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TMR Team | Jan 25, 2016

For many Australian families, the dual-cab 4X4 ute has become the proxy family car - workhorse, carriage with baby-seat, and family get-away vehicle.

Most now feel and drive enough like cars to be everyday vehicles; gone are compromises to features and comfort and cabin-trim. And that's why the Aussie love affair with the ute has blossomed. There are months where utes/pickups top the sales charts (from time to time, the HiLux knocks the Mazda3 or Corolla off the pedestal), and quite a few utes occupy the top ten slots on VFACTS.

With a wide spectrum of choices, two and four-wheel-drive, petrol and diesel, auto and manual, single, extra, or dual cab models, from the spartan cab-chassis to the leather-trimmed premium sports utes, there has never been more choice.

Here is our list of the Top 5 4x4 utes - and whittling the list down has not been an easy task.


Nissan Navara NP300

Price Range: $31,990 (4x4 DX single cab c/chassis manual) - $54,490 (ST-X dual cab utility automatic)
Engine: 120kW/403Nm 2.3l turbo diesel 4cyl, 140kW/450Nm 2.3l turbo diesel 4cyl
Transmission: 6sp manual, 7sp automatic

Nissan rolled the Navara NP300 out gradually, launching a version with a coil-sprung rear axle onto the market first - something of a break in tradition compared to the usual leaf-spring tradie’s companion.

With increasing numbers of dual cab utes being used as family transport, not just workhorses, it’s a move that makes sense. Cabin fittings and driving behaviour all feel more like an SUV and less like a light-duty truck.

The new Navara is vastly improved over the old, has the interior feel of an SUV, a smooth new diesel drivetrain and a more settled ride on-road (even when unladen), thanks to the coil sprung rear.

Our review verdict

The new NP300 Navara 4x4 ST-X feels more SUV than ute. That said, it has no trouble getting dirty on an off-road trail, nor carrying a load when needed.

It is also loaded with features at a price that places it mid-pack among rivals. The NP300 Navara's five-link rear suspension offers buyers a clear-cut difference in this segment. Certainly, you will notice that the all-coil suspension removes the jittery handling and nervous rear common to most commercial utes.

It also improves on-road comfort and extends the off-road capability of the NP300.

With a motor that delivers plenty of low-down grunt, a well-equipped and comfortable cabin coupled with good payload figures, the NP300 Navara ST-X 4x4 successfully blurs the line between ute and car.

It stacks up well for value, offers a strong suite of safety features, and, thanks to the bold chrome grille and mirrors, is just a set of wide wheels away from looking like a proper tough truck.

MORE: Nissan News and Reviews
MORE: 2015 Nissan Navara NP300 Review


Toyota Hilux

Price Range: $36,990 (4x4 Workmate single cab c/chassis manual) - $55,990 (4x4 SR5 dual cab utility automatic)
Engine: 110kW/343Nm 2.4l turbo diesel 4cyl, 130kW/420Nm (man) 450Nm (auto) 2.8l turbo diesel 4cyl, 175kW/376Nm 4.0l petrol 6cyl
Transmission: 6sp manual, 6sp automatic

An all-new Hilux arrived in 2015, arguably Toyota’s biggest launch for the year, replacing a vehicle that continued to dominate the sales charts even after a decade on sale.

With a stout 2.8 litre diesel, new found refinement and features, and an unshakeable and deserved reputation for toughness and reliability, it still claims the crown as 'king of the heap'.

The lead engineer for the project was not a commercial vehicle expert, rather his previous task was the tiny Toyota iQ city car. Why? To ensure the new Hilux is more comfortable and car-like.

Beneath the skin though it’s still a workhorse, with the majority of its development work carried out in Australia and tested under this country's gruelling conditions to ensure the new engine, and ladder chassis are more than capable when put to work.

Our review verdict:

This new Hilux takes a massive leap forward for on-road behaviour, and retains its impressive capability when the going gets very tough.

Refinement is hugely improved over the outgoing model. There’s less noise, less vibration, a smoother manual gearshift and a more settled ride.

In any way you care to look at it, this is a very compelling dual-purpose vehicle. But, it won't have its own way in this market with such improved competitors circling the camp.

Will those competitors (like the Ranger and Triton) be enough to stop the Hilux from topping the light commercial sector yet again? We can’t imagine so; there is a lot of showroom appeal and a lot of 'history' in this badge that won't be easily worn away.

Add a hard-won reputation out in the field, and the bank of buyers waiting for this new model will guarantee its success.

MORE: Toyota News and Reviews
MORE: 2015 Toyota Hilux 4x4 Dual Cab Review


Ford Ranger

Price Range: $38,790 (4x4 XL single cab c/chassis manual) - $60,090 (4x4 Wildtrack dual cab utility automatic)
Engine: 118kW/375Nm 2.2l turbo diesel 4cyl, 147kW/470Nm 3.2l turbo diesel 5cyl
Transmission: 6sp manual, 6sp automatic

No question, it's not cheapest by a long chalk, but this is the pick of the crop. Ford has a real threat here to the perenially popular Hilux with its excellent Ranger range.

At the high-end, the Ranger offers safety features and technologies unmatched by any other ute in its class. But even in base-spec XL 4X4 trim, it comes with Hill Descent Control, Rollover Stability Control, Traction Control, Trailer Sway Control, and locking differential.

Ford’s SYNC infotainment system - a leader in useability - is also found at the lower end of the range.

Opt for a version powered by the 3.2 litre five-cylinder diesel and you’ll have the most powerful ute in its class, and whether on the freeway, towing, or scrambling up a rocky pass, you will feel that wave of torque working for you.

Our review verdict

The Ranger isn’t exactly the most affordable 4x4 dual cab available; in Wildtrack trim, it even outprices the Toyota's Hilux SR5.

The thing is, no other dual cab on the market can quite match the Ranger’s comprehensive safety suite (though many of the features are option choices), nor its settled on-road behaviour. It is an impressive car, handsome and with a stylish big-rig presence, but you pay for it.

For families considering a dual-purpose dual cab, that can operate as a builder's labourer during the week, has a comfortable family-friendly cabin, and can haul a pair of dirt bikes and a tray full of camping gear into out-of-the-way places on the weekend, the Ranger stands ahead of the pack.

MORE: Ford News and Reviews
MORE: 2016 Ford Ranger XLT 4x4 Dual Cab Review


Mazda BT-50

Price Range: $36,850 (4x4 XT single cab c/chassis manual) - $53,790 4x4 GT dual cab utility automatic)
Engine: 110kW/375Nm 2.2l turbo diesel 4cyl, 147kW/470Nm 3.2l turbo diesel 5cyl
Transmission: 6sp manual, 6sp automatic

Underneath the surface the Mazda BT-50 shares its running gear and frame with Ford’s Ranger - but that’s only part of the reason it’s on this list.

It offers unique styling - and you’ll either love it or hate it, but where the Ranger screams tough truck, the BT-50 is a bit more subdued.

Updated in 2015 with a new grille and headlights that have had a massive effect on how the BT-50 looks, the interior also picked up a new touchscreen for XTR and GT grades, with the option to add HEMA off-road maps if you’re serious about going bush.

Our review verdict

Behind Toyota, but inching closer, Mazda slugs it out with Hyundai for that second spot on the podium as the second biggest car brand in the land.

Little Mazda? Little no more; it’s a powerhouse of good products and clever marketing.

The new BT-50 is one of those ‘good products’. The improved styling of the front certainly toughens the look, and, on our tester, the optional big Lightforce driving lights and snug-fitting roo-bar enhance the ‘sports truck’ style.

And, how tough is this rig? Very tough indeed.

More than that, it is comfortable, quiet on road, and as effortless as an SUV on a long drive way off the beaten track. If you have been thinking Ranger, HiLux or Navara, it is one you should consider.

MORE: Mazda News and Reviews
MORE: 2015 Mazda BT-50 Review


Mitsubishi Triton

Price Range: $32,490 (4x4 GLX single cab c/chassis manual) - $47,790 (4x4 Exceed dual cab utility)
Engine: 133kW/430Nm 2.4l turbo diesel 4cyl
Transmission: 6sp manual, 5sp automatic

Mitsubishi has kept things simple with the Triton, there is just one engine, and three trim grades. The auto is only a five-speed in the face of the six, seven, and eight speed autos of some competitors.

But, it’s very good value - cheaper than almost every other competitor across the Triton range. Quiet inside, settled on-road, more room in the rear seats, and with a well-trimmed and appealing cabin, this is an entirely different Triton to the one it replaced.

It sits a little behind in towing bragging rights, rated at 3.1 tonnes, compared to 3.5 for the others (but has more payload capacity).

It also features Mitsubishi's effortlessly capable Super Select 4WD system with centre differential (GLS and Exceed models), and has under the bonnet the quietest and smoothest diesel of any 4x4 ute on offer.

Our review verdict

If you’re looking for a luxury 4WD ute with off-road ability and towing capacity, the new Triton should be on your list.

But that’s underselling the seismic change which has happened here. The fact is, though an honest toiler, the previous generation of the range-topping Triton wasn’t on the same page as classier, smoother, newer rivals.

The former Triton (still available incidentally) could cut it on building sites and in the bush, but lacked the finesse of rival models at the top end of town.

So Mitsubishi has delivered on two points. Now the Triton Exceed matches the best in class for both specifications and driving dynamics. And, for value-for-money, it might just have Ranger, BT50 and HiLux on the back foot.

MORE: Mitsubishi News and Reviews
MORE: 2015 Mitsubishi Triton Exceed Double Cab 4x4 Review


Who Missed Out?

There's some notable absentees from the list - while the Volkswagen Amarok is among the best to drive in and around town (and on the highway), it just doesn't cut it when the going gets really tough. It is prone to chassis flex when under load, and the smallest engine in the class has to work harder than the rest.

The Holden Colorado and Isuzu D-Max twins are off the pace when it comes to interior presentation, and still feel a bit 'truck-ish' behind the wheel, not as calm and comfy as the newer breed of utes. Of those two, we rate the Isuzu as a good buy - it has one of the best hard-working drivetrains in the business - just not a 'Best Buy'.

Save up to $6,181 on a new Nissan Navara
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