Best utes

Australians love dual-cab utes. These dual-purpose vehicles have become the go-to family car of choice for many Aussies, with generous tax incentives for business owners sweetening the deal for potential buyers, too.

It is fast approaching a decade since the Toyota HiLux became Australia’s number-one selling vehicle – a position it has held ever since 2015, while the Ford Ranger has edged it out a number of months in recent times, too. 

These two are among the country’s most popular vehicles, but others such as the Mitsubishi Triton and Isuzu D-Max are always pretty close behind. 

Long gone are the days that dual-cab utes were specifically the realm of tradies. Less than a decade ago, pick-up trucks and utility vehicles were pared-back commercial objects, with very few creature comforts and even less in the way of advanced safety features.

They used to be home to sluggish and unrefined diesel engines – the sort of hard-working mills that would have been just as at home under the bonnet of a tractor on a farm. Those days are well and truly gone. 

With the push for five-star ANCAP safety ratings - both from mum-and-dad consumers, and fleet customers, too - utes have come on in leaps and bounds when it comes to technology and crash-avoidance smarts, and the vehicles featured in this list are largely high-scoring performers, some with better standard safety tech than vehicles at triple or quadruple the price.

And while there are plenty of ute-based SUVs that are designed to appeal to families, the inverse is true, too. Many of the utes on sale today have SUV-like interior finishes and design flourishes, and while there are inherent issues with the body design of these big rigs, many have usable child-seat anchor points for parents to rest assured that their most prized possessions will be secure in the back seat. Oh, and airbag coverage? You bet – the standard for all utes these days is to have curtain coverage that extends to cover second-row occupants.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that these utes are just family four-wheel drives with a tray on the back, though. There are built-in compromises when it comes to the body structure and suspension setup for most utes, and so even the best executed examples of dual-cab ute fare still can’t quite match great SUVs or passenger cars for ride comfort, and they’re better suited to life on the open road than tight city streets and carparks. Most are more than five metres long – some even approach six metres, nose to tail.

Most can only use four-wheel drive on gravel roads or trails due to their selectable – not full-time – four-wheel drive hardware, though that is changing with some newer examples, such as the Ford Ranger and VW Amarok.

And f you want to carry your family and do some off-roading, but don’t need the versatility of a tub, then there are ute-based SUVs such as the Ford Everest or Isuzu MU-X which might be better suited to your requirements. They share their off-road hardware with the utes they’re based upon, but have more sophisticated and comfort-focused suspension, and more space inside – SUVs of that ilk also usually offer third-row seating, either standard or as an option.

It's also possible to go bigger than these utes if you have space (and money) to burn on a truck like the Ram 1500, not to mention the new-to-Australia Ford F-150 and Toyota Tundra.

Ford Ranger

$36,180 to $86,790 before on-roads
Ford Ranger

Pros: Class-leading comfort, high-end interior technology, expansive model range

Cons: Prices keep going up, supply remains a concern, no hybrid yet

Towing capacity: Up to 3500kg braked

The new-generation Ford Ranger is one of the most talked about new vehicles in Australia, and for good reason – given it has won CarExpert's Ute of The Year 2023.

Wait times for the new Ranger vary depending on the variant, but can be from immediate to around six months, for the likes of the popular Wildtrak and performance-focused Raptor.

The new-generation Ranger ute has a bolder design, more interior technology, full-time four-wheel drive in some variants, a V6 diesel option, and plug-in hybrid-ready architecture. Ford developed, designed and engineered the Ford Ranger and Ford Everest in Australia.

It feels like it was made for Aussie needs and wants, with an expansive range of models spreading from more work-oriented entry-level cab-chassis models, through to the almost $100K-on-the-road Raptor, which makes use of a model-specific twin-turbo 3.0-litre V6 petrol engine and rally-ready suspension. Perfect for the school run, worksite visit, or blasting across the outback.

Ford offers a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, and there’s capped-price servicing with intervals set at 12 months/15,000km.

More on the Ford Ranger

Volkswagen Amarok

Price (before on-road costs)
$52,990 to $72,990
Volkswagen Amarok

Pros: Strong standard equipment list, expansive range of models, available with V6

Cons: No ‘cheap’ versions, compromised media system, firmer riding than Ranger

Towing capacity: Up to 3500kg braked

The second-generation Volkswagen Amarok is the product of a collaboration between the German brand and Ford, with the Ranger in the ‘Rok having been codeveloped and designed in Australia.

Volkswagen says it knows what works for it as a brand, so there are no 4x2 models, and no cab-chassis models, and all versions sold here are dual-cab pick-ups. That means buyers who want something else will have to shop elsewhere.

There’s a range of models available, with Ford-sourced engines featuring across the board, including a single-turbo diesel 2.0-litre for the Core (125kW/405Nm), 2.0-litre bi-turbo-diesel for the Life and Style models (154kW/500Nm), 3.0-litre V6 diesel for Style, Panamericana and Aventura, and a very interesting 2.3-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder with 222kW/452Nm – that perky thing is familiar from the EcoBoost Mustang and Focus ST.

One thing’s for sure - VW didn’t want to roll the arm over and simply be an also-ran in the Australian market. The last Amarok sold better here than anywhere else in the world, and the new, second-gen model was designed with Australia front of mind, as well as other big ‘bakkie’ markets like South Africa, where it’s built.

The company also wanted to make the Amarok feel like a VW to drive, so it has a number of changes made to it, such as the steering and interior finishes, but the least convincing execution of “we’ll do it differently” is arguably the multimedia system, which is fiddly to use and misses out on the usability of hard climate control buttons below, a la the Ford.

More on the Volkswagen Amarok

Isuzu D-Max

Price (before on-road costs)
$32,200 to $67,500
Isuzu D-Max

Pros: Smooth engine, excellent safety suite, easy steering

Cons: Pricier than some rivals, narrow driver's footrest, waiting lists

Towing capacity: Up to 3500kg braked

The new-generation Isuzu D-Max has been around for a few years now, and has proven it has what it takes to compete with the big-name players in the ute segment, thanks in part to a greatly improved drive experience, tech offering, and the inclusion of more desirable and feature-rich high-spec models.

The new-gen D-Max has impressed reviewers with its relatively smooth and pushy 3.0-litre turbo-diesel engine, which produces 140kW of power and 450Nm of torque.

The brand also offers a 1.9-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine making 110kW of power and 350Nm of torque in some of the more affordable variants in the model range.

The D-Max is backed by a six-year/150,000km warranty, and comes with seven years of capped-price servicing (12 month/15,000km intervals), and seven years of roadside assist.

The top-spec version of the D-Max, the X-Terrain, is one of the country’s most in-demand vehicles even years after it launched, and despite the fact it doesn’t get a more powerful engine or changes to its suspension.

One has to wonder if Isuzu will expand the range further to offer a more fitting flagship. Time will tell!

More on the Isuzu D-Max

Mazda BT-50

$35,370 to $73,945 before on-roads
Mazda BT-50

Pros: Handsome exterior, smooth engine, refined interior

Cons: Interior screen feels aftermarket, softer look, warranty less than Isuzu

Towing capacity: Up to 3500kg braked

The Mazda BT-50 shares all the important mechanical bits with the Isuzu D-Max, but has a unique look and slightly different interior -- including one crucial missing item: pop-out cupholders at the edges of the dashboard. Both cars are built at the same factory in Thailand, and both launched in 2020.

As with the Isuzu, the Mazda packs a full suite of active driver assistance technologies, and is comfortable towing a heavy load thanks to its smooth, torquey engine. In recent times, Mazda has added a number of high-end variants to add to the off-roader appeal of the ute range, and indeed it has more hardcore offerings than the Isuzu, when it comes to a made-for-play style design.

Most Mazda BT-50 models are powered by a 3.0-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder engine with 140kW and 450Nm, although the entry XS comes with a 1.9-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder engine with 110kW of power and 350Nm of torque. If those outputs look familiar, it's because they're identical to the D-Max, as both use the same powertrains.

The Mazda BT-50 is backed by a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, which is good for the class, but behind the mechanically-related Isuzu.

More on the Mazda BT-50


Price (before on-road costs)
$35,990 to $52,990

Pros: Exceptional value for money, strong standard equipment list, new off-road focused flagship

Cons: Some safety tech annoyances, not the best ute to drive, a few tweaks away from excellent

Towing capacity: Up to 3500kg braked

This new-generation GWM Ute – also known as GWM Cannon – has made a name for itself in Australia, with strong sales and an ever-expanding model range helping to keep things fresh and interesting.

After launching with a three-model, pick-up only line-up, the brand has recently added a couple of cab-chassis variants the appease the tradies who were buying pick-ups only to remove the tubs to fit a tray anyway. And there’s also the new XSR model, which is an off-road-focused variant that scores a number of key changes including a new selectable four-wheel drive system, front differential lock, revised suspension, more ground clearance and off-road armour such as rock rails, steel bumpers and more.

All versions on sale currently are powered by a 2.0-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder engine with modest outputs of 120kW and 400Nm, which is less than most of the main rivals. But the price is lower, so there you go. There are affordable rear-wheel drive models, but if you choose a 4WD GWM Ute that isn’t the XSR, you get a system that operates in full-time 4WD in Standard and Sport modes, or rear-wheel drive in Eco mode. There’s also low-range 4x4 mode, selectable by hitting a button.

Some of the best attributes for the GWM Ute are its size, both in the tub (one of the biggest on the market), and in the cabin, which is far more spacious for second-row occupants than the Ranger, Amarok, HiLux, D-Max, BT-50 and others.

It also has the maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating, though some of its safety systems seem to be included just to tick the box for that rating, as they could do with some fine-tuning. Thankfully, the most interruptive item - active lane-keeping/steering assistance - can be disabled.

More on the GWM Ute

Toyota HiLux

Price (before on-road costs)
$24,255 to $70,750
Toyota HiLux

Pros: Upgraded suspension balances comfort with load-lugging, torquey engine, improved interior technology

Cons: Slow and heavy steering, dated interior, six-month service intervals

Towing capacity: Up to 3500kg

The Toyota HiLux has long been the number one ute in Australia, which means it's under attack from all angles.

It was most recently updated in 2020 with a more powerful 2.8-litre turbo-diesel four-cylinder engine, as well as HiLux retuned spring rates, shock absorbers and suspension bushes, and revised cabin mounts.

A total of 33 models are available, with a choice of three cabin styles and three engines, along with cab-chassis or ute bodies.

The most powerful engine in the 2022 Toyota HiLux range is a 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel, which has 150kW of power and 500Nm of torque when fitted with a six-speed automatic. Manual models develop 420Nm.

Lower grades offer a 110kW/400Nm 2.4-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel, while the entry-level versions are fitted as standard with a 122kW/245Nm 2.7-litre four-cylinder petrol engine.

The HiLux is backed by a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.

More on the Toyota HiLux