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The Top 5 Best Hero Utes

The humble dual-cab 4×4 ute ain’t so humble any more. We look at the top 5 best hero utes either on the Aussie market or about to land here soon.

Four-wheel drive utes used to be for tradies, farmers and big industry but these days just about every man and his dog wants to get in on the act. But today’s 4×4-ute customers don’t want a rough-around-the-edges commercial vehicle – they want something with style and performance that’s loaded with all the latest comfort and convenience items, as well as carlike safety features.

Many vehicle manufacturers are answering the call and have added top-spec ‘hero utes’ to their model line-ups. Some have opted to simply tart-up existing models while others have gone all out and spent a fair chunk of their R&D budgets to develop some very special vehicles. No matter what route they’ve taken, they all want a return on investment, so it’s not surprising that all the utes in this list have premium-vehicle price-tags to match their hero status.

Here they are…

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Ford Ranger Raptor

HSV Colorado SportsCat+

Mercedes-Benz X 350 d Power

Toyota HiLux Rugged X

Volkswagen 3.0 TDI550 Ultimate

Baja Desert Racer – Ford Ranger Raptor

Ford has been leaking information on its top-spec Ranger Raptor for more than a year and the Aussie-developed and Thai-built ute will hit showroom floors in October.

2018 Ford Ranger Raptor

What makes it special?

With the Raptor, Ford has gone all-out to transform the Ranger ute into a desert-racer. As well as dropping in a new 2.0-litre twin-turbo-diesel engine that makes a claimed 157kW of power at 3750rpm and 500Nm of torque from 1750-2000rpm, the Ranger Raptor is equipped with a 10-speed automatic transmission.

A new longer-travel suspension set-up consists an independent front-end and a coil spring live-axle rear with a Watts linkage. Ensuring the Ranger Raptor rides over rough terrain like no other ute are Fox Racing internal bypass position-sensitive shock absorbers front and rear.

The brakes are also upgraded from the standard Ranger’s disc/drum set-up to ventilated discs brakes front and rear, and the Raptor scores unique 17-inch alloy wheels shod with 285/70R17 BF Goodrich All Terrain KO2 tyres.

The Raptor has a wider track than a standard Ranger and ground clearance has been increased to 283mm. A unique grille with FORD block lettering, revised bumper with LED fog lights, a steel bash plate and durable composite fenders give the Raptor a distinctive and tough appearance.

What’s it cost?

The Ranger Raptor will set you back a whopping $75k. For that you get comfort and convenience features such as heated sports seats with leather and suede accents, 8-way power adjustment for the driver’s seat, a 230V power outlet, cooled centre console, dual-zone climate control, power tailgate lock, smart keyless entry/start, 8-inch colour touchscreen, 4.2-inch colour multi-function display, satnav and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto.

On the downside, the Ranger Raptor has a reduced payload of 758kg and reduced braked towing capacity of 2500kg, but this desert racer is hardly designed for towing caravans.

Race Replica  – HSV Colorado SportsCat+ (auto)

The SportsCat and SportsCat+ are Holden Special Vehicles’ take on the Holden Colorado and both models are available now.

What makes it special?

Die-hard Holden fans will no doubt be impressed by HSV’s take on the Colorado 4×4 ute, despite no upgrades to the run-of-the-mill 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine. That’s because the standard oiler already produces a competitive 147kW of power at 3600rpm and 500Nm of torque at 2000rpm (when mated to the six-speed automatic transmission).

HSV Colorado Sportscat+

What HSV has done to the Colorado SportsCat+ is to tweak the suspension, upgrade the brakes, play with the traction control system, throw in a rear sway-bar disconnect and enhance the styling, both inside and out.

The front spring rate has been increased to minimise body roll and improve cornering performance, the damper rates have been revised for a sportier feel, and front strut braces have been added. Aussie-developed SupaShock dampers are also available as a factory-fitted option on SportsCat+.

While the SportsCat+ retains drum brakes at the rear, the front stoppers have been upgraded with the fitment of AP Racing forged four-piston fixed-head calipers, a larger brake master cylinder and 362mm x 32mm front rotors.

Typical of HSV, the SportsCat+ scores an aggressive styling makeover by way of a unique front grille, a wider track (thanks to the wheel offset), wheel arch flares, a bonnet bulge, bright red recovery points, LED fog lights, 18×10 forged alloy wheels and Cooper Zeon LTZ Sports All-Terrain tyres. The SportsCat+ also has a unique hard tonneau cover with load rails for fitment of genuine accessory HSV racks, as well as a unique sports bar.

Off-road performance is improved thanks to increased ground clearance and improved rear wheel travel thanks to the SportsCat+ being equipped with a rear sway-bar disconnect that automatically comes into play when low range is selected.

What’s it cost?

The SportsCat+ will set you back $66,790 and the auto transmission adds $2200, bringing the price to $68,990 plus on-road costs. Standard equipment includes heated seats with Jasmine leather and Windsor suede inserts, 6-way power adjustment for the driver’s seat, climate control, soft-drop tailgate, keyless entry/start, 8-inch colour touchscreen, multi-function display, satnav and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto.

Safety features include forward collision alert, lane departure warning, front and rear park assist, rain sensing wipers and a rear-view camera.

Luxury Load Hauler – Mercedes-Benz X 350 d Power

When the top-spec X 350 d Power lands in Australia in November it will be the most Mercedes-Benz of all the Nissan Navara-based X-Class 4×4 utes, powered by the German marque’s own TDV6 engine.

What makes it special?

While the X 220 d and the X 250 d have Nissan engines lurking under their bonnets, the soon-to-be-launched X 350 d scores a potent Mercedes-Benz-developed 3.0-litre TDV6 engine that produces a class-leading 190kW of power at 3400rpm and 550Nm of torque from 1400-3200rpm, resulting in a claimed 0-100km/h time of just 7.5 seconds.

2018 Mercedes-Benz X 350 d X-Class

The M-B engine is mated to the brand’s own 7G-TRONIC PLUS seven-speed automatic transmission, and the X 350d Power also differs from the Navara in that it has a 4MATIC permanent all-wheel drive system.

The all-wheel drive system uses a centre differential to provide a variable front to rear 40:60 torque split when 4MAT is selected, a variable 30:70 torque split in 4H and a locked 50:50 torque split in 4L.

A Dynamic Select system provides five driving modes from relaxed and comfortable through to sporty and dynamic. One of these modes is specifically for off-road driving and it alters throttle response and transmission characteristics to suit slippery terrain.

The X 350 d Power features four-wheel disc brakes, coil spring suspension and is loaded with safety features including Active Lane Keeping Assist, Active Brake Assist and a 360° camera.

What’s it cost?

The X 350 d Power will cost a whopping $79,415 plus on-road costs when it launches in December this year. As well as the potent TDV6, trick seven-speed auto and all-wheel drive system, there’s plenty of standard comfort and convenience features packed into the Power spec, including 19-inch alloy wheels, manmade leather seat upholstery, electrically adjustable front seats, eight-speaker digital audio system, climate control keyless entry and start, online multi-media system, satnav and adjustable load securing rails in the tub.

Bush Muster – Toyota HiLux Rugged X (auto)

Toyota has taken a vastly different approach with its hero ute by co-developing a range of accessories with the 4×4 aftermarket and throwing them at a restyled HiLux called the Rugged X.

What makes it special?

The HiLux Rugged X was designed in Australia with support from Toyota in Japan and Toyota in Thailand. Although mechanically the same as the SR5 model on which it’s based it scores a raft of extras to justify its $7550 price premium over the run-of-the-mill HiLux SR5.

Toyota HiLux Rugged X

On the styling front the Rugged X has a completely revised front-end look with a new grille and a winch compatible steel bar that incorporates an LED light bar and fog lights. Further enhancing the front-end look is a substantial bash plate and bright red rated recovery points. The Rugged X also comes standard with a snorkel, steel rock rails, steel rear-step tow bar, rated recovery points at the rear, a tub liner, a load-rated sports bar and 17-inch ‘Tough’ alloy wheels.

The upgrades to the HiLux make the Rugged X a much more capable off-road vehicle than the SR5 on which it’s based, giving it unequalled underbody protection and improving approach and departure angles. The side rails are particularly tough and can handle the full weight of the vehicle without damage, offering complete protection for the vehicle sills. The bash plate and rear step bar can also take a pounding off-road.

The load-rated sports bar is another handy addition, providing additional lashing points for securing equipment such as dirtbikes or ATVs, while the tub liner protects the cargo area from damage.

Toyota has also upgraded the interior, equipping the Rugged X with leather accented trim, a new instrument cluster with metallic black ornamentation, a black headliner and front and rear all-weather floor mats.

The Rugged X’s 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine is no match for the others in this quintet, mustering a claimed 130kW of power at 3400rpm and 450Nm from 1600-2400rpm when mated to the auto box. Sure, it doesn’t offer outstanding on-road performance, but for those more concerned with off-road capability the Rugged X is a more attractive proposition.

What’s it cost?

The Rugged X with manual gearbox costs $61,990 while the six-speed auto adds $2000, bring the price to $63,990 plus on-road costs. In addition to the extra equipment outlined above, the Rugged X comes with all the comfort and convenience features of a standard HiLux SR5, which includes climate control, satnav, 7-inch colour touchscreen, 4.2-inch multi information display, smart entry and keyless start.

Performance King – Volkswagen 3.0 TDI550 Ultimate

When it comes to dual-cab 4×4 utes the top-spec TDI550 Amarok is the current performance thanks to its potent 3.0-litre TDV6 engine, and Volkswagen aims to hold on to that title even after the launch of the Mercedes-Benz X 350 d.

What makes it special?

The Amarok TDI550 Ultimate is Volkswagen’s top-spec load hauler and it’s powered by a potent 3.0-litre V6 turbo-diesel engine that currently makes a class-leading 180kW of power in ‘overboost’ mode and a healthy 550Nm of torque from 1500-2500rpm. Overboost is achieved for up to 10 seconds in third and fourth gears when full throttle is applied, upping peak output from the ‘engine’s ‘regular’ 165kW. The result is a 7.9-second 0-100km/h time.

2018 Volkswagen Amarok Ultimate 200 kW.

Of course, there are clouds on the horizon for the Amarok TDI550 with the upcoming launch of Mercedes-Benz’s new X 350 d, which makes a claimed 190kW/550Nm and for a 7.5-second 0-100km’h time, but Volkswagen is responding with a more potent version of the Amarok likely to be dubbed the TDI580, which will punch out power and torque peaks of 190kW (and 200kW on overboost) and 580Nm. Could this be the start of a 4×4 ute power war?

The Amarok’s TDV6 is mated to an eight-speed auto transmission and the vehicle features a single-range full-time 4×4 system. And despite the absence of a two-speed transfer case, the Amarok is impressive off the road, thanks to a combination of factors including effective traction control, a locking rear diff and decent wheel travel.

As well as class-leading on-road performance, the Amarok is one of the most dynamic and engaging of all the dual-cab utes to drive on the road. It offers a firm but sporty ride, with well controlled body roll and great steering response. And it handles a load well, with well sorted rear springs and one of the widest tubs in the class.

Thanks to its wide body and upright windscreen, the Amarok feels more spacious on the inside than other dual-cab utes. The interior abounds with high quality trim and fittings and the dash design is clean and functional.

What’s it cost?

The TDI550 Ultimate slips under the $70k barrier at $68,490 and for ­those who like a little luxury in their dual-cab utes, the top-spec Amarok answers the call, with standard equipment including dual-zone climate control, colour touchscreen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, colour multi-function display, Nappa leather seat trim, 14-way power adjustable driver’s seat and heated front seats, aluminium pedals and chrome interior trim. Exterior features unique to Ultimate include 19-inch ‘Milford’ alloy wheels with 255/55R19 rubber, a full-size spare and an extended sports bar.

Dean Mellor

Dean Mellor