MID-YEAR REPORT CARD

POPULARITY CONTEST

WORDS FRASER STRONACH

What’s hot and what’s not among Australia’s best-selling 4x4s.

THERE’S a new bully in the 4x4 sales playground. As of this year, the Ford Ranger has taken over from the Toyota Hilux as Australia’s most popular 4x4, which means, for the first time in decades, the tables have turned and Australia’s most popular 4x4 isn’t a Toyota.

While Toyota isn’t bleeding too much right now – as the Hilux still outsells the Ranger when you include 4x2 variants – the Ranger’s star is rising. Sales of Ranger 4x4 to the end of May 2017 verses end of May 2016 increased at twice the rate of the Hilux, and the recent demise of the Falcon ute can only enhance sales of the Ranger 4x2.

In the bigger picture, Toyota still looks comfortable in the 4x4 market, with the Prado and Land Cruiser 200 joining the Hilux in the top-10 best sellers. And, in a market still dominated by utes – with Triton, Colorado, Navara, D-MAX and BT-50 also in the top 10 – there are now three wagons in the mix thanks to the rise of Mitsubishi’s Pajero Sport.

So, how do they stack up when Principal Stronach hands out the mid-year report cards?

01 FORD RANGER

SALES

2017 (TO JUNE) 14,114 2016 (TO JUNE) 11,789 CHANGE 19.7%

Hail the new king

SINCE THE START OF 2017, THE FORD RANGER HAS BEEN AUSTRALIA’S BEST-SELLING 4X4.

Engine: 3.2-litre I5 diesel Power/Torque: 147kW/470Nm Gearbox: 6-speed auto 4x4 system: dual-range part-time Weight: 2159kg GVM: 3200kg Towing: 3500kg Fuel g capacity: 80L ADR claim: 9.2L/100km THERE’S somewhat of a sad irony in the Ranger taking over as Australia’s best-selling 4x4, as the Ranger is effectively Australian designed and developed, yet the Australian car-building industry is in the process of closing down.

In fact, Ford has already stopped building cars in Australia, though it will keep a local design and development facility going into the future.

The Ranger is currently not only the best-selling 4x4 in Australia, but it’s also close to out-stripping the Hilux as Australia’s best-selling new car – and by year’s end, it should be just that.

The Ranger deserves the success it’s having, as it’s an excellent ute in any role it’s asked to perform.

Much of its ability at doing everything well comes from the grunt and flexibility of its 3.2-litre five-cylinder diesel. This unique engine is the basis of the Ranger’s strong performance and class-leading towing and load-carrying ability. If you want to tow 3500kg or haul a 1000kg payload, this is the ute you want.

The Ranger won’t disappoint off-road, with excellent wheel travel and generous ground clearance. A tweak to the 4x4 system in the Ranger’s 2015 mid-life refresh means the rear diff lock, which is standard on all Ranger 4x4s, doesn’t cancel the electronic traction control across the front axle when activated, as was the case before the 2015 upgrade and with most utes the Ranger competes against.

If towing or off-roading isn’t your thing, then the Ranger is an engaging and enjoyable on-road drive, especially out on the highways and byways. The Ranger then backs up this good-ateverything disposition with a big, spacious and comfortable cabin. While there’s no reach adjustment for the steering wheel, it still offers a great driving position. Another positive is that the combined front and rear legroom of the notably long cabin is also as good as it gets in its class.

02 TOYOTA HILUX

SALES

2017 (TO JUNE) 13,202 2016 (TO JUNE) 12,099 CHANGE 9.1%

A king deposed

THE HILUX’S 12-YEAR RUN AT THE TOP OF THE 4X4 SALES CHARTS HAS COME TO AN END… AT LEAST FOR THE TIME BEING.

Engine: 2.8-litre 4-cyl diesel Power/Torque: 130kW/450Nm Gearbox: 6-speed auto 4x4 system: dual-range part-time weight: 2075kg GVM: 3000kg Towing: 3200kg Fuel capacity: 80L 0kg Towi g ADR fuel claim: 8.5L/100km IN 2016, the Hilux was Australia’s bestselling new car overall, the first time ever a commercial vehicle has held that honour in this country. At the same time, the Hilux marked 12 years as Australia’s best-selling 4x4.

However, it’s a new story this year.

Despite Hilux 4x4 sales continuing to climb (up nearly 10 per cent year-on-year), the rate of growth is declining, and the Hilux has been knocked off pole position by the hard-charging Ford Ranger.

For better or worse, Toyota decided to downsize from a 3.0-litre diesel to a 2.8-litre in this latest Hilux, and while this new engine is notably quieter, more refined and more economical than the Ranger’s 3.2 five, it falls short in grunt.

Pedal to the metal, it’s initially more responsive than the old 3.0-litre, but gives much more when fully stretched, as sweet as it is and regardless of how hard it tries. At least the new six-speed auto is a nicer proposition than the previous five-speed, even if it’s over-geared in sixth for most highway driving, especially on undulating roads.

There’s little to complain about when off-road, thanks to the best-inclass wheel travel at the rear and an extremely effective traction control system. Up-spec Hilux models also have a driver-switched rear locker, but it doesn’t enhance matters as it cancels the traction across both axles.

The Hilux’s cabin isn’t as big as most others in the class, but it does offer tiltand- reach steering adjustment, while the high quality interior fit-and-finish is mirrored in the Hilux’s ‘well-built’ feel – something that should bode well in terms of longevity and durability, both attributes synonymous with the Toyota brand.

Buyers looking for something unique in the ute class also have the option of a petrol engine – a smooth 4.0-litre V6 – although, perhaps not for long given the lack of buyer interest in petrol utes.

03 MITSUBISHI TRITON

SALES 2017 (TO JUNE) 7661 2016 (TO JUNE) 7571 CHANGE 1.2%

Value package

DON’T JUDGE A UTE BY ITS COVER. THE MITSUBISHI TRITON DELIVERS MORE THAN IT PROMISES.

Engine: 2.4-litre 4-cyl diesel Power/Torque: 133kW/430Nm Gearbox: 5-speed auto 4x4 system: dual-range full-time (+2WD) Weight: 1950kg GVM: 2900kg Towing: 3100kg Fuel capacity: 75L ADR To fuel claim: 7.6L/100km MITSUBISHI’S Triton ute is holding steady at number three on the 4x4 sales charts. So steady, in fact, 2017 sales almost mirror 2016, the first full year of sales for this latest, fifthgeneration Triton.

However, if things stay this way, the Triton is in danger of being knocked out of the third place it has held for a few years now by the quickly rising Colorado.

Sales of this latest Triton are also well behind those of the last-generation Triton when it was in run-out mode back in 2015, but with the Pajero Sport joining Triton in the top-ten best sellers, it’s unlikely Mitsubishi, or its dealers, are complaining too much.

The Triton stands out among the current crop of 4x4 utes in a number of ways. One reason is the full-time 4x4 of GLS and Exceed models, thanks to Mitsubishi’s ‘Super Select’ system. Full-time 4x4 adds greatly to the Triton’s functionality, driveability and safety under most driving conditions, and it stands the Triton apart from all of its competitors bar the Amarok.

Super Select also has a 2WD mode, so it’s different again from a conventional fulltime system.

Unfortunately, Super Select doesn’t make the Triton a gun off-road ute, but that’s all to do with its modest suspension travel and ground clearance and nothing to do with the Super Select system.

The Triton is also a small ute by class standards in cabin size, payloads and towing capacity. The fact that most of the tray of the dual-cab models overhangs the rear axle is also a negative when it comes to carrying or towing heavy loads; although, the 2.4- litre diesel holds up its end even if the chassis layout isn’t ideal.

One positive here is that the Triton is more manoeuvrable than the others in its class, thanks to its relatively short wheelbase. It also has sporty feel to the way it steers and handles, thanks in part to being lighter than most competitors.

04 HOLDEN COLORADO

SALES

2017 (TO JUNE) 7423 2016 (TO JUNE) 6095 CHANGE 21.8%

Home run

SALES FOR HOLDEN’S REVAMPED 2017 COLORADO ARE HEADING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION.

Engine: 2.8-litre 4-cyl diesel Power/Torque: 147kW/500Nm Gearbox: 6-speed auto 4x4 system: dual-range part-time Weight: 2121kg GVM: 3150kg Towing: 3500kg Fuel capacity: 76L ADR fuel claim: 8.7L/100km HOLDEN’S Colorado spluttered along in both sales and the way it drove when it first arrived in 2012. Over the next couple of years, Holden tweaked it here and there and then finally pulled it completely apart and put it back together again for the 2017 model year.

Whether it’s due more to this rebirth or Holden’s aggressive advertising push, Colorado sales have soared in 2017 compared to 2016 and have recorded the biggest percentage gain within Australia’s top ten 4x4s.

While Colorado sales are still around half of those of Ranger and Hilux, it has just about closed the gap to the stagnating Triton and may well take over third spot in the 4x4 ranks by year’s end.

The MY17 changes run to moving the engine’s balance shafts, a new torque convertor for the six-speed auto, recalibrated suspension, electric power steering, adding sound deadening, changing the engine and body mounts, a thicker windscreen, and new window seals, roof mouldings and mirror mounts.

On road, the Colorado is more refined to the point where the gap to the Ranger has been closed.

It also steers, rides and handles far better than before. And while the VM Motori 2.8-litre four-cylinder diesel revs harder than the 3.2-litre five of the Ford Ranger (or Mazda BT-50), it gives nothing away in outright performance and does a very good job towing its maximum rating of 3500kg.

One notable highlight is the Colorado’s auto ’box, which is the best in this class save for the eight-speed used with both V6 and four-cylinder engines in the Amarok range.

Not so good is the Colorado’s offroad performance. It’s still a robust and capable off-road ute, but it doesn’t have the extra yard of offroad ability offered by the Ford Ranger, Toyota Hilux and Volkswagen Amarok, all of which comfortably lead the rest of the field.

05 TOYOTA PRADO

SALES

2017 (TO JUNE) 6686 2016 (TO JUNE) 6223 CHANGE 6.9%

Family first

THE PRADO IS AUSTRALIA’S MOST POPULAR 4X4 WAGON BY A GOOD MARGIN… AND FOR GOOD REASON.

Engine: 2.8-litre 4-cyl diesel Power/Torque: 130kW/450Nm Gearbox: 6-speed auto 4x4 system: dual-range full-time Weight: 2290kg GVM: 2900kg Towing: 2500kg Fuel capacity: 150L ADR g fuel claim: 8.0L/100km AFTER a few years of slowly eroding sales, the Prado’s star is on the rise again. The final year of the previous 3.0-litre diesel – 2015 – wasn’t good for Prado, nor was last year, the first full year of sales of the new 2.8 diesel.

This mid-size wagon market is much tougher than it once was, with Prado facing off against the Everest, Trailblazer, MU-X and the slightly smaller Pajero Sport, all new players. Aside from the meteoric rise and fall of the Grand Cherokee, the Prado has only ever battled the now-well-aged Pajero in this market.

No doubt there’s also been a somewhat lukewarm reception to the Prado’s new 2.8-litre diesel, with not everyone happy with the idea of a smaller engine and that there’s no significant power jump over the previous 3.0-litre.

However, in a case of like-the-smallerengine- or-not, buyers are returning to the Prado most likely for the core ownership values that come with the Toyota brand.

Either way, there’s nothing particularly wrong with the 2.8 engine, even if it’s no rocket. It’s certainly quieter, smoother and generally more refined than the previous 3.0-litre, and it’s torquey off idle and happy to rev.

It’s a sweet engine that’s also backed by a smarter and more refined six-speed gearbox, which has two overdrive ratios, whereas the previous five-speed had a single overdrive.

If anything, sixth gear is too tall, and it’s a shame Toyota didn’t see fit to lower the final drive gearing to bring the new sixth back to where the old fifth was and gain a performance benefit everywhere else.

Regardless of the new powertrain, the Prado remains happy in the suburbs, out on the open road, or indeed off-road.

Our preference is for the VX, as it has Toyota’s brilliant KDSS suspension without the unnecessary driver-adjustable suspension add-ons of the top-spec Kakadu.

06 NISSAN NAVARA

SALES

2017 (TO JUNE) 5439 2016 (TO JUNE) 5904 CHANGE 7.9%

Shaky ground

NISSAN HAS REJIGGED THE NP300 INTO THE D23 SERIES II, BUT WILL IT HELP FLAGGING SALES?

Engine: 2.3-litre 4-cyl diesel Power/Torque: 140kW/450Nm Gearbox: 7-speed auto 4x4 system: dual-range part-time Weight: 1865kg GVM: 2910kg Towing: 3500kg Fuel capacity: 80L ADR g fuel claim: 7.0L/100km THE Navara may be in the top-ten best sellers, but its year-on-year sales have fallen in what is otherwise a rising market. Compared to 2016, sales so far in 2017 are down nearly eight per cent, making the Navara the worst performer in the top ten.

No doubt, Nissan would have been hoping for more from its new-generation ute, given the previous-generation Navara D40 was second only to the all-conquering Hilux as recently as four years ago.

Arriving in 2015 and marketed as the NP300 (but known internally as the D23) this new Navara departed from conventional ute practice via its bi-turbodiesel, seven-speed automatic and by using coil rather than leaf springs for the rear axle on most models.

Despite this, Nissan matched the best in class with its 3500kg tow rating claim, a claim we subsequently proved to be well wide of the mark in terms of the chassis’ ability to tow that much, or indeed carry the maximum payload in the tub, even if the engine had the grunt to get the job done. Making matters worse, the Navara NP300 didn’t feel all that flash when unladen, either, with neither a notably comfortable ride nor a good fore-and-aft suspension balance.

Following indifferent sales and negative customer feedback, Nissan headed back to the drawing board to produce the Series II model for 2017, bringing a suspension revamp, spec and equipment changes, and the addition of a new work-spec model (the SL) with the bi-turbo engine and rear coils.

Despite claiming the suspension revamp was nothing more than damper recalibration, the Series II Navara feels noticeably better behaved on road, with a new and much more pleasing feel to the way it steers and handles.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that we have yet to do a maximum load or tow test on the Series II, so watch this space.

07 TOYOTA LAND CRUISER 200 SERIES

SALES

2017 (TO JUNE) 4800 2016 (TO JUNE) 4027 CHANGE 19.2%

The gold standard

IT MAY BE TEN YEARS OLD, BUT THE POPULARITY OF TOYOTA’S 200 SERIES IS ON THE CHARGE.

Engine: 4.5-litre V8 diesel Power/Torque: 200kW/650Nm Gearbox: 6-speed auto 4x4 system: dual-range full-time Weight: 2740kg GVM: 3300kg Towing: 3500kg Fuel capacity: 138L owing: F ADR fuel claim: 9.5L/100km IT MAY be hard to believe, but sales of Toyota’s mighty Land Cruiser 200 Series are currently growing as fast as the Ford Ranger. In fact, LC200 sales are as good as they have ever been and have surged nearly 20 per cent in the first five months of 2017 compared to the same time last year.

This comes off the back of a very strong 2016 that saw sales jump by one-third over the 2015 numbers, and it moves the 200 up yet another spot in the top ten.

Last year was the first full year of sales for the facelifted 200 that arrived in the fourth quarter of 2015. That facelift brought distinctive new styling, a raft of new safety and tech kit, Euro 5 compliance, improved economy, and a slight jump in power for the popular diesel engine.

There is a petrol option with the 200, a very sweet 4.6-litre V8 backed by a sixspeed automatic, but it is a non-event when it comes to sales.

It’s difficult to pinpoint where this renewed interest in the 200 is coming from, but one thing that’s clear is the interest in the more expensive 200 variants. While the $90K GXL remains the best-seller with 1429 sales YTD, the $100K VX is only just behind with 1418 sales and the $120K Sahara is thereabouts with 1388 sales.

Contrast all that with the work-spec GX’s 223 sales. Business and fleet buyers currently account for 57 per cent of 200 sales, with the remainder going to private buyers.

Looking more broadly, the 200 has probably benefitted from the demise of the diesel Patrol (Y61) and the age of the recently-replaced Land Rover Discovery. Luxury European brand SUVs from BMW and Mercedes-Benz have also turned more city-centric in recent times, which doesn’t please well-healed country buyers.

Either way, there’s not much competition for the 200, aside from the more expensive Prado variants.

08 ISUZU D-MAX

SALES

2017 (TO JUNE) 4384 2016 (TO JUNE) 4367 CHANGE 0.4%

Steady on

RECENTLY UPGRADED D-MAX MEETS TIGHTER EMISSIONS STANDARDS AND GETS NEW SIX-SPEED TRANSMISSIONS.

Engine: 3.0-litre 4-cyl diesel Power/Torque: 130kW/430Nm Gearbox: 6-speed auto 4x4 system: dual-range part-time Weight: 1945kg GVM: 2950kg Towing: 3500kg Fuel capacity: 76L ADR kg fuel claim: 7.9L/100km THE D-MAX’S year-on-year sales are the picture of consistency, with only 17 more units being sold in the first five months of 2017 as there was in 2016.

And this steady-as-she-goes consistency is very much what the D-MAX’s sales have been about for a few years.

Mind you, the D-MAX sold in 2017 is a different vehicle to the D-MAX sold in 2016, thanks to the mandatory compliance to Euro 5 emissions standards that came into effect in December 2016. Effectively, Euro 5 brings a diesel particulate filter but, at the same time, Isuzu re-worked the engine with new-generation higherpressure common-rail injection, a new variable-geometry low-inertia turbo, a larger EGR cooler, and new pistons. There’s also a new Aisin six-speed automatic as used by Toyota in the Hilux and Prado, which has the same ratios including the two – notably tall – overdrives.

Despite the engine changes, maximum power remains at a modest 130kW, so the new D-MAX goes about as hard as the old D-MAX pedal-to-the-metal, which isn’t anything to get excited about. It does the job, but without the purpose and vigour of many competitor utes.

However, the engine remake provides more driveability with extra torque (now 430Nm, up from 380Nm) and a ‘fatter’ torque curve, which has the previous maximum of 380Nm produced 100rpm lower (now 1700rpm) and extending 700rpm higher to 3500rpm. The engine is also a little quieter and more refined – but still nothing special in that regard – and a little more economical. And while the new six-speed auto doesn’t help with outright performance as such, it’s a much better gearbox in general driving thanks to its more proactive and smarter shift protocols.

On road, the D-MAX steers and handles well enough without being anything special, while off-road it’s also a middle-of-the-pack performer.

It’s still a capable 4x4, but just not up with the best in its class.

09 MAZDA BT-50

SALES

2017 (TO JUNE) 3622 2016 (TO JUNE) 3863 CHANGE 6.2%

Unloved sibling

THE MAZDA BT-50 SHARES THE FORD RANGER’S PARENTAGE, BUT NOT MUCH OF THE RANGER’S SUCCESS HAS RUBBED OFF.

Engine: 3.2-litre 5-cyl diesel Power/Torque: 147kW/470Nm Gearbox: 6-speed auto 4x4 system: dual-range part-time Weight: 2118kg GVM: 3200kg Towing: 3500kg Fuel capacity: 80L g ADR fuel claim: 9.2L/100km IT’S HARD to believe how poorly the Mazda BT-50 sells in comparison to the Ford Ranger, given they are – in essence – the same ute. The Ranger offers some notable technical differences, but the Mazda counters with sharper pricing. Even so, for every BT-50, nearly four Rangers have rolled out of showrooms this year.

Not only is the BT-50 closely related to the Ranger, it’s also essentially a Ford rather than a Mazda, a reversal of the pre-2011 arrangement where Ford piggybacked off Mazda for its light commercials. For starters, the 3.2-litre five-cylinder diesel is a Ford design and is, in most ways, where the appeal of the BT-50 begins. This is a torquey, low-revving and agreeable engine that gets the job done without fuss.

In the BT-50, it’s a bit gruff and not quite as responsive at low revs as it is in the Ranger; due to the fact the Ranger was upgraded in 2015 and the BT-50 wasn’t. As with the Ranger, the engine is backed by a slick ZF six-speed auto, which enjoys working with both the engine’s torque and flexibility and final-drive gearing that’s not overly tall.

On road, the BT-50 basically does what the Ranger does, which is a good thing, except you feel its size and weight more in low-speed manoeuvring, as it doesn’t enjoy the benefit of electric power steering as fitted to the Ranger since its 2015 facelift. However, others might argue the Mazda’s ‘old-school’ hydraulic system is potentially more robust.

Off-road, the BT-50 is a good thing; although, a notch down from the Ranger due to another 2015 upgrade the Ford received – leaving the front traction control active when the rear locker is engaged – which was not adopted by Mazda.

Otherwise, everything that is likable about the Ranger, including a spacious and notably long cabin and excellent towing and load-carrying ability, is essentially true of the Mazda BT-50.

10 MITSUBISHI PAJERO SPORT

SALES

2017 (TO JUNE) 3304 2016 (TO JUNE) 1874 CHANGE 76.3%

Rising star

UNDENIABLE VALUE AND TECHNICAL SOPHISTICATION UNDERPIN THE SUCCESS OF THE PAJERO SPORT.

Engine: 2.4-litre 4-cyl diesel Power/Torque: 133kW/430Nm Gearbox: 8-speed auto 4x4 system: dual-range full-time (+2WD) Weight: 2060kg GVM: 2710kg Towing: 3100kg Fuel capacity: 68L ADR M: Tow g fuel claim: 8.0L/100km THE Mitsubishi Pajero Sport has made it into the top-ten best-selling 4x4s for the first time and in doing so has fought off a host of other wagons including the Ford Everest, Holden Trailblazer, Isuzu MU-X and Toyota Fortuner. It has also edged out two utes, VW’s Amarok and Toyota’s LC79.

Compared to the other wagons-madefrom- utes, the Pajero Sport is smaller, generally less expensive and has some notable technical highlights including an eight-speed automatic gearbox (whereas the others have the ute-derived sixspeeders).

Mitsubishi’s unique Super Select 4x4 system also brings full-time 4x4, a feature not found with Fortuner, Trailblazer or MU-X.

Powered by the same new and revvy 2.4-litre diesel of the Triton, and helped along by the slick eight-speed automatic, the Pajero Sport offers relaxed, effortless performance, a fair turn of speed when asked, and is reasonably quiet and refined.

Being a bit smaller and lighter than its immediate competitors, the Pajero Sport feels quite nimble on the road, even if the suspension tune is biased towards comfort. The full-time 4x4 of the Super Select also brings convenience, safety, and effectiveness to the Pajero Sport in mixed driving conditions that its parttime competitors can’t match, and it still has the option of rear-drive-only for those long highway stints on dry roads.

The Pajero Sport’s star starts to fade a little off-road, where the modest wheel travel and ground clearance see it struggle in places where its competitors aren’t troubled. While mid- and topspec models get a diff lock, it’s not as effective as it could be as it cancels the traction control on both axles when activated.

All Pajero Sport models offer smartkey entry and start and tilt-and-reach steering wheel adjustment, but taller drivers will find a somewhat cramped driving position in what is a small cabin compared to its rivals.