Australia’s obsession with work utes shows no signs of abating. Last year, Toyota’s HiLux and Ford’s Ranger were the No. 1 and 2 top selling vehicles in the country. In December there were no fewer than four utes in the top 10.
The recent arrival of an updated Mitsubishi Triton presents a chance to revisit the HiLux and Ranger. The Triton is the closest challenger to the dynamic duo and Mitsubishi is going hard to unseat the pair, launching its new model with razor-sharp drive-away prices and a compelling safety story.
MITSUBISHI TRITON GLS PREMIUM
The GLS Premium is the new Triton range-topper, replacing the Exceed.
It’s a compelling proposition on paper, particularly when you look at the equipment list. Standard safety tech includes autonomous emergency braking, lane departure and blind spot warning, automatic high-beam dipping and rear cross traffic alert. No other ute comes close to this at the price.
Leather appointed seats — optional on the XLT and SR5 — are standard and include seat warmers, a welcome inclusion for tradies staring down the barrel of 5am starts in winter.
Also standard are Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, front and rear parking sensors and power adjustment for the driver’s seat. The only notable absences are a digital speedo and satnav, an issue for owners in remote areas with patchy phone coverage.
The cabin is well equipped for the connected generation. There are two USBs, 12V plug and HDMI input in the front and, in the second row, another two USBs and 12V plug. Roof mounted vents pump air on to the faces of rear passengers.
Mitsubishi says there’s more padding and soft-touch materials in the cabin, although surprisingly the padding is on the doors not the armrests, which are hard plastic.
None of these utes are what you’d call high-end — you don’t have to look far to see hard shiny plastic — but the Triton looks smart enough inside, with the odd splash of imitation carbon-fibre to lift the mood.
Mitsubishi says it has tweaked the engine for better response off the mark and adjusted the suspension for better comfort around town. This is a mid-life update rather than an overhaul, so changes are minimal.
The Triton’s engine isn’t at the pointy end for refinement or urge but it’s lively enough off the mark and reasonably quiet for a diesel ute. The ride can get fussy over corrugations and the steering isn’t as precise as the others here but it’s predictable enough on bitumen and dirt alike.
FORD RANGER XLT
The Ranger had its mid-life update in September and the headline act was a new bi-turbo four-cylinder diesel matched to a 10-speed auto. It costs $1200 more than the still available 3.2 litre/six-speed auto but is worth it — it has more power and torque and is also more refined than the old one.
The Ranger looks a little more upmarket inside, with twin digital readouts in front of the driver, one of which has a digital speedo. Satnav is standard, the armrests are padded and there are a couple of clever touches — a standard household 230V plug for the laptop, plus lights and a 12V outlet in the rear load area.
The infotainment unit is user-friendly and the centre console is chilled. There are no rear air vents, though.
The Ford might be a little light on for equipment at the price but it shines on the road. It is easily the most stable of these three on a dirt road, soaking up ruts and corrugations with confidence-inspiring composure. The steering is the sharpest and most communicative of this trio and it delivers the most comfortable ride.
The engine is a step ahead of the other two here as well. It’s quieter, more responsive and more fuel efficient, partly thanks to tech that shuts off the engine at the lights to save fuel.
The extra power and torque aren’t as noticeable as they would appear on paper, though, partly due to the fact that the Ranger is roughly 150kg heavier than its rivals here. It can tow more than the others and has a bigger payload.
TOYOTA HILUX SR5
If the Triton sells on price and the Ranger on rugged looks, the HiLux trades on its reputation for reliability and fuss-free ownership. That’s taken a bit of a hit recently, thanks to issues with the diesel’s particulate filter. A fix is in place and the issue certainly hasn’t dented HiLux sales.
The SR5’s cabin is well screwed together and user-friendly. Despite the fact it hasn’t had a major update since 2015, it still looks modern, courtesy of the large high-resolution centre screen that dominates the dash. It misses out on some mod-cons, though, including Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and a digital speedo.
As with the Ranger, there’s a cooled centre console with a household plug, and the HiLux trumps the Ford with rear air vents. But connection points are a bit light on — only one USB up front alongside two 12V outlets.
A tub liner costs extra but, unlike the Triton, a tow bar is standard (the Ranger gets one too).
Unladen on a dirt road, the HiLux is the least surefooted of these three. It is easily upset by potholes and corrugations, occasionally skipping sideways over bigger bumps. On the plus side, the steering has more feel than the Triton and the engine is a little more refined. On the freeway, its cabin is also quieter than the Mitsubishi’s.
The HiLux is noticeably off the pace on the safety front. Auto emergency braking isn’t available on any model and there are none of the other driver assistance features available on the Ranger and Triton. For a circa $60,000 vehicle expected to balance work with family duties, that’s not good enough.
The HiLux has a loyal following, low running costs and rock solid resale value but it’s fallen off the pace as rivals have updated. The Ranger is the best ute to drive by a comfortable margin but we struggle to see the value compared to the Triton, which wins courtesy of impressive standard safety kit, generous warranty, cheap servicing costs and sharp drive-away pricing
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Sourced Daily Telegraph.