Do you really need a V6 diesel ute for heavy towing?

You want a ute for heavy towing - and the budget does not extend to a LandCruiser. Should you buy a V6 Amarok or X-Class?

 
 
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This report is inspired by the following question, and the dozens of similar enquiries like it I receive every month.

 

“4x4 dual-cab ute for a 3-tonne caravan. Looking at 550 Amarok or V6 X-Class. I know you advise to keep clear of VW and Mercedes but they are the only ones with 550Nm. I currently tow with a 2012 BT-50. Does the job but would like more performance and comfort.” - Paul R

 

The scope of the job

Three tonnes is heavy. The transverse cross section through a three-tonne van is big - so aerodynamic drag at highway speeds will skyrocket.

On the open road, aerodynamic drag is about half the total resistance the powertrain is up against. That’s when you’re not towing. It’s significant. Plus, more tyres on the road. Maybe double the rolling resistance. And then there’s gravity, because: Isaac Newton.

A three-tonne van is 1.5 times the weight of the vehicle. So hills are a challenge. It’s like running uphill carrying Rebel Wilson. There’s no universe where this occurs effortlessly. Not gunna happen.

If you tow three tonnes performance is going to take a big hit.

My guide to towing in Australia >>

My top tow pick: Mazda BT-50

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I think that the best ute you can buy for loaded performance - heavy towing, serious work - is the BT-50.

When you consider performance, value and support, it’s hard to beat. It’s a known quantity with a grunty five-cylinder engine and it’s a solid value proposition.

Big misconception among the towing fraternity: torque is not what delivers performance. It’s just not. This is a classic failure to understand basic physics.

Torque is a building block of power. And power is what makes vehicles perform. Power is the only thing that matters. I don’t mean peak power - which is quoted in the brochure. I mean the power delivery at all driving revs.

Check out my BT-50 review & buyers’ guide >>

Not sold on the BT? Triton >> is also pretty good.

Save thousands on a new Mazda BT-50 here:

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Understanding power - at all revs

The peak torque figures just give you a hint about the power delivery at lower revs. Diesels make a lot of torque at low revs.

Power equals torque times revs (if you get the units right). Diesels make a lot of low-rpm power, which makes them great for towing. (Because you don’t have to rev their tits off to deliver a decent amount of power to get the job done.)

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The 3.2-litre diesel in the BT-50 makes maximum torque of 470 Newton-metres from 1750-2500rpm.

Brace for impact: 470 Newton-metres at 1750 is not the same thing as 470 Newton-metres at 2500.

It’s 86 kilowatts at 1750rpm, and 123 kilowatts at 2500. So the performance is going to be significantly better at 2500rpm compared with 1750, even though the torque is the same.

Let’s say you’re at a particular speed on a hill. You can be in fourth gear at 1750 or third at 2500. Go for third if you need additional performance at that speed. Because that’s how this works.

Peak power is 147 kilowatts at 3000rpm. The performance is going to be better again at 3000rpm, because the power is greater, even though the torque is actually less. So on the same hill, at the same speed, second at 3000rpm is the winner.

If you’re still scratching your head on this, a detailed explanation is here >>

Peak performance

Some of you - in the comments - are going to tell me that peak acceleration in any gear occurs at peak torque. And that’s true - but it’s the world’s dodgiest criteria to make decisions about real-world performance…

Because your car has multiple gears. So, whatever speed you’re at, at any instant in time, in any driving situation, changing back to a gear that delivers more power is going to deliver more performance. It’s that simple.

Engine at peak power equals maximum possible acceleration at any speed. #physics

So the gear ratio you choose really matters.

The other point that’s important is that these peak numbers only happen at wide-open throttle.

So just having the tacho on 3000rpm in the BT is not enough. You won’t be getting that 147 kilowatts - and therefore the vehicle’s maximum capability to overcome resistance at that speed - unless the accelerator is pinned to the floor.

The case for upgrading

You have to be in the right gear, needle on 3000, right foot nailed to the floor - and then, if you are maintaining revs, you have sufficient power to get the job done.

And if not, you’ll have to let the speed drop and chose a lower gear at 3000.

If you are accelerating in these conditions, you have more than adequate power to get the job done.

I’d suggest that the BT-50 has a very tractable engine because the power delivery at wide-open throttle is quite linear from below 1750 up to just above 3000.

If you’ve frequently got the throttle pinned and the tacho on 3000rpm and the performance towing the van at that time is subjectively inadequate, maybe that’s a reason to consider an upgrade.

But if you don’t, you don’t need an upgrade for more power - you need to change how you drive.

Change into a lower gear, that delivers 3000 rpm. And get more right foot engaged. Because that’s where peak performance lives.

Merc X-Class

The X-Class has a decent engine with very linear power delivery from 1400 to 3200 rpm.

Compared with the BT-50 it’ll offer 20-25 per cent more performance across the same sort of rev range, with the throttle nailed.

And you are definitely gunna pay for that - it’s going to be $75,000 plus on-roads, and more like $100 grand if you play ‘options bingo’.

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Unfortunately, like the Nissan Navara from which it is cloned, X-Class has a coil-sprung multi-link rear suspension setup that’s poor at heavy towing or loaded dynamic performance generally.

Because it’s designed to appease rich wankers who never carry stuff.

So you’ll get more grunt, but ride and handling will go backwards - when you are towing, and you don’t want that.

Mercedes-Benz product support is also terrible.

X-Class is an overpriced diagnostic test principally to detect rich people with CPMD. (Compulsive public masturbation disorder. It’s a terrible affliction. The rich are very susceptible.)

Mercedes-Benz is at the forefront of innovation here. Only they could re-badge a Nissan and use it for research in this way.

I’d be buying a Toyota Landcruiser instead, on every day ending in ‘Y’. That thing is a towing weapon and far more comfortable. And probably cheaper, spec for spec.

VW Amarok V6

The V6 Amarok: $12 grand less. And you get a leaf-sprung rear, which is ideal for heavy towing. But Volkswagen reliability remains poor, and support is among the worst in the car industry.

And the engine is a joke:

You’ll get 165 kilowatts maximum. That’s 12 per cent more peak power. But you have to rev it to 4500rpm to get it there, and that’s just undignified. (BT-50: 3000.)

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Diesel engines do not enjoy 4500 revs, and you will not enjoy driving it in this way. It’s difficult to do.

Also, I just downloaded the latest Amarok brochure. Which you might do, if you are in the market. They claim 550 Newton-metres from 1500-2500. (That’s believable.)

Unfortunately they also claim 165 kilowatts from 2500 to 4500 - and that’s just bullshit. Total bullshit.

As in, it is a bare-faced lie about the performance of that engine. And by ‘lie’ I mean a false claim about what is physically possible, subject to that torque spec being correct. (As any first year engineering student on earth would confirm.)

550 Newton-metres at 2500 rpm equals 144 kilowatts - because that’s how the Newtonian universe operates. It’s certainly not the 165 kilowatts Volkswagen claims at those revs, and you can’t have both.

Engine performance is so critical to the vehicle purchase decision, and not everyone is technically illiterate. So in my view, this is deceptive and misleading conduct from them, again.

It could be an honest error, but we are discussing the global leader in deceptive and misleading conduct when it comes to engines - so there’s that.

Conclusion

If there’s one message you should take away from this report, it’s this: Unless you are currently extracting the maximum performance from your vehicle, drive differently. Change back.

This is the easiest, cheapest way to derive additional towing performance. Exploit peak power if necessary.

Upgrading is expensive. You probably don’t need to, because there are very few three-tonne towing problems that cannot be solved with 147 kilowatts at 3000rpm.

‘Upgrading’ (if that’s the right word) to a Volkswagen or the Merc CPMD detector could easily prove to be a major downgrade in support - especially in remote areas.

These two brands have grunty utes, but they are specialists at treating consumer law as if it is optional, and treating you like you simply don’t matter, right from the instant they cash your cheque.

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