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Dual-cab ute vs Crew van: 7 things you should know

There are some important things to consider when deciding which vehicle would be better suited to your needs.
Mark Oastler
Contributing Journalist

25 May 2018 • 12 min read

Crew Van vs Dual Cab Ute

An increasing number of light commercial vehicle brands are offering a second row of seating in their medium-sized work vans (2.5 to 3.5 tonne GVM) and calling them Crew Vans. These variants provide the convenience of seating up to three more passengers while maintaining a cavernous load volume, all under a common roof space.

For some, this variant could be a more practical and versatile alternative to the hugely popular 4x4 dual cab ute, in the dual-purpose roles of a hard worker during the week and escape machine on the weekend. However, there are some important things to consider when deciding which vehicle would be better suited to your needs.

Price

Crew Vans cost more than the most basic 4x2 dual cab utes, like Toyota’s hose-me-out HiLux WorkMate ($33,990) or Mitsubishi’s Triton GLX ($35,500). However, when compared to higher priced 4x4 dual cab ute variants, mid-sized Crew Vans can offer substantial savings.

The Triton GLX 4x4 dual cab ute, at only $36,500 can give any Crew Van a run for its money. The Triton GLX 4x4 dual cab ute, at only $36,500 can give any Crew Van a run for its money.

For example, the lowest priced Toyota HiAce Crew Van is $38,790 compared to the base model HiLux Workmate 4x4 dual cab ute at $43,990 – a saving of $5,200 or 12 per cent. The lowest priced Hyundai iLoad Crew Van is $38,790 compared to the base model Ford Ranger XL 4x4 dual cab ute at $44,290 (saving $5,500) and so on.

However, there are exceptions at both ends of the pay scale like the base model Triton GLX 4x4 dual cab ute, which at only $36,500 can give any Crew Van a run for its money. In stark contrast, the Mercedes Benz Vito Crew Van starts at $52,740 and can quickly go north of $60K with the addition of a few factory options, which is getting into premium grade 4x4 dual cab ute territory.

Comfort and Storage

Based on the various Crew Vans we’ve tested, one thing they generally lack is decent storage options for rear seat passengers, who can feel more like cargo than crew. Commercial van origins are exposed in this configuration, because there are no bottle holders or storage pockets set into the sliding side doors and flexible storage pockets on the rear of the front seats are rare.

Some, like the Toyota HiAce Crew, offer cup holders at the rear of the forward cabin’s centre console for back seat passengers to use. Others, like Renault’s Trafic Crew, have a full-width storage bin beneath the rear seat, but generally personal storage for rear seat passengers is not well catered for.

The Renault Trafic Crew is B-I-G big with a wheelbase that's 278mm longer than a Ranger 4x4 dual cab ute. (image credit: Mark Oastler) The Renault Trafic Crew is B-I-G big with a wheelbase that's 278mm longer than a Ranger 4x4 dual cab ute. (image credit: Mark Oastler)

On the plus side, it’s a no-brainer that Crew Vans offer more headroom and a more spacious cabin environment. Rear passenger leg room is also generally better than a dual cab ute, with a nice flat floor area for feet of all sizes. Some also offer backrest angle adjustment to improve comfort, but lateral shoulder and elbow room for three adults is about on par.

Dual cab utes generally offer superior rear seat storage options, with bottle holders and storage pockets in the doors and flexible map pockets on the rear of the front seats. However, centre passengers usually have to contend with large transmission tunnels by placing their feet on top or either side of them, which is not comfortable for long journeys. And backrests are often very upright and not adjustable.

Safety

The Crew Van’s commercial vehicle origins are also exposed in this configuration, as there are no side curtain airbags for rear seat passengers as found in many dual cab utes. Some have ANCAP’s maximum five-star crash safety rating, while others have no ANCAP rating at all. By comparison, most popular 4x4 dual cab utes carry five stars.

Work-focused model grades have additional framework or ‘headboards’ which protect the cabin’s rear window.

Another potential hazard for rear seat passengers in a Crew Van is sharing the load space with cargo being carried directly behind them. They are first in the firing line of any projectiles which may break loose in an emergency manoeuvre or accident.

This makes fitment of a sturdy steel-mesh cargo barrier, or in some cases a full steel or composite bulkhead, a must if you’re planning to regularly carry passengers. The only negative is that these structures also remove the flexibility of being able to fold and tumble the rear seat forward to increase the length of the cargo bay if required.

Hyundai iLoad diesel auto 2017 Hyundai iLoad diesel auto 2017

These potentially life-saving barriers are usually available either as genuine OEM accessories fitted by dealers before delivery, or through the aftermarket. However, they’re also not cheap, so this cost must be factored into any decision-making process.

Rear seat passengers in a dual cab ute are better protected from cargo in the event of an accident, as there are separate steel bulkheads forming the rear of the passenger cabin and the front of the ute’s cargo tub, with an air gap between them. In other words, double-wall protection.

Work-focused model grades have additional framework or ‘headboards’ which protect the cabin’s rear window. Many steel or aluminium drop-side trays for cab-chassis models also offer these structures, which are equally effective in protecting the rear window from low-flying projectiles.

Cargo

As a Crew Van is essentially a commercial van with a rear seat it retains most of its enormous enclosed load volume, which can be as much as 6.0 cubic metres and far superior to a dual cab ute. Some Crew Vans also offer competitive payloads of more than 1000kg.

a dual cab ute still falls short of a medium-sized Crew Van for total load volume.

The Crew Van’s cargo bay is also fully weatherproof and offers excellent security, with the convenience of central locking on all doors. Reflective or tinted window treatments can add another layer of security from prying eyes.

To match this level of cargo security and weather protection in a dual cab ute requires considerable expenditure, either in the form of a bolt-on fiberglass canopy or lockable storage boxes typically made from steel or aluminium. 

However, even with a full canopy fitted, a dual cab ute still falls short of a medium-sized Crew Van for total load volume. And storage boxes, while offering stout weather and theft protection, can use up most (and in some cases all) of the load area. It could be argued that they also provide more visual enticement for thieves.

Towing

If you need to tow regularly, particularly heavy towing, a 4x4 or 4x2 Hi-Rider dual cab ute is superior to a Crew Van. With a rugged steel ladder-frame chassis and kerb weight typically exceeding 2.0 tonnes, a dual cab ute makes a rock-steady towing platform that’s often rated to tow up to 3500kg (3.5 tonnes) of braked trailer, along with GCM ratings of up to 6000kg.

The Crew Cab is based on the rear-wheel drive Vito MWB body with a 3200mm wheelbase. (image credit: Mark Oastler) The Crew Cab is based on the rear-wheel drive Vito MWB body with a 3200mm wheelbase. (image credit: Mark Oastler)

Crew Vans feature lighter unitary construction with lower braked tow ratings and GCMs. In some cases, like VW's Caddy Maxi Crew (under 2.5 tonne GVM), they have no tow rating and any attempt to do so would void the vehicle’s warranty. However, in balancing this argument we should also point out that the Mercedes Benz Vito Crew is rated to tow up to 2500kg of braked trailer with a GCM exceeding 5500kg, which would give plenty of dual cab utes a hard time.

Some Crew Vans are also front wheel-drive, which is less favourable for towing as a trailer’s tow-ball download puts more weight over the tow vehicle’s rear axle. This has a 'see-saw' effect of reducing weight over the tow vehicle’s front axle, potentially affecting its traction, steering and braking efficiency.

Noise

An empty commercial van is an echo chamber on wheels with internal noise - particularly at highway speeds - that can reach unbearable levels. The worst offender is usually tyre roar emanating from the exposed rear wheel arches, which joins forces with the unlined cargo bay’s many exposed steel surfaces to create a deafening roar similar to that of a jet engine.

As a result Crew Vans can be fatiguing for rear seat passengers, as conversations are difficult even with raised voices and trying to listen to radios or other audio devices can be equally challenging. On longer journeys you might have a mutiny on your hands!

The best solution is to install a steel or composite bulkhead between the cargo bay and cabin area. These structures are usually available as dealer-installed OEM accessories, or in some cases from the aftermarket. Either way, these bulkheads represent a considerable spend and, as previously mentioned, no longer allow the cargo bay’s load volume to be increased by tumbling the rear seat forward.

A dual cab ute does not suffer from this substantial noise issue, as the rear wheel arches are located in an external load tub that is separate from the cabin. In fact, noise levels in most dual cab utes, particularly in more luxurious higher grade models with road-biased tyre tread patterns, is as good as you’ll find in a passenger car these days.

All Terrain

A key factor in the rise and rise of the dual cab ute’s popularity, particularly 4x4 and 4x2 Hi-Rider variants, is its versatile ability to perform both work and recreation roles.

Weekend activities can involve towing caravans, boats or horse floats and perhaps some off-road driving. Weekend activities can involve towing caravans, boats or horse floats and perhaps some off-road driving.

In many cases, particular for tradies, a working week can require towing of heavy plant and equipment plus vehicle access to rugged worksites in all weather conditions. Weekend activities can involve towing caravans, boats or horse floats and perhaps some off-road driving, just for the fun of it or to reach a favourite remote campsite or secret fishing spot. 

Needless to say, your typical Crew Van can’t match a 4x4 ute for its all-round ability in these roles, but for some people heavy towing and all-terrain ability are not required in their working week or weekend activities. And in those cases the Crew Van can offer a versatile alternative, particularly for families, with the ability to carry up to six people (depending on front passenger seat options) and a mountain of gear in the back.

Conclusion

Clearly the choice is yours, but only after carefully weighing up the positives and negatives of each vehicle type and then working out how each would best fit your budget, work and play requirements. Either way, both vehicles offer unique and distinctly different choices. 

Are you a dual cab ute person, or crew van person? Tell us in the comments below.

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