Toyota Hilux TRD v Ford Ranger Wildtrak v Holden Colorado Z71 v Volkswagen Amarok V6: video Ute comparison

So what do these four utes have in common? The luxury of leather for one, plus a heap of other kit and price tags around $60K.

Three of them sit at the top of their respective model ranges, and the fourth, the V6 Highline, is near the top of the Amarok range. Hence, they are all ‘flash’ utes, but also very different in other ways.

The Ranger Wildtrak and Hilux TRD head enormously popular model ranges, the others not so, especially the modestly selling Amarok.

Toyota Hilux TRD Ford Ranger Wildtrak Holden Colorado Z71 Volkswagen Amarok V6 side.jpgThen there are the mechanical differences: four-, five- and six-cylinder engines with capacities from 2.8 to 3.2 litres and outputs from 130kW to 180kW; six and eight-speed automatics; part-time and full-time 4x4; bigger and smaller cabins; and varying tow- and load-carrying capacities.

And while all are effectively global designs, one hails from Japan, one from Germany and two from essentially American car companies (even if the Ranger’s design was based here in Australia and the Colorado’s in Brazil). Not surprisingly they are also very different to drive, but do they all justify their lofty price tags? Let’s find out.

TOYOTA HILUX TRD

TRD stands for Toyota Racing Development, but there are no racing or performance-enhancing parts on this TRD as found on the TRD version of the previous-generation Hilux sold in 2008/09.

Toyota Hilux TRD.jpgThis TRD does have new hardware, but that amounts to just the bash plate – in racing red – and bespoke black wheels. The rest is all style parts, also generally in black, but the overall result is a very distinctive look for what is effectively an SR5+.

POWERTRAIN AND PERFORMANCE

The TRD is powered by the now familiar 1GD 2.8-litre four-cylinder diesel in standard tune. This engine replaced the previous 3.0-litre four in the Prado before becoming the mainstream engine in this generation Hilux and the only engine in the Hilux-based Fortuner wagon. GD does, after all, stand for Global Diesel.

Despite the smaller capacity and a much lower compression ratio for quieter, smoother and cleaner running (less NOx), the 2.8-litre edges the 3.0-litre on power (130kW vs 126kW) and manages a good deal more torque, 450Nm as against the 360Nm the 3.0-litre had in Hilux tune.

Toyota Hilux TRD engineAll this plays out as you expect. The 2.8-litre is quiet, refined and nicely flexible from low revs, but also more than happy to rev when asked; although, at pedal-to-the-metal, it doesn’t go noticeably harder than the previous generation’s 3.0-litre.

Nor is it helped in this regard by the new six-speed gearbox that replaced the previous five-speed. The new ’box merely adds an extra overdrive ratio rather than tightening up the ratio spread. In fact, fifth is now taller than it was in the five-speed and there’s still sixth on top of that.

Toyota Hilux TRD wheel.jpgNo doubt all this is done in the pursuit of fuel economy, but in many driving situations, especially at legal highway speeds on undulating country roads, sixth is too tall to hold and sees the gearbox swapping between fifth and sixth.

At least the shift quality of this new six-speeder is slicker than the old five-speed and generally on par with the six-speeders used in the Ranger and Colorado.

ON-ROAD RIDE AND HANDLING

In this company the TRD feels small and in some ways more nimble. In all of the key measures there’s less of it – smaller cabin, less weight, a narrower track and a shorter wheelbase – all of which often make it easier to drive and manoeuvre.

Still, for all that, the TRD feels quite ‘planted’ or confident on the road at all times and rides a little more sharply at the rear when unladen. The on-road dynamics are still good, especially compared to the last generation Hilux, but others are better in this company.

Toyota Hilux TRD Ford Ranger Wildtrak Holden Colorado Z71 Volkswagen Amarok V6  rear.jpgIn keeping with the refined nature of the powertrain, the road and running noise abatement is better than the Ranger and Colorado and, in some ways, as good as the very polished VW.

OFF-ROAD

The Toyota’s more compact dimensions can also help off-road, but the main weapons it brings to the contest here are more than 50cm of rear-wheel travel, a class-leading figure and an area of design that saw a lot of attention in the development of this generation Hilux.

Throw in a very effective off-road-tuned traction-control system, generous ground clearance and good driver’s visibility, and the Hilux is as good as it gets in this company when off-road.

Toyota Hilux TRD tray.jpgIt could be even better if it wasn’t for the fact that engaging the rear locker automatically cancels the electronic traction control on both axles and not just the rear axle. All of which means the rear locker’s benefit is diluted and in some circumstances may not be of any benefit at all.

The traction control on the front axle stays active when the rear locker is engaged for both the Ranger and the Amarok.

CABIN, ACCOMMODATION AND SAFETY

Alone in this company, the TRD has the convenience and luxury of smart-key entry and push-button start. Along with the Amarok, it also has the luxury of tilt-and-reach steering wheel adjustment, a feature missing from the Ranger and Colorado.

Being based on the SR5+ also means leather and electric seat adjust for the driver, but no heated seats as per the other three – not even as an option.

Toyota Hilux TRD interior.jpgAs with all Hilux dual cabs, the TRD’s cabin offers five-star safety thanks in part to seven airbags, and it has a quality fit and finish that looks a class up from both the Ranger and Colorado. It’s more car-like than the other three, due in part to the large love-it-or-leave-it tablet-style touchscreen that dominates the dash.

Of the four utes here, it’s also the smallest cabin, feeling narrower up front and definitely tighter for three adults across the back seat.

PRACTICALITIES AND TOWING

The TRD’s standard towbar, tub liner and soft tonneau help build on the Hilux’s inherent practicality. If you want more kit there’s an extensive range of other factory accessories – the biggest ever for a Hilux, and aftermarket support is second to none.

The TRD’s 265/60 R18s are also now a common tyre size, which means a decent choice of options to replace the standard ‘highway’ tyres. Being able to fit 17s means an even wider choice of tyres more suited to off-road use.

Toyota Hilux TRD mud flaps.jpgAs with all 2.8-litre diesel automatic Hilux models, the TRD can legally tow up to 3200kg, which is 300kg short of the Ranger and Colorado but more than the Amarok. If you wish to legally tow 3500kg you’ll need a manual TRD.

In last year’s ute tow test we put 2800kg behind a Hilux automatic and it did it without fuss. Likewise, it carried its maximum payload without a problem.

WHAT YOU GET

Signature features include a prominent red skid, bespoke 18s, TRD grille, mudguard flares, lower bumper, sports bar and other details, all in black. It features TRD floormats, auto shifter and leather, too. A towbar, tub liner and soft tonneau are also part of the package.

Toyota Hilux TRD headlights.jpgLike the SR5 it has keyless entry, climate control, sat-nav, driver’s seat-height adjustment, fog lights, DRLs and a rear locker. The TRD also comes with seven airbags, a reversing camera, tilt-and-reach steering-wheel adjustment, cruise control and trailer-sway control.

TOYOTA HILUX TRD SPECS:
ENGINE: 2.8-litre 4-cyl turbo-diesel
MAX POWER: 130kW at 3400rpm
MAX TORQUE: 450Nm at 1600-2400rpm
GEARBOX: Six-speed automatic
4X4 SYSTEM: Dual-range part-time
CRAWL RATIO: 36.1:1
CONSTRUCTION: Separate-chassis
FRONT SUSPENSION: Independent/coil springs
REAR SUSPENSION: Live axle/leaf springs
KERB WEIGHT: 2075kg
GVM: 3050kg
PAYLOAD: 975kg
TOWING CAPACITY: 3200kg
TOWBALL DOWNLOAD (MAX): 320kg
GCM: 5650kg
FUEL TANK CAPACITY: 80 litres
ADR FUEL CLAIM: 8.5 litres/100km
TEST FUEL USE: 11.7 litres/100km
TOURING RANGE: 634km**
*With standard towbar.

Prices
SR $48,490
SR5 $56,390
SR5+ $57,990
TRD White $60,990
TRD Black $61,540

FORD RANGER WILDTRAK

The Ranger is Ford’s runaway success story. It’s currently Australia’s most popular 4x4, ending Hilux’s 12-year reign as the 4x4 sales champion. For Ford, the Ranger’s success is even better illustrated by how it sells against other Ford models.

Ford Ranger Wildtrak headlights.jpgTo the end of June 2017 Ford sold 21,638 Rangers, including 3075 4x2 models. Ford’s next-best seller was the Mustang with 5048 sales, followed by the Focus with 3243 sales, and it’s all downhill after that.

What makes the Ranger so popular? Well, a few things, starting with its engine.

POWERTRAIN AND PERFORMANCE

Like most Rangers, the Wildtrak is powered by a 3.2-litre five-cylinder diesel; although, there is a 2.2-litre four-cylinder diesel available in base-grade models. This five-cylinder engine does much to define the character of the Ranger and is certainly the key behind most of the things it does well.

This is a big, low-revving engine; the biggest here despite having less cylinders than the Amarok, and the one least willing to rev. Not that it needs to rev to get the job done, as it’s so strong from idle and in the mid-range.

Ford Ranger Wildtrak engineIt also has a unique feel and sound, completely different from the two fours (which are also different from each other) and the Amarok’s V6. With an uneven number of cylinders you may think it wouldn’t be a smooth-running engine, but that’s far from the case. Aside from an initial lumpiness at idle it feels as smooth, if not smoother, than the two fours, which can be a bit buzzy in comparison at higher engine speeds.

Ford Ranger Wildtrak in water.jpgThe Ranger’s engine is backed by an agreeable six-speed ZF gearbox that generally does all you want and nothing you don’t want. The engine’s solid low-rpm torque and not overly tall final-drive gearing also means it holds sixth at touring speeds without question on undulating roads, and it even hangs on to the taller gears well in the hilly stuff.

If there’s one thing not to like about the Ranger’s powertrain it’s that it consistently uses around 10 per cent more fuel than most competitor utes; although, that may be more due to the fact the Ranger, along with the BT-50, is bigger and heavier than most of the opposition.

ON-ROAD RIDE AND HANDLING

The ranger’s electric power steering (EPS) makes light work of manoeuvring what is the longest and one of the heaviest vehicles here, and it’s especially welcome in tight parking situations. Once under way, however, the Ranger’s steering firms up nicely to provide plenty of feel and feedback at open-road speeds.

Ford Ranger Wildtrak rear.jpgNicely sorted suspension, too, which helps give the Wildtrak an agreeable ride – even unladen – and reassuring stability on bumpy roads, something no doubt helped by the extra-long wheelbase. Where the Wildtrak is more than 3.2 metres, all the others are less than 3.1 metres.

OFF-ROAD

The Wildtrak’s extra-light low-speed steering also helps in tight off-road situations and makes lock-to-lock wheel twirling a breeze. Still, the Wildtrak is a long ute in this company, so tight switchback trails aren’t its forte. Better vision from the driver’s seat would be a bonus, especially for shorter drivers.

Ford Ranger Wildtrak 4X4ing.jpgOtherwise, the Wildtrak gets the job done off-road with little or no fuss. First up, the chassis provides substantial wheel travel at both ends and there’s also decent clearance; although, the factory-fit towball reduces the departure angle more than you’d like.

As with all Ranger dual cabs, the Wildtrak comes with a rear locker that, when it’s engaged by the driver, keeps the traction control active on the front axle, an advantage it holds over the TRD. The Wildtrak also claims the deepest fording depth, its 800mm being 100mm more than the Hilux, 200mm more than the Colorado and a significant 300mm more than the Amarok.

CABIN, ACCOMMODATION AND SAFETY

As expected, the Wildtrak’s cabin speaks luxury with its leather-trimmed and heated seats. It also doesn’t want for much kit (see What You Get), though there’s no reach adjustment for the steering wheel, keyless entry or push-button start – which is quite annoying given the price point of these dual cabs.

Ford Ranger Wildtrak interior.jpgStill, that doesn’t stop the driver getting comfortable, and the extra-long cabin means a tall passenger can sit behind a tall driver in the Wildtrak and have more legroom than with any of the other utes here. There’s good shoulder room for three passengers across the back seat; although, the Amarok is still a tad better in this regard. Five-star safety, too.

PRACTICALITIES AND TOWING

If you want your flash ute to do a little hard work, then the Wildtrak certainly won’t shirk the task. Not only does it have a class-leading tow and payload rating, it also delivers on the promise, as we found out in a recent max load and tow test.

Ford Ranger Wildtrak tailights.jpgThe Ranger has the advantage of a roller-style metal tonneau, which offers lock-up stowage, something the others can’t match. The Wildtrak comes with a towbar as standard and will also take the 17s off the lower spec models for a wider choice of off-road rubber.

WHAT YOU GET

The Wildtrak is the premium Ranger model and adds to the volume-selling XLT a reversing camera, front parking sensors, leather, heated front seats, power-adjust for the driver’s seat, 18-inch alloys, a tub-mounted body kit and a lockable roller tonneau.

Our test vehicle was also fitted with the optional Tech Pack, which includes radar cruise control, forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning and a driver-impairment monitor. This adds $600 to Wildtrak and $1100 to XLT (includes rear-view camera).

Ford Ranger Wildtrak steering wheel.jpgLike the XLT, the Wildtrak also has sat-nav, dual-zone climate, a centre-console cooler, rear parking sensors, auto wipers, tyre-pressure sensors, a 230V outlet in the cabin, a 12V outlet in the tub, a sports bar, sidesteps and a 3500kg-rated towbar. This adds to the six cabin airbags, cruise control, auto headlights, rear locker and trailer-sway control, standard on all Ranger 4x4 dual-cab pick-ups.

FORD RANGER WILDTRAK SPECS:
ENGINE:  3.2-litre 5-cyl turbo-diesel
MAX POWER: 147kW at 3000rpm
MAX TORQUE: 470Nm at 1500-2750rpm
GEARBOX: Six-speed automatic
4X4 SYSTEM: Dual-range part-time
CRAWL RATIO: 42.3:1
CONSTRUCTION: Separate-chassis
FRONT SUSPENSION: Independent/coil springs
REAR SUSPENSION: Live axle/leaf springs
KERB WEIGHT: 2200kg
GVM: 3200kg
PAYLOAD: 1000kg
TOWING CAPACITY: 3500kg
TOWBALL DOWNLOAD (MAX): 350kg
GCM: 6000kg
FUEL TANK CAPACITY: 80 litres
ADR FUEL CLAIM: 9.2 litres/100km
TEST FUEL USE: 13.0 litres/100km
TOURING RANGE: 565km**
**Based on test fuel use, claimed fuel capacity and a 50km ‘safety’ margin

Prices
XL $49,565
XL Plus $53,235
XLS $50,865
XLT $57,415
FX4 $61,115
Wildtrak $61,590

HOLDEN COLORADO Z71

Its VM Motori engine is designed in Italy, the six-speed auto in the USA, the chassis and body in Brazil, with Australian engineers involved in bringing the whole thing together. Not once but twice, as what we have here, is the Colorado reborn.

In what was a global General Motors effort, the all-new Colorado arrived in 2012. (Confusingly, the Colorado name was also attached to the last of the Isuzu utes sold as Holdens, replacing the long-running Rodeo nameplate.)

Holden Colorado Z71 offroading.jpgThe Colorado was then tweaked in 2013 and again in 2014 before being pulled right apart and put back together again with literally a truck load of new and revised parts for the 2017 model, launched late 2016.

While most of the changes applied to the Colorado globally, Australian models received additional NVH, auto gearbox and manual gearing upgrades at the behest of the local engineering team.

POWERTRAIN AND PERFORMANCE

Displacing 2.8-litres, the Colorado’s engine – along with that of the Hilux – is one of two ‘small’ engines here. It still claims maximum torque of 500Nm, a figure only bettered in this company by the Amarok’s V6; although, it revs harder than the other engines to deliver its best.

Most telling is the comparison to the big ‘lazy’ five-pot in the Ranger. Where the Ranger’s max torque of 470Nm is on tap by 1500rpm, the Colorado’s 500Nm doesn’t arrive until 2000rpm, and while both engines claim 147kW, the Colorado needs 3600rpm to achieve that figure, 600rpm more than the Ranger.

Holden Colorado Z71 engine.jpgThe good news is the Colorado delivers on its promise and, pedal-to-the-metal, it will comfortably better the Hilux and even nose out the Ranger; although, it is a bit lighter than the Ranger, which no doubt helps.

Aside from needing more revs on board and feeling a little ‘busy’ in this company, the Colorado’s engine also can’t match the refinement of the Amarok’s V6 or indeed the Hilux’s four. However,  the MY17 upgrades now see it comparable to the Ranger’s engine in terms of noise control.

Holden Colorado Z71 hillclimb.jpgThe Colorado’s cause is aided by what is the most proactive and sporty gearbox of the three six-speeders. Most noticeable is the way it will downshift on descents to provide additional engine braking, even at times without the driver needing to apply the brakes to activate a downshift.

ON-ROAD RIDE AND HANDLING

The Colorado’s 2017-model makeover included the adoption of electric power steering (EPS), though Holden insists it started down this track before Ford announced the Ranger would switch to EPS for the 2016 model. Along with EPS, the 2017 Colorado’s suspension was retuned, most notably at the front where the springs, swaybar and dampers were all changed.

Holden Colorado Z71 Volkswagen Amarok V6 rear .jpgThe end result is a ute with light and easy steering, goodmanoeuvrability at parking speeds, and a confident and composed feel at highway speeds. Nice ride quality for a ute, too, on most roads – even unladen – and the front-to-rear suspension balance is nicely sorted.

The only complaint is that the Colorado’s front end isn’t quite as compliant or as absorbent as the other three on rougher gravel and dirt roads with big potholes and the like.

OFF-ROAD

The fact the Colorado’s suspension feels the big potholes and washouts on gravel roads more than the other three gives a hint to its off-road ability, or more its off-road limitations.

In this company, the Colorado has the least suspension travel – something that’s also evident with its platform-twin in the Isuzu D-MAX – and when the going gets particularly gnarly the Colorado is the first to struggle. When it does there’s no rear locker to come to its aid and help save the day, the only vehicle in this four not thus equipped.

Holden Colorado Z71  offroad.jpgAll that’s not to say the Colorado isn’t a handy recreational 4x4. There’s still decent ground clearance, tidy approach and departure angles, good vision from the driver’s seat and a gearbox with clever off-road shift protocols. With all-terrain rather than the standard highway tyres, it would be better again.

CABIN, ACCOMMODATION AND SAFETY

The Z71 looks like an upmarket ute from the outside, and that impression is carried over to the cabin with its heated and leather seats. Like the Ranger Wildtrak there’s no reach adjustment for the steering wheel (only tilt) and, like both the Ranger and Amarok, no keyless entry or push-button start to match the TRD.

Holden Colorado Z71 interior.jpgRegardless, the Colorado is roomy and comfortable up front, while the rear seat is roomier than that of the Hilux. However, it’s not as wide as the Amarok, nor does it have the combined front and rear legroom of the Ranger. Seven airbags help contribute to five-star safety and, as standard, the Z71 has lane-departure warning and forward-collision alert.

PRACTICALITIES AND TOWING

No standard towbar for the Z71, but the soft tonneau is part of the package, as is the rear ‘aero kit’ that looks good but affects access to the tub’s front tie-down hooks.

Holden Colorado Z71 rough terrain.jpgThe Z71, like all Colorado dual-cab 4x4s, is rated to carry slightly more than a tonne and tow 3500kg. Our max load and tow test proved the Colorado does both with reasonable ease.

The Z71 runs on 265/60R18s and, if the 18-inch wheels aren’t to your liking, you can fit the 17s from the LT, which will open up your choice of all-terrain rubber; although, increasingly, there’s more AT options for 18s.

WHAT YOU GET

The Z71 is based on the volume-selling LTZ but adds leather, heated front seats, roof rails and a tub-mounted body kit. Like the LTZ it also has 18s, sat-nav, auto wipers, front parking sensors, tyre-pressure sensors, electric-adjust for the driver’s seat, soft tonneau, sports bar, lane-departure warning and forward-collision alert.

Holden Colorado Z71  rear.jpgThis builds on the standard equipment of all Colorado 4x4 dual-cabs, which includes seven airbags, a reversing camera, cruise control, rear parking sensors, a digital radio, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and trailer-sway control.

HOLDEN COLORADO Z71 SPECS:
ENGINE: 2.8-litre 4-cyl turbo-diesel
MAX POWER: 147kW at 3600rpm
MAX TORQUE: 500Nm at 2000rpm
GEARBOX: Six-speed automatic
4X4 SYSTEM: Dual-range part-time
CRAWL RATIO: 36.4:1
CONSTRUCTION: Separate-chassis
FRONT SUSPENSION: Independent/coil springs
REAR SUSPENSION: Live axle/leaf springs
KERB WEIGHT: 2143kg
GVM: 3150kg
PAYLOAD: 1007kg
TOWING CAPACITY: 3500kg 
TOWBALL DOWNLOAD (MAX): 350kg
GCM: 6000kg
FUEL TANK CAPACITY: 76 litres
ADR FUEL CLAIM: 8.7 litres/100km
TEST FUEL USE: 12.2 litres/100km
TOURING RANGE: 573km*
**Based on test fuel use, claimed fuel capacity and a 50km ‘safety’ margin.

Prices
LS $47,190
LT $49,190
LTZ $52,690
Z71 $57,190

VOLKSWAGEN AMAROK V6

The Amarok is the oldest ute here, save for the fact it has recently been upgraded via its 3.0-litre V6 diesel. The basic platform dates back to 2010, so it’s a year older than the Ranger (the second oldest platform here).

Volkswagen Amarok V6 rear.jpgThat V6 may be new to the Amarok, but it dates back to 2004. Originally a VW family (Audi) design used in various Porsche, Audi and VW models, it has been strengthened and detuned for use in the Amarok.

POWERTRAIN AND PERFORMANCE

Detuned as it may be compared to some applications where it produces up to 200kW, the Amarok’s V6 still has at least 165kW on tap and an extra 15kW (180kW in total) when in ‘overboost’ mode.

Compare that to the 147kW of the Ranger and Colorado and the 130kW of the Hilux, and throw in the extra two ratios of its eight-speed automatic, and you have a whole different world of performance than what’s on offer with the other three.

However, the Amarok’s V6 isn’t all about its high power output, it’s also about being the torque champion with 550Nm available from just 1500rpm, bettering even the Ranger’s 470Nm at 1500km.

Volkswagen Amarok V6 engine.jpgOn the road the Amarok out-grunts even the notably torquey Ranger off the bottom end, but also loves to rev and in doing so offers a level of flexibility and performance that’s unrivalled here. It’s really Amarok first, daylight second.

The Amarok’s V6 offers refinement that’s more akin to that of a passenger-car engine when measured against the comparatively agricultural Ranger and gruff Colorado. Even the relatively polished Hilux engine feels ‘commercial’ in comparison, though none of this should be a surprise given variants of this V6 are used in high-end prestige brands.

In case you’re wondering about the overboost function’s 180kW, it’s achieved by the 550Nm torque maximum being available beyond the normal 2500rpm drop-down point, but only kicks with 70 per cent or more throttle and then only in third and fourth gears.

Volkswagen Amarok V6 rough terrain.jpgEffectively it gives stronger highway overtaking performance without any sense of the engine ever transitioning from normal overboost operation. It’s seamless.

Seamless is also a word that comes to mind with the eight-speed automatic, which in this company is in a class of its own in terms of shift quality and is also sporty and pro-active in terms of shift timing.

ON-ROAD RIDE AND HANDLING

If the punchy, refined V6 and slick eight-speed automatic don’t stand the Amarok alone in this company, the grip, security and functionality of its full-time 4x4 system certainly does. In mixed-surface driving conditions (wet/dry bitumen or sealed/unsealed) it offers a huge advantage compared to the relatively crude part-time systems of the other three.

Volkswagen Amarok V6 ute.jpgThis comes on top of the fact that the Amarok’s on-roaddynamics – even on dry bitumen – are a cut above the others. It feels more confident and competent on a windy road, and also offers a relatively compliant ride and what is arguably the best front-to-rear suspension match when unladen.

It’s also the best in terms of road noise suppression; although, the Hilux comes close. If nitpicking, then you could complain about the noise from the steering pump when on (or near) full lock at parking speeds.

OFF-ROAD

The Amarok V6 doesn’t have low range, but it doesn’t really need it. In fact, even without low range it can outperform the Colorado and is a match for the Ranger and Hilux on gnarly climbs. Towing a heavy off-road camper trailer on steep hills or in soft sand could potentially be a problem, but that’s something we need to test.

That aside, the Amarok gets by without low range thanks to a relatively low first gear and a torque convertor with a high stall ratio. The Amarok’s off-road armoury includes a self-locking centre diff, a rear locker that doesn’t cancel the traction on the front axle when engaged, good wheel travel, and excellent underbody protection.

Volkswagen Amarok V6 water crossing.jpgBest of all, the Amarok can go from zinging down a freeway with ease and comfort to crawling along an off-road trail without having to touch a lever or a button, as it’s always in 4WD and there’s no low range to select.

If you want, there is a button to cancel the stability control (for sand driving), another for the rear locker (if it gets really gnarly) and a third to activate hill-descent, but most of the time none of this is needed.

On the negative side of the off-road ledger, the Amarok has the lowest fording depth (500mm) as it’s the only one not to draw its engine-intake air from the inner mudguard. As such, it’s the first candidate for an aftermarket snorkel.

CABIN, ACCOMMODATION AND SAFETY

There are a few important things to note about the Amarok’s cabin: it’s the widest here – especially handy for three adults across the back seat – and it’s notably bigger than the Hilux and Colorado. It also offers tilt-and-reach steering wheel adjustment and a notably comfortable driving position.

Volkswagen Amarok V6 interior.jpgAt this spec level, leather is strangely an option rather than standard as it is with the three other utes, but otherwise the Amarok’s cabin has a quality feel that the Colorado and Ranger can’t match – even if the Hilux can.

Significantly, it’s the only ute here without rear cabin airbags and, while it still carries a five-star ANCAP rating, it would probably only achieve four stars if tested now given these ratings are a moving target.

PRACTICALITIES AND TOWING

The Highline V6 is the only ute here without some sort of tonneau cover and, like the Colorado, doesn’t come with a factory towbar. It also has the lowest braked-trailer tow rating (3000kg); although, its 6000kg gross combined mass figure matches the best here.

Volkswagen Amarok V6 tailights.jpgThat means it can carry and tow at the same time as much as the Ranger or Colorado – the point being, if you put a 3500kg tow-weight behind either a Ranger or a Colorado there’s effectively no payload left. While we haven’t tow-tested the V6, you’d have to assume its 550Nm would come in handy with big loads.

The Highline V6 comes standard with 18s and HTs, but our test vehicle had dealer-fit OEM 17s with Pirelli Scorpion ATs. The Scorpion isn’t a particularly aggressive AT tyre, but it’s still better than an HT tyre. The extra sidewall height is another bonus, too.

WHAT YOU GET

The Highline V6, the mid-spec model in a three-model V6 line-up, has dual-zone climate, automatic headlights and wipers, sat-nav, reversing camera, six-speaker audio system, CD player, digital radio, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Bi-xenons headlights, DRLs, cornering lights, a cargo-area light and 12V outlet in the tub, front and rear parking sensors, a rear locker, tyre-pressure monitoring and trailer-sway control are all standard, too.

Like all Amarok dual cabs, the Highline V6 has front and front-side airbags (but no airbags in the rear of the cab) and tilt-and-reach steering wheel adjustment. Our test vehicle was fitted with the optional Alcantara (split leather) heated seats, which adds $1890.

Volkswagen Amarok V6 offroading.jpgIt also had 17s with all-terrains rather than the standard 18s and their highway tyres, a dealer-fit price-on-application option.

VOLKSWAGEN AMAROK V6 SPECS:
ENGINE: 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel
MAX POWER: 165kW at 2500-4500rpm*
MAX TORQUE: 550Nm at 1500-2500rpm*
GEARBOX: Eight-speed automatic
4X4 SYSTEM: Single-range full-time
CRAWL RATIO: 17.4:1
CONSTRUCTION: Separate-chassis
FRONT SUSPENSION: Independent/coil springs
REAR SUSPENSION: Live axle/leaf springs
KERB WEIGHT: 2216kg
GVM: 3080kg
PAYLOAD: 864kg
TOWING CAPACITY: 3000kg
TOWBALL DOWNLOAD (MAX): 300kg
GCM: 6000kg
FUEL TANK CAPACITY: 80 litres
ADR FUEL CLAIM: 7.8 litres/100km
TEST FUEL USE: 12 litres/100km
TOURING RANGE: 617km**
**Based on test fuel use, claimed fuel capacity and a 50km ‘safety’ margin.

Prices
Sportsline $55,490
Highline $59,990
Ultimate $67,990

THE VERDICT

Official list pricing, which doesn’t include on-road costs, has the Ranger Wildtrak ($62,190) and the Amarok Highline V6 ($61,880 inc. leather) as the two more expensive utes here. The Colorado Z71 ($57,190 list) brings up the rear behind the Hilux TRD ($61,540, but that’s a drive-away figure).

What’s probably more significant than the price difference is the way these four feel and perform both on and off the road and what they represent as an ownership proposition.

Toyota Hilux TRD Ford Ranger Wildtrak Holden Colorado Z71 Volkswagen Amarok V6  bend.jpgOf the four, the Colorado and the Ranger are the most alike, while the Hilux is off on its own (smaller; less performance; more refinement), as is the Amarok with its V6 performance and full-time 4WD.

Price aside, it’s hard to make an argument for the Colorado given it can’t match the other three in more difficult off-road conditions, particularly on steep, gnarly trails. Stepping away from that context, the Colorado is a fine general-duties dual-cab ute and, in terms of what it does on-road (towing included), is very much a viable alternative to the market-leading Ranger.

Toyota Hilux TRD hillclimb.jpgThe Hilux’s strength in this company is its refinement, build quality and promise of reliability and durability. It’s also as good as it gets off-road in this company, while its remote-area service support is also second-to-none. Best real-world economy, too, though the Colorado and the Amarok aren’t far behind. However, it trails the field in performance and has the smallest cabin.

Read more 4X4 Australia reviews

Conversely, cabin size, especially its class-leading cabin length, is a Ranger strong suit. As is its big, torquey engine, excellent road manners, towing and load hauling ability, and class leading off-road ability. Feels tough, too. In fact, there’s very little to criticise about the Ranger except its higher fuel use.

Volkswagen Amarok V6 front.jpgAs a ute to drive, the Amarok Highline V6 is the best thing here, thanks to its performance, handling and grip. As noted by Editor Raudonikis on our test: “It feels like a rally car compared to the other three.” Given its refinement, it also feels like a “luxury car” in this company.

Throw in its excellent 4x4 ability, ease of operation, spacious cabin, big tray and 6000kg GCM, and you also have a very practical ute. No rear-cabin airbags, the position of the engine air intake, and no low range to cover difficult off-road towing are its main shortcomings, while the relatively thin dealer spread in country areas may count against it as an ownership proposition.

 

 

 

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