Ute wars: Three of the best go head to head
Workhorse utes that have evolved into family haulers are big business.
And none are bigger than the Toyota HiLux, the top-selling vehicle in the country since 2016.
It's under increasing pressure, though. Last year Isuzu updated its D-Max, while Nissan recently tweaked the Navara, adding more equipment in a revised line-up.
ISUZU D-MAX X-TERRAIN
In top-line X-Terrain trim the D-Max is a head turner thanks to wheel arch-flairs, a tonneau cover and black highlights.
Luxuries include dual-zone airconditioning, an electric driver's seat, Android Auto and wireless Apple CarPlay on a 9.0-inch touchscreen. As with its rivals there's smart-key entry, satnav and digital radio.
Driver assistance runs to blind-spot warning, auto emergency braking, traffic sign recognition and rear cross-traffic alert, while a centre airbag helps it meet the latest ANCAP five-star crash requirements.
It's also the only one here with standard leather and the front pews have generous support.
Those in the rear are well catered for by generous head and legroom.
Money has been saved by making the towbar a circa-$1300 option and fitting a steel spare that clashes with alloys.
At $59,990 drive-away, the X-Terrain is solid value, especially when you include the extra sixth year of warranty coverage.
A hairy-chested 3.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel is gruff but has good pick-up. There's a stout 450Nm of torque, although the engine operates in a narrow band, the six-speed auto preferring to pluck another gear, instead of leaning on its 140kW of power.
The focus is on lifting heavy things rather than pampering and the D-Max can shudder into bumps. The steering is faithful but requires a bigger input than its rivals for the same result.
NISSAN NAVARA ST-X
Nissan has turned to the American Titan for inspiration for the updated Navara. A bluff nose beefs-up the aesthetics, the load area walls are taller and "Navara" is stamped across the tail.
A stronger rear axle and suspension increases the payload to 1024kg, something it manages with car-like coil springs at the rear, a rarity.
Those coils improve control at speed, as the rear is less flustered by multiple bumps. It still jiggles at low-speed - hey, it's a ute - but additional sound deadening makes the Navara feel more refined.
The steering is responsive by ute standards but it feels overly light feel, providing less assurance to the driver.
The unchanged 2.3-litre twin-turbo provides good flexibility (140kW/450Nm) and impressive 7.9L/100km economy, while the smooth-shifting seven-speed auto adds to the refinement.
Priced from $58,790 for the ST-X, the Navara represents strong value, backed up with the most affordable servicing over five years or 100,000km.
Goodies include an 8.0-inch screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (it's plug-in, as is the Toyota), dual-zone ventilation, blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert. The standard towbar and tray liner are welcome inclusions, as are the adjustable load rails. It's also the only one with a 360-degree camera and tyre pressure sensors.
Another $1000 adds an electric driver's seat, heated seats and classy leather.
Despite the generous spread, the Navara misses out on traffic-sign recognition and radar cruise control.
TOYOTA HILUX SR5
At about $64,500 Toyota charges a hefty premium for the HiLux SR5. Its half-yearly check-ups can also be costly after the first six visits, which are reasonably priced.
It also misses out on dual ventilation, while a tub liner, leather and electric driver's seat are optional.
Safety gear includes auto braking and traffic-sign recognition, but no blind spot warning.
A towbar is standard, though, and history suggests the HiLux will pay owners back with bulletproof resale and a reputation for going and going.
The once-undernourished 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel now out-muscles its rivals with 500Nm and 150kW. The hearty surge makes for solid mid-rev acceleration and allows the engine to pull harder before shifting ratios. It can get raucous above 4000rpm but the pull elsewhere is generally sufficient.
On the road there's a ruggedness that sees it bound over large bumps in a controlled but firm fashion. And while the steering is effortless on the run, it feels too heavy at parking speeds.
The HiLux keeps you closer to nature elsewhere, as tyre and wind noise are noticeable.
The interior is the most uninspiring here, its presentation more about functionality than style.
There are rear air vents, but the cabin is marginally narrower and rear-seat headroom is compromised.
The HiLux has a well-earned reputation but trails in this company.
Those wanting more comfort and a longer equipment list will be happier in the D-Max, but for us the new Navara gets the nod thanks to its solid value and impressive driving manners.
ISUZU D-MAX X-TERRAIN VITALS
Price: $59,990 drive-away
Warranty/servicing: 6 yrs/150,000km, $3373 for 7 years
Safety: 5 stars, 8 airbags, blind-spot warning, auto emergency braking, traffic-sign recognition, rear cross-traffic alert, driver attention assist, lane-keep assist
Engine: 3.0-litre 4-cyl turbo diesel, 140kW/450Nm
Payload/towing capacity: 970kg/3500kg
Spare: Full-size steel
NISSAN NAVARA ST-X VITALS
Price: $58,790 drive-away
Warranty/servicing: 5 years/unl'td km, $2847 for 5 years
Safety: 5 stars, 7 airbags, blind-spot warning, auto emergency braking, rear cross-traffic alert, driver attention alert, lane-keep assist
Engine: 2.3-litre 4-cyl twin-turbo diesel, 140kW/450Nm
Payload/tow capacity: 1024kg/3500kg
Spare: Full-size alloy
TOYOTA HILUX SR5 VITALS
Price: About $64,500 drive-away
Warranty/servicing: 5 years/unl'td km, $3562 for 5 years
Safety: 5 stars, 7 airbags, auto emergency braking, traffic-sign recognition, lane-keep assist
Engine: 2.8-litre 4-cyl turbo diesel, 150kW/500Nm
Payload/tow capacity: 995kg/3500kg
Spare: Full-size alloy
Originally published as Ute wars: Three of the best go head to head