We’ve tested them on the drag strip and dyno, we’ve put them through their paces off-road, and we’ve tested them with a trailer hooked up. This is Australia’s most comprehensive ute of the year award and it’s now time to reveal our overall winner, along with a recap of our full set of award winners.
All told, testing took eight days split across three locations… with hundreds of kilometres between them.
As for what all the fuel, coffee, lollies, and lunches cost? Don’t ask, our accounting team is still recovering.
Before we get to the winners, let’s quickly go over the contestants.
From Ford, we have the Ranger Wildtrak V6 and Ranger Raptor. The Ranger has been universally praised since hitting our shores in 2022, but it hasn’t faced off with all of its rivals in one place until now.
Speaking of those rivals, almost all of Australia’s best-selling dual-cab utes featured in our testing.
The Toyota HiLux is a perennial favourite, and the updated Rogue is arguably the best take on the formula yet. Traditional rivals from Mitsubishi in the form of the Triton GSR, and from Nissan in the locally-developed Navara Pro-4X Warrior were also on hand to keep it honest.
While we’re talking strong sellers the (almost) identical twins from Isuzu and Mazda, the D-Max LS-U+ and BT-50 SP, have proven popular since launching in 2021 and 2022 respectively.
Leading a crowd of upstarts was the GWM Ute Cannon-X. It’s a strong seller thanks to its low starting price and long list of standard kit, but it needs to offer more than value alone to succeed alongside the SsangYong Musso XLV Ultimate.
Finally, the Americans. Smallest of our American trio (at least, the trio that hung around all week) is the Jeep Gladiator. Under the skin it shares plenty with the Wrangler 4×4, so it’s expected to go well off-road.
Then there’s the star-spangled pickups. In the Ram corner is the 1500 Laramie with its luxurious cabin and modern tech suite. From Chevrolet we have the Silverado 1500 LTZ – an update is imminent, but the mechanicals remain the same for 2023.
The screaming Ram 1500 TRX made an appearance for just long enough to smoke all comers on the drag strip. Then again, it’d want to given how much grunt its supercharged V8 engine makes.
We weren’t able to get our hands on the latest Toyota LandCruiser 70 Series, the Bi-Turbo Ford Ranger, a non-Warrior Navara, the LDV T60 Max, or the new Volkswagen Amarok; but we’re hoping to perform all of our testing again once these vehicles are ready for us.
Now, it’s time to reveal the best ute in each category of testing – and the overall winner.
And the winner is…
The Ford Ranger was the best all-rounder in our testing, and takes out the overall prize. It’s the winner of the CarExpert Ute of the Year award.
The award applies to all variants of the Ranger, but the V6 diesel is the pick of the bunch as a jack of all trades. There’s nothing the Wildtrak V6 didn’t do well in our testing.
It’s quicker than most of its rivals in a straight line, although the Wildtrak V6 can’t match V8 trucks from the USA, and the torquey turbo-diesel engine combines with a smart suspension tune to make it comfortable with a 2500kg caravan hooked up. Likewise, it performed well against our high-tech trailer dyne.
Off-road, it wasn’t fazed by any of our tests. Along with solid hardware, all the onboard technology makes actually unlocking the car’s capability simple for nervous off-roaders.
Also on hand to make life easier for nervous off-roaders are the excellent front-view camera and a range of preset off-road modes. Not sure how to set up your four-wheel drive system? Choose your terrain using the dial, and let the car work it out for you.
It sets a new benchmark for dual-cab utes, and its rivals have some serious catching up to do.
- Overall winner: Ram 1500
- Best four-cylinder: Isuzu D-Max/Mazda BT-50
- Best value: Toyota HiLux
Along with the round-robin drag race featured in our video, we put the utes through a series of performance tests on the high-speed bowl at the VinFast (nee Holden) proving ground in Lang Lang.
They included 0-100km/h, 80-120km/h and 1/4 mile performance runs, 100-0km/h brake tests, and acceleration tests with our dyne trailer hooked up.
We also put the utes on a dyno to see which could come closest to matching their claimed outputs.
MORE: Read all about our massive ute drag race
MORE: Check out how the utes stacked up on the dyno
MORE: All the performance figures from our testing
Best ute towing
- Overall winner: Ram 1500 Laramie
- Best four-cylinder: Isuzu D-Max/Mazda BT-50
- Best value: Ford Ranger Wildtrak V6
With the exception of the Ranger Raptor, all the utes we used in our towing test have a claimed braked towing capacity of over 3000kg. There’s a huge difference in how they perform with a trailer on the back, though.
First test was a trailer dynamometer with a variable load retarder that allowed us to impart up to 10kN of resistive load to the tow vehicle.
It allowed us to simulate a long, steep climb for the tow vehicle, which ultimately puts immense load on the engine.
This 1600kg trailer dynamometer is wirelessly linked up to a computer that lets the operator adjust the degree of resistance force as measured in kN – in our tests we set it to 3kN, which simulates a fairly steep ascent, but one that should be within each ute’s abilities.
We tested fuel economy without the trailer on the back, and then again with the 3kN trailer hooked up to see how heavy hauling will hit your hip pocket.
We also hitched each ute to a 2500kg trailer and tackled a road loop representative of regional Australia, including a 15 per cent climb, a descent to test engine braking, and some choppy bitumen to test the ride quality.
Best ute off-road
- Overall winner: Jeep Gladiator Rubicon
- Best four-cylinder: Nissan Navara Pro-4X Warrior
- Best value: Ford Ranger Raptor
Our off-road test was aimed at finding out which ute is going to best handle to sort of moderate off-roading most owners will consider doing.
That’s because we wanted to test their four-wheel drive systems and traction control technology, rather than finding out how far you can go before getting bogged.
Our first test was driving each car onto a strip of bitumen on a 10 per cent grade, with a set of metal rollers under the right-hand wheels to simulate a variably slippery surface. By removing traction from one side of the car, we can ascertain the effectiveness of each car’s traction control.
We tested the vehicles in rear-wheel drive (2H) to establish a control, and then the relevant four-wheel drive (4H/4A, depending on car) setting.
Our second test centred around offset sand moguls. Each ute was stopped with its front left and right rear tyre in the air, and the other two firmly on the ground.
With the cars situated as such, we opened the doors to test for any chassis flex, and then attempted to simply drive out of the moguls to see how effectively their four-wheel drive and traction control systems apportion torque to the wheels with traction.
Finally, gravel mountain. This incline was, at 45 per cent, challenging to walk up, let alone drive.
On the way up, we maintained constant throttle until the vehicles started struggling, at which point we forced the engines to dig deeper.
We started at the bottom in each vehicle’s low-range (4-Low) gearing with rear diff locks engaged where possible. This differential lock allows both wheels on the axle to turn at the same speed, maximising surface purchase.
We then turned around and went down the same hill, to test the hill-descent control effectiveness, the low-range gearing, and the camera views where relevant.
MORE: Read all about our off-road test here