The year of the ute lies ahead
It's a big year ahead for one of our most adored drives, the ute.
Outdoorsy Australians adore the genre’s Swiss Army knife versatility and practicality, especially in dual-cab form.
It’s a tradie’s fashion statement, family all-rounder, off-road adventurer and fisherman’s friend, to name a few.
Last year, nearly one in five of the cars we bought was a ute.
While cars with trays have been been helpful friends, we’ve tended to forgive their flaws.
Being a drudge to drive around town and, until recently, being dodgy on the safety side spring to mind.
Recently, however, the bar has been raised for driveability, comfort and safety in the segment.
In the past three years, we’ve seen total makeovers applied to five of the eight bestsellers — the Ford Ranger, Mazda BT-50, Volkswagen Amarok, Holden Colorado and Isuzu D-Max.
These new-age dual-cab utes have been designed from the ground-up to be as car-like as possible while not sacrificing their hard working qualities.
So who does that leave?
It’s the Mitsubishi Triton, Nissan Navara and market leader Toyota HiLux, which have had lots of bandaids to try to keep pace with the new-agers.
This year it’s major-surgery time for all three, which is exciting.
Here’s what we know about the coming new-age trio.
The Triton, Australia’s third- biggest-selling ute in 2014, comes out in fifth-generation form in autumn.
Built in Thailand, as are most dual-cabs that come to Australia, it’ll be more suave, family friendly, spacious, agile around town, comfortable and safe than the outgoing model.
The engine is new, an all- aluminium 2.4-litre turbo-diesel.
Improved aerodynamics and other efficiencies should see the current 2.5-litre diesel Triton’s fuel-use figures — 8.1L/100km manual and 9.3 auto — bettered.
Expect the economy figure for the auto model to be under 8.5L/100km.
The smoother airflow over the body, as well as much better insulation, should also make the cabin quieter while a small turning circle suggests the vehicle will be nicely manoeuvrable.
When looking at the current Triton, the eyes are drawn to the sweeping line behind the rear doors. It’s a polarising look, so with the new model it appears the designers have tried to attract eyes to the vehicle’s bold face, which is all new.
Bigger headlights, LED daytime running lights and an imposing lower air intake are among the frontal features, and the tray has squarer lines than the present model.
The all-new model, also pictured on the cover, can’t come fast enough for Nissan.
Sales of the ageing model that harks back to 2005 plummeted by about a third last year.
The fresh iteration, more sculpted and masculine-looking on the outside and very car-like inside, will be a world apart from the current model.
The newcomer will have more advanced technology, far more refinement, superb multi-spring rear suspension on dual-cab variants, and a mix of petrol and diesel drivetrains.
Standard will be front, side, curtain and driver’s knee airbags as well as stability control, as the vehicle strives for a five-star safety rating compared with the current model’s four.
Initial Navaras coming to Australia will get a new 2.3-litre turbo-diesel engine that will be available in two guises — a 120kW/403Nm single-turbo and a 140kW/450Nm twin-turbo.
Petrol returns to the range via a new 118kW/231Nm 2.5-litre engine to be offered on 4x2 models.
The new range should be far thriftier to run due to the new engines, an overall weight saving of 70kg and an 11 per cent improvement in aerodynamics.
Good news for many prospective buyers, including grey nomads and horse trainers, is the lift in towing capacity by 500kg to 3500kg.
The Navara’s approach and departure angles — 31 and 25.6deg — are pitched very much in favour of off-roading.
An electronic locking rear differential, hill-descent control and hill-start assist are other 4WD-friendly features.
Navara ST-X 550 Dual Cab 4x4 in Silver Lightening.
With more than 38,000 sales in 2014, this is Australia’s third most popular vehicle after the Toyota Corolla and Mazda3.
It’s still easily the most popular ute on worksites, bolstered by its lift to five-star crash safety, but it has clearly fallen behind the likes of the Amarok and Ranger for around-town friendliness.
It’s too early to know the specifics about the coming HiLux but expect Toyota to throw the kitchen sink at it.
Of all the car launches to look forward to in 2015, this has to be in the top five.
Toyota HiLux 4x4 SR5 Double-Cab pick-up Turbo-diesel in Velocity Red.
Mitsubishi Triton - www.mitsubishi-motors.com.au
Nissan Navara - www.nissan.com.au
Toyota HiLux - www.toyota.com.au
© The West Australian
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