Tradition betrayed

Welcome to the new Blue-versus-Red battleground: Thai-built 4x4 utes that trade manners for man-sized versatility, in the suburbs and the scrub.

WORDS NATHAN PONCHARD PHOTOS ELLEN DEWAR

HOLDEN COLORADO FORD RANGER

Welcome to the new Blue-versus-Red battleground: Thai-built 4x4 utes that trade manners for man-sized versatility, in the suburbs and the scrub.

Bush mechanics

The stuff of a 4x4 ute Ė body-on-chassis construction, elevated ride height, a low-range transfer case and a leaf-sprung live rear axle Ė does not make a sports car.

Or even a car. But itís these oily bits that make utes such as the Ranger and Colorado impressive machines in their element. Thatís the Aussie bush, where the ability to soak up and power through undulating and deeply rutted terrain, torque to the top of gnarled, slippery climbs and ford rivers goes some way towards justifying the urban compromise. That said, the Ranger is clearly superior in rough going. Coloradoís unsophisticated traction-control operation and its lack of a locking rear differential significantly hinder its go-anywhere ability in extreme off-roading situations.

This is what a working class Ford versus Holden stoush looks like in 2017

JACK of all trades. Itís something many of us would love to be, kinda like any bastard who can bench press 100kg-plus, but also sing, dance, make people laugh, build a new front fence and effortlessly command a barbeque.

But if weíre talking cars Ė or, in this case, range-topping dual-cab utes with delusions of passenger-car grandeur Ė trying to be all things to all people is a hard thing to master.

The original í48 Holden did it. Roomy enough for six, light enough to be both lively and fuelefficient, yet strong enough to tackle much of what the unpaved Aussie Outback could throw at it, the monocoque-bodied Ďhumpyí Holden was a bit like Hugh Jackman dressed in an Akubra and wife-beater singlet. By 1950, it was our bestselling car. Sixty-six years later, that title is held by the separate-chassied Toyota Hilux (with 42,104 sales), leaving the once-dominant large-car class in a state of abandonment.

Want to know what Fordís best-selling Ďcarí was in 2016? The Ranger pick-up (4x2 and 4x4) with 36,934 sales, five times more than the Blue Ovalís next biggest seller (the now-dead Territory SUV). And Holden? The evergreen Commodore continued to defy the largecar trend with a steady 25,860 sales, but the Colorado pick-up (18,386) is quickly closing the gap, and thatís without any sales boost from the extensively facelifted (and comprehensively improved) MY17 model range.

So this is what a working-class Ford versus Holden stoush looks like in 2017. Two fully-loaded five-seat utes, powered by torquey turbo-diesel engines with six-speed automatic gearboxes, and enough equipment sizzle to fill a warehouse. Forward collision alert, lanedeparture warning, leather-appointed trim, climate control (dual-zone in the Ford), Apple CarPlay/Android Auto phone projection, factory sat-nav, electric driverís seats (and heaters up front), 18-inch alloys, roof rails and sporty Ďsail planeí additions garnishing the rear tray area feature on both the Colorado Z71 ($57,190) and Ranger Wildtrak ($61,790).

For its additional spend, the Wildtrak adds adaptive cruise control, a lockable roller-blind-style metal tonneau cover, 12-volt outlets in both the rear cabin and tray (perfect for refrigeration purposes), a chilled centre console bin, auto high-beam and external puddle lights, while the Colorado Z71 counters with LED daytime running lights, four auto up/down windows, a manually height-adjustable front passenger seat and some groovy 1970s black-out body decals.

Besides the long-departed TRD Toyota Hilux (with its supercharged petrol V6) and the gutsy Volkswagen Amarok TDI V6 (see sidebar p.83), the Ranger Wildtrak and Colorado Z71 are about as sporty as a dual-cab is gonna get. The Holden even has a muscle-car-esque model name, though in truth itís simply an upper spec level borrowed from GMís unrelated Chevy Colorado and Silverado pick-ups sold in the US.

The Ford turns the tables when it comes to handling, steering and refinement

At least the Colorado Z71 backs up its toughsounding name and sinister black rims with class-best performance. Alterations to the MY17 Coloradoís transmission calibration and a multitude of refinementenhancing measures ensure its 500Nm-strong turbodiesel four defies its capacity deficit to put clear distance between the Coloradoís LED taillamps and the Rangerís bluff snout.

Off the line, the Holden is instantly in the game, hooking up and charging forward with positive upshifts and significantly more snot than the fivecylinder Ranger. The Coloradoís 2.8-litre four is a more agricultural engine than the Rangerís 3.2-litre five, with fan noise and diesel clatter at low revs, and more gravel in its voice, but thereís a sweet spot between 2800 and 3200rpm, and given the grunt on offer, itís easy to forgive the Z71ís shoutier manner.

The Rangerís endearing five-pot might be the suave operator here, but it has less torque in all situations and has to be pushed hard to keep the Colorado in sight on fast country roads. It, too, upshifts at just 3600rpm (and falls off a power-curve cliff shortly thereafter), though you can feel the Rangerís torqueconvertor slurring drive, particularly in third gear, when it should be throwing everything it has at its rear tyres, like the Colorado does. Thereís another 100kg to deal with as well, leaving the Ranger feeling slightly breathless at times, and thirstier too, drinking 1.2L/100km more than the Colorado on test.

But the Aussie-developed Ford turns the tables when it comes to handling, steering and refinement. From the moment you climb aboard (over annoyingly intrusive side steps), the Ranger feels like a more expensive truck. Deeper, more supportive, more adjustable seats, a smaller steering wheel and a vastly superior driving position elevate it to proper passenger-car standards.

Turn the wheel and the Ford responds, immediately pointing its nose where you want, and informing its driver what the front and rear ends are doing.

Primitive as a leaf-sprung live axle may be, the Rangerís rear end feels interconnected with the rest of its suspension set-up, resulting in nicely balanced handling and an unexpected level of feel. Itís an effortless car to drive quickly over smooth, winding surfaces, though when bumps join the party, the Ford chooses to give its passengers a free horsey ride, whether theyíd like one or not.

Indeed, itís quite difficult to describe how bad the Ranger Wildtrakís ride is without using expletives.

ĎEquineí was one we tossed about (pun intended),

Amarok your world

Forgoing the tough-guy look of the Z71 and Wildtrak for the mild-styled Volkswagen Amarok brings a pay-off in more polished urban manners and, with the addition of a new 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6 as part of an MY17 upgrade, the best performance of any dual-cab ute in Oz. The Audi and Porsche-shared TDI V6 mill musters 550Nm and peaks at 165kW (or 180kW on 10sec overboost), enough for 0-100km/h in a claimed 7.9sec. The Amarokís economy is also topclass (7.8L/100km combined official number) and itís surprisingly effective off-road too. Prices span $59,990 (Highline) to $67,990 (Ultimate).

Ford Ranger

It may be a truck but Ranger feels relatively sophisticated, thanks to decent refinement, sound ergonomics, sumptuous seating and tactile surfaces like its stitched dashboard covering and padded door armrests. Same goes for the rear seat, which is deeper and more supportive than Coloradoís, making the most of Rangerís vast legroom. Transmission gets a dedicated Sport mode and +/Ė tip-shift set up so you push forward to downshift. Wildtrakís tray is fully lined, gets a 12-volt outlet and a nifty lockable roller-blind tonneau.

Holden Colorado

dash makes a concerted leap in quality and presentation for MY17, including a neater centre stack with a more logical control layout than the Ranger. But Holdenís utility continues to suffer from a catalogue of ergonomic issues including poor driverís seat-cushion comfort, near-useless tilt adjustment, an awkward pedal layout, centre-console intrusion and an overly large (and ugly) steering wheel. Ironic Holden-Isuzu heritage includes rather charming instrument graphics seemingly inspired by the 1982-85 TF/TG Gemini.

seeing as it alluded to the Rangerís clod-hopping, clippety-clop gait over any kind of road scar, though itís the urban ride that stinks most. On anything bar a billiard-smooth surface, the 18-inch-wheeled Wildtrak transmits a jiggly, pattery motion up into its cabin that must surely be car-sickness kryptonite. Adding passengers improves it slightly, and so do 100km/h-plus speeds, but if this is the compromise for having a onetonne load-carrying tray out back, then you get what you deserve if you aspire to owning a dual-cab ute as the family express.

Compared to a regular car, the Coloradoís ride is also pretty dismal, but itís far less reactive than the Ranger over bumps, and much less irritating as a result.

Thereís an irony here, though, because the Coloradoís almost-comfortable ride is countered by a contorted driving position destined to offend almost everyone.

A near-flat cushion, tilt-only steering column, an intrusive centre-console shape, very basic electric seat adjustment, a too-high seating position, too-high brake pedal and nowhere to comfortably rest your right foot while cruise control is activated conspire to make the Colorado a body-achy experience on a long drive. And in urban driving, the pedal positioning adds right-ankle torture to the mix. Bizarrely, the manually adjustable front passengerís seat has better under-thigh support and is actually quite comfortableÖ The Coloradoís handling follows a similar hit-andmiss formula. In faster country-road corners it transfers load onto its outer-rear tyre as its body leans, achieving quite respectable chassis balance and a confident stance. But in tighter stuff, thereís plenty of understeer to be had unless you do your best to try and minimise it, and same goes for the tyre howl from its 265/60R18 Bridgestone Dueler rubber (identical to those fitted to the Ranger). Thereís a vagueness to the Coloradoís steering at straight ahead and a sense that its simpler strut front suspension (Ranger has double wishbones) falls over on itself, reducing the contact patch of its tyres. Given the level of performance on offer, it can be frustrating trying to keep the Colorado tidy on really twisty roads, and then thereís its coarse-surface road noise, which is significantly greater than the Rangerís.

At least the Coloradoís new dashboard is a revelation compared to the old modelís tat, though the Rangerís stitched dashboard top, padded door trims/armrests and superior seating make it feel significantly classier.

The Rangerís main flaw is the button-fest on its steering-wheel spokes and lower centre-stack, forcing you to take your eyes off the road for some time in order to find stuff. The Coloradoís GM-generic centre switches and column stalks are much easier to operate, with clear markings and a simple-to-use layout that also looks reasonably neat. But the ugly carry-over

steering wheel is a sad reminder of just how rubbish the Colorado used to be before Holden dragged it into this century with this MY17 update.

What no amount of fettling can overcome, however, are the fundamentals of the Coloradoís ageing design, starting with its short wheelbase (over 120mm less than Rangerís) relative to its overall length (longer than Ranger). The Holdenís seats are mounted higher, to the detriment of legroom and cushion support, front and rear, whereas you sink into the leggy Rangerís lovely seats, and enjoy greater space and fields of vision.

And thatís the divider in this latter-day Ford versus Holden battle. The Ranger is clearly a holistic design, feeling much more car-like in its people-carrying capability, but also better kitted-out for the traybashing duties it will hopefully undertake. The Holden, on the other hand, simply canít overcome its more obvious commercial-vehicle origins, and the lesser expectations of markets like Brazil, where this current generation was developed. That said, it makes the most of what it has on offer, and if you can cop its driving position, then itís a more affordable, more efficient and inherently honest form of transport.

If it wasnít for its terrible ride, the Ranger would walk this comparo. But the compromise of blending Ford dynamic DNA with one-tonne load-carrying ability means it isnít such an obvious choice. Rangerís ride or Coloradoís driving position? Which pain can we handle the most? Ultimately, favour has to go to the Ford for its otherwise-impressive showing.

But we couldnít help wishing we were at the wheel of a proper car Ė almost any new car Ė after nearly 700km in the Ranger and Colorado. Jack of all trades and master of none? At least they look cool.

FORD RANGER WILDTRAK

Performance Power-to-weight: 65kW per tonne Redline/cut-out: 4900/4600rpm Speed at indicated 100km/h: 96 Speed in gears 43km/h @ 4600rpm 77km/h @ 4600rpm 118km/h @ 4600rpm 158km/h @ 4600rpm 175km/h @ 3900rpm* 175km/h @ 3100rpm* Standing-start acceleration 0-20km/h: 1.0sec 0-40km/h: 2.5sec 0-60km/h: 4.7sec 0-80km/h: 7.2sec 0-100km/h: 10.7sec 0-120km/h: 15.2sec 0-140km/h: 21.6sec 0-400m: 17.5sec @ 127.6km/h Rolling acceleration: Drive 80-12Okm/h: 8.0sec Braking distance 10Okm/h-0: 40.7m 1 2 3 4 5 6 Verdict 7.0/10 Space and seat comfort; polished handling and steering; refinement Tiresome ride quality; lack of overtaking punch; dash button-fest Track: Sydney Dragway, dry. Temp: 24ļC. Driver: Nathan Ponchard. * Estimated value Warranty: 3yr/100,000km.

Service interval: 12 months/15,000km.

Glassís 3-year resale: 57%.

AAMI insurance: $1751 $61,790/As tested $61,790 Drivetrain Engine in-line 5, dohc, 20v, turbo-diesel Layout front-engine (north-south), all drive Capacity 3198cc Power 147kW @ 3000rpm Torque 470Nm @ 1750-2500rpm Transmission 6-speed automatic Chassis Body steel, 4 doors, 5 seats L/W/H/WĖB 5355/1860/1848/3220mm Front/rear track 1560/1560mm Weight 2250kg Payload 950kg Fuel/capacity diesel/80 litres Fuel consumption 11.4L/100km (test average) Suspension Front: double A-arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar; Rear: live axle, leaf springs Steering Electric rack-and-pinion Turning Circle 12.7m (3.3 turns lock-to-lock) Front brakes ventilated discs (300mm) Rear brakes drums (295mm) Tyres Bridgestone Dueler H/T Tyre size 265/60R18 110T Safety NCAP rating (EU)

HOLDEN COLORADO Z71

Performance Power to weight: 69kW per tonne Redline/cut-out: 4500/4350rpm Speed at indicated 100km/h: 97 Speed in gears 46km/h @ 4350rpm 78km/h @ 4350rpm 120km/h @ 4350rpm 160km/h @ 4350rpm 185km/h @ 3700rpm* 185km/h @ 2900rpm* Standing-start acceleration 0-20km/h: 0.8sec 0-40km/h: 2.1sec 0-60km/h: 3.8sec 0-80km/h: 6.2sec 0-100km/h: 9.2sec 0-120km/h: 13.1sec 0-140km/h: 18.9sec 0-400m: 16.5sec @ 133.1km/h Rolling acceleration: Drive 80-12Okm/h: 6.9sec Braking distance 10Okm/h-0: 40.0m 6.0/10 Gutsy yet efficient drivetrain; neat new dashboard; acceptable ride Weird driving position; tyre noise; understeer; lack of tray features Track: Sydney Dragway, dry. Temp: 24ļC. Driver: Nathan Ponchard. * Estimated value Warranty: 3yr/100,000km.

Service interval: 9 months/15,000km.

Glassís 3-year resale: 46%.

AAMI insurance: $1710 $57,190/As tested $57,190 in-line 4, dohc, 16v, turbo-diesel front-engine (north-south), all drive 2776cc 147kW @ 3600rpm 500Nm @ 2000-2200rpm 6-speed automatic steel, 4 doors, 5 seats 5361/1874/1800/3096mm 1570/1570mm 2143kg 1007kg diesel/76 litres 10.2L/100km (test average) Front: struts, A-arms, anti-roll bar; Rear: live axle, leaf springs Electric rack-and-pinion 12.7m (3.2 turns lock-to-lock) ventilated discs (300mm) drums (295mm) Bridgestone Dueler H/T 265/60R18 110T (AUS)