TMR Best Buy 2016 – Top 5 4×4 Utes: Nissan Navara, Toyota Hilux, Ford Ranger, Mazda BT-50, Mitsubishi Triton

Legend has it that Australia invented the ute, Ford in fact, in response to a request for a vehicle that could be driven to church on Sunday, and haul sows to market on Monday.

Since then the Aussie love affair with the ute has blossomed. There’s months where utes top the sales charts (although they don’t dominate all the time), and quite a few utes occupy the top ten slots on VFACTS.

With a wide spectrum of choices, two and four wheel drive, petrol and diesel, auto and manual, single, extra, or dual cab models, not to mention varying trims, picking the right ute can be a mammoth task.

Here’s our list of the Top 5 4×4 utes – and whittling the list down has been a tricky task.

Nissan Navara NP300

Price Range: $31,990 (4×4 DX single cab c/chassis manual) – $54,490 (ST-X dual cab utility automatic)

Engine: 120kW/403Nm 2.3l turbo diesel 4cyl, 140kW/450Nm 2.3l turbo diesel 4cyl

Transmission: 6sp manual, 7sp automatic

Nissan rolled the Navara NP300 out gradually, launching a version with a coil-sprung rear axle onto the market first – something of a break in tradition compared to the usual coil-spring tradie’s companion.

With more and more dual cab utes being used as family transport, not just workhorses, it’s a move that makes sense. Cabin fittings and driving behaviour all feel more like an SUV and less like a light-duty truck

Our review verdict

Fit for the worksite, and for the family. As with the other members of the dual-cab crop, the Navara takes a step in the right direction in terms of comfort and modern features.

With a surprisingly car-like interior, the Navara is modern and well-finished in ways that really make its predecessor look out of date. The noise and vibration from the diesel engine aren’t quite up to modern standards though.

It stacks up well from a value point of view however, offers a strong suite of safety features, and, thanks to the bold chrome grille and mirrors, it’s just a set of wide wheels away from looking like a proper tough truck.

Toyota Hilux

Price Range: $36,990 (4×4 Workmate single cab c/chassis manual) – $55,990 (4×4 SR5 dual cab utility automatic)

Engine: 110kW/343Nm 2.4l turbo diesel 4cyl, 130kW/420Nm (man) 450Nm (auto) 2.8l turbo diesel 4cyl, 175kW/376Nm 4.0l petrol 6cyl

Transmission: 6sp manual, 6sp automatic

An all new Hilux arrived in 2015, arguably Toyota’s biggest launch for the year, replacing a still popular vehicle even after a decade on sale.

The lead engineer isn’t a commercial vehicle expert, rather his previous task was the tiny Toyota iQ city car. Why? To ensure the new Hilux is more comfortable and car-like.

Beneath the skin though it’s still a workhorse, with the majority of its development work carried out in Australia’s gruelling conditions to ensure the new engine, and ladder chassis are more than capable when put to work.

Our review verdict:

This new Hilux takes a massive leap forward in terms of on-road behaviour, and from our time with it off-road, there appears to be no loss of capability there.

But, it won’t have its own way in this market with such improved competitors circling the camp.

Will that be enough to stop the Hilux from topping the light commercial sector yet again? We can’t imagine so; this is a very improved HiLux with a lot of showroom appeal.

Add a hard-won reputation out in the field, and the bank of buyers waiting for this new model should guarantee its success.

Ford Ranger

Price Range: $38,790 (4×4 XL single cab c/chassis manual) – $60,090 (4×4 Wildtrack dual cab utility automatic)

Engine: 118kW/375Nm 2.2l turbo diesel 4cyl, 147kW/470Nm 3.2l turbo diesel 5cyl

Transmission: 6sp manual, 6sp automatic

Ford has delivered a real threat to the traditionally popular Hilux with its excellent Ranger range. At the high-end the available safety and technology is unmatched by any other ute in its class.

Even at the lower end of the range there’s plenty to like, with Ford’s SYNC infotainment system – a leader in usability.

Opt for a version powered by the 3.2 litre five-cylinder diesel and you’ll have the most powerful ute in its class, and be it on the freeway, towing, or scrambling up a rocky pass, you’ll sure feel it.

Our review verdict

If we’re being honest, the Ranger isn’t exactly the most affordable 4×4 dual cab available; it even outprices the perennial favourite, Toyota’s Hilux SR5.

The thing is, no other dual cab on the market comes close to matching the Ranger’s comprehensive, though optional, safety suite.

For families considering a dual-purpose dual cab, that can operate as a builder’s labourer during the week, has a comfortable family-friendly cabin, and can haul a pair of dirt bikes and a tray full of camping gear into out-of-the-way places on the weekend, the Ranger stands ahead of the pack.

Mazda BT-50

Price Range: $36,850 (4×4 XT single cab c/chassis manual) – $53,790 4×4 GT dual cab utility automatic)

Engine: 110kW/375Nm 2.2l turbo diesel 4cyl, 147kW/470Nm 3.2l turbo diesel 5cyl

Transmission: 6sp manual, 6sp automatic

Underneath the surface the Mazda BT-50 shares its running gear and frame with Ford’s Ranger – but that’s only part of the reason it’s on this list.

It offers unique styling – and you’ll either love it or hate it, but where the Ranger screams tough truck, the BT-50 is a bit more subdued.

Updated in 2015 with a new grille and headlights that have had a massive effect on how the BT-50 looks, the interior also picked up a new touchscreen for XTR and GT grades, with the option to add HEMA off-road maps if you’re serious about going bush.

Our review verdict

Behind Toyota, but inching closer, Mazda slugs it out with Hyundai for that second spot on the podium as the second biggest car brand in the land.

Little Mazda? Little no more; it’s a powerhouse of good products and clever marketing.

The new BT-50 is one of those ‘good products’. The improved styling of the front certainly toughens the look, and, on our tester, the optional big Lightforce driving lights and snug-fitting roo-bar enhance the ‘sports truck’ style.

And, how tough is this rig? Very tough indeed.

More than that, it is comfortable, quiet on road, and as effortless as an SUV on a long drive way off the beaten track. If you have been thinking Ranger, HiLux or Navara, it is one you should consider.

Mitsubishi Triton

Price Range: $32,490 (4×4 GLX single cab c/chassis manual) – $47,790 (4×4 Exceed dual cab utility)

Engine: 133kW/430Nm 2.4l turbo diesel 4cyl

Transmission: 6sp manual, 5sp automatic

Mitsubishi has kept things simple with the Triton, there’s just one engine, and only three trim grades. The auto is only a five-speed in the face of the six, seven, and eight speed autos of some competitors.

But, it’s bloody good value – cheaper than almost every other competitor on the list throughout the range. It still comes with a decent features list, but can only tow 3.1 tonnes, compared to 3.5 for the others.

It also trumps the lot for cabin refinement, with the quietest and smoothest diesel of any 4×4 ute on offer.

Our review verdict

If you’re looking for a luxury 4WD ute with off-road ability and towing capacity, the new Triton should be on your list.

But that’s underselling the seismic change which has happened here. The fact is, though an honest toiler, the previous generation of the range-topping Triton wasn’t on the same page as classier, smoother rivals.

The former Triton (still available incidentally) could cut it on building sites and in the bush, but lacked the finesse of rival models at the top end of town.

So Mitsubishi has delivered on two points. Now the Triton Exceed matches the best in class for both specifications and driving dynamics. And, for value-for-money, it might just have Ranger, BT50 and HiLux on the back foot.

Who Missed Out?

There’s some notable absentees from the list – While the Volkswagen Amarok is lovely in and around town, it just doesn’t cut it when the going gets really tough. Chassis flex keeps it from being a hardcore workhorse, and the smallest engine in the class has to work harder than the rest, making it less refined.

The Holden Colorado and Isuzu D-Max twins are off the pace when it comes to interior presentation, and still feel like lumbering trucks behind the wheel, not as calm and comfy as the newer breed of utes. Between the two we rate the Isuzu as a good buy, just not a Best Buy.

Mahindra, Tata, Great Wall and Foton? They’ve got a long way to go to make it on the list. Price is on their side, without a doubt but there’s so many other benchmarks that they don’t meet yet.

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