T&T PUTS THE BEST SELLING WORKHORSES THROUGH THEIR PACES TO DETERMINE THE BEST BUY
Never has the choice been so broad (bewildering?) in the working 4×4 pick-up market. In the past decade we’ve seen the increasing comfort levels, usability and sophistication of dual-cab pickups expand their traditional appeal as farm and factory run-arounds, to being sensible and safe family vehicles. Much of that extra design panache has rubbed–off onto the true workers of the fleet, too, and with plenty of fresh metal in the market this year, we thought we’d take a look at the state-of-play of Australia’s working pick-up market.
The Toyota Hilux has been a top selling commercial vehicle for a while thanks to not only its simple, stoic design, but to Toyota’s efforts with service and back-up. The all-new Hilux went on sale in October and despite Toyota’s marketing claims of it being ‘all new’ its chassis and body is more of a substantial revision of the previous series launched in 2005. Nothing wrong with that, folks, as the old one was a good ‘un but it was showing its age in some areas. Its turbo diesel engines (2.4 and 2.8 litres) are all-new, as is Toyota’s fitment swing-out rear doors on its $49,615 Hilux SR Extra Cab manual we’re testing here.
Also new – a matter of Toyota playing catch-up – are several 2WD models with the appearance and ground clearance of the 4WDs. The Workmate Extra Cab 4×4 (2.4-litre turbodiesel and cab chassis – so the tray is extra) starts from Mitsubishi Triton has a similar story to tell – new engines in a body/chassis that is extensively redesigned.
Triton has been a terrific value rig for the past few years with the MY16 4×4 Cab Chassis starting in the mid-30s. Get real critical with the tick-list and there’re a few short cuts in some areas yet in others the Triton excels, such as the design and build quality of our Club-Cab’s Aussie alloy tray.
You’d better like that tray, too, because there’s no tub on Triton Club Cab; it’s a one-model/level only GLX manual 4×4 for around $38,000. No auto – which will disappoint some but Mitsubishi’s warranty is five years and 100,000km (interestingly, less than the 130,000km offered for prior series vehicles).
Nissan owners may argue but the Ford Ranger is the first vehicle to legitimately loosen Hilux’s grip on the pick-up market in the past decade. Designed here but – like all here – built in Thailand, the Ranger was launched three years ago but has been updated recently with new bolder styling and a few enhancements under the skin. The Ranger is styled big; high windows sills and tub sides means it has a strong presence… if you’re into that stuff.
More practical tradies may notice the tray (of dual cabs, at least) is shorter than most and the high sides make loading more difficult. Our test XLT Ranger – what Ford had available for assessment but one level up from the no-bling XL – is powered by a bigger engine than industry norm; an impressive five-cylinder 3.2 with our test vehicle’s six-speed auto or (no-cost) manual. A 2.2-litre four is available in other 4×2 and 4×4 models. The XL is $43,790 (Cab Chassis – plus rego) and the XLT we drove $54,590 before options, although notably a tow bar is standard. \
Isuzu’s D-Max has been popular since the brand was launched here with the previous series around seven years ago. At the time almost identical to the Holden Rodeo (since renamed Colorado) the new-series D-Max (launched in 2012) continues to share basic architecture – the design of the body and chassis – with the GM product but has its own 3.0-litre diesel in contrast to GM’s VM 2.8.
Stying is a subjective thing – you either like it or you don’t, but does it affect a how a vehicle performs its tasks? – but we reckon the D-Max is a good looker. Our test vehicle was an auto. Like all the others here, we grabbed a suicide-doored unit – our test unit was a top-spec LS-U Space Cab (from $46,200) a worker-spec SX is also available sans tub and with heavier-duty rear suspension from $39,600 (manual – plus on-roads).
Isuzu’s warranty is 5 years/130,000km. Being Extra/Space cabs, all these vehicles offer plenty of space within the cabin for storing tools and equipment – or if you’re looking for adventure, they offer good scope for a tourer fit-out. We reckon a fridge installed on a slide would be easily fitted to all; the Mitsubishi’s doors don’t quite open as far as the others’; it might be just a little tight between the open door and the side of a fridge.
You’d soon get used to it, but the Mitsubishi’s rear door handles require reaching further into the cabin to operate, too.Rear seat accommodation hardly warrants comment – however even for short trips, we’d like to see head restraints for the apprentice in the D-Max and Ranger.
The D-Max’s rear seats fold upwards to the rear wall of the cab in a neat and compact manner. The Mitsubishi’s fold-up, too however they’re annoyingly left hanging in the air with tether straps.
The Ranger and Hilux’s seat bases don’t fold-up but are easily removed (especially the Hilux) for carrying equipment/dogs/camping gear or for a tourer fit-out.Of these four, only the Hilux’s engine bay is laid-out with the fitment of a second battery in mind (for powering camping or workplace equipment); there’s a perfect space to the passenger rear of the engine bay.
ON THE ROAD
Our blacktop test loop enabled us to get a feel for these four pick-ups before loading them with nearly half a tonne each for more on-road driving. In particular, Toyota impresses with its hushed cabin.
All our testers managed to get comfy behind the reach- and tilt-adjust steering but what felt like precise handling to some was a harsher ride to others. Horses for courses!
The touch-screen audio is theoretically easy and intuitive to use but fat fingers and a moving vehicle means you must brace your hand with a thumb or pinky. And how long will a screen such as this last in the Pilbara?
However, I – a tech pleb – managed to hook-up my phone in seconds without instruction; I failed with the other three. So thumbs-up for Toyota’s intuitive and simple interface.
Thankfully, too, the Hilux retains an old-school conventional key. Adjustable headlights? Great idea. Internet heroes will moan about it being smaller and offering only a handful of kilowatts more than the old D4D 3.0-litre diesel but the numbers – or lack of them – don’t tell the true story. On-road the new engine is not far short of sensational in the effortless way it gets the Hilux moving from a standstill. There’s push-button Power and Eco modes, too, which change the engine character – yes really – from its default setting when the vehicle is started.
In contrast, the Mitsubishi seems to have a hole in the power delivery just above idle – All our test drivers managed to stall the Triton – and, like many recent diesels, it needs 1500rpm before it’s really awake. Its cabin is noisier and looser, with audible – and visible – movement of the doors against their rubbers and higher levels of transmitted wind and road noise through the cabin and steering wheel.
The audio unit was difficult to see – and navigate – and the drivers’ seat of our test vehicle looked like it already had 60,000km on it despite being only a few months old. The Mitsi also had the harshest unladen ride – but who drives very far empty?
The Ranger and D-Max were both autos; five speed in the D-Max and six-speed for the Ford so both offered a more relaxing gait than Hilux and Triton manuals. The Ford in particular – with its extra pot and capacity – seems to ride along on a wave of torque with the tacho needle hardly rising or dipping as it stepped up through the ratios.
Both feature sports modes allowing manual shifting but the Ranger felt the sharpest to the accelerator pedal and more responsive to kick-down; the D-Max needs manual gear selection to get the most from the engine.
The Ranger gathered comments for an annoying refection of the dashboard into the windscreen and poorly-sited (difficult to see) heater/aircon controls and a confusing/silly instrument display.
We’re here to assess these vehicles for work, so we loaded them a middling weight of 450kg. In particular, the Mitsubishi lost its kidney-punching ride. A quick look underneath revealed it had settled on its springs the least with the load, retaining around 50mm travel to its bump-stops and our on-road loop confirmed this rig’s confidence when loaded.
The Toyota showed around 45mm remaining travel above its leaf springs. Longer on this new model, they’re also placed further apart under the chassis than before, too, providing greater scope for the engineers to tune things. It seems to have worked, with the Toyota showing the least difference in ride and handling unladen to laden – although two of our drivers continued to regard it as too firm.
The D-Max and Ranger both had around 30mm remaining – little more than an inch in the old money. Would these two vehicles suffer the most with more load and a trailer on the tail? For two of our drivers, the D-Max’s comfy and complaint unladen ride became imprecision on our test loop with the steering needing constant – but minor – correction that didn’t seem to be needed in the others. The other two blokes regarded it as just right. Performance wise, the vehicles hardly noticed the extra mass.
The Toyota’s new motor is a standout with a load on board, able to pull without fuss from 1000rpm although there is some boom in the cabin if you ‘re too severe with the short-shifting. The two autos were fuss-free but the Mitsubishi’s off-idle torque black-hole felt about 25 percent worse with 25 percent of the vehicle’s weight on board.
OFF THE BEATEN TRACK
Being 4WD vehicles, off-road and remote area performance will be high on the list of criteria for most buyers of these vehicles.
In the Good Ole Days, a 4WD vehicle’s forward progress was usually halted by one wheel being lifted off the ground resulting in all the engine’s effort being wasted spinning it, and the second-most grip-less tyre – usually the one diagonally opposite – so generous suspension travel was important.
These days, even with a wheel – or two wheels – in the air, off-road traction control (closely related to ABS brakes) will continue to drive these vehicles forward (or backward) thanks to the chassis electronic systems reining-in useless wheelspin (and the damage it can cause to terrain and drivelines) to send drive to the wheels with remaining grip.
The Ranger and Toyota had diff locks, too, so are just about unstoppable for getting equipment to a remote area site. Before attempting our steep (but real-world – not YouTube hero-grade) hill-climb, we were worried the Mitsubishi’s peaky power delivery would hamper its off-road ability: we were wrong. In low range 4WD, the Mitsubishi power-plant seemed to transform itself into a tractor with oodles more go down low than what it seemed to have on-road.
After the hill start control helped with the steep start, it hauled itself up our test hill with no throttle input until the wheels popped off the ground; a little light throttle was then required the engage the traction control system and get the vehicle moving again.
The Toyota offered similar prodigious performance; hill-start and then no-messing-around lugging of the load up the hill with minimal revs and quick and clean traction control engagement when required. Being autos, of course the Ranger and D-Max required throttle all the way up but both showed good control. As elsewhere, two drivers regarded the D-Max as a little spongier in its responses and control and two regarded the softness as an asset.
The Ranger’s electric power steering felt a little sticky off-centre when on-road but it allowed easy wheel placement off it; in fact we reckon the ease with which the steering wheel could be twirled opens the Ranger up to possible front tyre damage.
The Ranger’s hill descent control wasn’t slow enough to be effective on our steep downward slope so covering the brake pedal was required. Instead – and we didn’t try it this time – engaging the rear diff lock can help prevent runaway when one or two wheels lose grip. Being manual and with a diff lock, the Toyota was probably the best-behaved when crawling down-hill and could be driven with one foot each on brake and throttle. No matter what, there isn’t a dud one here.
REAL WORLD PAY LOAD AND TOWING ISSUES
Editor in Chief Allan Whiting takes a look at the ins and outs of just how much weight can be hauled by our assembly of workhorses and just how they all stack up
Every ute maker claims at least a nominal three tonnes trailer towing capacity for several 4WD utes in its range, but you need to check spec sheets and real-world tare weights for the true position. We took the five extended cab test vehicles over a extended weighbridge with a driver aboard each. Fuel tanks were around half-full.
This situation is complicated by the fact that many ute buyers fit after-market accessories – especially ‘tradie’ utes that may be used for recreational purposes, Typical tradie additions are a ‘roo bar with a winch (50kg); a second battery (30kg); tow bar (10kg); full long-range fuel tank (140kg); tools (10kg); recovery kit (10kg) and a full fridge (50kg).
Add a crew and it’s obvious that you may well have used up half the available payload. Impose the towball weight of a heavy plant trailer – often 200kg or more – and you have very little payload capacity left.
Note that towball weight is behind the rear axle, so its effect on rear axle weight is multiplied by around 33-percent: a 300kg ball weight translates to around a 400kg load on the rear axle – more if an extended hitch is fitted.
Even if the loaded vehicle doesn’t exceed the vehicle maker’s GVM there’s a chance that the front or rear axle mass limit may be exceeded, because of too much weight on the front or rear axle. Ford has made a rod for its own back by insisting on at least 10-percent of trailer gross weight be on the towball, despite clear evidence from UK research that 6-8-percent is the ideal amount.
That gave the Ranger a real-world payload of 900kg; the HiLux, 930kg; the D-Max, 850kg; the Navara, 810kg and the Triton (steel tray-back, not ute tub), 900kg. None is a one-tonner! This situation is complicated by the fact -market accessories – especially ‘tradie’ utes that may be used for recreational purposes, as well as work.
Mining companies commonly fit side rails and winches to their site utes and some 4WDs overload their front axles when that’s done. Others overload their rear axles with only a modest amount of freight in the back, but with a heavy ball weight on the towbar. One way of transferring rear axle towball weight is to use weight distribution bars on the hitch, but this needs to be done carefully: not so much weight transfer that there’s a risk of damage to the vehicle’s towbar and chassis, or front axle overload.
To illustrate these points, let’s compare these five ute offerings Ford Ranger, Toyota HiLux, Isuzu D-Max, Nissan Navara and Mitsubishi Triton – against the LandCruiser 70 Series.
Five of these utes have a trailer mass rating of 3500kg and the Triton rates 3100kg trailer mass. The Ranger has a GVM rating of 3200kg and a GCM rating of 6000kg.
The HiLux has a GVM rating of 3050kg and a GCM rating of 5850kg (manual) 5650kg (auto).The D-Max has a GVM rating of 2950kg and a GCM rating of 5950kg
The Navara has a GVM rating of 2910kg and a GCM rating of 5910kg. The Triton has a GVM rating of 2900kg and a GCM rating of 5885kg.The LandCruiser has a GVM rating of 3300kg and a GCM rating of 6800kg.It’s obvious from the above figures that only the only one of these three that can be loaded to its GVM and still legally tow a 3500kg trailer is the LandCruiser. Its 3300kg GVM plus trailer 3500kg GTM adds up to the vehicle’s permitted 6800kg GCM (3300+3500=6800).
The only concession is that the trailer ball weight must be counted as part of the vehicle’s GVM.
On paper, the Ranger looks like the next best, but if the Ranger is at its GVM its trailer capacity drops to 2800kg (3200+2800=6000), while the lighter Navara at GVM can tow 3000kg (2910+3000=5910).
The Triton is rated to tow ‘only’ 3100kg, but if it’s at full GVM it can still pull 2985kg.
Another consideration is axle capacities: vehicle makers used to allow a considerable margin between the sum of the axle ratings and the vehicle’s rated GVM.
The LandCruiser continues this practice, having a combined axle capacity of 3780kg, which is 480kg greater than its 3300kg GVM.In contrast, the other utes’ total front and rear axle capacities are only around 100-200kg above their vehicle GVM ratings. The ‘Cruiser also has a much higher rear axle rating (2300kg) than the lighter-duty utes and it’s the rear axle that has to handle most of the imposed load. You need to do your sums carefully before you invest in a 4WD ute – especially if it needs to be loaded and required to tow a heavy trailer. The two have to work in concert.
NISSAN MISSIN’ – BUT A LATE INCLUSION
We couldn’t get hold of a Navara King Cab in time for our ute comparison, but we managed to grab one immediately after the official launch. Nissan’s 2016 Navara 4WD ute range comes in RX, ST and ST-X equipment levels.
All new Navaras are powered by a new-generation 2.3-litre, common-rail diesel, but lower-spec RX models have a single turbo version with 120kW and 403Nm, and ST and ST-X models have a twin-turbo version, with 140kW and 450Nm. Our test unit was a $45,490 seven-speed automatic-transmission ST.
Performance was excellent and the twin-turbo engine proved very flexible. Shift quality from the automatic box was first class.
Nissan claims 7L/100km fuel economy, but we couldn’t get it under 9L/100km.
Off road the Navara’s 2.7:1 transfer case low range ratio allowed it to idle over most obstacles.
Unlike the top-shelf, rear-coil-spring Dual Cab models the King Cab rode on leaf rear springs. Ride quality was firm but well controlled, with excellent balance front to rear, when loaded and unloaded. When we put 450kg of mulch in the back of the King Cab the Navara had around 45mm remaining travel above its leaf rear springs.
Control layout was good, but the Navara’s driving position was the worst of our five utes. With no steering wheel reach adjustment, insufficient drivers seat height variation and headrests that were too close to the front seat occupants’ heads.
However, the Navara’s rear seats folded up against the cab wall very neatly.Like all the new Navaras the King Cab had a power-sliding rear window section that could aid ventilation in a ute tub fitted with a canopy. (In Thailand its main use is probably for a ute-taxi driver to communicate with passengers sitting in picnic chairs in the ute!) A waterproof power point in the ute tub was a nice touch.