Seasoned motoring pundits have lost a lot of sleep over the years trying to figure out why utes have become so popular. It was only a decade ago when a ute’s main brief was to lug tradies and their gear to worksites or to tow a trailer.
While those functions remain, five-star ANCAP safety ratings, more standard features and better overall presentation have smoothed out the rough edges. Improved automatic transmissions with a greater number of ratios have aided driveability, and few other vehicles can tow up to 3500kg.
The basic packaging of these two big sellers remains unchanged, with little difference between tray size, towing capacity or payload. However, even with more and more ‘Luxo’ dual-cab utes on our roads, the Toyota HiLux Rogue and Ford Ranger Wildtrak are still among the best examples around.
When Toyota launched its HiLux ute in the late ’60s, there’s no way the brand could have predicted using it to own the Australian sales charts month after month in 2019.
Then again, I suppose a few years ago it would have been a laughable idea that dual-cabs rather than SUVs would have been snapping up the leagues of driveway spots once occupied by Falcons and Commodores.
While Toyota has great ground clearance, axle articulation is poor versus the Ford. And while it has a locking rear differential, the lack of A-Trac, similar off-road-oriented aids, or a locking front differential means it will get stuck much more easily. It is embarrassing that the Ranger had to literally drag its competitor’s ass out of major trouble.
But here we are. Toyota was on to more than just a winner, with the HiLux – the only production vehicle to have reached both of the earth’s poles – now synonymous with reliability and versatility.
The ute segment is one of the most hotly contested in Australia, though, so was the HiLux’s most recent rolling update and expanded range enough to keep it front of mind for Australia’s buyers? We took the popular SR5 4×4 spec for a weekly test and ran our eye over the rest of the range to find out.
The Ford Ranger Wildtrak has been a runaway success for the brand. Plenty of people have bought them, modified them, taken them off-road and put them to task in the PX generation of Ranger.
Ford knows trucks, and even its Asian offspring, the Ranger, is truly impressive. The last update saw it with a raft of improvements: electric power steering, more safety features, improved in-car electronics, and a refined engine that is less noisy and harsh compared with the pre-facelift version.
The big, bad Wildtrak variant has the most jaw-dropping specs: biggest engine and exterior dimensions, highest-rated fording depth of 800mm, and largest towing and pickup-bed payload capacities. It also has the most in terms of electronic safety aids such as blind-spot monitoring, forward-collision avoidance, lane-departure warning, ABS-EBD, and traction and stability controls. The only thing that isn’t top-notch is ground clearance at 237mm, which is 42mm less than the corresponding figure for the Hilux.
Now, to see out the 2019 model range, Ford has added a new version above the standard Wildtrak. It’s the Ford Ranger Wildtrak X, and the ‘X’ stands for ‘extra’ because you get a bit more gear for a touch more money.
We’ll get to all the details soon, and for this test, we didn’t head off the beaten track – our aim here was to see how the Wildtrak X copes in daily driving, as well as how it handles hard work.
Toyota HiLux vs. Ford Ranger
Toyota HiLux: The HiLux isn’t pretty. It’s tough, almost industrial looking.
The 2020 model year brought with it a mild aesthetic nip and tuck for the exterior that included a new grille full of black gloss plastics.
I don’t like it. It looks all clunky now, and I found the previous truck with its thin chrome grille was a little more resolved. My opinion aside, the HiLux looks undeniably ready for action, with its raised bumpers putting its approach and departure credentials on full show.
The extra chrome on the SR5 in its grille, door handles, bumpers, flashy 18-inch alloys, and sports bar really lift it above the rest of the HiLux range to give it that ‘top-spec’ look from a distance.
As mild as those tweaks seem, it’s part of what’s drawing customers to such highly-specified trucks.
The HiLux forgoes the American-truck look being popularised by its main rival, the Ranger, instead of leaning into its cropped dimensions that have helped it lead the segment for so long in Australia.
The inside is unchanged from the pre-MY20 model, with a great many hard plastic surfaces and a little design going into the swept dashboard.
Unlike the Amarok or Ranger Wildtrak, though, the SR5 isn’t so plush you’d feel bad sullying it with work equipment.
The wheel feels great underhand, and the dash has a traditional layout that will please most, but there are a few annoyances here.
The first is that my knee would smack into the housing for the 4×4 transfer switch, and the second is that there’s no dial for volume control on tech.
The system itself is clunky, with old, difficult-to-navigate menus and a lack of the latest phone connectivity tech. Don’t expect that to change any time soon, either. The HiLux’s media suite is too outdated to receive the connectivity updates on the way for much of Toyota’s refreshed passenger car range.
Aside from some poorly placed hard plastics and the jiggly suspension explored elsewhere in this review, the leather seats and padded trim for the driver on the door cards make the cabin a decent place to be for long journeys.
Ford Ranger: You might be considering the Wildtrak X purely on aesthetic appeal – and that’s understanding. It has a few new design highlights compared with the non-X model, and most of them add function as well.
It scores an array of blacked-out components, such as new 18-inch wheels (still wrapped in the same Bridgestone Dueler H/T rubber), wheel-arch flares (allowing for a more aggressive wheel/tyre setup), plus there’s a black nudge bar with LED light bar, and there’s a genuine Ford snorkel, too.
Combined, it makes the Wildtrak X look like a lot of those non-X models you’ve seen, where owners have spent thousands on extras. The rest of the destine is unchanged for the 19.75 model year variant we had, but there are subtle updates coming for the 2020 model range.
Toyota HiLux: Toyota knows its target audience for the HiLux and has provided them with massive cupholders all around the front seats for gigantic bottles, meat pies and sausage rolls (and wallets, and phones).
There are a few extra spaces around, a small trench under the air-conditioning controls, a double glove box set up on the passenger’s side and a deep centre console box for everything else.
The back seat is decent on space, but not stellar. My 182cm frame can fit behind my own driving position with only a little airspace for my knees. A very welcome addition for the Australian summer at the SR5 grade is the presence of air vents on the back of the centre console stack.
The rear seat bases are on a 60/40 split and can be swung up to turn the rear portion of the cab into a more practical storage area.
The SR5’s tray won’t fit a standard Australian pallet, although few utes do. The dimensions come in at 1550mm long, and 1520mm wide (although this crops down to 1110mm between the wheel arches).
Toyota notes that the steel sports bar is not to be used for securing loads, leaving that task to four tie-down points around the edges of the tub. Those wanting to use the tray for more than recreational purposes will probably be saying goodbye to the sports bar before long.
In high-riding 4×4 trim, the HiLux has a payload of 955kg and a towing capacity of 750kg unbraked and 3200kg braked.
Those are just the figures stated by Toyota on paper, for a more in-depth look at the HiLux’s capacities, check out Mark Oastler’s TradieGuide review.
Ford Ranger: Like every dual-cab Ranger, the Wildtrak X is a good size inside. There’s enough space to fit three adults across the back and therefore, five adults in the cabin—no rear air vents, though, which can result in a stuffy back seat on hot days.
You get cup holders upfront and in the rear, and bottle holders in all four doors. You can raise the seat base for extra storage space if there’s not enough room in the tub.
Upfront, there’s a good amount of space and storage, and the media system is simple to use. And while we haven’t raised this in the past, the number of warning gongs and danger dings might annoy you. Like, I know the door is open, I just opened it. Sheesh!
Now, the tub.
It’s 1549mm long, 1560mm wide and 1139mm between the wheel arches, which means it’s too narrow for an Aussie pallet to fit (1165mm minimum). The depth of the tub is 511mm, but not in the Wildtrak models, because of the roller cover housing at the far end of the tub just about halves that, eating into usable space.
It’s great that you get the hardtop roller cover, and that there’s a tub liner, too: however, the four tie-down hooks in the corners of the tub makes it difficult to strap down a load.
Engine & trans
The HiLux continues with its well-regarded 2.8-litre turbo-diesel engine in the SR5. Outputs are nominal for the segment, at 130kW/450Nm.
There’s nothing flashy about it. Not like the Ranger’s engines (which will get you more power from either an extra cylinder, or an extra turbo), or the Navara (extra turbo), or the D-Max (it’s literally a truck engine).
But the HiLux’s engine seems to pull it along at a fair pace for recreational duties. In terms of towing, a recent tow comparison had the HiLux falling behind the Ranger in terms of available torque, although ahead of the Mercedes-Benz X-Class which shares its powertrain with the Nissan Navara.
The six-speed auto was super compliant on my freeway and unsealed road tests and has performed the same way on previous comparison tests. The SR5 has a low-range transfer case with a rear differential lock as part of its drivetrain arsenal.
This truck’s ‘unbreakable’ visage was shaken lately with recent diesel particulate filter (DPF) issues. However, Toyota claims those days are behind it with the introduction of a manual burn-off switch.
Ford Ranger: Under the bonnet of the Wildtrak X we drove is a 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbo-diesel engine producing 147kW of power (at 3000rpm) and 470Nm of torque (from 1750-2000rpm). It has a six-speed automatic transmission in this spec, and there is no manual option for the Wildtrak X. It has selectable four-wheel drive with a low-range transfer case (2H, 4H and 4L gearing), and an electronic locking rear diff.
The other engine option for the Wildtrak X is the 2.0-litre Bi-turbo four-cylinder engine producing 157kW of power (at 3750rpm) and 500Nm of torque (1750-2000rpm). That’s class-leading levels of grunt from a four-cylinder engine. It runs a 10-speed automatic transmission and four-wheel drive.
The Ranger Wildtrak X has a towing capacity of 750kg for an un-braked trailer, and 3500kg for a braked trailer.
The kerb weight of the Ranger Wildtrak X 3.2L is 2287kg. It has a gross vehicle mass (GVM) of 3200kg, and a gross combination mass (GCM) of 6000kg.
Toyota HiLux: My freeway/unsealed/daily grind test week produced a fuel consumption figure of 10.1L/100km. That’s 1.6L/100km more than its official claimed/combined figure of 8.5L/100km.
Given the amount of freeway driving on our test, we think you’d be hard-pressed to get below 9.0L/100km on any given day.
4×4 HiLuxes are diesel only and have an 80-litre tank.
Ford Ranger: Fuel consumption for the Ranger Wildtrak X 3.2L model is claimed at 8.9 litres per 100 kilometres, and it has an 80-litre fuel tank capacity. There is no long-range fuel tank.
Our test drive saw a real-world return of 11.1L/100km across a mix of driving including urban, highway and back-road, as well as laden and unladen.
Toyota HiLux: On the road, the HiLux backs its tough look with a tough feel. Visibility is great from the driver’s seat, and with the range of adjustability in the seat and wheel, it is fairly easy to find a driving position suited to most.
The ride is stiff to a fault on the road when unladen though, and after being on the road for three or so hours, you’ll be well and truly sick of its ladder-chassis jiggle. It’s particularly bad around the rear where those leaf springs will transmit bumps and jolts to the passengers with impunity.
The HiLux has firm but not unduly stiff steering. There’s plenty of feedback from the front wheels, so it’s easy to feel out where they are in lower-speed off-road environments, too.
Lighter, more car-like steering can be had in the Ranger or Amarok, which benefit in the ease of maneuvering tight city environments, although the compromise is less feedback.
At least the HiLux’s steering isn’t as heavy as the Triton which can, at times, be genuinely unpleasant.
The 2.8-litre turbo-diesel chugs along about mid-way through the segment in terms of outputs, and it feels it behind the wheel. Refinement is about what you’d expect. Not as quiet as the Amarok or Ranger, but also not as industrial as the D-Max.
The SR5 feels at home the moment you take it off the tarmac and onto an unsealed surface. The suspension feels much better here, chugging over bumps, rocks and clambering over obstacles with relative ease.
At higher speeds, those stiff rear springs can have the rear fishtailing around over corrugated surfaces, although this can be reined in a little by driving in 4H.
While my test was limited to a few unsealed trails in regional NSW, the more hardcore off-road test segment in our six-ute comparison test (which featured this exact truck) had the SR5 come first place over its direct rivals.
Make sure to read it for more on the HiLux’s off-road performance.
As it is, the SR5 is a capable dual-purpose truck on and off the road, although unlike some rivals it prioritises ability over day-to-day comfort.
Ford Ranger: We like the Ford Ranger as a daily driver. It’s easy to see why so many people buy Ford Ranger dual-cab four-wheel drives, even if they don’t need the payload or the towing capacity. It’s the utility that appeals with this utility.
Without weight in the back, it rides smoothly enough, and around town, you won’t complain about back pain or sore kidneys when you crunch over speed humps. It’s composed and refined, so much so that it’s a better ute to drive without a load than with weight in the back, and there aren’t many that can claim that accolade.
The steering makes it easy to park, and it’s nice to steer in all sorts of situations. If you happen to be on the tools all day, you’ll be happy not to have to wrestle the wheel on your way home.
Acceleration is good, if not blindingly quite, and the transmission does what it should.
Toyota HiLux: The 2020 HiLux updates brought with them a significant increase in standard safety gear.
Active items that makeup Toyota’s ‘Safety Sense’ suite include auto emergency braking (AEB – with pedestrian and cyclist detection), lane departure warning (LDW), road sign assist (lets you know what the speed limit is), and active cruise control. That last one is more than welcome for long freeway trips.
Notably absent are blind-spot monitoring (BSM), rear cross-traffic alert (RCTA), and driver attention alert (DAA).
On the side of expected safety refinements, the HiLux has seven airbags, stability, brake and traction controls, a reversing camera and hill start assist.
There are two ISOFIX child-seat mounting points on the outer two rear seats and three top-tether points.
This HiLux (from July 2019 onwards) has a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating.
There are many utes on the market that still do not have the level of safety refinement now offered by the HiLux, and this resonates down through its range.
Ford Ranger: The Ford Ranger Wildtrak – as with the rest of the Ranger line-up – is in the mix for the best in the business for ute safety specs.
Standard gear on all Ranger models is auto emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection as well as lane-keeping assist, driver attention alert, traffic sign recognition and automated high-beam lights. The AEB system works at city and highway speeds, and adaptive cruise control is included, too. There is no blind-spot monitoring or rear cross-traffic alert, however.
The Ranger retained its five-star ANCAP crash test rating from 2015 when the standards were considerably laxer. It does, however, have six airbags (dual front, front side and full-length curtain), a reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors and a semi-autonomous parking system.
It comes with dual ISOFIX child seat anchor points and two top-tether restraints for baby seats.
Price and features
Toyota HiLux: To say the HiLux range is “expansive” is an understatement of epic proportions. There is a HiLux to suit almost any ute buyer – whether it’s for a fleet of stripped-down workhorses or a pre-packaged bells-and-whistles recreational off-roader.
This is a cornerstone of the truck’s success, for sure, but results in a range of 36 HiLux variations which can be overwhelming for consumers.
To break it down, there are now six HiLux trim levels consisting of (in price-ascending order): Workmate, SR, SR5, Rogue, Rugged, and Rugged X.
The entry-level Workmate has the most complicated range, as it is the only HiLux still available with either 2.7-litre petrol or 2.8-litre diesel. It can also be had with either a six-speed manual or six-speed auto with the option of 4×4.
To complicate things further, it can be ordered with a body-matching tray, or as a cab-chassis.
The Workmate range alone stretches from $21,865 through to $46,865. It manages to undercut primary entry-level rival versions of the Mitsubishi Triton, Ford Ranger and Isuzu D-Max, although the latter two come with diesel powertrains as standard.
Those looking for further bargains will have to venture into the relatively murky waters of Chinese alternatives.
Importantly, the 2020 HiLux update brought auto emergency braking (AEB), active cruise control, and lane departure warning (LDW) to all variants, a significant addition to entry-level versions.
Stepping up to the SR ($40,285 – $50,740) offers the choice of extra- or dual-cab body styles in 2.8-litre diesel automatic high-rider only and adds an improved list of equipment.
To save you from reading a short essay, we won’t outline the spec of every HiLux grade in this review, but our test car is the most popular SR5 variant, which is available only as a 4×4 hi-riding automatic in dual-cab form.
Standard equipment on this truck is a 7.0-inch multimedia touchscreen with built-in nav (but not with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto yet), 18-inch alloy wheels, a colour display screen in the dash, body matching bumpers, a rear chrome step bumper, LED auto-levelling headlights, LED DRLs, privacy glass, side-steps, steel sports bar, cloth seat trim, carpeted floors (as opposed to vinyl), an air-conditioned console box, 220-volt accessory socket, single-zone climate control with rear air vents, and all-weather floor mats.
Our SR5 was fitted with the ‘Premium Interior Package’ which adds hardy leather interior trim with heated front seats and a power-adjustable driver’s seat ($2000), and the fetching ‘Olympia Red’ colour ($600).
On the technical front, the SR5 has disc brakes at the front, drum brakes at the rear, “heavy duty” suspension consisting of double wishbones at the front and leaf springs at the back, as well as a tow pack and rear locking differential as standard.
It has a low-range transfer case, downhill accelerator control, hill start assist, and underbody protection to round out its off-roading gear. We’ll look at capacities and dimensions later in this review.
The total cost (MSRP) of our truck came to $59,840 with the options fitted. A cool sixty thousand is significantly more expensive than the similarly-equipped Mitsubishi Triton GLX Plus ($43,490), or Nissan Navara ST-X ($55,250), and for the same money, you can have the marginally better equipped Ford Ranger Wildtrak ($56,340) with the older 3.2-litre five-cylinder engine.
It’s a nice bit of kit, sure, plus you’re buying into the HiLux badge and the “rugged” reputation that goes with it, but it’s worth at least cross-shopping its rivals in such a competitive market.
Keep in mind that you’ll need to fork out extra for a tub-liner, as the SR5 doesn’t come with one.
Ford Ranger: The Ford Ranger Wildtrak X starts at $65,290 plus on-road costs for the 3.2-litre turbo-diesel five-cylinder model we drove, while the more powerful and more refined 2.0-litre Bi-turbo four-cylinder engine is $1500 more ($66,790).
That makes it a $2000 jump over the standard Wildtrak, but according to Ford, you’re getting $6000 worth of extra value.
The Wildtrak X’s additional styling gear builds upon the already impressive list of included equipment on the regular Wildtrak.
Included on this grade are 18-inch alloy wheels, LED daytime running lights, HID headlights, an LED light bar as well as all the Wildtrak X body additions (see the Design section for more detail), an integrated tow bar and wiring harness, a tub liner, a 12-volt outlet in the tub, hard roller top and the model-specific interior with part-leather trim and a dark headlining.
There’s also an 8.0-inch touchscreen media system with sat-nav, DAB digital radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming and a six-speaker sound system with a CD player. There are two USB ports, a 12-volt charger in the back seat and a 230-volt PowerPoint, too.
The front seats are heated, and the driver’s seat has an electric adjustment, there are digital displays in front of the driver showing navigation and driving data (including a digital speedometer, which many utes still miss out on).
Toyota HiLux: On the face of it, the HiLux looks promising. Strong dealer network, capped price servicing, and at long last, a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty was introduced by the brand early in 2019.
Delving into the details a little proves the HiLux to be a bit frustrating, however. Although services are capped at an incredibly cheap-sounding $240, you’ll have to visit twice (maybe even three times) a year with intervals set at six months/10,000km.
Affordable, sure. Annoyingly frequent nonetheless.
Ford Ranger: Ford backs all of its models with a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty plan, which is on par with the rest of the mainstream ute market but behind the likes of the Triton (promotional seven-year warranty), SsangYong Musso (permanent seven-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty), and Isuzu D-Max (six-year/150,000km).
Capped price servicing intervals are set every 12 months/15,000km. The duration of the service plan is for the life of the vehicle, too, which is good for peace of mind if you plan to hang on to your car for a long time.
Ford is currently running a promotion whereby the first four years/60,000km of maintenance is capped at $299 per visit. That’s competitive, but costs rise as you get beyond the promo period.
Concerned about Ford Ranger problems? Check out our Ford Ranger problems page for issues, complaints, recalls or anything else regarding reliability. We had an issue of our own, with the car convinced it was towing a trailer the whole time we had it, which disabled the self-parking system and the rear parking sensors, too.
Verdict: Which is best, the Toyota HiLux or Ford Ranger?
Comparing the specs and reviews for both the Ford Ranger ute and the Toyota HiLux pick-up, the Ranger just manages to edge it out. Which is surprising because it seems Australian buyers still prefer the HiLux given a choice.
The HiLux has a tough as old boots image associated with it, plus generally favourable reports on reliability. It is arguably slightly more sure-footed off-road, but less of an all-rounder. It isn’t as fuel-efficient, it isn’t as powerful, and Rangers come with somewhat better interior features and gadgets.
A HiLux is a bit like the Great White Shark, legendary at what it does and pretty much the de facto king of the marine food chain (or ute sales charts). But the Ranger is like a Killer Whale, known to hunt Great Whites, and it is now closing in on a slightly floundering rival.
As drivers we’re largely city-centric, so we tend to forget that these utes are based on a rugged chassis designed to go off-road, where a dusty or muddy ‘goat track’ is more common than a strip of bitumen. These are driving situations that many of us will never encounter.
In those scenarios, the Ranger Wildtrak and HiLux Rogue are really only limited by the experience of the driver and, in the right hands, both will navigate just about any situation and come out the other side intact.
Dual cab utes have sat in a market segment where vehicles barely change from one year to the next. The recent upgrades to the Ranger and increased variant line-up for the HiLux shouldn’t come as much of a surprise as they highlight how seriously the manufacturers value the mantle of being number one.
While the HiLux takes that title, the Ranger wins out in driveability and overall user-friendliness. With the competition offering up more sophisticated models every year, how long the HiLux continues to sit up top is anyone’s guess.