Renault granted $544M loan to aid fuel-efficient vehicle development

The European Investment Bank (EIB) has granted Renault a 400 million euro ($544 million) loan to aid research and development of its next generation of affordable, environmentally friendly vehicles.

Announced at the Renault Group�??s Boulogne-Billancourt head office in France, the loan will fund a major technological and environmental project through which resources will be invested in three key areas.

The first component aims to advance Renault�??s goal to drastically reduce the weight of its future vehicles and optimise their aerodynamics through the use of virtual platforms and prototypes.

The second focuses on the development of a �??new-generation powertrain concept�?� for future commercial application, with the program to also investigate new industrial solutions for manufacturing the powertrain.

Finally, the investment will help fund the development and production of the next-generation Renault Twingo, which will be underpinned by a new �??compact, modular and accessible�?� architecture.


Renault says it is targeting �??very competitive CO2 emissions levels�?� from the new Twingo city car, which will draw design inspiration from the Twin�??Run and Twin�??Z concepts when it launches in 2014.

EIB vice president Philippe de Fontaine Vive said the loan demonstrated the bank�??s commitment to innovation.

�??Cutting-edge technologies are a spearhead for the future in terms of sustainable development and competitiveness,�?� de Fontaine Vive said.

�??Through our support for innovation, we are preparing the future of the European motor industry. And the first to benefit will be the EU�??s citizens, in their daily life.�?�

The agreement builds on the existing partnership between the EIB and Renault Group and takes the total amount of finance provided by the EIB since 2009 to almost one billion euros ($1.36 billion).

Last month,� Renault� signed on as the sole supplier of electric powerplants to the all-electric� FIA Formula E� championship series set to debuts in 2014.

Chrysler 300 SRT8 Core Review

The Chrysler 300 SRT8 Core is a contender for best-value-for-money performance car in Australia. For $56,000 you get a rear-wheel-drive American muscle car with a 6.4-litre Hemi V8 that pumps out a staggering 347kW of power and 631Nm of torque. At least as a power-per-dollar barometer, that is unmatchable.

Chrysler has stripped out its flagship 300 SRT8 by removing some luxury items and advanced safety features, substituted the adaptive dampers with standard suspension and reduced the price by $10,000. The idea was born in Australia but it proved so good that even the Americans have adopted it for their home market.


Unlike most cars where the price in the USA is significantly less than that it is in Australia (which we�??ll cover in an upcoming feature article), the Chrysler 300 SRT8 Core retails for US$45,395 in California.

Factor in the current exchange rate and that comes out to about $51,000 AUD; add in some shipping costs and the price of modifying the car to pass our draconian legislation and seriously, it starts to make you wonder why something like a base model Porsche 911 Carerra starts from $84,300 USD in California and yet is priced from $206,500 locally. (You could use any high-end vehicle in Australia as an example, though, thanks to the iniquitous Luxury Car Tax.)


The value for money proposition aside, does the 300 SRT8 make a good performance car?

Targa Adelaide 2013

When it comes to reviewing performance cars we generally find a great stretch of road, one that suits the type of car, have an enthusiastic drive, and then assess it against similarly priced vehicles.

In the case of the 300 SRT8 Core, Chrysler suggested we try something different. Race it in Targa Adelaide. Doing a Targa in a large, near-2000kg rear-wheel-drive US muscle car would not exactly be something we�??d do often and it would be a lie to say we weren�??t a little bit worried about how the beast would go through tight corners and winding roads. Further concerning was the weather forecast, which showed constant rain for the first three days of the four-day rally.

Targa Adelaide 2013

Our black Chrysler 300 SRT8 Core was prepped with a Mopar front strut brace, exhaust system, cool air box and race-spec brake fluid. All parts (except the brake fluid) one can buy straight from a Chrysler dealer.

The 300 SRT8 Core gets the same HEMI V8 engine and five-speed Mercedes-derived transmission as the flagship model but misses out on the adaptive suspension. From the outset this would look like a negative, but it�??s not the case for the Core.

The issue with the flagship model 300 SRT8 is that the ride is a little too soft in auto mode, which makes it float around, and a little too hard in sport mode, which makes it generally too firm. The Core gets a standard suspension setup which, while certainly on the firm side, is still very compliant and doesn�??t crash over bumpy roads. It�??s almost the perfect balance of both worlds.


From the outside, Chrysler hasn�??t done much to take away from the SRT8 Core�??s appeal. The Core still gets 20-inch alloy wheels with four-piston Brembo calipers with 14.2 and 13.8-inch (vented and slotted) rotors for the front and rear. It looks pretty darn similar to the flagship, except for a few things like adaptive forward lighting that can adjust the beam of the bi-xenon headlamps to the intended direction of the car.

The rear even gets a mean-looking �??Core�?� badge that, if anything, adds more to the car�??s appeal than the flagship model. Point being, the 300 SRT8 Core remains a tough-looking American muscle car regardless of the price drop. Our �??Targa�?? car looks even better, of course, with some CarAdvice decals!


Where the $10,000 price drop starts to show is the interior. There are no heated and ventilated front seats or heated rear seats. The number of speakers has dropped from 19 to six, while cloth rather than Nappa leather with perforated suede is used for the upholstery.

On the technology side, there�??s no rear parking sensors, camera, or� satelite navigation (but the 8.4-inch screen with all the SRT8 gauges remains; and sensors and sat-nav are optional), while it also misses out on adaptive cruise control (regular cruise control is still standard), blind spot monitor and rear cross-path detection system. These are not the �??core�?? of a performance car.


Through four days of actual rallying, there�??s a lot we can say about the Chrysler 300 SRT8 Core�??s performance credentials. Firstly, it�??s undeniably a lot better than one would think. Images of large American muscle cars built just for straight lines is so far removed from reality that it�??s actually laughable.

The sport seats, although not leather, are still very reassuring and we felt well supported pushing hard through corners. The interior itself is still of good quality, but is easily recognisable as an American car with big plastic dials and buttons.


We were so pleasantly surprised by just how well the Core turned in to and powered out of corners, even in torrential rain, that we started to question whether this was genuinely a stock car. We did our own inspection to make sure nothing funny had been done to the car�??s setup, and after suspicions were set to rest, we remained confused as to how the Core was doing what it was doing.

In the rain the Goodyear performance tyres (245/45/R20) gripped on for dear life and although we pushed it past the grip limits only a few times, the general feel was towards oversteer rather than understeer. In fact, understeer was barely an issue even in the dry. The rear end would happily step out without much persuasion. and not in a manic sense but in that nice controllable manner which only encouraged you to do it again.


The party trick of the Chrysler 300 SRT8 Core is its ability to drive like a significantly smaller car than it really is.

Going around a corner which is sign-posted as a �??caution 40�?� at 83km/h with the foot down, in the wet, is a marvellous feeling in any car, more so when you realise it�??s a 300.

During our four days in Targa Adelaide we experienced the SRT8 at its limits, thanks in part to the closed road conditions but also the navigator notes that allowed us to push the car far past an �??enthusiastic drive�??.


Switchbacks and constant left and rights through sweeping blind bends would upset most cars but the 300 SRT8 Core is smooth and planted. The nanny controls, which can be switched off, tend to stay in the background and only kick in when absolutely necessary. Even during the rain-soaked stages, which saw the end of multiple contestant cars �?" including one into a river �?" the 300�??s traction and stability controls remained cool and without much interference.

Steering feel is also a positive for this car, a difference to the flagship that has its adaptive suspension issues flow into the steering system. The Core, while not exactly pure in its precision, is still quietly confident and provides reasonable feedback when the front end starts to play up.

Targa Adelaide 2013

The hindrance the 300 SRT8 and SRT8 Core share is the transmission unit. The five-speed automatic gearbox is, for lack of a better word, rubbish.

Most modern transmissions are smooth with generally seamless gearchanges. This is also the case in the newly updated Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT8, which uses a brilliant German built ZF eight-speed automatic, but the five-speed in the 300 SRT8 range is the complete opposite. Even in regular city commuting you can feel the 300 SRT8 change gears through the seat. Push it to redline and there�??s a sudden �??bang�?? with each gear change.

Targa Adelaide 2013

The steering wheel-mounted paddles are primarily for show and, given the gearboxes issues, take a monumental amount of time before responding to input commands.

Too many times we came into a corner at speed, begging for the transmission to drop from third to second and being disappointed by the time it took for the change to occur. On occasions it would simply ignore our request to change down �?" or up �?" without giving any visual or audible warning.

Transmission aside, it�??s hard to fault the Chrysler 300 SRT8 Core for what it is, an honest American muscle car without most of what we dislike about American cars �?" in that it can well and truly go around corners.


It�??s exceptionally well priced, just under the $60,000 luxury car tax threshold, which means Rudd or Abbot won�??t be stealing any of your cash, and given what else is on offer for the same coin, it�??s hard not to recommend.

It beats its Australian rivals from HSV and FPV from a bang for your buck factor and having spent four days rallying it around some of the best roads Australia has to offer, it�??s by no means an easy car to hand back.

Check back next week when bring you a �??Targa Experience�?� story.

Ute Comparison

The Toyota HiLux could this year become the first ute to claim the title of Australia�??s best-selling vehicle.� It�??s famously and successfully marketed as �??unbreakable�??, but while that could also be applied to its stranglehold on its segment, this is a boom time for all utilities.

They account for an eighth of Australia�??s new car market, and are growing. In 2009 utes were the second most popular vehicle segment after small cars; to date in 2013 4�?4 models don�??t even need their 4�?2 twins to achieve such status.

Dual-cabs are chiefly responsible for the rise of the ute. With their increasingly accommodating rear seats and consistently versatile traybacks, these big utes �?" dubbed �??One tonners�?? due to their payload capabilities �?" have become the choice for tradies who see a vehicle that they can use as a workhorse during the week and as a family hauler at weekends.


They also have huge appeal as an alternative lifestyle vehicle to an SUV.� Manufacturers have belatedly seized on this trend to make today�??s utes better suited to this dual-purpose role.� There�??s no greater example than safety, an area where utes have historically been poor.

In 2009, the safest utes still achieved only four out of five stars in independent crash testing, and the most you could expect as standard were anti-lock brakes and a couple of airbags.� The majority of the newest utes, however, are five-star performers and offer six airbags that also help to protect occupants in the rear.

Those models comprise the Ford Ranger, Mazda BT-50, Volkswagen Amarok and Holden Colorado that feature as part of this comparison �?" along with the equally new Isuzu D-Max that just missed out on a five-star rating.


Lifecycles for utes are much longer than your average passenger car or SUV, so the current Toyota HiLux, Nissan Navara (both out since 2005) and Mitsubishi Triton (since 2006) are in their twilight years but their huge popularity demands their inclusion here. (All-new Navara and Triton models are expected in 2014, with a next-generation HiLux at least another year away.)

To help CarAdvice find out which dual-cab ute is best, we enlisted the help of two builders who use utes on a daily basis. Paul Dermatis and Dean Pizzol are both builder project managers who are based in Sydney.


Dual-cab utes don�??t come cheap, but buyers are getting at least 5.2 metres of metal for the money. These are big vehicles (though still dwarfed by the likes of the American Ford F-150).

All ute ranges are extensive, including multiple offerings of dual or crew cab models in addition to cab-chassis and space-cab styles.

Our eight utes pivot around the $50,000 mark, with only a couple below that and most above by up to several thousand dollars. All have cheaper models below the grades we have tested here.


A couple of anomalies arise due to press car availability: the Mazda BT-50 is the only model present with a manual rather than automatic gearbox; the Nissan Navara STX550 costs from $63,390 where we would have chosen the $57,290 STX �?" but they are mechanically identical.

Varying price and model line-ups also mean some top their respective ranges while others are one grade below.

Feature commonalities to all eight utes are 17-inch alloy wheels, foglights, cloth seats, cruise control, trip computer, leather steering wheel and side steps and rear step. All have Bluetooth connectivity, though the Colorado, D-Max and Navara don�??t offer the contemporary audio streaming feature.


The Isuzu D-Max LS-U is the most affordable in the group at a starting price of $45,500 ($47,700 auto as tested). It doesn�??t offer many key features beyond the aforementioned list, though, and its air-conditioning system is basic where the rest are either climate control or dual-zone climate (Ranger, BT-50, Navara).

It�??s near-identical twin, the Holden Colorado that was also released in 2012, costs from $49,990 ($51,990 auto) and justifies some of that gap with extra features including the only standard tonneau cover in the group (soft standard but an optional $2500 hard cover was fitted to our test car).

Colorado is among five utes here to fit sports bars to the tray, joining the Navara STX, $45,740 ($48,240 auto) Triton GLX-R, auto-only $53,990 Amarok Highline, and Ranger XLT that costs from $53,390 ($55,390 auto).


The Ford Ranger and Mazda BT-50 are the other set of twins in this comparison, built in Thailand but with engineering and development led by Ford Australia.

There�??s a $4500 drop from the Ranger XLT to the $48,890 BT-50 XTR ($50,890 auto), some of which is offset by extra equipment. The Mazda adds satellite navigation but the Ford counters with an array of extras that include sports bar, auto headlights, auto-dimming rear view mirror, tow bar, rear parking sensors, privacy glass, heated side mirrors, and rain-sensing wipers that are also exclusive in this test.

Privacy glass is also offered on the Navara STX and Triton GLX-R.� The $50,990 ($53,490 auto) Toyota HiLux is the only other model to include sat-nav as standard (unless paying extra for the STX550), while it also has auto lights and is the only one with a DVD player.


The Amarok matches the Ranger�??s heated side mirrors and rear sensors, though is the only ute on test with auto windows all round and a steering wheel that adjusts for reach and not just height. The BT-50 follows all Mazda vehicles with no-cost metallic paint availability.

Mazda is the most miserly with its warranty, though, with just two years/100,000km. (The company will bump up the warranty to the latter if the BT-50 is driven less than 100,000km after two years.)

Volkswagen gets positive marks for making its warranty three years regardless of mileage, but Isuzu and Mitsubishi offer the greatest piece of mind with five-year warranties �?" though the D-Max�??s covers up to 130,000km where the Triton is up to 100,000km. All other models come with three-year/100,000km coverage.



Fuel economy is covered under our Engines & Performance section, so here we�??re focused on the biggest running cost (resale) and servicing. For residual values, we looked at Glass Guide�??s worst-case forecasts for each vehicle after three years and 60,000km.

Five utes sat around the 48 per cent (Ranger, Navara, Amarok) and 47 per cent (D-Max, BT-50) marks.

The Colorado is predicted to lose the most value over the period, worth just 44 per cent of its new-car price. And perhaps predictably, it�??s the highly reputable HiLux that sits at the top for resale, with 51 per cent, though the Triton matches it.


Six of the eight brands offer capped-price servicing to provide convenient transparency for buyers, though costs still vary greatly between Ford, Holden, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Toyota and Volkswagen.

The HiLux is the cheapest ute to service, with Toyota charging $170 for each of six services. A total cost of $1020 over three years is most closely matched by the Colorado ($1180) though that�??s for five services only (including an initial complimentary service).

Ford, Mitsubishi and Volkswagen stretch their servicing out over four years at every 15,000km. The Amarok is next cheapest at $1933, followed by the Triton ($1950) then the Ranger ($2095), while Nissan has the highest capped price servicing by some margin, with the Navara needing $2867.17 to be looked after over three years.


Isuzu and Mazda, the only brands not to offer CPS, are in the same ballpark. The D-Max LS-U costs $2625 with an average service cost of $375, but offers the largest number of services (seven) �?" which Isuzu says is important for vehicles typically operating in a hard-working environment. It also argues its services include air-con pollen filter replacement that would cost an extra $150 per service for its twin, the Colorado.

Mazda�??s BT-50 is only about $27 short of costing $1000 per year for servicing, with a total recommended servicing cost of $2919.24 over three years.


Turbo diesel power rules the ute roost, for the pulling power advantage these torque-biased engines holds over petrol.

If you�??re buying a ute purely on torque output, the Nissan Navara STX is the clear pick. Its 3.0-litre V6 produces 550Nm �?" 17 per cent more torque than the next strongest engines, the 470Nm 3.2-litre five-cylinder found in the Ford Ranger and Mazda BT-50, and the 2.8-litre four-cylinder in the Holden Colorado.


It�??s also the most powerful, with 170kW, though the impressive numbers don�??t equate to towing bragging rights. For braked towing capacity, the Navara sits at a segment average of 3000kg alongside D-Max, Triton and Amarok, all of which are 500kg shy of the class-leading Ranger, BT-50 and Colorado.

The D-Max, although related to the Colorado, also continues with a (modified, 380Nm) 3.0-litre four-cylinder, as does the HiLux. The Toyota has the least amount of torque (343Nm) but at least delivers peak torque from the lowest point in the rev range here �?" 1400 to 3400rpm.

The Triton has the second smallest engine �?" a 2.5-litre four-cylinder �?" and the second lowest torque output in auto form: 350Nm at 1800rpm.


Volkswagen�??s Amarok TDI420 has just a 2.0-litre four-cylinder, but it employs two turbochargers to produce a healthy 420Nm.

The German ute takes a different route in other ways, too. It�??s the only model in the group with an eight-speed auto, compared with a seven-speeder for the Navara STX, six-speeders for the Ranger, BT-50 and Colorado, five-speeders for D-Max and Triton, and just a four-ratio auto for the HiLux.

Amarok also stands out with permanent all-wheel drive (dubbed 4Motion), where the rest are rear-wheel drive with part-time four-wheel drive �?" selected either electrically by dials or mechanically via secondary levers depending on model.


Triton has selectable all-wheel drive for all surfaces including the bitumen, though the rest of the group are rear-wheel-drivers with selectable high range (4H for higher-speed off-roading) or low range (for trickier, low-speed off-roading).

Ranger and BT-50 include lockable rear differentials as standard, which are optional on the Amarok and Triton.


The Volkswagen drivetrain is a standout for other reasons, because it�??s by far the slickest found in its class. It comes closer than any of the diesels on test to mimicking a petrol engine in the way it sounds and revs. There�??s still some diesel clatter but not to the extent heard in all other engines.

Smoothness is aided by the smart-shifting eight-speed auto that reacts quickly to changes in gradients, downshifts adeptly under hard braking, and upshifts quickly to exploit the maximum torque that kicks in at 1750rpm. If you�??re in a sportier mood, use the tipshift to hold gears because this is a diesel engine that will rev eagerly towards a 5000rpm redline.


The Ranger and BT-50 five-cylinder �?" with its slightly offbeat diesel note �?" doesn�??t have such a good top end, but it�??s decent down low and has a particular sweet spot between 2000 and 3500rpm. This was especially noticeable using the six-speed manual of the BT-50, which also proved to be quicker than the auto Ranger in CarAdvice�??s performance tests.

The Mazda took 8.0 seconds to go from 80-120km/h in fourth gear compared with 9.3 seconds for the Ford.

Ford, however, did give us a brand new Ranger that initially had just 50km on the odo, and there�??s no doubt its all-round performance was hampered by an engine that had yet to loosen up.


Still, shifting quickly in manual diesels is a challenge and the Ranger was still quicker from 0-100km/h: 12.6 v 13.4 seconds.

The Mazda was joint-slowest in the standing start test, along with the Triton that was singularly slowest in rolling response (9.7sec) and with an engine that sounded the least refined on test.

Toyota was also towards the back of the pack on times, with figures of 13.1sec and 9.5sec not helped by the engine�??s comparative lack of grunt or auto�??s shortage of ratios.


The HiLux is the lightest of the group, though, even if at 1945kg that�??s a relative description.

Holden�??s Colorado scored respectable figures of 11.8sec and 8.6sec, behind or slightly ahead of its slightly-bigger-capacity twin, the D-Max (11.5 and 8.7sec). The Colorado is noisy at idle and low revs, however, while the Holden�??s auto also felt the busiest of the self-shifters, struggling to determine the appropriate gear.

Speed is far from everything when it comes to workhorse utes, though, and the HiLux, as well as the BT50, Triton and D-Max, hardly feel insufficient for their purposes.


If performance is a priority, the Navara STX is untouchable. In the 0-100 sprint it was the only ute to duck below 10 seconds �?" going two seconds faster than the next quickest ute (Amarok, 11.7sec). It also topped the 80-120km/h tests, using all of its mid-range might to record a straight 7.0 seconds.

The effortless nature of Nissan�??s V6 was noticeable beyond the numbers, with a quick-thinking auto while it was also one of the quietest performers along with the VW.

There�??s no question of the importance of fuel economy, and CarAdvice�??s real world figures show a greater spread of numbers than the official ADRs. According to the official combined cycle, just 1.5 litres separates the best-in-class D-Max (8.1L/100km auto) and worst-in-group Triton (9.6L/100km auto).


CarAdvice�??s figures �?" calculated after testing on a mixture of freeway, urban, rural and forest trail �?" revealed the D-Max to still be the most efficient of the auto diesels, with 10.0L/100km, but nearly four litres worse for the Ranger (13.7L/100km).

It�??s difficult to say how much the newness of the Ford�??s five-cylinder affected the result, though it was the heaviest vehicle on test at 2159kg.� The BT-50 had only a few hundred more kays on the clock though a direct comparison isn�??t possible as the Mazda�??s 9.2L/100km result benefited from the manual gearbox.

There were no excuses for the Triton (13.4L/100km); the Navara can argue 11.9L/100km is acceptable for class-leading outputs and performance; Colorado (11.2L/100km) and HiLux (11.1L/100km) were top-half performers; the Amarok (10.2L/100km) was a commendable third place (and auto runner-up) for economy.



Utes still need to have the ability to carry heavy loads, so you won�??t find any of the multi-link or torsion beam suspensions found under most passenger cars or SUVs.

Leaf spring rear suspensions are consistent throughout our range, along with ladder-frame chassis. Rear drum brakes are also common, with the HiLux an exception with disc brakes both front and rear.

So all utes are equal when it comes to compromising between handling loads and roads, though some are more equal than others.


Volkswagen, as the first mainstream European manufacturer to build a ute, actually offers buyers a choice of suspension for the Amarok depending on needs.

A standard heavy-duty suspension is for buyers expecting their ute trays to regularly pile on the pounds; a no-cost-option �??comfort�?? suspension, fitted to our test vehicle, removes a leaf from the rear springs to improve ride comfort but does cut the payload by 200kg.

There�??s still a firm ride to the Amarok and it won�??t absorb bumps as well as a well-sorted big SUV, but its comfort levels on the majority of roads are only bettered by the Ranger and Navara, followed by the Ford�??s more stiffly sprung twin, the BT-50.


Despite its age, the Nissan�??s ride, while lumpy on the freeway, is nicely supple and cushions occupants on bumpy roads that bring intrusions to the cabins of the HiLux, D-Max, Triton and Colorado.

The VW, Ford and Mazda utes, however, are in an elite club when it comes to having the most car-like behaviour on the road. Each manages to avoid the undesired body movements noticeable to varying degrees in the other models. The Toyota, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Isuzu and Holden all feel like they need a load in the tray to reduce bouncing over undulating country roads.

The steering in the Ranger and BT-50 is particularly uncanny in their car-like traits �?" both perfectly weighted and relatively direct compared with rivals that require much more arm-twirling to navigate corners or turns (none more so than the boat-like Triton).


Amarok�??s steering isn�??t quite so precise around the straight-ahead position, though its smoothness and light weighting is impressively familiar from any other Volkswagen.

If you were a tradie trading up from a great-handling car-based ute like the Holden Commodore Ute, the Amarok, Ranger and BT-50 would be a less dramatic change dynamically than stepping into the others.

The HiLux, though, was a surprise in a way. Despite being the oldest ute on test, there�??s a simple solidity to the Toyota in the way it copes with corners, offers decent steering weighting and accuracy, and has a suitably meaty feel to its pedals.


The steering of the D-Max and Navara is also likeable, though the Colorado�??s steering is vague and suffers badly from rack rattle. The Holden also had the worst brake pedal calibration in the group �?" feeling like hard work to bring to a stop compared with the other utes �?"� and it sits at the bottom of the group for refinement.

It had some of the most excessive wind noise and disappointing NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) that was embodied by an annoying buzz from the dash whenever the engine reached 1700rpm.

The Isuzu�??s ride is jiggly though again it shades its Holden relative in another area because the Colorado is choppy over uneven surfaces. Mitsubishi�??s Triton also struggles with body control, and is the least convincing on country roads owing to its ultra-slow steering and sloppy handling.


All of the utes can handle sloppy conditions, though. We took the group through a challenging forest trail that included deep water crossings, big and muddy ruts, and steep, rocky climbs and descents, and all traversed successfully.

That includes the Amarok that has the lowest ground clearance in the group, at 192mm, and is the only vehicle not feature a low-range transfer case. Instead, though, the TDI420�??s auto employs a short first gear to aid crawling (with high-geared 8th gear for economy) and an Off-road Mode can be activated at up to 130km/h via a button to alter the calibration of the stability control, electronic diffs and brakes to adjust for trickier terrain.

The hill descent control employable below 30km/h also proved effective.


Our three-up testing supported our driver-only assessment, with Paul and Dean occupying rear seats and finding the Colorado and Triton offered the least comfortable rides �?" the Holden especially due to its excessive pitching and the Mitsubishi especially for its excessive bounce that saw them hit their heads on the roof.

Most headroom was afforded by the Amarok (pictured below), HiLux, Ranger and BT-50, with the best forward vision and best under-thigh bench support provided by the same utes.


The Amarok�??s bench has the best bench angle but was also declared the firmest. The Colorado and D-Max have relatively soft benches in comparison.

HiLux is a bit squeezed on width to take three adults as comfortably as other utes, though the Navara has the least accommodating rear seat.

The Nissan (pictured below) is short on legroom and footspace, and its bolt-upright seatback means awkward, knees-up posture for passengers regardless of (adult) height. It�??s also the only ute in this group to omit a centre rear headrest. None of the utes offers rear vents, though.


Up front, the HiLux and Triton interior designs betray their age �?" looking a decade old compared with newer utes such as the Amarok, Ranger and BT-50. The Navara�??s chunky, vertical dash still holds up well.

The Ranger and BT-50 twins go different ways (though with some shared parts), with the Ford adopting a more machismo look to the Mazda�??s smarter, cleaner design that was the test team�??s preference. (Exterior design is another matter, however, with the Ranger�??s styling considered vastly better for its vehicle type not just against the Mazda but the rest of the group.)

The Isuzu and Holden brother-in-laws share much of their interior parts, including an infotainment display that�??s disappointing for its narrowness and lack of colour compared with similar screens from other newer-generation utes.


The D-Max, however, has a higher perception of quality. The Colorado�??s fit and finish lets it down especially, with misaligned joins and a window switch panel that wouldn�??t take much effort to break off from the door.

Cheap roof lining is found on every ute, and soft plastics are rare �?" making way for hard plastics that are excusable in a ute�??s case for the sake of durability.

The variety of surface textures lift the image of both the Ranger and BT-50, though it�??s the Volkswagen Amarok that has the classiest interior design thanks to instrument dials, heating and ventilation controls and an infotainment screen that clearly relate the Amarok�??s cabin with the likes of the Golf and Passat.


Even the (large) door bins are carpeted, while no ute could match the satisfying door-closing thuds of the VW that enhanced its reputation for build quality on test. (The driver�??s door of our test BT-50 was actually difficult to shut, though this is the first time we�??ve experienced this problem with the Mazda.)


When it comes to tray dimensions, the verdict from our guest tradies, Paul and Dean, were that none of the utes could claim a decisive advantage that would make you choose one over the other.

All trays are inevitably shorter than those found on the Falcon and Commodore two-door utes, while they said a 1.8 x 1.2 metre sheet of plywood common to the building trade, for an example, would still need to be laid over the back of the tailgate.

That includes the Amarok, which brings the biggest tray to the group in length, width and width between wheel arches.� For the record, the Colorado has the shortest tray, and the Triton has the narrowest (including distance between wheel arches).


All have good tray depths, though tradies Paul and Dean pointed out that noticeable gaps between the bottom of the tailgate and the tray floor on the Colorado and Navara had potential to see smaller tools fall out.

Most of the utes provide four tie-down points though the Ranger and BT-50 provide six. The Ford also includes a handy 12v 20amp charge point. The Nissan Navara differs by including four adjustable points on the sides with two tray rails to accommodate more adjustable points.

These utes are known as �??One Tonners�?? owing to their ability to carry about half the vehicle�??s own mass, with of our group able to carry more than 1000 kilograms and the other half less. (Figures vary slightly where manual transmissions are available.)


The Mazda BT-50 gets the Samson award with its 1088kg payload capacity, ahead of the other one-tonne-plus carriers the Colorado (1047kg), Ranger (1041kg) and D-Max (1015kg).

The HiLux (940kg) and Triton (931kg) are similar, and the Navara is relatively weak-armed with a 906kg payload. Volkswagen�??s Amarok can haul 969kg with standard Heavy Duty suspension but falls to just 769kg with the lighter Comfort suspension.


As we said in the introduction, ute manufacturers have made big safety steps in recent years. Volkswagen started the trend in 2011 when the Amarok became the first dual-cab ute to achieve a maximum five-star rating from independent crash test body NCAP.

The Ranger and BT-50 followed later the same year, and the Holden Colorado joined the club in 2012.� Its Japanese twin, the Isuzu D-Max, just missed out, however. It scored perfect marks in side impact and pole tests but rated lower than the Holden for occupant protection in the offset frontal crash test. Its four stars put it on par with the older models �?" Triton, HiLux and Navara.


All trim grades of the dual-cab utes offer electronic stability control, which can help prevent an accident in the first place. It�??s worth noting, however, that HiLux models below the range-topping SR5 miss out on this important technology.

There�??s still more that could be done from all the makers. It�??s surprising only the Amarok TDI420 and Ranger XLT are the only utes here to include rear sensors as standard. They�??re optional on the BT-50 XTR and Holden Colorado LTZ, while the Navara STX550 we tested does feature them but not the regular STX we�??re essentially comparing.

There�??s a fairly large ink stain on Volkswagen�??s safety book, though, because the Amarok is the only ute in the group to not offer a side curtain airbag that can also help protect rear passengers in the event of an accident. The HiLux (pictured below) also disappoints by including a lap-only belt for the centre rear passenger.



It�??s not unexpected that its newer-generation utes that occupy the top three positions in our comparison test, though it�??s the class of 2011 rather than the class of 2012 that excels.

The Holden Colorado is in the latter group and was a US$2 billion development project according to General Motors, though while its joint highest towing capacity and five-star crash rating will appeal to many buyers the disappointing levels of refinement and interior quality, plus a choppy ride, are among the factors that let it down.

Mitsubishi�??s Triton was one of the picks of this segment not so many years ago, but age has caught up with it faster than either the year-older Toyota HiLux and Nissan Navara and it�??s the least appealing of the dual-cab utes to drive.

IMG_1436 - 2

The HiLux and Navara sit in the middle of this pack, along with the Isuzu D-Max.

There�??s solidity to the Toyota that supports its tough-as-nails reputation, and while it doesn�??t stand out in any particular area neither does it do much wrong. Its price tag is relatively high but is also balanced by the joint-highest resale value and cheapest servicing.

The D-Max is sharply priced but while it can�??t quite match the Colorado�??s standard features, the Isuzu betters its twin in terms of fit and finish while testers preferred the carry-over drivetrain to the Holden�??s new 2.8-litre diesel auto combination. It also has the best warranty.


Nissan�??s Navara also falls a full star short of the best utes in class. Its V6 turbo diesel was a favourite with journalists and tradies alike, and its interior doesn�??t look as old as the cabins of the HiLux and Triton. But a high price tag that equipment struggles to justify, as well as the least comfortable and spacious rear seat makes the Navara the last of these utes you�??d choose for accommodating family members or work-mates, costs the Nissan points.

So to those terrific 2011 utes, the Ford Ranger, Mazda BT-50 and Volkswagen Amarok.

When it comes to car-like steering, ride comfort and the best composure on country roads (many tradies are driving enthusiasts), the Ranger, BT-50 and Amarok are on another plain.


The Ford and Mazda twins are harder to split than the Colorado and D-Max brothers-in-law, virtually inseparable �?" countering each other where they do actually differ.

The BT-50�??s pricing undercuts the Ranger, for example, but the Ford closes some of the gap with extra standard features. Even judging subjectively on design, the test team unanimously preferred the Mazda�??s interior but equally all gave the Ford the nod for exterior design.

The Volkswagen Amarok just edges both in this comparison. Its steering isn�??t as sweet as either, and its ride quality isn�??t as perfectly judged as the Ranger�??s. But in an era of dual-cab utes that have a broader role to play than ever before, the VW offers an excellent rear seat, the best interior in terms of design and quality, the biggest tray, permanent all-wheel drive for added assurance on slippery bitumen, and a brilliant engine and slick auto that bring deceptively strong performance and relatively parsimonious fuel consumption.



Paul and Dean largely shared their views on each of the utes. They said styling was an important factor for them, and both struggled with the curvy designs of the BT-50 and Triton.

The Ranger was their clear pick for design, saying it looked like �??a baby brother to the tough F-150 truck�?�. They also liked the Colorado�??s look but were otherwise disappointed by �??the way it drove, the way the cabin was finished, and the number of vibrations�?�.

Both were fans of the Navara�??s torque-laden engine but had issues with its cramped back seat and dated styling.


The D-Max and HiLux impressed them �?" the Isuzu for a price tag that was �??perfect for tradies on a budget and just needing a work hack�?�, and the Toyota for its back seat comfort and reputation for aftersales, modification options and reliability.

They felt the Toyota was �??a bit underpowered�?�, though, and the lack of a five-star crash rating for the HiLux, D-Max, Navara and Triton wasn�??t ideal.

The Navara joined the BT-50, Ranger and Amarok as the best utes to drive, in their view. They felt the Ford�??s superior ride comfort made it preferable to the Mazda.

Paul the Builder lores

Paul (pictured above) and Dean had the most to say about the VW Amarok, believing it was the most car-like of the group, and wondering if it was almost �??too flash to be a tradie�??s vehicle�?�.

They loved the �??high-tech�?� gearbox and were amazed by the small engine that loved to rev yet delivered plenty of pulling power. Both said the availability of capped price servicing for the VW helped to overcome concerns about the company�??s reliability saga, though Dean said his love of serious off-roading meant the lack of a low-range transfer case for the TDI420 model ruled the Amarok out for him personally.

The Ford�??s superior ride comfort placed it above the Mazda in their rankings, and both named the Ranger as their overall favourite despite concerns about the Ford�??s fuel consumption.

This comparison review first appeared in the August/September issue of the CarAdvice iPad magazine app.� Head to the Apple App Store to download the entire issue.

Photography by Matyas Fulop.

Ford Ranger XLT

Price: from $53,390
Engine: 3.2-litre 5-cyl turbo diesel
Power: 147kW at 3000rpm
Torque: 470Nm at 1500-2750rpm
Transmission: 6-sp automatic, part-time 4WD (manual standard)
0-100km/h: 12.6 seconds
Fuel consumption: 9.2L/100km claimed (13.7L/100km on test)
CO2 emissions: 246g/km

Holden Colorado LTZ

Price: from $49,990
Engine: 2.8-litre 4-cyl turbo diesel
Power: 132kW at 3800rpm
Torque: 470Nm at 2000rpm (440Nm man.)
Transmission: 6-sp automatic, part-time 4WD (manual standard)
0-100km/h: 11.8 seconds
Fuel consumption: 9.1L/100km claimed (11.2L/100km on test)
CO2� emissions: 242g/km

Isuzu D-Max LS-U

Price: from $45,500
Engine: 3.0-litre 4-cyl turbo diesel
Power: 130kW at 3600rpm
Torque: 380Nm at 1800-2800rpm
Transmission: 5-sp automatic, part-time 4WD (manual standard)
0-100km/h: 11.5 seconds
Fuel consumption: 8.1L/100km claimed (10.0L/100km on test)
CO2 emissions: 214g/km

Mazda BT-50 XTR

Price: from $48,890
Engine: 3.2-litre 5-cyl turbo diesel
Power: 147kW at 3000rpm
Torque: 470Nm at 1500-2750rpm
Transmission: 6-sp manual, part-time 4WD (auto optional)
0-100km/h: 13.4 seconds
Fuel consumption: 8.9L/100km claimed (9.2L/100km on test)
CO2 emissions: 235g/km

Mitsubishi Triton GLX-R

Price: from $45,740
Engine: 2.5-litre 4-cyl turbo diesel
Power: 131kW at 4000rpm
Torque: 350Nm at 1800rpm (400Nm man.)
Transmission: 5-sp automatic, RWD with selectable full-time 4WD (manual standard)
0-100km/h: 13.4 seconds
Fuel consumption: 9.6L/100km claimed (13.4L/100km on test)
CO2 emissions: 253g/km

Nissan Navara STX

Price: from $57,290
Engine: 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel
Power: 170kW at 3750rpm
Torque: 550Nm at 1750rpm
Transmission: 7-sp automatic, part-time 4WD
0-100km/h: 9.7 seconds
Fuel consumption: 9.3L/100km claimed (11.9L/100km on test)
CO2 emissions: 246g/km

Toyota HiLux

Price: from $50,990
Engine: 3.0-litre 4-cyl turbo diesel
Power: 126kW at 3600rpm
Torque: 343Nm at 1400-3400rpm
Transmission: 4-sp automatic, part-time 4WD (manual standard)
0-100km/h: 13.1 seconds
Fuel consumption: 9.3L/100km claimed (11.1L/100km on test)
CO2 emissions: 245g/km

Volkswagen Amarok TDI420 Highline

Price: from $53,990
Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cyl twin-turbo diesel
Power: 132kW at 4000rpm
Torque: 420Nm at 1750rpm
Transmission: 8-sp automatic, AWD
0-100km/h: 11.7 seconds
Fuel consumption: 8.3L/100km claimed (10.2L/100km on test)
CO2 emissions: 219g/km