Dual-Cab Ute Reviews

This trio boast the rough 'n tumble skills to get away from the black-top but customers are now demanding something akin to soft-roader tarmac manners - or better - from these utilitarian machines.

Can Toyota's HiLux fend off the all-new twin challenge of Ford's Ranger and Mazda's BT-50?

Multi-tasking is allegedly a female's domain and perhaps this is why cars are oft monikered with nametags from the fairer sex.

But the 21st century new car market in Australia has a growing number of multi-taskers - once-masculine machines that were previously tasked with towing the tools and weekend duties were limited to a dump run. Not any more.

The light-commercial brigade are now asked to carts the kids and tows the toys on the weekend, without depriving the family of passenger-car features and some small measure of comfort.

Toyota is - surprise, surprise - the market leader and HiLux has just had some rhinoplasty accompanied by a re-fit of features.

A host of newcomers have taken a swipe at the market leader but have failed to significantly erode its sales volumes - particularly its bread-and-butter fleet sales - but the Ranger/BT-50 cousins from Ford and

Mazda are the latest ute releases most likely to attract significant sales.

This trio boast the rough 'n tumble skills to get away from the black-top but customers are now demanding something akin to soft-roader tarmac manners - or better - from these utilitarian machines.

Test Drivers

We've gone a little off-beat when it comes to guest test drivers.

Cara Jenkin is National CareerOne editor but has also moonlighted as a car-tester for Carsguide.

A V8 Supercar fan with one Red Eye, she's sampled a broad cross section of passenger and light-commercial vehicles in the course of writing Girl Torque stories foraif The Advertiser Carsguideaifin Adelaide.

When it comes to verdicts, our second test driver has delivered plenty - former prosecutor and judge (as well as the author's father) Brian Martin has driven and owned more cars than he cares to recall.

Everything from an old Simca (you'll have to Google it like I did) to early Range Rovers, big square Volvos, Subaru 4WDs to Lexus SUVs and Mercedes-Benz sedans has passed through the Martin garage.

Value

This trio are the near-top-spec models currently available - Ford will bring a Wildtrak model in above the XLT - and all dwell in the $50,000 bracket.

The XLT Ranger in auto form is $55,390, the Mazda BT-50 XTR is priced from $50,810 and the HiLux SR5 dual-cab sits at $53,490 - the Ford and the Mazda have both gone up (but with an expanded features list) and Toyota has come down $2200.

Standard fare within all three includes climate control (Toyota is single-zone, the others are dual), MP3 audio with USB (the Ranger's is the most conveniently placed, in the centre console) and Bluetooth for phone and music, wheel-mounted controls for cruise, phone and audio, 17in alloys and trip computers are on all three, HiLux and Ranger both get automatic headlights but none of them have reach-adjustable steering - something less forgivable on the Ford and Mazda given the more recent clean-sheet design .

The Ford misses out on satnav that appears in the other two, with the HiLux's a larger touchscreen set-up.

Technology

The Ford and Mazda both run the 3.2-litre in-line 147kW/470Nm common-rail direct-injection five-cylinder and six-speed auto combination, while the HiLux has held onto the four-cylinder three-litre turbodiesel producing 126kW and 343Nm, teamed with a four-speed automatic.

It misses out on grunt but the HiLux driveline has been honed over time and doesn't feel as lacking as the numbers suggest.

The HiLux also retains the transfer case lever while the kissing-cousins have a rotary knob for selecting 4WD, as well as a push-button rear diff lock.

The front suspension across the triplets here are equipped with double-wishbone front ends, which are all well planted and don't jump around much - the Mazda's nose approaches enthusiastic on turn-in.

But don't look at the rear-end for any technological advances with suspension - leaf springs that have heritage dating back to the old west are still there, tweaked to offer better ride quality.