Best 4x4 Dual Cab Ute

Winner - Ford Ranger XL 3.2 (d)

3.2 litre turbo, 5-cyl, 6 speed Auto
$52,783 (Indicative Drive Away)

9.2 L/100km; fuel type - Diesel
Country of Origin: Thailand

GVG: starstarhalf star

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Our Verdict

Dual Cab Utilities (DCUs) have been included in Australia’s Best Cars rankings for the first time this year, due to steadily growing popularity. DCUs were the third largest-selling vehicle category last year, having grown 25% over the previous year, and now sell in higher numbers than any of the SUV categories. Once the vehicle of choice on work-sites, a five seat DCU these days is just as likely to be a family cross over vehicle, towing a caravan or carrying camping equipment rather than sand and cement, yet with sales remaining predominately 4WD they’re also serious work horses.

With this new buyer profile in mind, the most recently launched DCUs are better targeted to cross over usage. Our three finalists, the Ford Ranger, Mazda BT50 and VW Amarok are all significantly easier trucks to live with on a daily basis than their forebears, but in keeping with their 4x4 work ethic we also tested them with a half-ton load and four occupants on second class roads and hills.

The Ford Ranger was literally all-new in September 2011, the result of Fords “global compact pickup truck platform,” and along with the new engines, gearboxes, chassis, suspension, steering, brakes and sheet-metal came a more considered approach to design and function. Ford took the opportunity to study its dual cab competitors in such things as shifting the center pillar position for improved vision and rear seat space, wider opening rear doors for access and multiple storage compartments, resulting in the Ranger’s more integrated and accommodating cabin. As a result, Ranger is comfortable in each of its seating positions and notably spacious in the rear, reflected by solid scoring in all areas of living with the vehicle.

Ranger’s 3.2 litre five cylinder turbo diesel engine mated to a conventional six speed automatic transmission forms the backbone of the best performing vehicle in the dual-cab lineup. This engine is also matched to a six speed manual. With 470 Nm of torque on tap from just 1,500 rpm it delivers more pulling power than Toyota’s 70 series 4.5 litre V8. Ranger’s hill climbing power when loaded, smart 4WD including switchable low range, and long wheelbase stability make it an ideal vehicle for towing. It has a 3,500 kg rated towing capability and includes electronic trailer sway control as standard. In rough terrain the Ranger also offers excellent ground clearance at 237mm, an 800 mm wading depth and good wheel articulation for traction. The official combined fuel economy figure of 9.2L/100km is consistent with the class average, although our test figures are closer to 11L/100km meaning the 80-litre fuel tank will provide a range in the region of 800km.

The entry XL model Ranger is well priced in this company and has a more purposeful, tough and robust look which we preferred over its sister truck the Mazda BT50, where there is a more stylized approach and opulent features. In addition to the Ford’s basic comfort and commanding driving position, all twin-cab models are equipped with dual front, side and full length curtain airbags for a five star ANCAP safety rating.

Category Finalists

2nd Place:           Mazda BT 50 XTR (d)

Drivetrain:                     3.2 litre turbo, 5-cyl, 6 speed Auto
Price:                              $55,326 (Indicative Drive Away)
Fuel economy:              9.2 L/100km; fuel type - Diesel
Country of Origin:        Thailand

ANCAP:                         starstarstarstarstar
GVG:                              starstarhalf star

Mazda’s BT50 and Ford’s Ranger share the same platform and running gear so they are twins, but not identical. Each company has done its own thing in terms of body styling, interior presentation and standard equipment, but being a global vehicle for both companies, technical development was shared between Mazda Japan and Ford Australia. Where Ford sells more of their entry model, Mazda buyers are opting for the mid spec XTR, a more expensive model with more standard features, including satellite navigation within those softer styled body lines. As a result it has a slightly reduced payload. Mazda also suffers in the value for money section due to more frequent servicing and replacing higher specification tyres; however additional oil and filter changes is not a bad thing for a 4wd diesel, especially if it is worked hard.

With the same 3.2 litre turbo diesel engine, six-speed automatic transmission, wheelbase and ground clearance as the Ranger, the BT50 delivers equally outstanding levels of performance, off road competence and towing capability. Where the BT50 differs in mechanical specification is down to Mazda’s endeavor to give their truck a slightly sportier feel with faster steering and firmer suspension. It makes the BT50 livelier on the bitumen but also more likely to skip and move around over bumps, particularly on dirt roads when unloaded. The BT50 accommodation and ergonomics has also benefited from the all new cabin design and improved seating space and comfort, while six airbags and stability control ensure it also gets a five star safety rating. 

3rd Place:         Volkswagen Amarok Highline TDI420

Drivetrain:                   2.0 litre turbo, 4 cyl, 8 speed Auto
Price:                            $59,157 (Indicative Drive Away)
Fuel economy:            8.3 L/100km; fuel type – Diesel
Country of Origin:      Argentina

ANCAP:                        starstarstarstarstar
GVG:                              starstarstar

In this lineup, the only scores that hurt the VW Amarok Highline TDI420 are its pricing and as a result the amount of money lost to depreciation. If you’re comfortable with that, it is the most civilized and practical dual cab utility here when it comes to living with a truck on a daily basis. Amarok is by far the most comfortable and easy to use from the driver or front seat passenger perspective, but is more claustrophobic and less accommodating for rear seat occupants, despite offering similar overall cabin measurements to Ford and Mazda.

For drivers, the Amarok outclasses the rest with superior ride and handling dynamics as well as cabin insulation and the smoothness of its engine and driveline. Despite having the smallest engine capacity, VW’s 2.0 litre turbo diesel delivers surprising performance, aided by its conventional eight speed automatic in lieu of low range gearing. Intelligent 4WD and eight gears at all times makes the Amarok feel particularly responsive, but while the lower ratios adequately handle the majority of off-road work and load hauling, ground clearance and heavy load performance fall short of the competition.

Amarok matches its competitors for toughness in its chassis engineering and has the advantage of significantly better fuel economy, at 8.3L/100km in government testing, along with the largest load tray in the pack. And, while it also matches the leaders with a 5-star safety rating, it doesn’t provide the rear head protection airbag and scores marginally lower in the ANCAP crash test.