Best Value-For-Money Second-Hand-Cab Utes
SUVs may well be the family car of the 21st century, but for some families, the typical ‘soft-road’ SUV just doesn’t cut the mustard.
What these families need is a hardcore commercial vehicle with some extra seats – a vehicle that will take at least four people to a holiday destination while towing a caravan or a ski boat. Ideally, for your extreme-adventure families, the ute must also provide some off-road capability to reach remote campsites.
But not every family lives for the next holiday destination. For some buyers, the dual-cab ute just plain makes sense as a business workhorse during the week and a family hauler after hours. As a bonus, that one vehicle incurs just one registration fee and insurance premium to pay – with the former at least partly subsidized by the Australian Taxation Office.
Over the past six years, dual-cab utes have improved radically. As used vehicles, they remain a good proposition for buyers on a budget. But among the diverse selection available, only one stands out from the rest.
What vehicle offers the most versatility, whether hauling tools and a trailer during the week or a caravan on holidays?
For a particular type of buyer, the one-tonne dual-cab ute just can’t be beaten. It’s a workhorse from Monday to Friday (with tax concessions the cherry on top for some) and enough room inside for family excursions through national parks or towing a boat down to the nearest ramp for a spot of fishing. The modern dual-cab ute with an automatic transmission is easy for anyone to drive and can be economical to own if it’s a diesel.
For our inaugural running of the carsales.com.au Best Used Car Awards, we’ve piled together informed opinion from our expert vehicle reviewers and market research from RedBook.com.au to announce the winner in each of 10 categories.
Our top six picks for second-hand dual-cab utes we’d be happy to park in our driveway
Dual-cab utes, the crossbreed mongrels of the 4X4 world. Half family wagon and half commercial utility, good at both but not the best at either. As one of the largest market segments, competition is fierce at the new car stage, and with business users a prime audience, it gets even better in the used car market with plenty of trade-ins available.
All of these cars can be bought for between $15,000 and $20,000 (or more), but naturally, price varies with condition and age. From tradie hacks that don’t go off-road more than a muddy job site, hardcore four-wheel drivers to waste-of-a-good-4X4 bling mobiles, there’s plenty to choose from.
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Years Made: 2005-2013
Engine: 1KD-FTV 3.0L inline four-cylinder common rail turbo-diesel: 126kW @ 3600rpm; 343Nm @ 1400-3400rpm
Gearbox: Four-speed auto, five-speed manual
The market leader for oh-so-many years, the HiLux is where Toyota gained it’s ‘unbreakable’ marketing traction. The resale value of Toyotas is also legendary, meaning you get an older model for the same dollars as anything else. This isn’t bad though, the ‘Lux is a robust bit of kit, and for under $20k, you’ll often get a bull bar and a bit of fruit thrown in, in the guise of someone else’s camping rig or a tradie’s tax write-off. Hopefully, you aren’t too smitten on colour, though, as the majority are typical fleet white, care of business owners. Be wary of oil use – leaky fuel injector seals can escalate to oil feed blockages and potential for engine seizure. Get the injector seals replaced every 45,000km and check the oil pickup similarly.
Petrolheads should seek out the TRD model; it’s like every other HiLux but with a supercharger!
The HiLux’s pre-eminence isn’t undeserved. It’s a ute that ticks a lot of boxes and, most crucially for a lot of buyers, can be counted on to stand up to whatever they might throw at it.
But the byproduct of its popularity is higher prices on the used-car lot than many alternatives. And it’s certainly not without the odd question mark.
So we wouldn’t count the Toyota out, but we’d also recommend checking out rivals in this budget range that do better in some fundamental areas to determine just what we’d be prepared to live with and live without. Here are three to add to the mix.
This Ford’s origins go back further than the 2005-15 HiLux and other dual-cabs it competes within this price bracket.
It looks a bit old-fashioned and is short on space in the back. Vague steering and a bouncy ride mean it’s far from the best ute of its era to drive.
But it wins back points with its gutsy, economical 3.0-litre diesel engine and – despite its driving niggles – it’s less compromised on the road than many alternatives.
Where HiLuxes in this price range tend to have just twin airbags and ABS in their safety artillery, it allows you to pin down side airbags as well (they’re standard on the topline XLT and optional on the base XL).
Its carting and off-road credentials are respectable, and it’s sharper value on the used-car lot than the Toyota. Get past the average back-seat space and the cabin ticks most boxes, too.
If Top Gear has taught us anything about the Hilux, it’s that it’s virtually indestructible. Their resale value is incredible too, which is bad if you’re looking to buy second-hand, but for what you get, it’s well worth the money. Be wary of oil use – leaky fuel injector seals can escalate to oil feed blockages and potential for engine seizure.
The Toyota HiLux has been redoubtable over many years. While Toyota is not even first among equals when compared with its rivals, mundane considerations like running costs and resale value have helped the HiLux reach the heady heights of Australia’s most popular vehicle. Back in 2013, Toyota was gearing up for the launch of an all-new model, but the last of the 25 Series models were still a safe bet – notching up nearly 40,000 sales for the year.
While the judges didn’t rate the Toyota as highly as other vehicles in the segment (30 points only), RedBook’s score of 43.2 ran out to a total of 73.2 points out of 100 – enough to place it ahead of the Volkswagen Amarok and the Mitsubishi Triton among the also-rans.
Years Made: 2009-2014
Engine: 2.5L four-cylinder turbo-diesel: 131kW @ 4000rpm, 400Nm @ 2000rpm (manual); 350Nm @ 2800rpm (auto)
Gearbox: Five-speed manual, four-speed auto
The Triton was great value when new, and second hand this hasn’t changed – you can get a later model year MN for less than some of the older competitors. Once the turbo spools up, performance is good, but the lag, especially multiplied by the auto, can be frustrating. The tow rating is better than some on the market, with a three-tonne trailer leaving over 750kg for the load on the ute … not bad at all!
The cab, while comfortable, isn’t spacious in the back – good for kids, not good for broad shoulders. Speaking of the cab, it’s the first with that funny curved rear wall, which puts the entire load area behind the rear axle. Yes, these are the Tritons that can bend and break, so keep your loading sensible. Back to tow ratings and GVM
This Mitsubishi is a more contemporary looker than a Ranger and much roomier in the back.
It has a respectably settled ride, a solid off-road streak. It sets a safety benchmark for used utes of this vintage, offering the possibility of side/curtain airbags (from 2008) and stability control (from 2009’s MY10 update).
Desirable MY10 models have other attractions, including the availability of a handy extended-tray version and a willing, economic 2.5-litre diesel engine.
Some niggles are confined to pre-MY10 stock. The original 3.2-litre diesel engine was agricultural, and the swoopy cabin shape meant a shorter tray than many rivals (hence the addition of the extended-tray version).
But all Tritons of this generation are wobbly and ponderous through the bends and have shapeless front seats that can be a pain over the long haul.
The Triton is great value second-hand. Performance is good once the turbo spools up, but the lag, especially multiplied by the auto, can be frustrating. The tow rating is excellent, with a three-tonne trailer leaving over 750kg for the load on the ute.
The cab is comfortable but lacking in space, and it’s curved rear wall makes it susceptible to bending and breaking if not loaded sensibly.
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Mazda BT-50 UP/Ford Ranger PX
Years Made: 2011-present
Engine: 3.2L five-cylinder turbo-diesel: 147kW @ 3000rpm, 470Nm @ 1750-2500rpm (BT-50); 470Nm @ 1500-2750rpm (Ranger)
Gearbox: Six-speed manual, six-speed auto
The popular Ranger and the ugly sister that nobody wanted to be seen with, the Ranger/BT-50 is a fantastic vehicle with a strong engine and drivetrain. The BT-50, with that happy face that you try not to look at, is the better value for money being a couple of thousand cheaper for similar age and condition vehicles. Robust and reliable, the twins have established themselves as market leaders –well, the Ranger has anyway. Second-hand cars from the early years of the model are coming down in price to the sub-$20,000 marks, and this represents a great opportunity to pick up a show-pony that’s never seen a dirt road and start building your dream 4WD.
Sharing many of its mechanicals with the Ford Ranger, the Mazda BT-50 GT displaced the Volkswagen Amarok to win silver this year. Its close association with the Ranger has probably resulted in the Mazda being overlooked to an extent. Its two-year new-car warranty at the time did it no favours. Certainly, the new-car sales figures support that view. But with new-car warranty no longer a factor, the BT-50 looks more convincing to dual-cab buyers.
RedBook’s score of 42 points for the Mazda was practically unchanged from last year, but the BT-50’s tally of 39 points from the judges lifted its overall aggregate to 81 points out of 100.
Red Book value: $30,450
“It’s not as handsome as its twin-under-the-skin Ford Ranger, but it’s a very competent dual-cab ute” – Matt Brogan, car sales Road Test Editor
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Years Made: 2005-2015
Engine: 2.5L turbo-diesel: 140kW @ 4000rpm, 450Nm @ 2000rpm
Gearbox: Just buy the five-speed auto. The six-speed manual does, unfortunately, exist.
The D40 Navara lived concurrently alongside the D22 Navara, with a rich man/poor man dynamic going on. The D40 was more modern with a better engine package, nicer interior and a few other fairly drastic improvements. However, clutch problems in the manual seem to be common, especially if used for towing. Not that you’d want to load it up anyway, with chassis cracking issues addressed by a recall, centred around the genuine tow bar according to Nissan but wider spread according to many owners. If you really want a Navara, you can buy chassis repair plates from the likes of Superior Engineering. Considering how many chassis issues we have seen locally and overseas, this is one area to address if you have your heart set on a used D40.
This Nissan is more car-like to drive than most dual-cabs of this era, and its 2.5-litre diesel engine delivers better-than-average go.
You can fold the back-seat squab up and fit bulky items inside the cabin, so it’s more practical than a lot of dual-cabs, too.
It has solid carting and off-road credentials and runs the Triton close for safety, offering the curtain airbags and stability control from 2010’s Series 4 update.
But you need a topline ST-X model to access those desirable safety features, and pinning a good one down at this budget could be tough.
Its diesel engine isn’t remarkably economical, and the back seat, while flexible, isn’t that roomy or comfortable. The odd quality niggle isn’t unheard of, either.
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Years Made: 2008-2011
Engine: 3.0L four-cylinder turbo-diesel: 120kW @ 3600rpm, 333Nm @ 1600rpm (auto); 360Nm @ 1800rpm (manual)
Gearbox: Four-speed auto, five-speed manual
There isn’t a lot of love shown in the 4X4 community for early Colorado and similar era D-MAX, but those that do have them love them. There’s a reasonable selection of aftermarket accessories now, but not as prolific as the mainstream dual-cab ute alternatives.
The last of the Isuzu-built Holdens, early Colorado had a few teething problems that should be well-ironed out by now. The 3.0-litre diesel returns surprisingly good fuel economy even when loaded up, but the ride is harsh and truck-like. Isuzu doesn’t make many bad cars, and this lives up to their reputation for reliability. The manual’s first gear is tall, not great for the clutch when loaded up, but once in low range, the torque is plentiful and suits the gear ratios well.
Early Colorado, built by Isuzu, had a few short-comings that should have been fixed by now. The 3.0-litre diesel has a very good fuel economy even when loaded up, but it rides like a truck. The manual’s first gear is tall, not great for the clutch when loaded up, but once in low range, the torque is plentiful and suits gear ratios well. Overall, the Colorado and D-Max live up to Isuzu’s reputation for reliability.
Land Rover Defender
Years Made: 1999-2006
Engine: 2.5L five-cylinder turbo-diesel: 90kW @ 4200rpm, 300Nm @ 1950rpm
Gearbox: 5 speed Manual
It’s the friend you forgot to invite to your party, but halfway through the night, you’re sure as hell glad they came anyway. If honesty is your thing, the Defender 130 Dual-Cab is for you. The earliest 130s came to Oz with the 300Tdi engine, a frugal old-fashioned 2.5-litre turbo-diesel that plods a heavily loaded 130 along at whatever pace it feels like at the time. Luckily the TD5 had very slightly more poke and can be safely tuned for more again with an ECU remap. With an updated interior, including an air conditioner that keeps more than your knees cool, they are a big step up from earlier incarnations. Such elegant features as the hose-out interior, square body, high and upright seating position and arm out the window ergonomics give an air of practical pride. The fantastic supple long-travel coil-sprung suspension supports the biggest payload in the class of 1.4-tonne, GVM of 3.5 tonnes and GCM of seven tonnes; the 130 can actually tow a 3.5-tonne braked trailer and carry a full and significant load on the back, legally. A throwback to a different era, the 130 is the Clydesdale among the quarter horses of the market.
Land Rover Defender 130DC
The earliest 130s arrived in Australia with a 300Tdi engine, an old-fashioned 2.5-litre turbo-diesel that plods a heavily loaded 130 along at an unpredictable pace. The TD5 has a bit more grunt and can be tuned for even more power with an ECU remap. In addition to the revamped interior, the supple long-travel coil-sprung suspension supports the biggest payload in the class of 1.4 tonnes, GVM of 3.5 tonnes and GCM of 7 tonnes; the 130 can tow a 3.5-tonne braked trailer and carry a full load on the back.