What 4WD Ute Should I Buy?

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The 4WD ute segment is knee-deep in dogs. Once you flick the utes with fleas, the utes that are just under-done and the ones with expired use-by dates … there are just three 4WD utes you should consider buying.

Let’s leave personal preference and marketing spin to one side and use the hi-tech miracle of objective criteria to process today’s dual-cab 4WD utes through the automotive abattoir. We’ll see which three manage to escape the knife. Let’s see: There's a heap of choice. You’ve got your Toyota HiLux, your Nissan Navara, your Mitsubishi Triton, Ford Ranger, Isuzu D-Max, Holden Colorado, Mazda BT-50, and Volkswagen Amarok.

Plus you've got the great monuments to automotive ugliness. The 'elephant in the room' utes: the Foton, the Mahindra, the Tata, and your (not so great) Great Wall and Ssangyong. (The ones that never got a date at the prom.)

Here we go: Let’s puree like it’s 1999.

Mazda BT-50: one of the newer (and best) 4WD utes


OK - easiest cuts first: the Foton, Mahindra, Tata, Great Wall and Ssangyong: they’ve all got to go.

These third-rate conveyances are monumentally under-done in every respect - safety, performance, reliability, resale value, cachet. They’re a mistake. They’re the chicken thigh fillet on the barbecue that didn’t get properly cooked and gives you a bad dose of the runs.

Above, left to right: Three of the worst - Tata, (not so great) Great Wall and (nicer looking than before but still a dog) Ssangyong

Let’s be kind: This category of bad utes from largely unknown manufacturers are slightly more sophisticated than a horse and cart. Perhaps - perhaps - they are an alternative to a five-year-old used ute. Just right for carrying elephant dung to a village in northern Cambodia, between thunderstorms.

For the rest of this report I’m just going to assume you want transportation from the 21st Century. That leaves us with the notionally Japanese utes, plus the Holden Colorado, Ford Ranger and Volkswagen Amarok. They’re nearly all made in Thailand, except the Amarok (Argentina) and ST-X version of the Navara (from Spain). That’s eight contenders. And five just aren’t going to be able to justify their escape from the knife.

I can feel it.


The knife is absolutely not arbitrary here. Opinion has nothing to do with it. There’s a rational basis underpinning which utes get the chop.

These vehicles are expensive. You're not buying them from the discount bins out the front. Fully loaded they'll cost you $50-$60k. That's a lot of hoot. And they’re tools of the trade (unless you’re a suit in a ute - in that case they're just a handbag with wheels).

Whichever: you deserve to get the best contemporary specification possible. These criteria are measurable:

  • A modern diesel with more than 400Nm.
  • Six-speed transmissions - both manual and auto.
  • Five stars on safety - because it’s always good to maximise your chance of walking away. Four stars: not good enough, and three’s a disgrace.
  • Three-and-a-half tonnes of tow capacity - that’s the current gold standard for heavy hauling in utes. More on towing and load limits for SUVs and utes >>

These are the current ‘best practice’ benchmarks in contemporary utes. They key differentiators between good and unacceptable.

Frankly, you’re an idiot if you buy anything that doesn’t tick all those boxes - because it doesn’t cost you any more to tick them.

Holden Colorado - one of the good ones (see below)

2015 Nissan Navara

Navara was modern and contemporary ... when dinosaurs ruled the earth...


Nissan will launch the first new Navara in May 2015, called the NP300. It's capable and credible in a contemporary context. Initial review of the all-new Nissan Navara here >> 

2015 Nissan Navara, meet the guillotine. 2015 Navara’s a joke. Nissan Australia still has the gall to sell the D22 Navara - which has only three stars for safety. The term ‘death trap’ pertains. That’s - literally - a crime against humanity right there. And the D40 version, sold in parallel, is four stars. Also an outdated joke.

And, yeah, the 2015 Navara ST-X 550 does get the grunty-est engine in the market - by 50 Newton-metres - and a slick seven-speed transmission, but it’s still half a tonne light on tow capacity and far too likely to kill you in a  crash. So, the 2015 Navara has to go. A replacement Nissan Navara >> can’t get here quick enough. Because the current 2015 model is a dog - and it’s a dog that’s about 20 years old.

Volkswagen Amarok

Gorgeous design - but don't mention the 'R'-word (reliability)

Volkswagen Amarok. On paper: brilliant. Great looks, too. What a pity Volkswagen is yet to crack the code on reliability.

This is a direct consequence of excessive ambition. Volkswagen is on a mission to be the world’s largest carmaker by 2018. That’s underpinned by a massive rollout of new product across multiple segments. R&D corners have been cut, and while sales are up, Volkswagen’s reliability has jumped into the express elevator and hammered the button marked ‘basement’. Volkswagen dealers in Australia have a reputation for not giving a proverbial if you have a problem. Buying a Volkswagen is like playing Russian roulette with far too many of the chambers actually loaded. If you’re buying a ute for business, it being off the road typically has a profound impact on the bottom line. So Amarok’s definitively out.

2015 Mitsubishi Triton

Triton is out-gunned on every front by more modern entrants


Mitsubishi lunched a new Triton in April 2015 - it's a significant upgrade and, in isolation, it's a credible vehicle in its own right. However, it still doesn't deliver 3.5 tonnes on the towing capacity, nor does it feature a six-speed auto transmission. Mitsubishi's pitch on the new Triton is 'family friendliness', making it one to consider if you're looking for domestic transport with adventurous capabilities, rather than class-leading capabilities. Initial review of the new Mitshubishi Triton here >> plus see how the top-spec new Triton Exceed compares with the 2015 SR5 Toyota Hilux >>

The 2015 Mitsubishi Triton’s gotta go to the great dealership in the sky, too. It’s an easy choice. No video referee required. Another textbook geriatric. A four-speed auto. What a relic. Four-speed autos were cutting edge when Jesus was fullback for the Nazareth under-15s. Plus 350 Newton-metres: that’s under-done in the engine bay. Three-tonne tow capacity: that’s half a tonne light. Three strikes for the Triton. Love that antique…

2015 Toyota HiLux

HiLux cops the big marketing spend, but falls down on under-done tow capacity and lacklustre diesel performance

This is going to be a bitter pill for Toyota, but the HiLux is yesterday’s hero. It no longer measures up. It’s insanely popular, and it’s got the safety credentials, that’s for sure. But the engine’s asthmatic - 343 Newton-metres.

2015 Hilux is monumentally out-gunned by newer entrants. And the tow capacity’s anorexic at just two-and-a-half tonnes. And both transmissions are one ratio short of the six you can have at no extra cost elsewhere.

HiLux no longer measures up, and it’s a mistake to buy one. Millions in marketing is just a veneer - bit of icing sugar on a cake baked from outdated specifications. The market has moved on; HiLux hasn’t.

Oh, what a feeling...


Isuzu makes such a big deal out of its purported truck-like toughness. And people get sucked into this message all the time. D-Max has the safety, and it’s got the tow capacity. In fact, in many ways it’s a clone of the Holden Colorado - the R&D is platform-shared between the pair. But the D-Max’s engine is a fail - there’s a  massive torque deficit compared with the Colorado. We’re talking 380Nm versus 500 for the Holden. And there’s no evidence in mitigation. If you overlay the torque curves on top on one another - I actually did this - just below - the Holden engine storms ahead at all revs. Especially the revs where you’d normally be driving. Buying a D-Max instead of a Colorado is a monumental fail. (And D-Max offers only a five-speed auto whereas the Colorado has six, which only serves to cast the torque deficit more starkly in relief.) What a pity if you bought a D-Max on the purported basis of its ‘spirit of truck’. D-Max is a non-starter. 

Holden -Vs- Isuzu Engine Torque

TOP THREE: Holden Colorado, Ford Ranger & Mazda BT-50

Holden Colorado

Colorado ticks every box and also has the gauntest engine - with six-speed auto behind

Ford Ranger

Ranger shares fundamentals with Mazda BT-50 - but rocks with superior styling

Mazda BT-50

Strong five-cylinder diesel puts BT-50 and Ranger second in the 4WD ute segment

These are the only three you’d consider buying - if you’re a rational buyer. You get 400+ Newton-metres, five stars for safety, six-speed transmissions and three-and-a-half tonne tow capacity. No compromises. And ticking these boxes is no more expensive than buying one of the lesser utes. Spared from the chop - the platform-shared Ford Ranger and Mazda BT-50, in equal second spot. Plus the Holden Colorado (the ill-fated Isuzu D-Max’s dizygotic twin).

Forget the rest. With these three, it’s all down to personal preference. You could stick photos of all three on the wall if you want, turn around and chuck a dart over your shoulder … and still choose the right one. There is no wrong answer when you chop the market down to the top three. They’re all great. If you want to save thousands on one of these three utes, visit the website: AutoExpert.com.au. If you want one of the others, get professional help. 

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