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.