Ford Ranger Raptor v Toyota HiLux Rugged X v Volkswagen Amarok Ultimate TDI580 comparison

Australians have always been fond of turning utes into status symbols – once of the two-doored, V8 variety. The market is quite different today, but the fundamental desires for head-turning load-luggers remain.

Enter the trio of desirable workhorses you see here: the Ford Ranger Raptor, Toyota HiLux Rugged X and Volkswagen Amarok Ultimate TDI580.

The Ranger Raptor, easily the most hyped car of 2018 before its launch, is designed for high-speed off-road work and fitted with bucket seats, bash plates, massive all-terrain tyres and Fox Racing shocks to master the task. It’s a performance car, of a different type.

The HiLux Rugged X is fitted with all manner of off-road gear – underbody protection, a snorkel, rock rails and recovery points – to head off reputable aftermarket purveyors like ARB at the pass, and appeal to hardcore, traditional off-roaders and rock-hoppers. Speed? Nonsense, mate.

The Amarok Ultimate TDI580 packs a massive 200kW of peak power and dashes to 100km/h in the same time as a mid-2000s Golf GTI hot hatch, while offering an upmarket Euro-style cabin. Bought for off-roading? Unlikely. But it’s as fast and ‘luxurious’ as utes get, until the V6 Mercedes-Benz X-Class lobs.

So really, this test is a look at the ways the top end of the booming dual-cab ute market is splintering apart. The real question is, which one suits you best?


Prices, specs, cabins

None of these utes are cheap. Indeed, you can buy a perfectly serviceable Mitsubishi Triton GLX dual-cab with hose-off floors for about half the outlay or less. But sales indicate that money isn’t much of an object for many buyers out there, given the massive interest in all three utes tested here.

‘Cheapest’ of the bunch is the HiLux Rugged X at $63,990 before on-road costs. Its spec levels mirror that of the SR5, meaning a proximity key and button start, climate control, cruise control, auto headlights, a 7.0-inch touchscreen and satellite navigation. There are also new black leather-accented seats, a newly designed instrument cluster, metallic-black ornamentation and plush black roof headlining.

Outside you’ll find a winch-compatible heavy-duty steel front bar, an integrated bash plate, LED light bar and driving lights, a new grille, tub-mounted steel sports bar capable of 75kg vertical load, a snorkel, high-strength front and rear recovery points, and proper Wrangler Rubicon-style rock rails. Most of the development is Australian, too, with Toyota’s local arm racking up 650,000km of local testing.

The front part of the cabin is pretty tight compared to the Amarok, with taller drivers’ knees hitting the lower dash. But rear seat space is decent, though the fixed rear roof-mounted grab handles will scone you in an emergency brake. Dangerous. On the plus side, there are rear air vents unlike the others, though the Ranger also has a rear 230V power point.

The flagship Amarok costs $71,990, so it’s quite a step up. Spec includes HID bi-xenon headlights, LED daytime running lights, climate control, a 6.5-inch screen with sat-nav, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, parking sensors at both ends, a rear camera and a tyre pressure monitor.

Features unique to this grade include 20-inch alloys on road-biased tyres (no surprise there), stainless steel sports bar and steps (the latter with LED night lighting), tub liner, sumptuous Nappa leather seats with 14-way electric adjustment for both front occupants, digital speedo, leather wheel with paddles, and stainless steel pedals. It is, however, the only ute here without button start and a proximity key.

Our tester was fitted with the optional Peacock Green metallic paint. This, plus the boxy and wide body, sports bar and those massive alloys, means the Ultimate looks menacing and premium at the same time. You’ll be laughed off the 4×4 tracks on those wheels, but there’s something very aspirational and designer-savvy at work here nevertheless…

The actual cabin design is ageing – that screen is very small – but everything is well built, there’s great storage, and it’s wiiiiide. Two-abreast up the front and you feel like you’re in some massive American truck compared to the Toyota. Those seats are beautifully trimmed, too.

The major issue with the Amarok is its lack of rear airbags, making it the only ute in its class without them. It’s obscene. This is compounded by the tight rear leg room. If you’re ever carrying more than two passengers, we simply don’t recommend the VW.

The Raptor has the most presence here, though, which it would want to given the $74,990 price. It looks like a monster truck on its jacked suspension, 33-inch BFGoodrich All-Terrain tyres, steel bashplate, and flared black arches. There are also 17-inch wheels, HID headlights and recovery hooks rated at 4635kg (front) and 3863kg (rear).

It’s actually quite an effort to clamber up into the cabin, which is where those big metal side steps help. Inside are big sporty bucket seats trimmed in leather and suede, blue stitching everywhere, a big digital trip computer with bespoke graphics, magnesium paddle-shifters for the 10-speed auto gearbox, keyless entry and a 8.0-inch screen (the biggest here) with navigation, plus Apple CarPlay/Android Auto.

As with other Rangers, the plastics are a bit cheap and scratchy, and it lacks telescopic steering column adjustment, but the seats/wheel/paddles add a little theatre. Is it grown up and sophisticated like the VW? Not at all. Quite the opposite. But it’s modern and has some visual punch.

Unfortunately, unlike the Ranger Wildtrak, there’s no autonomous emergency braking or active cruise control… Bizarre. Indeed, the fact none of these cars have active safety features found on cars one-third the price is a bit old hat.


Drivetrains

The Amarok’s principal selling point is its engine. Volkswagen’s turbocharged 3.0-litre V6 diesel stands out in a class dominated by four- and five-cylinder donks. In the Ultimate 580 version, this engine reaches new heights.

The regular V6 makes 165kW of peak power and 550Nm of peak torque, but the Ultimate 580’s tuned unit makes an even more impressive 190kW and 580Nm. This figure climbs to 200kW on overboost at 3500rpm. Overboost is available for 10 seconds beyond 70 per cent throttle.

For context, the imminent Mercedes-Benz X350d’s V6 diesel makes 190kW/550Nm.

The VW engine is matched to the familiar, always-smooth ZF-sourced eight-speed automatic gearbox with torque converter (good luck finding an affordable DSG unit that can handle 580Nm) with sports and manual modes, and a permanent 4×4 system with fixed 60 per cent rear axle bias controlled by a Torsen diff.

Most utes are part-time 4x4s, with low- and high-range engaged for off-road work. The VW doesn’t even have low-range gearing, instead using its short first gear as a pseudo-crawl ratio, and throwing in a number of electronics such as relaxed ABS and ESC, and hill-descent control. It has a mechanical rear diff locker only.

The headline figure is the VW’s 0–100km/h time of 7.3 seconds. That’s ballpark to a Mk5 Golf GTI hot hatch, which you could buy new in 2009, or a brand-new Hyundai i30 SR warm hatch. It’s also two-tenths faster than the X350d. These are bonkers figures for a 2.2-tonne ute.

This sprint is enabled not just by the engine, but by the 4Motion 4×4 system’s grip off the line and by the gearbox’s Sports mode, which holds onto lower gears longer, out to near the 4500rpm redline.

There’s no doubt the Amarok goes like sh*t off a shovel, giving you a nice thump in the back when you pin the throttle, augmented by a distinctive, almost keening engine note and a charismatic, muscular idle. The stop/start system is a little clunky, though, with some longitudinal driveline thunks. Good thing it’s switchable…

Our tester didn’t come with a VW tow pack, but we’ve found the V6 Amarok pretty effortless when lugging loads on previous tests, and there’s no dual-cab in the segment with more torque. The full-time 4×4 is also good for slippery roads, helped by a trailer-sway control system built into the stability control.

The maximum rating is 3500kg, but the downball ceiling is 300kg. Thus, the 10 per cent rule suggests you limit towing to 3000kg unless your load is properly weighted.

Volkswagen claims combined-cycle fuel economy of 9.0L/100km, but that’s about the figure we managed for our highway driving. Expect to hover somewhere in the high 10s and into the 11s. Funnily enough, it was a similar story with the Raptor despite Ford’s 8.2L/100km claim. In fact, the Blue Oval product was actually the least-economical car on test…

The Ranger Raptor’s engine is also front and centre, albeit for different reasons. The howls of outrage from some enthusiast circles when Ford announced it had opted for a low-emissions, lightweight twin-turbo 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel were extravagant.

There are still many light-commercial buyers who adhere to the adage of engine displacement being irreplaceable, particularly those who like the notion of a high-capacity, under-stressed chugging engine good at towing and geared to crawl.

We’d note that the Raptor’s not strictly designed for this sort of work compared to other members of the Ranger family. Its payload is only about 750kg, and its maximum towing capacity is pared back to 2500kg. Still plenty of ceiling there for a speedboat…

The engine is indeed tuned right up to the wick, with a small turbo operational at low engine speeds and the bigger blower kicking in later. Ergo, the bypass valve is actuated at certain revs. But the outputs aren’t disappointing, indeed they’re 10kW/30Nm higher than the venerable 3.2-litre five-pot available in other Rangers (as an option).

That means peak power of 157kW at 3750rpm and maximum torque of 500Nm, albeit across a sliver of the rev band (1750–2000rpm). Admittedly, this isn’t a patch on the US-market’s F-150 Raptor with its 450hp (335kW) turbo V6 petrol, and its 10.4-second 0–100km/h time (its 2332kg kerb weight is heavy) isn’t overly impressive.

The cast-iron-block engine with direct injection and four valves per cylinder sure is quiet and balanced, though, showing petrol-like refinement from inside the cabin. Its decibel reading at idle and 2000rpm was quietest on test, and there are far fewer vibrations into the cabin than the HiLux.

Torque is regularly sent to the rear axle, with high- and low-range 4×4 available. The rear differential lock can be activated in all three drive modes – unlike some dual-cab utes that only allow it to operate in low-range.

The engine works well at low speeds in and around town, and the softer tune on the suspension also means the body lifts slightly as you get on the throttle to drive away.

Three-up with a load, and the rolling response from about 80km/h onwards (for an overtake perhaps) could be better. There’s noise, but not a lot of shove. If you’re a Baja racer thriving on constant momentum this matters little, but sometimes you want more. Not that it stops you getting sideways and holding the slide…

It’s not slow, it’s just that this is sold as a performance car by Ford’s Performance Division.

As our 4×4 expert Sam Purcell said: “Many are fuming about the engine, or lack thereof, and how 157kW of 2.0-litre diesel power leaves the Ranger Raptor feeling a little underdone. They’re not wrong, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater”.

One area where the Ranger’s numbers are impressive is the transmission, which has a whopping 10 speeds. It’s generally fuss free, and on those occasions when it does hunt about (capitalising on the sliver of peak torque), the overall driveline refinement keeps NVH intrusions minimal.

Durability? Well, we obviously only drive the Raptor a few months into its life, so we can’t possibly say. Ford Australia’s stress testing included putting the engine through temperature cycles between 388 degrees and -34 degrees Celsius 1000 times in a row, and revving it at full throttle on a dyno for 18 days without stopping, so…

Unlike the VW and Ford, the Toyota HiLux Rugged X makes no boasts about speed. Unless you’re referring to crawling extra slowly over rocks.

All the extra 4×4 add-ons mean the Rugged X is more than 200kg heavier than the HiLux SR5, and yet the turbo-diesel engine is unchanged. It’s the familiar 2.8-litre four-cylinder making a decidedly modest 130kW at 3400rpm and 450Nm of peak torque, with all being available from just 1600rpm (scarcely above idle, perfect for 4x4ing).

The engine just chugs along in traditional workhorse style, with more noise and vibrations than the Ford. There’s a button on the transmission tunnel that tweaks the gearbox mapping and sharpens the throttle (more responsive, earlier), which gives it a little more pep – relatively speaking. None of this deducts from its low power-to-weight rating.

Rapid overtakes are verboten, but the gearing is such that the Toyota is particularly good at moving like lava down hills, even in high-range off-throttle. There’s also nice predictable, linear torque delivery as you progressively push the accelerator, meaning it’s never jumpy or jerky. It’s slow, but despite the extra mass, still capable in its element.

Its maximum tow rating remains 3.2 tonnes with the automatic transmission – a largely unobtrusive six-speeder – but its gross combined mass (GCM) of 5650kg is unchanged over the SR. As such, a 3200kg trailer plus the kerb weight of the HiLux equals 5452kg. This plus two 100kg blokes on board and you’re at GCM sans any tray load.

Pop the bonnet and you’ll notice a big space against the firewall, right behind the existing battery, for a second one. There are even rivnuts to mount a battery tray up. Toyota will sell you an auxiliary battery kit from its genuine accessories line. There is also an accessory fuse panel just nearby as well, which is perfect for accessories like driving lights, UHF radio and additional power outlets.

Long-range drivers should note that the Rugged X’s 80L diesel tank is only the same as the other two, with the 8.5L/100km economy claim pointing to 940km of range. We averaged a tick over 10.5L/00km, however.

We’re aware of diesel particulate issues with the HiLux, so we note that the company recently fitted a DPF force burn-off switch, letting you clear your unit on demand, provided you’ve got the engine up to the right temperature first.


Some driveline stats:

Model Ranger HiLux Amarok
Variant Raptor Rugged X Ultimate
Engine 2.0 turbo diesel 2.8 turbo diesel 3.0 turbo diesel
Cylinders 4 4 6
Max. power 157kW @ 3750rpm 130kW @ 3400rpm 190kW @ 4500rpm
Max. torque 500Nm @ 1750–2000rpm 450Nm @ 1600–2400rpm 580Nm @ 1250–3250rpm
Transmission 10-speed auto 6-speed auto 8-speed auto
Claimed 0–100km/h 10.5sec 12.1sec 7.3sec
CA VBox figure 10.5sec 12.6sec 7.6sec
Fuel tank 80L 80L 80L
Fuel economy 8.2L/100km 8.5L/100km 9.0L/100km
CA fuel figure* 11.8L/100km 11.0L/100km 10.6L/100km
Cabin dB at idle 41dB 42dB 44dB
Cabin dB at 2000rpm 51dB 55dB 52dB

*Figure isn’t a typical combined-cycle test. Comprised 200km of highway time and a few hours at a proving ground doing off-roading and acceleration tests. Used as a comparative tool only. 


Ride and handling

We’re going to put this right out there – the Amarok Ultimate 580 is not a good off-roader as sold, but it has the ability to be. Why is it no good off the beaten path? Looks. The 20-inch rims are sexy, but are shod with road-biased 255/50 Bridgestone Dueler rubber.

Not only do they not have much soft-surface traction and become immediately caked with mud/clay, but I actually managed to tear the front-right tyre right from the rim under a hard right turn, dropping into a hidden divot, and causing the wheels to dig in and the body to exert pressure. With such little sidewall to flex, the outcome in hindsight was obvious.

Dropping the class-typical underbody full-size alloy spare down, and fitting it, in the mud, isn’t a great deal of fun, especially considering the set-up is Euro-style bolt-through-wheel in place of in-hub studs.

With some good tyres, though, it’d be a weapon, and that’s despite lacking proper low-range. Firstly, the low 226mm of clearance would improve. Second, the off-road software works really well, even if people after something more analogue may be ‘aggrieved’.

Put the permanent 4×4 Amarok into its Off Road mode, which chills out the ESC and numbs the throttle/gearbox mapping, activate the locking rear diff (of the mechanical variety) and you’ll walk through offset moguls and clamber up slippery tracks easily. It’s simple though uninvolving off-roading. Just avoid sharp rocks.

The hill-descent control limits the need for proper low-range, though obviously hardcore 4x4ers will prefer anything to take stress off the driveline. Tyres aside, you’ll be pretty shocked at how good the VW is off the beaten path. Not that many people will ever take it there in this spec.

On a side note, the VW is also ridiculously good at hauling arse off the line on gravel and dirt. Said Off Road mode software that tells the ESC to chill out stops you getting bogged down like you do in the others, and the throttle mapping reverts to normal under full application.

The Amarok also fares well on the road, with a surprisingly smooth and quiet ride despite the low-profile tyres, and plenty of mid-corner grip thanks to its all-paw set-up. It’s the most car-like on the road, with good body control and direct – though vague – hydraulic-assisted steering.

Its all-round disc brakes are reassuringly good, though unfortunately during our brake testing we encountered a classic Melbourne downpour before the VW’s turn, meaning the results would’ve been skewed against it. You can’t do a hard-braking test on two cars in the dry and another in the wet.

We’re confident calling the stoppers on the road, in tandem with the road tyres, the best here, though. For the sake of some clarity, the 100km/h to standstill test on bitumen took 3.4 seconds in the Ranger (46.6m) and 3.1 seconds in the HiLux (44.4m). The order was reversed on gravel, where the Ford’s massive tyres dug in.

Ditto off-road, where the off-road ABS built into the software ensured a quicker stop, with more progressive pedal feel, even despite the rubber. The Amarok is also lightest here, which obviously helps it stop better.

Once again, I’ve drawn on Sam Purcell for his thoughts.

“Nothing makes a 4WDer salivate more than a high-power, high-torque diesel engine under the bonnet, especially in the current climate of engines often sporting as many turbos as there are litres of capacity,” he said. 

“Full-time 4WD is awesome, as well. For a ute that’s going to be cruising around town or dragging something big and heavy, the Amarok will be hard to go past.

“There are some caveats here worth noting. Diehard 4WDers won’t like the lack of low-range or a locking centre differential in the Amarok, and for good reason I think. For 90 per cent of what 90 per cent of ute buyers are going to be doing, the Amarok is fantastic. Good traction control, accessed via the off-road mode, is quite adept at maintaining forward progress. Technologically, it’s quite impressive.

“Where I think a low-range transfer case and locking centre differential (for a full-time 4×4) still pays good dividends is for extended periods of hard, low-range 4×4 work. Only few truly do this, but if you’re thinking about doing lots of hard off-roading over many years, I’d still opt for something with low-range. It reduces stress on your driveline and stops that gearbox from getting too hot. Towing off-road isn’t a strength of the Amarok either, because of the off-road mode deactivating.

“And putting blingy 20-inch wheels on an ‘off-road’ 4×4? Don’t get me started…”

Amen, mate.

The HiLux exists at the opposite end of the spectrum to the Amarok. It’s comparatively jittery and ‘busy’ on the road – though the extra weight here reduces this compared to the jumpy SR5, and the tweaked front suspension counteracts the under-armour’s weight – with doughy brakes and plenty of roll through corners.

It’s not bad, necessarily, but whereas the VW and Ford (as you’ll see) feel like class outliers, the HiLux is everything you’d expect from a work ute.

Off-road, though, it’s in its element. Its extra 30mm of clearance over the VW proved handy multiple times, and its gearing and engine tune mean it’s excellent at just idling up, over, and down challenging obstacles. One point we’d make is that the rear diff locker only works in low-range. The 265/65 Dunlop Grandtrek tyres are also ATs, but many will swap them over for mud-pluggers.

Purcell said it best:

“What makes the HiLux one of the best off-road 4WDs is its sharply tuned traction-control system and decent clearance. Wheel spin is very well controlled, and you can keep a smooth, controlled momentum over some very gnarly terrain. Modern utes are much more capable than most folk give them credit for.

“Toyota has no doubt seen the kind of modifications Australian HiLux owners are making to their vehicles, as well as how much they are spending. Aside from the hard-parking gang who love looking tough during the weekly Woolies shop, there are some very good reasons Australians spend hard-earned money on modifying their 4x4s. Better touring, better off-road capability, and being better able to take a knock in the bush.

“Similar to the Ranger Raptor, the HiLux Rugged X has been developed with end-user performance in mind. Other than the JK Wrangler Rubicon, this Rugged X is the first 4×4 I’ve seen fitted with proper rock sliders from the factory. They’re a great design, too. The inclusion of rated off-road recovery points, designed and made by ARB, cannot be understated as well. Plus, the rear step is steel.

“All of this adds up to a much more off-road ready and capable 4×4 ute.”

We’d also add, if you’re going far and wide, you can’t undersell the breadth of Toyota’s dealer network. Go bush and HiLuxes/’Cruisers are all you see.

On the road, the Ranger Raptor is a little bit special, and not just because you’ve got 283mm of clearance and sit as high as a light-trucker.

Those Fox shocks and 33-inch BFGoodrich tyres with massive sidewalls allow you to simply glide over damn near everything, and the 2.3mm-thick steel bashplates mean you’re unafraid to push that little bit harder. The light engine enables you to exert massive forces on the front suspension more easily.

There are six driving modes: normal and Sports settings for the road, a Rock mode that works in 4L, some other off-roading set-ups that change the throttle/ESC/transmission in 4H, and the headline Baja mode that works in rear-drive mode, and relaxes the ESC so much that getting sideways and maintaining graceful slides around, and around, and around, is ridiculously simple.

Doughies for days. Provided you’re off the road, in a safe environment, and your tyres are properly inflated. Seriously guys, do it right.

“Fox makes some of the most desirable off-road aftermarket suspension gear in the world,” Purcell writes.

“The shocks are huge (46.6mm piston size) and are tuned fantastically for the vehicle. The wheel track is increased, and aluminium control arms reduce unsprung mass. Along with better high-speed dynamics, this makes the Ranger Raptor much more capable in low-range.

“Flaccid, low-profile tyres have been flung out the window and replaced by some actually good off-road rubber: 33-inch BFGoodrich All-Terrains with light truck construction. This gives you much more clearance, traction and capability off-road. And make no mistake, the Ranger Raptor is very, very capable off-road. In my opinion, it’s the best of the current flock.

“In a world where the Australian buying public is confronted by yet another sticker-pack special-edition ute every other day, the Ranger Raptor shows there is a strong appetite for something properly engineered to outperform its competition. A 738kg payload is low, but enough for most 4WD touring (as long as you don’t pack the kitchen sink), and that suspension would be oh so good along the corrugations.

“I’d love to take one around the country.

“Many will bag it for the engine and low towing capacity. But, they can take their 75 grand and go and by a 79 Series LandCruiser. It could use more engine, but the Raptor is still awesome.”

Of course, the springy suspension (there are coils/links at the back instead of leaves, so it’s at least more controlled when load-less) means there’s a lot of body roll against cornering loads, and the electric-assisted steering is really vague, especially since the sidewalls flex before the car moves.

Driving the Raptor on the road, fast along corrugated gravel tracks, or walking over moguls and rocks, and through 850mm puddles, is always an event. How couldn’t you love it?

Model Ranger HiLux Amarok
Variant Raptor Rugged X Ultimate
Kerb weight 2332kg 2252kg 2196kg
Max. vehicle mass 3090kg 3000kg 3080kg
Max. combined mass 5350kg 5650kg 6000kg
Max. towing capacity 2500kg 3200kg 3500kg
Front suspension Struts/Fox shocks Double wishbone Double wishbone
Rear suspension Watt’s linkage/Fox shocks Leaf spring, rigid axle Leaf spring, rigid axle
Brakes Four discs (332mm x4) Discs/drums Four discs (332mm/300mm)
Ground clearance 283mm 251mm 226mm
Max. wading depth 850mm 700mm 500mm
Approach angle 32.5 degrees 28 degrees 28 degrees
Departure angle 24 degrees 21 degrees 23.6 degrees
Warranty 5 years/unlimited km 3 years/100,000km 3 years/unlimited km

Basic ownership costs

Both the Volkswagen and Toyota come with three-year warranties (the Toyota limited to 100,000km, the VW has no distance limit), while the Ford comes with an excellent five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty that should assuage some who doubt the new, small engine’s resilience. VW is currently offering a five-year term of cover, but this technically expires on any vehicle delivered from January 1, next year. Unless it makes the offer permanent…

Toyota has the worst servicing intervals, just six months or 10,000km between visits. However, it has dealers everywhere and the first few visits are pretty cheap. Each of the first four services are capped at $240 a pop, which will see you through the first two years.

The Raptor’s intervals are 15,000km or 12 months (whichever comes first), with the first four currently priced at $360, $555, $470 and $555. Every three years you’ll need new brake fluid at $85. Each service gives you a year worth of State Auto Club membership/roadside assist.

The Amarok’s servicing intervals match the Ford, with the first four visits costing $480, $679, $569 and $843, meaning the basic capped servicing rates over four years/60,000km are $631 pricier than the Ford offer, or a tick over $150 a year. Some will call that a small price to pay for all that acceleration… Just remember that short warranty (unless you get the five-year offered term).


VERDICT

On the one hand, none of these cars are logical, yet there are reasons for choosing each depending on your user case.

The HiLux Rugged X is basically a HiLux fitted with a ton of aftermarket gear and sold for an extra $7000 or so. It’s easy to see the appeal if you’re a long-distance tourer who values Toyota’s massive dealer network and plan to take your ’Lux well off the beaten path.

As Sam said, “Fit some better tyres, wire up some 12V stuff and chuck a canopy on, and you’ve got yourself a very potent touring 4×4. There are better tow rigs, nicer utes to drive and better value propositions out there. But there’s still a pretty good reason why the HiLux sells so well. The Rugged X amplifies this”.

If you’re not a person in a hurry, the Rugged X is an out-of-the-box way to do what you need. It’s also a lot cheaper than the Raptor and comes with some conventional 4×4 stuff the Ford doesn’t have as standard. Traditionalists, get in line.

If you’re a ‘lifestyle’ ute buyer, the Amarok Ultimate is hard to beat. Its road-biased tyres and wheels, full-time 4×4 and vastly superior acceleration make this an SUV with a tray, more or less. You’re not taking it off-road much without some mods, but that’s not what it’s for.

Want something to tow your big boat or van? Want a premium load-lugger with sensible and mature design? Want the fastest-accelerating diesel ute out there, and the accompanying bragging rights? Want to spend $7500 less than what Mercedes will sting you for the V6 X-Class, yet get more torque?

We hate the lack of rear airbags, which stops us recommending it as a family car, but the notion of an expensive, rapid and classy pick-up isn’t a strange one.

If the central question is which ute impresses us most, it’s the Ranger Raptor. It’s slow compared to the Amarok, but while the VW feels more premium inside and smashes it to smithereens in a straight line, the Ford’s Baja-ready dynamics and rock star presence make it something quite remarkable.

It’s boring to say ‘horses for courses’, but in this instance that’s precisely the point. Devotees of all three will probably sneer at the others. Staunch HiLux buyers will see the VW as a lightweight and the Ford as gauche, Raptor fans will view the Amarok as tame and the HiLux as old-world, and the Volkswagen’s buyers will laugh at the others as they leave them for dead at the traffic lights.

Personally, I’d have the Raptor because it’s so absolutely ridiculous and over the top. Maybe a Raptor with the VW’s power and Toyota’s dealer network is the perfect combination. Is that a verdict? Not really, but seriously, that Ford is something out of the box.

What do YOU reckon? Let’s all get the comments section firing. 

***


Photos by Frank Yang, there are more in the gallery. 

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