2016 Drive Car of the Year: Best Ute

“But it was the Ranger that scored the most for it to retain its heavyweight crown as the Best Ute in the 2016 Drive Car of the Year awards.”

The battle for the Best Ute crown is a sign of the times.

It is a fight between old foes – Ford and Holden – but in a new arena with new combatants. It’s no longer about which car has the biggest engine or bragging rights at Bathurst. In fact, the Falcon versus Commodore contest that has raged for decades is now over after the Blue Oval threw in the towel first.

Just as it is in the real world, with families walking away from traditional large sedans into more adventurous dual-cab utes, the Ford and Holden fight is between the Ranger and Colorado respectively.

The Ranger XLT 4×4 retained its Best Ute crown in 2015 against a fleet of new rivals, beating the Toyota HiLux, Nissan Navara and Mitsubishi Triton. This year, there hasn’t been as much fresh metal in the ute segment with the exception of the heavily updated Holden Colorado, which faces off against its rival in top-shelf LTZ specification.

It starts the contest with a couple of advantages; firstly, at $50,990 (plus on-road costs) – or $53,190 with the optional six-speed automatic fitted to our test vehicle – it is around $6500 cheaper than the Ranger; secondly, its 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel produces slightly more pulling power and is marginally more efficient; and finally it is much cheaper to service over the first three years of ownership.

All of these attributes were recognised by the judging panel, as was the significant improvements in how the Colorado drives compared to its predecessor. With heavy input from Holden’s engineering team during the initial development phase, followed by a comprehensive local tuning program, the Colorado feels much more car-like on the road than it did before. The suspension is a little sharper over bumps and the steering isn’t quite as fluid as the Ranger but it was equally as sure-footed and secure through our emergency and dynamic simulations.

Our previous experience with the Colorado carrying a near-capacity payload was also impressive, as it remained stable through the bends and retained enough rear suspension travel to soak up road imperfections.

It also impressed with the strength of its engine, which consumes a claimed average of 8.7L/100km, produces 147kW and 500Nm and helps it achieve a braked towing capacity of 3500kg. It’s a grunty unit that never feels short of puff and is mated to a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic. But it isn’t quite as refined as the Ranger, with more pronounced turbo lag, a narrower power band and truck-like acoustics under heavy acceleration.

The cabin isn’t as well presented either with more robust materials and a flatter, less supportive rear bench, and the tray, while picking up a standard tonneau cover, doesn’t have a tub liner like the Ranger, only has four tie-down points (rather than six) and misses out on a handy 12V power outlet and a light.

It’s the little things like that which give the Ranger an edge, whether it’s being used as a tool of trade vehicle or an adventurous getaway machine, plus others such as the household power point in the rear that allows users to recharge power tools or laptops on the worksite or at the holiday campground and access to automated safety functions like adaptive cruise control with forward collision and lane departure warnings in a relatively affordable $800 tech pack option.

Its cabin also looks and feels less like a truck, the rear seat is more comfortable and Ford’s latest Sync3 infotainment system is easier to use than Holden’s MyLink, even if they both offer similar up-to-date functions and connectivity.

The Ranger’s 3.2-litre turbo charged five-cylinder produces an identical 147kW of peak power but slightly less torque at 470Nm while using a claimed 8.9L/100km. What the numbers can’t convey is, with its maximum pulling power generated over a wider band of revs and from just 1500rpm – 500rpm lower than the Colorado – the Ranger’s engine feels just as strong but also more linear and quieter in the way it delivers the power, and the six-speed automatic is slightly smoother than the Holden’s in the way it shifts gears.

On the road, the Ranger also feels just a little more polished in how it handles the bumps and the steering is more natural through the ratio. Like the Colorado, our previous experience with a fully-loaded Ranger ensures it can not only live up to a hard life on the worksite but do so reliably and comfortably.

In the end, it was a close fight. Each of them lands some solid blows – the Holden on value, the Ford on safety equipment and the final veneer of refinement – and both scored top votes across the judging panel.

But it was the Ranger that scored the most – four against two – for it to retain its heavyweight crown as the Best Ute in the 2016 Drive Car of the Year awards.


Judge’s Votes:

Ford Ranger XLT – 8

Holden Colorado XLT – 10

(The Drive Car of the Year judging process awards points to every car in the category according to the position they were ranked by all six judges. The car with the lowest score therefore wins the category. If this vehicle defeats the existing category champion it is then eligible for the overall 2016 Drive Car of the Year award.)


2016 Ford Ranger XLT 4×4 Specifications:

Engine: 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbo diesel

Power: 147kW at 3000rpm

Torque: 470Nm at 1500-2750rpm

Transmission: 6-spd automatic, 4WD

Fuel Use: 8.9L/100km


Source: www.drive.com.au

by Andrew Maclean
08 November 2016