Car Advice

Reader help: should I buy a 4WD wagon or ute?

4WD utes have come of age, but are they the right choice for everyone? One reader asks if he should choose either a 4WD wagon or ute.

Dear Practical Motoring, I’d like your advice on which 4WD to purchase next. I’ve got a 2011 STL Diesel Pathfinder at the moment (which I quite like), but I’m due to replace it in July.
 
I’m tossing up between a couple of vehicles as a replacement, a 2016 XLT MkII Ford Ranger and a 2016 GX Toyota Prado. I think I’ll keep whichever car I get for a number of years, possibly 8-10. We have a camper that is about 1400kgs loaded, which either 4WD will be able to easily handle.
 
If we upgrade, I don’t think we’ll get anything over 2.5 tonnes so the Prado will still be in play. What I’m stuck on is whether I’d prefer a Wagon or a Ute. One of my main considerations is 4WD ability with load carrying capacity a secondary consideration.
 
Which of these two cars is the best at off-roading? How big is the difference? And, do you think a GVM upgrade for the Prado would hinder it’s 4WDing capability if load carrying capacity were to become a problem? Thanks for your help.
 
Practical Motoring Says: The Prado is more off-road capable than the Ranger, no question about it. The Prado has better suspension flex, a shorter wheelbase, tighter turning circle and better ramp/approach/departure angles. Generally speaking, wagons are a bit more capable than utes off-road.
 
However, the Ranger is very capable off-road, particularly the PX Mk2 to which Ford made several important changes; improving the engine torque curve, improving traction control and allowing traction control to operate with the rear locking differential. In short, with a 2-inch lift and decent tyres both vehicles will get you anywhere a touring 4WD needs to go, so the difference in practice will come down to the driver. If it helps, I’d certainly say the Ranger would beat your ’11 Pathfinder off-road.
 
The Ranger is much superior to the Prado for load carrying, both in bulk and weight. It also has a higher tow rating, albeit the 3500kg rating isn’t real, a workable limit is more like 3000kg. So as the Ranger is capable enough for the needs you describe and can carry more, I’d recommend it for you. However, as it comes, dualcab utes need a bit of work for touring. A canopy is essential, and I’ve dustproofed my tailgate too. Some sort of cargo system is also a must. Or, forget the whole tub idea and fit a service body. On the other hand, the Prado will need a cargo barrier where the Ranger will not.
 
Basically, as usual for a touring 4WD, factor in the costs for each vehicle in totality, not just the purchase cost.
 
In 2016, anyone considering a wagon as an off-road tourer should take a good hard look at a ute because utes offer much greater payload, are simpler and more robustly engineered, can carry more bulk and you give away very little safety, road handling or off-road capability.
 
Also check out our run down on which Toyota 4WD to buy.


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trackdaze
trackdaze
4 years ago

Got to be carefullwith loads, towing with dual cab utes. Quite a few crack chassis from poor weight distribution and or overloading. Given the suggestion of gvm upgrades on might to well to consider chassis fish plates.

Conversely Prados can crack up at the front end from the weight bull bars and dual batteries unsure is the gvm upgrade includes strengthening to reduce the risk or in fact stivfer springing,damping may exaserbate.

Many 4wd may exceed front axle load limits with steel bar,winch, dual batts.

Adam Howley
Adam Howley
4 years ago
Reply to  trackdaze

Hadn’t heard that about prado’s but I am sure it’s true and something Toyota fans never mention because they are unbreakable.

I wouldn’t get a ute for the Extra costs using tolls. Not sure if it affects Rego too?

trackdaze
trackdaze
4 years ago
Reply to  Adam Howley

Maybe its the reason why you seem to not be able to get a factory steel bull bar for a Prado or even one with a winch. Similarly it might be why a Certain after market supplier has recently got into alloy bull bars 1st product release? Was for the prado! This as well as having acquired the company that produced smart bar.

For this reason one would do well to be cautious about adding dual batteries to the front of a prado or any other vehicle and any type of bull bar.

JohnGC
JohnGC
4 years ago

Another benefit of the ute is if you ever carry something smelly, the passenger cabin is separate. If you got fish, bait, manure, wet dogs or just smelly gym gear, keeping it out of the cabin can be a good thing.

Robert Pepper
4 years ago
Reply to  JohnGC

Good point

Andrew Riles
Andrew Riles
4 years ago

Aside from the reason JohnGC mentioned, I like the versatility of a ute’s load area…..so many options to set it up exactly as you want/need it, with easy access from 3 sides being more feasible than with a wagon…..

Robert Pepper
4 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Riles

Service body on the back can’t be beat!

Mark
Mark
4 years ago

Don’t neglect to consider the difference in touring range. A prado has a far greater fuel capacity than any of today’s utes, and upgrading to a 120+ litre tank should be on everyones wish list if considering a ute. Budget in around $1500 fitted and don’t forget that this will eat considerably into the available payload. A steel tank weighs in at around 50kg and may hold 140 litres. The factory tank will likely be plastic and hold 70. When considering a Prado these weights are factored into the vehicles tare weight.

The same issues continue when upgrading suspension (heavier coils) adding canopies (around 50-100kg depending on material) and the list keeps going. In the case of the Prado you can also drop a 100a/h battery under the bonnet where the Ranger’s lack of space forces it to live in the tub.

It seems that many people are swayed by the cheaper pricing of a ute and are then gobsmacked when they are confronted with pricing to turn it into a somewhat useful tourer (2-3k for canopy, 2.5k for suspension, 1.5k for tank). I’m partial to either, but thought I would point out some issues that I see pop up regularly.

Robert Pepper
4 years ago
Reply to  Mark

Good points, Mark. However, the ute has plenty of space fo dual batteries in the tub, and in the case of the Ranger some owners put them in under the second row seats. And there’s lot of payload for the second fuel tank.

The point you make about the extra cost is good – canopy, dustproofing…it all adds up. Canopies shouldn’t however be anywhere near 50 or 100kg, more like 35 for fibreglass.

Suspension needs upgrading regardless of the vehicle type if you’re going touring.

trackdaze
trackdaze
4 years ago
Reply to  Mark

You can get a 50 or 70 fuel tank that sits in the tray for a couple of hundred dollars. The beauty of this arrangement is you can take it out for’tootling about the urbane jungle.

Camilo
Camilo
4 years ago

The only big pro for a wagon is the option of sleeping inside the car if you want/need in a comfortable and safett way.

But being realistic… who would use a mall rated prado for touring?? I mean, a ute is engineered for abuse and bad road condition from factory, can handle payload, now any of them have the fruits you can find on wagons.

The same investment you have to do on utes you will have ti do it on a wagon but in a different way.

Greetings

Robert Pepper
4 years ago
Reply to  Camilo

To be fair, Prados make excellent offroad tourers and have done ever since the 90.

Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper