Nothing quite says Australia or ‘tradie’ life quite like a ute. An abbreviation for the term ‘utility vehicle’, it can technically be used to describe either something like a Holden Ute – essentially a passenger car with the rear seats removed an open-top cargo area substituted in their place – or a Toyota Hilux – which other countries would class as a pick up truck.
Utes have spawned a culture all of their own in Australia, particularly in rural communities, although it’s not uncommon to see them in their droves in and around the major CBDs around the country. Offering a slight increase in ground clearance compared to their passenger car counterparts, a cargo area to transport all manner of goods and, most commonly, seating for four thanks to a dual-cab setup, utes offer pretty much everything the Australian needs to get from A to B, without having to worry too much about looking after it. Put simply, they’re built to be absued.
It’s with that ‘use and abuse’ attitude in mind that some utes don’t quite match their other tarmac-treading warriors in terms of features or interior luxuries. However, because they’re more likely to be driven out in the bush, it should come as no surprise. That’s not to say you can’t kit out your ute with some comforts, such as reverse cameras, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto infotainment systems and other driving assistance technologies.
For the purposes of this ‘Best Utes’ article, we’ll be looking at the dual-cab models such as the Hilux, the Ford Ranger and the Mitsubishi Triton, with other models being entered from Europe, Japan and even the USA.
Fuel Economy: 8.1 L/100KM (SR5)
Price: from $57,920 Drive Away
The Toyota HiLux has been around in one form or another since 1968 and has often set the benchmark for durability and reliability. The BBC motoring show Top Gear highlighted this feat particularly well, taking a 1988 HiLux and subjecting it to considerable abuse and torture, only to find it continued to be drivable. Now in its eight generation, the HiLux still remains the go-to choice for many wannabe ute owners.
The SR5 trim level – a former range-topper – offers pretty much everything you need from a modern-day ute: a range of cab-chassis options, manual or automatic transmissions mated to a 2.8L turbo diesel unit upfront, and a variety of mod-cons including parking sensors, touchscreen display and even autonomous emergency braking. However, the HiLux’s on-road comfort isn’t the absolute best compared to its rival on this list, although it more than makes up for it when you stray from the asphalt and hit the rough stuff.
So if you do find yourself driving dirt tracks and gravel, more than the tarmac around town, the HiLux is still a formidable contender.
Volkswagen Amarok Walkinshaw
Fuel Economy: 9.5 L/100km (combined)
Price: from $71,990 Drive Away
If a combination of performance and a go-anywhere attitude is more your jam, take a look at the Volkswagen Amarok Walkinshaw (W580). What we have here is the tried and tested Amarok platform, but one that has been given a tuning treatment by the guys at Walkinshaw, the former parent company of the Holden Special Vehicles division. And as any Australian should know, that means this ute will be absolute bonkers.
While no change is made to the engine, which remains as as 3.0L V6 Turbo Diesel unit that can also be found in the likes of the Porsche Cayenne and Audi Q7, the W580 gets specially-designed seats, before Walkinshaw makes adjustments to the suspension, wheels – which are upgraded to 20-inches and fitted with Pirelli Scorpion tyres – and overall aesthetics, adding lashings of black at the front and back end.
Don’t let the lack of increased power detract your attention, however, as the Amarok is still one of the outright winners when it comes to performance compared to its rivals. Plus, when you consider you get permanent all-wheel drive as standard, Volkswagen’s beast becomes increasingly more alluring as both an on-road and off-road champion – Volkswagen doesn’t necessarily position the Amarok as an off-road vehicle, but a purposefully designed model is slated for release in the coming years.
With other features comprising the likes of Apple CarPlay, a multi-collision brake system that automatically slows the car to 10km/h when airbag sensors detect a collision and trailer stabilisation technology, the Volkswagen Amarok Walkinshaw is a serious beast worthy of your consideration.
Fuel Economy: 8.0 L/100km
Price: from $62,990 Drive Away
You’re certainly spoilt for choice when it comes to selecting an Isuzu D-Max, with no fewer than 13 variants ripe for the picking, comprising a combination of 4×2 and 4×4 drivetrains. The latest and current MY21 model has been on the receiving end of a raft of changes, including a new chassis, body, engine and transmissions, pretty much everything that can make a drastic difference to how the vehicle performs over its predecessor. And those changes have been incredibly effective.
Isuzu has so-often been a badge that translates to reliability, and the same can very much be said of this latest model. We’ve singled out the X-Terrain as being our vehicle of choice, although you’ll still definitely find much to admire within the rest of the range, as they all offer comfort, great drivability and a generous selection of features as standard.
You’ll find much to love inside the X-Terrain, with leather-accented seats, heaps of adjustments for the seating position and a huge 9-inch infotainment display, making it almost spaceship-like, but with the ability to carve up a path out in the bush. And carve you will, thanks to the 3.0L Turbo Diesel engine that provides plenty of pulling power. It’s not just off-road where the D-Max shines either, as the refinement offered up by the drive, coupled with that interior comfort, makes it somewhat of a rarity: a dual-cab ute that can comfortably haul a family on long road-trips.
Fuel Economy: 7.7 L/100km
Price: from $59,990 Drive Away
The Mazda BT-50, when stripped away of its body, is an Isuzu D-Max. The two utes are built in the same factory and share the same platform, making the BT-50 a viable alternative. Where the two differ is in the equipment & styling department, and you’ll find, if you do a side-by-side comparison, there is much to love on either side of the fence depending on your budget.
The easiest comparison to make is to take the D-Max X-Terrain mentioned above and position it against the Mazda BT-50 GT. Both sit at the top of the range for the respective manufacturers, although we reckon Mazda edges out its rival when it comes to standard equipment to reflect that top-of-the-range moniker. Mazda gives you heated leather seats and heated door mirrors, along with a matching alloy spare wheel. And perhaps best of all, demands $3,000 less than its Isuzu counterpart.
But, like we said, the model you choose will depend on your budget, so it’s well worth looking into the differences between the models within your price bracket. It will, quite literally, come down to what you get for your money, since the underpinnings are identical between the two. Let battle commence.
Ford Ranger Raptor X
Fuel Economy: 8.2 L/100km
Price: $79,390 Drive Away
With a brand new Ranger line-up expected in 2022, along with a more performance-focused Raptor that is speculated to live up to the Ford Performance branding, the current Ford Ranger Raptor X might not attract as much attention as it potentially should. While it’s certainly not cheap compared to some of its rivals, you do still get a decent amount of kit and performance for your money.
While most of the changes that differentiate the Raptor X from its non-Raptor Ranger siblings are aesthetic – it receives plenty of black accents inside and outside, as well as matte black alloy wheels – not many changes are made to the underpinnings or the engine. This means you get the same 2.0-litre Turbo Diesel that powers the vast majority of the rest of the Ranger line-up, so you may start to wonder where exactly your money is being spent.
Well, it’s going on an incredibly capable ute. While the Ranger may be available in an often-confusing number of trim levels, they all share an ability to pull incredible loads, go anywhere and be damn comfortable while doing so. In fact, it’s no wonder the Ranger as a series regularly contends with the HiLux for highest number of sales on a monthly basis here in Australia.
Fuel Economy: 12.4 L/100km
Price: $76,450 Drive Away (Rubicon)
The Jeep Gladiator is an interesting proposition. There’s the looks, for starters, which we admit won’t appeal to all prospective buyers looking for a 4×4 ute. It’s also huge, being taller and wider than most other cars you’ll see on Australian roads. It also, in true Jeep fashion, has the ability to ditch the roof and the doors, turning it into a go-anywhere, do-it-all convertible behemoth of a truck. But the Gladiator isn’t geared towards the tradies of the country, but rather those who enjoy spending as much time outdoors as possible, and need a vehicle that can take them pretty much wherever they want to go.
The Rubicon trim level is the one we suspect will appeal to most customers, offering the tough, rugged attitude that has made Jeep famous, although the Overland edition is the one to go for if a premium interior is a tick-box on your list of wants. If you regularly find yourself on tough terrain that requires plenty of ground clearance and a smattering of off-road technologies to get you through it, the Rubicon is the one to go for.
But, even when faced with regular roads, the Gladiator shouldn’t be discarded immediately. Despite it’s size, it’s perfectly manoeuvrable around town thanks to good visibility – although you may need to factor in the turning circle – although we feel many will be put off by the lack of a Diesel engine, with a V6 petrol-powered unit being your only option. Capable and powerful yes, but economical, perhaps not so much.
But, if you need the off-road capabilities of something like a Jeep Wrangler, with extra space at the back to lug along your camping gear, and you’re a fan of Jeep’s styling, the Gladiator is a ute that needs to be considered.
Fuel Economy: 8.6 L/100km
Price: from $48,290 Drive Away
The Mitsubishi Triton is a valued member amongst the Japanese manufacturer’s repertoire of vehicles. It can usually be found rounding out the top 3 in ute sales in Australia, behind the aforementioned HiLux and Ranger. Much of its appeal lies in the price: it undercuts its two main rivals by around $10,000 (for the GLS), a sum of money large enough to make you think twice before automatically opting for either of the other two.
That drop in price does bring with it a drop in performance compared to the rivals, albeit only a slight one, but you do get a good amount of equipment inside as standard (depending on the trim level you choose). On the mid-range GLS, that includes LED headlights, premium cloth, push-button start and dual-zone climate control.
Where the Triton can suffer is, unfortunately, where it matters most, the ride. While it’s not bad by any means, you are likely to feel more comfortable on longer journeys sitting inside some other contenders on this list. However, for the most part, the Triton more than holds its own and it will serve you perfectly well for family camping trips at the weekend. If your budget simply can’t stretch to the likes of the offerings from Toyota or Ford, the Mitsubishi Triton is the best of the rest.
Fuel Economy: 7.6 L/100km
Price: from $55,490 Drive Away (ST-X Dual Cab)
The Nissan Navara is now into its fifth generation, which this time around, ushers in a major overhaul. While most of the changes do relate to exterior aesthetics, Nissan has made some much-needed adjustments underneath. The engine and suspension have been left largely unchanged, meaning you get the same twin-turbo 2.3-litre Turbo Diesel, kicking out 140kW of power, slotting nicely in-between the Mitsubishi Triton on the lower end, and virtually all other contenders on the higher end (which have around 150kW as a minimum).
For those who appreciate technical differences, Nissan has fitted the Navara with coil-springs, as opposed to the leaf-sprung suspension you’ll find on most rivals. The coils bring with them a comfortable ride along with the added benefit of the whole vehicle feeling decidedly more stable on the road, especially if you haven’t got anything in the back weighing the rear of the car down.
In fact, the Navara fairs rather well when put up against for on-road and off-road scenarios, and you also get a raft of driver-assistant and safety technologies thrown in for good measure. There’s definitely much to love about this new and improved Navara, and it should definitely feature on your list for consideration.
Chevrolet Silverado 2500
Fuel Economy: 12.6 L/100km
Price: from $114,990 Drive Away
If you want a ‘large and in charge’ ute that will commandeer the road, the Chevrolet Silverado 2500 should feature at the top of your list (alongside the Dodge RAM below). The Silverado is sold via HSV dealers – which will eventually be rebranded as General Motors Special Vehicles (GMSV) – who take it upon themselves to convert the American utes to right-hand drive to accomodate Australian drivers.
A new generation of Silverado will eventually be sold in Australia, but the global pandemic has meant there will be a significant delay. The current generation is still available, however, albeit in low numbers. They’re not cheap by any means, with any version of the 2500 (of which there are 4) all setting you back six-figure sums. However, they are all powered by a hefty 6.6-litre Duramax turbo-charged V8 Diesel engine, giving it plenty of power to carry and pull pretty much anything you can think of.
Inside is just as extravagant as the exterior, with huge seats and a huge amount of headroom. Palatial, is a good word to describe it. And despite its sheer size, you may be surprised to know the Silverado is actually quite an easy truck to drive and, similarly to the Jeep Gladiator, is fitted with plenty of off-roading technologies to allow you to go wherever your heart desires.
Dodge RAM 1500 TRX
Fuel Economy: TBC
Price: Expected $120,000 – $130,000
While it has been given the green light to arrive on Australian shores, the Dodge Ram 1500 TRX has yet to make its formal introduction. It has been slated for a 2021 release, and you are able to register your interest with Ram Trucks, the official dealer here in Australia. We think you should go ahead and do that, because the figures provided make for incredibly tantalising reading.
As with the Silverado above, the RAM 1500 TRX will be converted to right-hand drive here in Australia, and similarly again, you can expect to pay a six-figure sum of money to secure one. Fortunately you’ll receive a lot of ute in return for your investment, including a 6.2-litre Hemi V8 engine, the very same as the one found in the brutal Dodge Challenger Hellcat that produces 700hp/523kW. If that isn’t enough to put a smile on your face, we don’t know what will. Perhaps a 0-96km sprint in a little over 4.5-seconds could be the cherry on the cake?
Little else is known about this monster of a truck, but expect it to be equally as impressive inside and for it to be able to handle high loads, both in the external bed and towing.