Ute Shootout part 2: Toyota Hilux vs Ford Ranger vs Volkswagen Amarok vs Mazda BT-50

By: Matt Wood

Presented by

In part 2 of the 2015 Ute Shootout, MATT WOOD rounds up the final four models to determine which off-road workhorse comes out on top.

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Being given the task of test driving eight of Australia’s most popular mid-spec automatic utes and determining an ultimate favourite is, as you can imagine, a whole lot of fun but not something to be taken lightly at all.

Last week, we tested the Nissan Navara NP300, Mitsubishi Triton, Isuzu D-Max and Holden Colorado. All of them have their pros and cons; their good-looking sides and ugly sides.

With four models left, which dual cab 4x4 ute will reign supreme? The quest to find out continues... 


Toyota Hilux

Ute Shoot Out -Toyota Hilux _exterior_

We’ve had spy pics and scuttle butt for the past 18 months or so but the 8th generation of Australia’s favourite fourby ute has landed.

The traditionally agricultural Toyota Hilux has given up quite a bit of ground to competitors over the last 5 years or so as levels of kit, grunt and towing capacity offered by others have risen dramatically.

If the Hilux was to retain its market dominance Toyota really needed to nail the new ute.

Exterior and towing

It may not have the tough presence of the Ranger but the Hilux is still a good looking, if inoffensive truck.

Towing capacity is now up to 3.5 ton, though auto models make do with 3.2 ton.

Wading depth is now up to 700mm.

Engine and transmission

As the trend in engine downsizing continues globally, the new Toyota has also obliged replacing the old 3 litre unit with an all-new 2.8 litre powerplant.

This new donk is shared with the new Fortuna model and the new Prado and puts out 130kW and 450Nm in auto guise. The manual models get a torque figure of 420Nm.

Gear wise the Hilux get six of the best in either manual or auto. Plus the ‘Lux gets shift on the go controls for the 2-speed transfer case which is a first for the traditionally basic Toyota.

Cab and controls

Much discussion is had about the interior. I feel it’s great where some of my colleagues think it looks like it has been designed by three different people.

The touch screen multi-media unit in our SR model looks somewhat like somebody has glued a tablet device to the dash, however it’s nice to know that down the track any issue it may have won’t require the dashboard to be pulled to bits to fix it.

The inside cab feels like a giant step in evolution, yet it still retains a certain simplicity.

Ride and handling

Ute Shoot Out -Toyota Hilux

Tub capacity has grown slightly, attention has been paid to the rear springs in terms of mounting points and length and Toyota is claiming 20% better wheel articulation than before.

The engine is a thing to behold, quiet yet quite willing when asked to put power to the ground. It is easily the best performer when it comes to our hill climbing course.

Locking the rear diff turns off the front axle traction control helping the Toyota make the savage climb look quite easy.

Out of the whole pack the Hilux did the best job of keeping all its feet on the ground.

You may expect a bit of bang and clang from the rear of the Hilux out on gravel roads and crappy asphalt yet the Hilux has improved markedly in these areas.

And handling is quite predictable.Noise and insulation has also gone ahead in a big way.

The new Hilux is a massive and much needed step in the right direction for Australia’s biggest brand.

It’s retained a certain simplicity in some areas yet has improved where needed the most.


Ford Ranger

Ute Shoot Out -Ford Ranger

The arrival of the newly updated Ford Ranger happened in conjunction with the arrival of the Ford Everest SUV which shares the same platform.

A new face and a new interior have given the popular pick up a lift as well as the introduction of Electronic Power Assisted Steering (EPAS).

Exterior and towing

The introduction of this truck set the bar for local ute buyers in terms of grunt and towing capacity and sales figures have reflected this accordingly.

It’s a great looking truck with a distinctive tough looking face and it’s currently the biggest selling Ford vehicle in the country.

Engine and transmission

Mechanically little has changed save some finesse on the fuel injection front. The Ranger still offers a choice of 2.2-litre or 3.2 litre turbo diesel engines and a choice of 6-speed manual or 6-speed auto transmissions.

By far the most popular engine is the well regarded 5 cylinder 3.2 litre. 147 kW and 470Nm of torque make for a punchy truck to punt around.

Cab and controls

Inside the Ranger is a nice place to be with only a little commercial hard edge. The digi dash with analogue speedo is attractive and functional.

The addition of the Sync-2 multi-media system also gives it a lift inside.

Dirt road and asphalt manners are excellent and the cab is well insulated from dust and water.

The EPAS steering system is touted to reduce fuel consumption by removing the traditional hydraulic steering pump from the engine.

Ride and handling

Ute Shoot Out -Ford Ranger _wading

On the move the Ford feels and is big but has torque aplenty when a bit of oomph is needed. Ranger took some encouraging when it came to our hill climb course.

Lack of a diff-lock held it back somewhat in this regard. For the most part it tackled obstacles with ease and aplomb and the off-road hill descent control is excellent.

The 800mm wading depth of the Ford made river crossings a cinch.

Axle articulation in the rough stuff is quite good as well. Angle of approach and departure is also decent for a truck of this kind.

It is a big truck but it has the grunt to back it up both on and off road. The 5 pot diesel sounds a little grumbly but kick it with the right foot and the Ranger springs to life.

However, the light low speed feel of the Ranger’s steering feels a bit dead when off road and lacks some feel when negotiating obstacles.


Volkswagen Amarok

Ute Shoot Out -Volkswagen Amarok _exterior

The stylish and sophisticated Volkswagen Amarok just impresses at every turn. The Vee-Dub may do things a little different in comparison to the others but that doesn’t make it any less capable.

It’s the most car-like of our assembled throng.

Exterior and towing

The VW is quite a nice looking truck, though some may say it’s a little boring to look at.

It has the biggest tub in its class though towing lags behind the others at 3-tonnes.

Engine and transmission

A diminutive bi-turbo (sequentially turbo charged) 2 litre engine puts out a surprising 132kW and 420Nm. There’s a smooth shifting 8-speed auto on offer or a 6-speed manual.

Manual variants use a 2-speed switchable transfer case where auto models are full-time all-wheel-drive. Hence the 4Motion badge.

It takes a lot of pedal to get the 2 litre engine to sound anything but civilized. 

Cab and controls

Inside, the Amarok feels very German commercial and a bit plain. But this year sees the inclusion of a rear view camera as standard and revised parking sensor set up.

One of the advantages of the 4-motion self-shifter is that there’s no stopping to select another off-road mode. You can quite literally drive off a highway and up a hill side without having to touch a dial.

If the front wheels are needed to give a helping hand they’ll kick in when required.

The hi-stall torque converter in the ZF auto also helps with low speed tractability. And the Amarok tenaciously tackles our hill climb with barely a whimper though a locking rear diff helps out.

It is very no fuss.

Ride and handling

Ute Shoot Out -Volkswagen Amarok _ride

The Volksy is as plush as they come in terms of ride. In a segment that isn’t renowned for smooth riding trucks the Amarok is easily the most car like.

This is mainly due to the Comfort Pack option for the rear springs which reduce the payload by a couple of hundred kg’s but gives the ute a more car like ride.

My main issue with the Amarok is the lack of mechanical empathy from the driver’s seat. The VW nicely isolates you from the outside world and makes a lot of the off-road decisions for you. You don’t get a lot of feedback in gnarly terrain.

On roads both dirt and highway there’s not a great deal separating the Amarok from some SUVs on the market. It’s a smooth nice performing ute that delivers power in an easily controlled manner.

As a dual purpose family vehicle it would be very easy to live with.  


Mazda BT-50

Ute Shoot Out -Mazda BT-50_exterior

Mazda and Ford have had a long history of sharing commercial vehicle platforms.

Yet the launch of this incarnation of the Mazda BT-50 back in 2012 was the first time that Mazda has used a Ford ute platform rather than vice versa.

Exterior and towing

Unfortunately where the BT has suffered is styling. It’s certainly kept its aftermarket bull bar and driving light suppliers busy as owners seek to man up the swoopy looks of the big Mazda pick-up.

The competitive pricing of the BT makes it a valid alternative for those wanting a Ranger yet its brand image has suffered in the shadow of its more rugged looking twin.

This year has seen an updated dash and stiffer suspension dampening however the BT still feels half a generation behind some of the others on offer, the PX Ranger included.

Towing is the same as the Ranger at 3.5 tonne level.

Engine and transmission

Like the Ranger that it draws its drivetrain from, the Mazda has good numbers on offer. The 147kW/470Nm 3.2 litre 5 pot diesel makes use of a 6 speed auto or manual.

Cab and controls

The Mazda is a little uninspiring if admittedly practical inside.

It all feels a little dark and gloomy. However it’s comfortable enough and well appointed.

Ride and handling

Ute Shoot Out -Mazda BT-50_ride

Off-road the Mazda is every bit as capable as the Ford. And the BT-50 grumbles up our hill climb without much in the way of fuss.

Feedback through the steering wheel gives a lot more feel than the Ford’s EPAS system and makes you feel much more engaged with what’s going on in the bush.

Maybe it’s the influence of all the curves but the Mazda doesn’t feel as ballsy as the Ford even though it is. However it certainly gets the job done.

On the open road the BT-50 doesn’t have the same NVH finesse as the Ford but it still compares favorably with the other contenders.

The suspension tune update has taken some wallow out of the Mazda and it plants itself firmly on the road whether loose gravel or open highway.

The BT-50 is like the ignored little brother to a gifted older sibling and I’m sure that many get sick of comparisons with the Ranger.

However if you take the Ford out of the picture it can still hold its own in the company of its competitors and certainly ticks the value box for high spec 4x4 utes.


So which model do you think came out on top? Click on the link below to find out, plus plus watch the full video of the shootout. 

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