This year is lining up to be the best opportunity to buy a brand new car at a cut-race price in a long time, and if you’re interested in getting the most bang for your hard-earned bucks in the dual-cab 4x4 space, it pays to look past the industry’s top-ranked pairing of Ford’s Ranger and the Toyota HiLux.
Think about it for a second. If a particular ute is proving popular with punters – take the HiLux SR5 or Ranger Wildtrak as examples - there is less incentive for a dealership to haggle with you over a few hundred dollars to get the sale on a model that will probably turn over pretty quickly anyway.
Along with that popularity, though, comes the desire from an industry perspective to carve up the pie in as many ways as possible in order to make sure everyone can choose the slice that suits them best.
It’s within these unusually shaped pieces of pie where the deals are lurking, and if you’re willing to be a little bit brave on spec, then you could be aboard a dual-cab ute in 2020 for a lot less than you think.
Key to this is the simple fact that the modern dual-cab ute doesn’t vary much from one to the next. Scratch the surface of any of the current generation of dual-cabs, and you’ll find next to no difference when it comes to key mechanical specifications.
All of the major players offer a smallish-capacity four- or five-cylinder turbodiesel engine backed by a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic gearbox, and they don’t change whether you’re coming in at the base of the range or looking at all the bells and the whistles.
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Sure, there are variations on the theme, like the six-cylinder Volkswagen Amarok and Mercedes-Benz X-Class models, while the 4x2 (or rear-wheel-drive only) dual-cab offers a cheaper way into the genre, but in the main, the vast majority of dual-cabs are carbon copies under the bodywork.
With that in mind, the price difference from top to bottom comes down to what you want on and in your ute.
What you want and what you need
If you want to save money buying a dual-cab ute, then ask yourself the hard questions. What are you planning to do with your new rig – is it a suburban warrior, or will it be seeing service in the dirt? Do you need maximum towing or payload capability, or will a pair of mountain bikes and a box trailer be the hardest work it ever sees?
If you reckon you need the tray to carry sizable items on a regular basis, then hard tonneau covers and faux roll bars may impact on that ability – even a plastic tub liner might not be the best option, as it can gobble up vital centimetres of width.
When it comes to other specs like leather seating and big alloy wheels, you’ll definitely save money if you can live without them – or alternatively, a limited edition model may offer you most of what you’re looking for at the expense of other items.
(plus on-road costs unless noted)
Volkswagen Amarok Core 4x4
Currently on sale for $40,990 driveaway (January 2020), the Core 4x4 runs VW’s 2.0-litre diesel engine mated to an eight-speed automatic – not a common spec in the dual-cab world.
It tows less than its rivals at 3000kg, but if you’re only taking the tinny to the boat ramp, that’s more than enough.
Mazda BT-50 XTR 4x2
Sure, it’s a few bucks over our mark, but the 4x4 BT-50 XTR – a Ford Ranger under the skin, to all intents and purposes – makes for sensible buying. It does miss out on driver aids like AEB, but dual-zone climate control, 17-inch alloys and carpeted floors combine with decent cloth seating and smartphone connectivity for a ute that’s practical without being overburdened with junk you don’t need.
Ssangyong Musso XLV Ultimate
$37,990 driveaway (ABN holders)
This is an astonishingly good buy for someone in the market for a ute with decent passenger appointments and the longest cargo tray on the market. The Ultimate wants for exactly nothing in the cabin; heated/vented leather front seats and leather rear seats, automatic lights and wipers, decent multimedia and tinted windows.
It’s also arguably the best-equipped ute for safety aids that include AEB, lane departure warning and rear cross-traffic alert. And it's no slouch under the bonnet either, with a 2.2-litre four-cylinder diesel grunting out 133kW and 420Nm, 3500kg towing and 1000kg payload capacity.
It’s also quiet, comfortable with rear coil springs (leaf springs are optional) and pretty inoffensive on the eye.
Isuzu D-Max X-Rider
The tough-as-old boots Isuzu D-Max dual-cab ute currently comes in a limited edition X-Rider spec, with a handful of accessories thrown in to improve its already-impressive value equation. The X-Rider is, in fact, the cheapest way to get into the 4x4 dual-cab D-Max.
A black sport bar for the tray, 16-inch alloys, custom lower sill mouldings and decal set it apart from the SX upon which it's based.
All D-Max dual-cab 4x4s use Isuzu's commercial vehicle-sourced 3.0-litre turbo diesel, and while the $39,990 X-Rider comes with a six-speed manual, a six-speed auto is available at an extra charge.
Ford Ranger XLS
The Ranger isn’t an especially cheap rig, but the XLS grade presents a good opportunity to get into Australia’s second most popular new car for less than $46,000.
It comes stock with 4x4, Ford’s 3.2-litre five-cylinder engine and six-speed auto, as well as a locking rear diff. It also comes with carpet instead of rubber flooring, Ford’s excellent Sync 3 multimedia system, an onboard 230v inverter and automatic headlights and wipers.
It also eschews the sports bar, which gives the rear tray more flexibility.
Who’s Toby Price and why does he have a ute named after him, you ask? He is a two-time Dakar-winning motorcycle rider, Trophy Truck runner and ute racer, so that’s not a bad list! His limited edition rig is actually not a bad way to pick up the GLS grade ute with about $5000 of extras for about $1500.
A nudge bar, LED light bar, tonneau cover, sport bar and tray liner are all thrown in, complementing the 2.4-litre diesel-powered ute’s comprehensive specs list. This includes AEB, automatic high beam, rear cross-traffic alert and trailer sway control, while the premium-spec cloth trim is specced up with a leather-trimmed wheel, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, LED headlights and taillights, 18-inch rims and more.
Toyota HiLux SR5 4x4
The country’s best selling ute, the SR5 is currently being offered with a six-speed automatic transmission at no extra charge, which saves you $2000. Standard spec includes AEB, adaptive cruise control and road-sign detection, along with keyless entry, a towbar (sans tongue and wiring) and a sports bar for the rear tray.
All 4x4 HiLux dual-cabs share the same 2.8-litre four-cylinder diesel engine which makes 130kW and 450Nm when combined with the six-speed auto.
Ford Ranger ‘Fully Loaded’ XLT 4x4
If you’ve got no dramas buying a car with a 2019 compliance plate, then the limited edition Fully Loaded XLT could be the best way to buy a Ranger. A huge spec list includes adaptive cruise control and semi-automatic parking, locking rear diff, front parking sensors, dual-zone climate control, leather-accented seats and 18-inch black alloys.
It’s also got little niceties, like a cooled centre console bin, chromed exterior highlights and satellite navigation, thrown in.