Elite Force

With a sales war raging between the Hilux and Ranger, Toyota and Ford have called in the shock troops. Enter the Hilux TRD and the Ranger FX4.

WORDS FRASER STRONACH PHOTOS MARK BEAN

DRIVEN TOYOTA HILUX TRD VS FORD RANGER FX4

With a sales war raging between the Hilux and Ranger, Toyota and Ford have called in the shock troops. Enter the Hilux TRD and the Ranger FX4.

MAKE no mistake, this is war. Toyota’s Hilux and Ford’s Ranger are fighting it out to not only be Australia’s most popular ute and 4x4, but – crucially – Australia’s most popular vehicle overall, ahead of the likes of Toyota’s Corolla and the Mazda3. Year-to-date sales of the Hilux are 17,917, with the Ranger close behind at 16,587.

Both are ahead of the Corolla 15,624 and Mazda3 14,562.

More tellingly, Ranger sales are climbing faster than Hilux, and the Ranger is already ahead in 4x4 sales, which is where most of the sales are in the ute market. If current trends continue, the Ranger will wrest the mantle of Australia’s bestselling vehicle from the Hilux before year’s end.

Within the extensive Hilux and Ranger model line-ups, which range from base work vehicles to well-appointed family transport, the higher-spec 4x4 dual-cabs are hot property on the showroom floor. It’s no surprise then that Toyota and Ford have pitched both of these models in that direction.

For Toyota, the TRD model sits above the top-spec SR5, whereas over at Ford the FX4 slots between the popular XLT and the top-spec Wildtrak. So, how do they compare and which one is worthy of your hard-earned dollars?

TOYOTA HILUX TRD

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

WITH NO PERFORMANCE ENHANCEMENTS, IS THE HILUX TRD WORTHY OF THE TOYOTA RACING DEVELOPMENT NOMENCLATURE?

IT HAS been almost ten years since the TRD nameplate was attached to a Hilux. That was the previous generation Hilux – and a petrol V6 at that. TRD stands for Toyota Racing Development, a division within Toyota that deals with racing and performance parts.

The previous (launched in 2008) Hilux TRD was a product of Toyota Australia’s TRD division and came with a supercharger for the 4.0-litre petrol V6, Bilstein sports suspension, bigger front brake callipers and rotors, a body kit, and numerous styling details. Thanks to the supercharger, the power was up by nearly 30 per cent – to 225kW – and torque up 20 per cent to 453Nm. Nice on paper, but unfortunately it didn’t fully deliver on its promise and was withdrawn from sale after 18 months. Now it’s probably a collector’s item!

Fast forward to 2017 and this latest TRD is diesel-only and has nothing that you’d traditionally associate with TRD, as there are no performance enhancements. However, you get extra kit in the form of a prominent red skid plate, bespoke 18-inch rims, leather, a towbar, ute liner, soft tonneau and details such as new wheelarch flares, grille, lower bumper and taillight covers. It comes in either black or white.

POWERTRAIN AND PERFORMANCE

THE Hilux is powered by the now familiar 2.8-litre diesel that’s common to the Fortuner – it’s effectively what’s under the bonnet of the Prado, although the Prado’s 2.8-litre has counter-rotating balance shafts for even smoother running.

Despite a reduction in capacity over the previous 3.0-litre Hilux diesel, the 2.8 makes considerably more maximum torque (now 450Nm) and around the same power. So while the engine is more responsive in general giveand- take driving, it’s certainly no powerhouse pedal-to-metal and a fair way short of the performance of the Ranger. It’s a pity the TRD badge didn’t come with a performance chip, a bigger exhaust and a bit more grunt.

The six-speed automatic which replaced the five-speeder behind the 3.0-litre doesn’t help either in terms of performance, it just adds a

second overdrive ratio rather than tightening up the ratio spread. What’s worse is that the engine doesn’t carry the extra tall sixth all that well at legal highway speeds on undulating roads, so there’s a bit of shuffling back and forth between fifth and sixth. At least shift quality is good.

Still, for all that, the 2.8 is an agreeable engine. Smooth, quiet and torquey down low, but also happy to rev hard when asked.

Compared to the relatively gruff Ranger it’s noticeably quieter, more refined and a bit more economical, but it does lack the Ranger’s grunt and ultimate performance.

ON-ROAD RIDE AND HANDLING

THE Hilux feels quite nimble for a modern-day ute, due in part to the fact it’s now one of the smaller utes in most dimensions – it certainly feels smaller than the Ranger.

Toyota has also done well with steering feel, general handing response and road-noise abatement, apparently learning something from the refined and sweet-handling VW Amarok that appeared early in the development of this generation Hilux and was subsequently accessed by the Hilux’s engineering team.

Either way, its general road manners are much improved on the previous Hilux, even if the ride is a bit sharp at the back when unladen – which is hard to avoid with a ute.

OFF-ROAD

THE TRD’s trump card off-road is the notably long rear-wheel travel. At more than half a metre, it’s an improvement of near 70mm over the previous Hilux and is a best-in-class figure.

That wheel travel is backed by an extremely effective off-road-specific traction control system (A-TRC, in Toyota-speak) to provide 4x4 ability that’s as good as it gets in this class.

Compared to the Ranger, and many others, the Hilux’s more compact dimensions can also be a bonus in tighter situations Interestingly, the TRD, like the SR and SR5, has a driver-switched rear locker, but as its activation cancels the traction control on both axles, leaving the front diff effectively ‘open’, it’s more often than not a disadvantage.

In contrast, the Ranger’s locker leaves the front-axle traction control active, which is a bonus. This would most likely put the Ranger in front of the Hilux for general tractive ability, if it weren’t for the Hilux’s extra rear travel.

It’s worth noting the TRD’s red bash plate is

THE HILUX TRD’S 2.8-LITRE ENGINE IS SMOOTH, QUIET AND TORQUEY DOWN LOW, BUT ALSO HAPPY TO REV HARD WHEN ASKED

WHAT YOU GET

ALL Hilux 4x4 dualcabs come with seven airbags, a reversing camera (accessory for cab-chassis), Bluetooth, tilt-andreach steering-wheel adjustment, cruise control, daytime running lamps, electronic traction stability, and trailer-sway control. SR adds sidesteps, carpets, up-spec audio, a larger touchscreen, a cooler/ heater box, driver’s seat-height adjustment, and a rear diff lock.

SR5 then adds 18-inch alloys (in place of the 17-inch steels), privacy glass, chrome grille and rear step, fogs lights, LED DRLs, a sports bar, auto key/pushbutton start, climate control, sat-nav, digital radio, and a premium instrument cluster. SR5 also has smooth-sided tubs rather than tubs with external tie downs.

Over and above the SR, SR5+ adds leather and electric driver’s seat adjustment. Sitting at the top of the range and based on the SR5, the TRD’s key features include a prominent red skid, bespoke 18-inch rims, leather, a towbar, ute liner, soft tonneau, and numerous styling details in black.


an addition to the standard bash plate, which remains in-situ, and while it may afford extra protection it can also reduce the approach angle in some situations.

CABIN, ACCOMMODATION AND SAFETY

THE TRD has smart-key entry and push-button start, as well as the tilt-and-reach steering wheel that’s standard across the Hilux range. All of this kit sets it aside from any Ranger – FX4 included – as well as most other utes.

Like all Hilux models, the TRD is nicely finished inside and has a passenger-car-style dash dominated by the large love-it-or-leave it tablet-style touchscreen, while the TRD’s leather and electric adjust for the driver’s seat adds a touch of luxury. Five-star safety is thanks, in part, to seven airbags.

The Hilux’s cabin is one of the smaller in this class. Not that this affects the driver and front-seat passenger, but three big blokes would certainly prefer to be in the Ranger’s rear seat (or most other utes) rather than the Hilux.

PRACTICALITIES

AS WITH all 2.8-litre diesel automatic Hilux models, the TRD can legally tow up to 3200kg. If you wish to tow 3500kg like the Ranger, you’ll need the 2.8-litre diesel manual. In our tow test, we put 2800kg behind the Hilux and it did it without fuss. Likewise, it carried its maximum payloads without a problem – even if they are shy of the Ranger’s maximum payloads by 100kg or so at this TRD versus FX4 spec level. This aside, the Hilux is the practicality king in terms of dealer support and both factory and aftermarket accessories.

TOYOTA HILUX*

ENGINE 2.8-litre 4-cyl turbo-diesel MAX POWER 130kW @ 3400rpm MAX TORQUE 450Nm @ 1600-2400rpm GEARBOX six-speed automatic 4X4 SYSTEM dual-range part-time CRAWL RATIO 36.1:1 CONSTRUCTION separate-chassis FRONT SUSPENSION independent/coil springs REAR SUSPENSION live axle/leaf springs KERB WEIGHT 2075kg to 2080kg GVM 3050kg PAYLOAD 920kg to 925kg TOWING CAPACITY 3200kg TOWBALL DOWNLOAD 320kg GCM 5650kg FUEL TANK CAPACITY 80 litres ADR FUEL CLAIM 8.5 litres/100km TEST FUEL USE 11.0 litres/100km TOURING RANGE** 677km *4x4 2.8-litre dual-cab pick-up autos only. **Based on test fuel use, claimed fuel capacity and a 50km ‘safety’ margin.

TOYOTA HILUX PRICES*

SR $48,490 SR5 $55,990 SR5+ $57,990 TRD White $60,990 TRD Black $61,540 *2.8-litre 4x4 dual-cab pick-up automatics only.

FORD RANGER FX4

THE DARK SIDE

FORD SPICES UP ITS XLT WITH EXTRA KIT AND AESTHETIC TWEAKS TO CREATE THIS SPECIAL EDITION FX4.

THERE are those among us who, upon hearing of the Ranger FX4, immediately think of the F150 FX4, America’s favourite pick-up truck made more off-road ready with extra underbody protection, upgraded dampers and a rear locker. However, it was quickly a case of ‘don’t get too excited’, as FX4 in Ranger terms means cosmetics and kit, not mechanical changes – aside from a new wheel and tyre package.

The FX4 is essentially a ‘black’ or ‘dark’ special-edition version of the volume-selling XLT – an alternative ‘look’ for the XLT, if you like.

Key exterior features include bespoke dark grey 18s (instead of the XLT’s 17s), black bonnet and tailgate panel decals, and black grille, roof rails, mudguard flares, mirror bodies, sportsbar, rear bumper, side-steps, door handles and fog-light surrounds. Inside, there are FX4-branded leather seats and various black highlights.

POWERTRAIN AND PERFORMANCE

THE FX4 is powered by the 3.2-litre five-cylinder diesel, effectively the default engine across the Ranger model line-up; although, there’s a very underrated 2.2-litre four-cylinder diesel in lower-spec 4x4 models. To some people, a fivecylinder engine sounds wrong – perhaps out of balance – as it doesn’t have an even number of cylinders. To put the record straight, an in-line five is inherently smoother than an in-line four, and the Ranger’s engine is smooth, except for a somewhat lumpy idle (a typical in-line-five trait).

However, the five-cylinder design brings a likeable character and offbeat sound, but what’s even better about this engine is the strong power delivery right from idle. By just 1500rpm it’s already producing its maximum torque figure of 470Nm, and it responds accordingly. What’s more, the engine holds that 470Nm for the next 1250rpm, which provides perfectly linear power delivery in this vital rev range.

Much of the Ranger’s strong power delivery comes courtesy of the big 3.2-litre engine, the biggest in the class along with the similarengined Mazda BT-50. It’s nearly half a litre bigger (443cc, to be exact) than the Hilux and feels like it, too. It’s also a bit gruff and noisy compared to the Hilux, and it’s not as polished around the edges. So where the Ranger’s engine feels blokey, relaxed and muscular, the Hilux’s

is quieter and more refined, despite working generally harder.

The Ranger is geared more appropriately for most open road conditions and makes better use of its six ratios than the overly tall-geared Hilux.

Good shift quality and smart shift protocols characterise the Ranger’s ZF automatic, although it is not noticeably better in this regard than the Hilux’s six-speeder.

ON-ROAD RIDE AND HANDLING

CLIMB into the FX4 after the TRD and it feels big, but it also feels instantly light and manoeuvrable as soon as you turn the steering wheel, thanks to its electric power steering.

The FX4’s steering is actually feather-light at parking speeds, belying the Ranger’s size and bulk. The steering then firms up nicely as speeds increase to give plenty of feedback out on the highway, where the Ranger has a reassuring and settled feel, no doubt helped by the extra long (3220mm) wheelbase. When unladen, the FX4, like all Ranger 4x4 dual-cabs, also rides surprisingly well.

OFF-ROAD

THE FX4 has many things going for it off-road, and it all starts with generous suspension travel at both ends of the chassis. The Ranger’s supple, long-travel suspension allows it to ease over rough ground that many other utes – Colorado, D-MAX, Triton and Navara – struggle on. In this class, it’s comfortably better than most, even if it can’t match the standard-setting rear wheel travel of the Hilux.

If the FX4 – or indeed, any Ranger 4x4 dualcab – needs a leg up, there’s the driver-switched rear diff lock that, unlike others, leaves the traction control active on the front axle. The end result is 4x4 capability that’s as good as it gets in any of the popular utes, with only the Hilux and Amarok in the same league.

Only a few things count against the FX4 offroad: you notice its size in tight spots (even if the EPS helps with wheel twirling), the driver’s vision could be better, and the factory towbar does nothing for the departure angle.

CABIN, ACCOMMODATION AND SAFETY

AS FLASH-looking as the FX4 is when you’re walking up to it, there’s still not the convenience of keyless entry and push-button start. Nor are there other luxuries such as reach adjustment for

WHERE THE RANGER’S ENGINE FEELS BLOKEY, RELAXED AND MUSCULAR, THE HILUX’S IS QUIETER AND MORE REFINED, DESPITE WORKING HARDER

WHAT YOU GET ALL Ranger 4x4 dualcabs utes have six cabin airbags, cruise control, Bluetooth, auto headlights, a rear locker, and stability, traction and trailer-sway control.

Bar the XL Plus, they have a 230-volt outlet in cabin. The XL Plus gets an auxiliary battery and 17-inch steel rims in place of the XL’s 16s.

The XLS adds carpet and 17-inch alloys. The XLT adds sat-nav, larger touchscreen, dual-zone climate, a centreconsole cooler, rear parking sensors, auto wipers, tyre pressure sensors, a 12-volt outlet in the tub, a sportsbar, sidesteps and 3500kg-rated towbar.

The limited-edition is effectively a ‘dark’ version of the XLT, with black styling highlights, FX4-tagged leather and bespoke 18s. The topspec Wildtrak adds a reversing camera, front parking sensors, leather, heated front seats, power-adjust for the driver’s seat, 18-inch alloys, a lockable roller cover for the tub. An optional Tech pack includes radar cruise control, forwardcollision warning, lane-departure warning and a driverimpairment monitor.


the steering wheel, or even electric adjustment for the driver’s seat once you get inside.

However, what you get is a big cabin with plenty of room for tall drivers. The FX4’s cabin, like all Ranger dual-cabs (as well as BT-50 dual-cabs), is also the longest in the class, so if you want to sit a tall passenger behind a tall driver, this is the place to do it. This cabin is wide across the back seat, a dimension only bettered by the Amarok in this class. Like the TRD, the FX4 has five-star ANCAP safety, but one less airbag.

PRACTICALITIES

IF YOU wish to tow or carry heavy loads, the Ranger FX4 will do the job as good as any of the popular mainstream utes, including the Toyota Hilux.

In our recent maxxed-out load and tow test, we put a 3500kg trailer weight behind the Ranger and it towed it without fuss.

Likewise, we put 800kg in the tray (for 1000kg total payload) and it hardly noticed the weight. The FX4 (like all Rangers) has a classleading 6000kg GCM and is well-supported by aftermarket and factory accessories.

IF YOU WISH TO TOW OR CARRY HEAVY LOADS, THE FX4 WILL DO THE JOB AS GOOD AS ANY OF THE POPULAR MAINSTREAM UTES, INCLUDING THE HILUX

FORD RANGER PRICES*

XL $49,790 XL Plus $53,290 XLS $51,090 XLT $57,690 FX4 $61,115 Wildtrak $61,790 *Prices do not include on-road costs. 3.2-litre 4x4 dual-cab pick-up automatics only.

FORD RANGER*

ENGINE 3.2-litre 5-cyl turbo-diesel MAX POWER 147kW @ 3000rpm MAX TORQUE 470Nm @ 1500-2750rpm GEARBOX six-speed automatic 4X4 SYSTEM dual-range part-time CRAWL RATIO 42.3:1 CONSTRUCTION separate-chassis FRONT SUSPENSION independent/coil springs REAR SUSPENSION live axle/leaf springs KERB WEIGHT 2068kg to 2200kg GVM 3200kg PAYLOAD 1000kg to 1132kg TOWING CAPACITY 3500kg TOWBALL DOWNLOAD 350kg GCM 6000kg FUEL TANK CAPACITY 80 litres ADR FUEL CLAIM 9.2 litres/100km TEST FUEL USE 11.3 litres/100km TOURING RANGE** 658km *4x4 dual-cab pick-up autos only. **Based on test fuel use, claimed fuel capacity and a 50km ‘safety’ margin.

THE VERDICT

TAKING STOCK

OTHER THAN PRICE, THE TRD AND FX4 SHARE VERY LITTLE IN COMMON.

ON THE dollar count, the FX4 and TRD are almost identical. At the manufacturer’s list price the FX4 is $61,115 for the automatic as tested here. Opt for the manual and you’ll save $2200. Over at Toyota, a TRD automatic list price is $60,990 in white and $61,540 in black. Opt for a manual and you’ll save $2000.

It wasn’t hard to find much to like about the FX4 when comparing the two side-by-side. It had notably stronger and more relaxed performance, generally better road feel, bigger cabin, more towing and load-carrying capacity and ability, and off-road performance every bit as good as the Hilux. As a ute to drive, it’s a better bet all round.

The TRD counters with superior refinement, better fit and finish, a feel of quality the FX4 lacks, and a few important convenience features including ‘smart key’ entry and start, electric seat adjust, and tilt-and-reach wheel adjustment. Plus, it gets a tub liner and soft tonneau cover.

The TRD also comes with the promise of Toyota reliability and durability. On this point, there are a couple of pointed examples to consider: Why doesn’t the Hilux’s traction control stay active across the front axle when the rear locker is engaged? Because of durability concerns, according to Toyota engineers. And why doesn’t the Hilux have electric power steering given the considerable benefits it brings? Because of durability concerns, according to Toyota engineers.

So do you want a ute that’s better to drive, or potentially better to own in the long run? Road tester Dan Everett summed it up succinctly by saying: “I’d buy the Ranger for myself, but as a fleet buyer I’d go for the Hilux.”

DO YOU WANT A UTE THAT’S BETTER TO DRIVE, OR BETTER TO OWN IN THE LONG RUN?