In the crazed SUV dominated market there’s another category nipping at leading sales chart contenders. The continuing rise of the previously “tradie” exclusive dual-cab has seen models like the Toyota Hilux chip away at the best-selling vehicle mantle. Over the last month EFTM clambered inside many of the players available. What follows is our no-nonsense summary of what we think makes an investment in a dual-cab workhorse worthwhile.
We gathered as many examples the various manufactures press fleets would allow. All were dual-cabs, some better equipped than others simply due to availability. We were unable to access the recently updated Holden Colorado, Nissan Navara and Isuzu D-Max. However EFTM has spent a great deal of time in the Colorado and is more than familiar with them.
The models driven include:
- Mazda BT-50 XT Hi Rider (6-speed manual)
- Ford Ranger Wildtrak (6-speed auto)
- Toyota Hilux SR5 (4 speed auto)
- Volkswagen Amarok TDI 420 Highline (8-speed auto)
- Mitsubishi Triton GLX-R (5-speed auto)
- Holden Colorado LTZ (6-speed auto)
The approach for this review is from the viewpoint of a customer choosing a dual-cab for lifestyle reasons. Of course underneath these premium dual-cabs falls dozens of commercial options that form the backbone of the segment. We’ve taken the mindset that for the most part they will be driven as tarmac warriors. We also took into account the added versatility of towing a caravan, being able to bring home that flat pack piece of furniture from Ikea or the occasional off-road camping trip.
There’s little doubt all of the five big utes are very closely matched on a spec sheet. Nissan offers the most powerful dual cab with the ST-X 550 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6 producing 170kW / 550Nm. It’s also the most expensive at $63,390.
Toyota’s legendry Hilux is the least powerful. Its 3.0-litre four-cylinder turbo generates just 126kW / 343Nm, gee it’s noisy compared to the others. Lumped with it is a basic 4-speed auto.
The pearler in the pack is the Volkswagen Amarok. A sophisticated 2.0-litre four-cylinder biturbo-diesel pumps out 132kW / 420Nm. Why does it cover itself in glory? It’s the quietest, most refined unit and coupled to a class leading 8-speed auto. After the ST-X 550 it would also be the second quickest in a straight line, although lead foots aren’t exactly drawn to dual-cabs.
Our experience with the Colorado has been behind the now updated 2.8-litre four-cylinder Duramax turbo-diesel. It’s a capable, albeit noisy unit, also strong with 132kW / 440Nm. Originally it boasted a class leading 3,500kg towing capability, but some of the others have now caught up. Holden has now revised the numbers to 147kW / 500Nm for the auto. This can’t be a bad thing.
The Mitsubishi Triton has the second smallest capacity engine in this test with 131kW / 400nm. It exhibits the highest level of turbo whistle and was the least appealing for me.
Finally we have the Mazda BT-50 and Ford Ranger twins. Their 3.2-litre in-line 5 cylinder turbo-diesel produces 147Kw / 470Nm. It’s a powerful and willing unit although it should be noted the Mazda’s all important torque arrives just a fraction later in the rev range over the Ranger’s calibration, and it’s noticeable.
If you like to sit atop a lofty pedestal as you navigate the daily rat race there’s no doubt a dual-cab will perform that task. All of these trucks are big units and smash any SUV in the dimensions stakes. But the trade off is near truck-like handling, some more than others.
In my opinion there‘s no better driving dual cab than Volkswagen’s Amarok. It lacks the toughness and ground clearance of the others, but has beautifully light, perfectly tuned steering. It’s on the cusp of a decent SUV the way it drives. It’s the sort of truck a hesitant wife would learn to appreciate.
The Mitsubishi Triton is light years away from the VW in this area. Its handling abilities fell into a black hole somewhere along the way. It steers almost like a school bus and lock to lock seems to take an eternity in tight car parks. Quite frankly it’s a bad drive.
In between these sits the Mazda and Ford. I’d place the Ranger only marginally below the Amarok. It’s a brute of a truck, and along with the BT-50 the largest here. It sits flat in spite of its hulking frame through the bendy bits. But the Mazda is just a fraction too jittery for my liking.
The Holden Colorado and Toyota Hilux are just about on par for on road manners. The Colorado is a GM global ute with an enormous investment behind it. It should slay the much older Hilux, but both constantly serve up reminders of the rather agricultural architecture sitting beneath. The Hilux certainly has that solid, dare I say “unbreakable” feel over the GM creation.
Practicality / Comfort
It’s essentially a very even playing field when it comes to all dual-cabs. As with any vehicle adding levels of comfort and a longer list of goodies requires a larger investment. The top tier model for each manufacturer sits between $50,000 and in a couple of cases exceeds $60,000. Some offer much better value than others.
For example top marks would go to the Ford Ranger XLT or Wildtrak and Volkswagen Amarok Highline and Ultimate. They offer luxuries such as leather appointed interior, colour infotainment displays, satellite navigation, larger alloy wheels, privacy glass, reversing camera, parking sensors, auto headlights, wipers, rearview mirror and in the Ranger’s case heated front seats. The Amarok can even be optioned with a softer rear suspension for a more accommodating handling experience.
Toyota’s SR5 still picks up some decent gear such as satellite navigation to make life more enjoyable but feels a little stripped back, largely due to its age.
The Holden Colorado now benefits from the MyLink infotainment system. With its embedded apps and sophisticated interface it’s a hugely important addition for what was a GM clean sheet design that until now couldn’t match the others for features.
Of course the major selling point for a one tonner is the added versatility of a tray. We could go on and on with depth / width debates, but in truth only a couple of dozen millimeters separates the lot of them. A more practical debate is whether or not the tray is equipped with a rubber liner or soft / hard tonneau cover.
Visually most manufactures stick to a safe, basic generic approach. The rear end and profile of all our examples are very similar. Mazda strayed down the bezerko path and to their credit do offer the most individual looking dual-cab around. But going by the collective pool of social media opinion it’s hardly a victory. Its face is best concealed by the largest bull bar possible.
The Ford Ranger offers the most cohesive overall design. Rounded, chiseled handsome looks are executed very well. Its “mini” F250 appearance simply works. The VW Amarok has that whole suave mysterious German thing going on. It could easily get away residing in a Vaucluse or Toorak driveway.
Holden’s Colorado I believe is underrated as a head turner. Its bold chrome front end is very GM and gives it an imposing edge. Perhaps the least attractive in the pack is the Mitsubishi Triton; with an enormous rear over hang and strange C pillar styling – I’m just not a fan.
The pioneer in this segment, Toyota’s Hilux scores well. Squared off headlamps and bonnet scoop on diesel models at least provide something nice to gaze at.
The top tier models can all be loaded with bolt on bits and pieces like side steps, alloy sports bars and tow bars to spruce up appearances and functionality.
Within reason, any of these trucks will navigate surprisingly difficult terrain without any major headaches. The point of difference is how the 4WD system operates and what technology is utilised to assist the driver.
A 2013/14 dual-cab should offer several key functions including on the fly, dial selectable 4WD, a lockable rear differential and even Hill Decent Control.
The Amarok uniquely offers permanent all-wheel-drive which they call 4Motion. The others are driven exclusively via the rear wheels with all-wheel-drive on request. The Ranger, BT-50 and Colorado are transformed into four-wheelers via the twist of a dial with 4H and 4L options. The Hilux and Triton still rely on a second shifter to mechanically link up all 4 wheels. In the Tritons case it’s a shifter which seems hell bent on impaling your left leg.
For extra traction, lockable rear differentials are offered on the Ranger, BT-50 and as an option on the Triton. The Hilux misses out.
While pulling up one of these hulks in an emergency situation is still no joke, recent advances now at least bring them into the acceptable range. A 5 Star ANCAP safety rating should be the norm for any vehicle but not all utes achieve that. The Ranger, BT-50, Amaork, Colorado and Hilux do. The Triton only manages a 4 star.
Thankfully all tested examples here are equipped with lifesaving Electronic Stability Control Systems. All get the suite of airbags expected; however the VW offering randomly misses out on a side curtain airbag. People with children need to consider the rear seats get no protection. The Hilux only offers a lap sash seat belt for the rear middle passenger. That’s inexcusable.
Price / Running costs
For a souped up one tonner expect little change from at least $50,000. Here are the as tested prices and fuel economy figures
- Ford Ranger Wildtrak – $57,390ims (9.2L/100km)
- Holden Colorado LTZ – $49,990 (9.1L/100km)
- Mazda BT-50 – $37,990 (8.9L/100km)
- Mitsubishi Triton GLX-R – $45,750 (9.6L/100km)
- Toyota Hilux SR5 – $53,490 (9.3L/100km)
- Volkswagen Amarok TDI420 Highline – $53,990 (8.3L/100km)
EFTM Final Verdict.
Choosing one of these mammoths for the tasks outlined earlier requires significant naval gazing. It’s down to getting the balance of comfort / capability / performance right. An EFTM Facebook correspondent commented that the Toyota Hilux is the ”Coca Cola of Dual Cabs”. It’s the real thing, but it can be beaten. The Ford Ranger has the looks to impress and there are some great examples of the Ranger out on the road that do make you look twice, however, for mine the VW Amarok would have to claim the mantle as the leading dual-cab on the market. The sophisticated driveline and overall coachwork is second to none, it probably provides a glimpse at where all dual-cabs are headed into the future.