford's original warranty period. So, for argument's sake, if you buy an 18-month-old Ranger and take it to Tickford, you'll be covered for the remaining 18 months of the new-car warranty that applied to the vehicle then.  

HSV has also joined Holden in offering a five-year warranty with unlimited kilometre cover, which is clearly an advantage if you're shopping between these two and plan to hang on to the vehicle for a while.

As for servicing, you'll be able to get the SportsCat maintained as you would any Colorado, with visits to the Holden service department due every nine months or 15,000km. The costs for the first five visits (out to 45 months/75,000km) are: $299, $399, $479, $479, $299 ($1955). You'd need to get the HSV serviced an extra time to make it.

Ford requires servicing less frequently - annual visits instead of every nine months. That's a good thing, there's no doubt about it, but it does cost more than the Colorado when it comes to visits. The costs for the first five visits (60 months/75,000km) are: $400, $570, $505, $570, $400 ($2445).

 HSV SportsCatTickford Ranger
Score:87

Verdict

So, which of these two utes would I choose if I had to live with one everyday? It'd be the Tickford Ranger, but only just. The beauty of this brand's approach is that it's a 'take what you need' approach, so you don't have to get everything our test vehicle had... and I'd recommend you didn't, because in some ways it took a great ute and made it good.

As for the HSV? I'd be far more tempted to go all-in, choose the SportsCat+ with the SupaShock suspension and find another way to get more out of its engine. It's not even close to being a bad truck, but as we know from these two in their regular guises, the Ranger is a slightly more polished product in general than the Colorado - and the same can be said of these two tuned-up trucks.

 HSV SportsCatTickford Ranger
Final score:7.68.0

Which of these done-up dual cabs would you choose? Let us know in the comments section.



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