No more choosing between comfort & capability here.
Our relationship with the ute is more than just a passing fad. We're one of the most important markets globally when it comes to the sales and development of pick-ups, with our hirsute environment and endless demands resulting in some of the most well-suited, all-rounded utes on the market making it to our shores, and anything that falls short of hitting all the required targets gets left in the dust.
The ute is more than a utilitarian tool to us. It’s as much a family chariot as it is a workhorse, born from the need to be able to work through the week and bring the family around on the weekends. Style, performance, comfort, technology… these are things that we were once willing to overlook in favour of things like towing and load capacity, flatbed size, and reliability. Now we expect our utes to handle both sides of the argument in equal measure, and be the consummate family car as well as a dependable tradie companion that won’t let you down no matter the abuse levelled at it.
With those things in mind, here’s the top 5 utes that perfectly balance work and play that you can currently get on the market.
“… the Navara offers great motorway manners and impressive refinement, and is best as a ute-in-a-suit rather than a workhorse. This is a car that you can permit to sway you solely with its looks, because when you look deeper, it’s still pretty good.”
The Nissan Navara is perhaps one of the better utes out there that can handle family and work duties without embarrassing itself in either guise. With a very car-like cabin, superbly comfortable front seats, multi-link rear suspension, and an easygoing powertrain, the Navara is a very polished machine, and may have you thinking you’re piloting an SUV rather than a ute most of the time.
Further enhancing the Navara’s appeal is its strong safety credentials. Top-flight ST-X models get 7-airbags, stability control, and a reverse camera, all of which contributed to the Navara’s 5-star ANCAP rating.
Its only real drawback is the use of materials through the cabin, that could have been a bit more forgiving perhaps. But then again, considering that this is one of the cheapest utes that we consider ‘plush’ enough for day-to-day family use, it’s pretty good value.
“… designed to be a more urban-friendly variant for the substantial number of Hilux customers that feel they need a ute to handle potholes and stuff. As such, the changes have all circled around offering a bold aesthetic and greater comfort & convenience features.”
The Toyota Hilux Rogue is part of a new set of special editions, developed just for Australia. Of the three editions, the Rogue is definitely our choice for maximum versatility, though we admit that its unique, brasher face may have had something to do with our choice too. The large hexagonal grille and upturned lower intake take inspiration from the North American Toyota Tacoma pickup, while there are black wing-mirror caps and snazzy black alloys to differentiate it from lesser variants.
The Hilux might be the best-selling ute in Australia, but in terms of outright versatility, we feel that it falls short of some of the other entrants on this list. With the Rogue costing a pretty penny and offering no revisions to the suspension setup, we expect this Hilux to be just as unsettled on the motorway without a heavy load in the bed (something that the Navara doesn’t really suffer from), and a bit noisy at cruising speeds.
Thankfully, the 2.8-litre turbodiesel mill is a rather refined partner, and a frugal one at that. The automatic gearbox is also a joy to use, with slick shifts that are impeccably timed. Toyota’s been a leading light in the ute segment for a long time, and you can feel their expertise here.
“In many ways, the combination of practicality, versatility, power, comfort, off-road ability, and even fuel economy make it the consummate vehicle for a lot of people, which is why more and more former car buyers are choosing a pick-up. It doesn’t hurt that the Ford Ranger is one of the best to drive in this class, being rather car-like in the way it behaves on the road, and makes for an easy transition.”
The Ford Ranger is perhaps one of our most favourite utes on the market, thanks to its wonderful blend of performance, reliability, and sheer fun-factor. If you think that a ute should drive like a car (or at least come close insofar as making you giggle), the Ford Ranger is perhaps your best bet.
Before someone asks why we didn’t include the Ranger Raptor, we’ll just say categorically that that’s not really a work-ute in any form now, is it?
In FX4 SE guise, you’ll find a sweet 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbodiesel under the bonnet, one of the most charismatic turbodiesels you’ll find in the segment. 147kW and 470Nm is nothing to be scoffed at, and while some may accuse this engine of being a little gruff, working it hard reveals a rather nice tone to the mill (if you’re into mechanical noises, that is).
The brash, macho looks of the Ranger are certainly a strong point, but the borderline-luxurious cabin is what can really surprise. It feels like an SUV to sit in, though quality falls short of our higher-ranked contenders. And with the advanced safety assistance available (like active cruise control, lane keeping aid, and blind spot monitoring), the Ranger is one of the smartest choices in the upper-crust ute segment for day-to-day family use.
“The Volkswagen Amarok may not have been designed with the global market in mind, but it’s strengths and attributes have won fans in every market it’s hit so far. And in a ute-dominated market like ours, the Amarok has gone on to become the choice of ute fans who want a more compliant and car-like driving experience.”
Ah, the Volkswagen Amarok V6. With its smooth, lusty V6 engine, typically-Germanic build quality, and that VW attention to NVH levels, the Amarok has long been the default choice for cashed-up tradies. Despite its success on our shores, the Amarok was never actually meant to be here, having been designed primarily to excel in the South American market. In fact, the reception to the Amarok was so warm, the executives in VW were caught by surprise, and quickly got to work getting the Amarok wherever it was wanted.
The rest is history.
Some critics have gone as far as to say that the Amarok “goes and turns like a sports car,” or gets close, but we disagree. During our testing of VW’s pickup, we found the driving experience to be stable, predictable, and confidence-inspiring, the sort of thing that’ll make you drive faster on a motorway (or down a gravel track) rather than make you think you’re a rally driver. And doing so will reveal one of the Amarok’s strongest suits, its well-judged and refined ride.
It’s been on the market for a while now, but the Amarok remains one of the most compelling arguments for utes vs. regular passenger cars, or even SUVs. In fact, this would have taken the crown as the best all-round ute on the market, if it weren’t for another German entrant…
“Quite a number of parties have levelled rather sharp comments at Mercedes-Benz’s new ute, the X-Class, on account of its outsourced 4-cylinder turbodiesel mills that it got as part of the platform sharing deal it did with Nissan to bring the X-Class to market. However, the ‘luxury ute’ has now received the heart of a Mercedes-Benz, in the form of a 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel.”
The Mercedes-Benz X350d hasn't actually arrived yet, but test drives in prototypes have revealed a mature, well-engineered powertrain, sitting beneath a vehicle we know to be refined, confident, and comfortable. We sneered when Mercedes-Benz kept underlining that the X-Class is “the Mercedes-Benz of utes,” but extended test drives with the first-ever luxury pick-up revealed that they weren’t short of the mark.
With its SUV-like kit-list, comfortable drive, cosseting cabin and extensive active- and passive-safety features, the X-Class is undoubtedly one of the most-rounded pickups money can buy, a character that will only be enhanced with the 190kW550Nm turbodiesel. Further, the X350d benefits from Mercedes-Benz’s 4MATIC permanent all-wheel drive system, which transfers the V6’s torque faithfully to the road, better than the 4-cylinder models fare with the part-time all-wheel drive system.
A ute this might be, but the kit list for the X350d is extensive. In Europe, top-flight Power models get things like LED headlights, a dash-top covered in leather, matte-black door trims, leather upholstery, and electrically-adjustable front seats. But it won’t be cheap though, with European prices pegged at the equivalent of $84,000.
We can’t wait for the Mercedes-Benz X350d to make Australian landfall in time for the 2019 model year.