ABOUT one in five new vehicles sold in Australia these days is a ute. It’s an astonishing number, and one that’s been boosted over the past decade by the enormous growth in dual-cab 4x4 utes.
Rather than basic load luggers, the new breed of family-friendly utes have stepped up comfort, safety and design. Yes, they still lift heavy things, albeit wearing sharper suits than their basic workhorse origins once relied on.
For this test we’ve focused on the sweet spot of the market: the dual-cab off-roaders with a ute body style (rather than a cab-chassis). While some still offer a self-shifting transmission it’s the autos we’ve chosen to compare, because that’s what more buyers are gravitating to.
From bargain-priced newcomers to American behemoths, it’s a category that dishes up some surprising value – and no shortage of diversity.
GOLD – Toyota Hilux Workmate
IT’S not the most exciting or the best to drive or loaded up with the most trinkets, but the Toyota Hilux is a top seller for good reason: it’s a great all-rounder. Within our dual-cab requirements the one that best hits the value criteria is the most affordable Workmate. It does without side-steps, carpet and alloy wheels.
The front seats are also more basic, no variable intermittent wipers and there are only two front speakers for the sound system. Like all Hiluxes, there’s no vanity mirror for the driver, part of a long-running marketing tagline that played up to the ruggedness of its owners. But there’s still an 8-inch touchscreen incorporating Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and a reversing camera.
The Workmate gets Toyota Safety Sense that includes autonomous emergency braking (AEB), active cruise control and speed sign recognition. For $48,790 with an auto transmission there’s plenty of ute thrown in.
More importantly, the Workmate gets most of the ability and toughness of more expensive models. Rugged suspension means it doesn’t shy away from a big load (the payload is 980kg) and there’s a dual-range transfer case for heavy-duty off-roading. The main piece missing is a locking rear differential, but our testing has repeatedly shown that the standard traction control system does a good job of getting you across loose terrain anyway.
Helping the Hilux Workmate’s value rating enormously is bulletproof resale values. Selling a good quality Hilux after a few years is easier than offloading a Bondi apartment with a view. Buyers queue to own them so resale values are typically rewarding.
Respectable fuel use from the 2.4-litre turbo diesel – which is less powerful than the 2.8 in other models – also keeps costs down. Early services are cheap, just $250 each for the first six, the negative being that it needs check-ups every six months or 10,000km. But by the time you get to the four-year service it’s over $700, so be prepared.
Still, it doesn’t detract from the excellent all-round value of a solid, dependable ute.
SILVER – Mitsubishi Triton GLX
UTES from lesser-known brands may undercut key rivals, but they often fall well short on resale forecasts, because their lack of brand recognition leaves them off the shopping lists of second-hand buyers.
Not so the Mitsubishi Triton, which not only has a good reputation but also sits in a nice middle ground under some of the top-end utes, priced from $40,490 as a GLX auto. Throw in solid resale prospects, affordable insurance and servicing, and acceptable fuel consumption and the Triton mounts a solid case.
While auto emergency braking (AEB) tech is part of the deal, you need to pay more for the latest smartphone connectivity, indicative of an equipment list that touches on the basics without overdelivering. A GLX+ is a worthy step up, albeit slicing into the budget a tad more.
The Triton’s cabin is also slightly smaller than many rivals and its back seat is not as adult-friendly as class leaders.
But it drives nicely, the 2.4-litre engine is honest and predictable, the cornering manners sound. It’s competent off-road, too, rounding out a solid all-round package that also happens to be great value.
BRONZE – Ford Ranger XL
IT’S about to blow out 10 candles on its birthday cake but that hasn’t stopped the Ford Ranger celebrating with healthy sales and well-earned respect. The truck that repeatedly lands at the pointy end of our multi-vehicle comparisons also happens to be great value, at least in basic XL guise.
At $48,690 with an auto it’s by no means the cheapest dual cab, but that price is offset with an expectation you’ll retain 58 per cent of that value after five years – an important factor in earning it value cred. Servicing that is among the most affordable in its class also helps.
And while the 2.2-litre turbo diesel has only modest outputs, it makes up for it with some of the best ute driving manners on the road.