Car Reviews

2016 Ford Ranger Wildtrak Vs 2016 Toyota HiLux SR5

The refreshed Ford Ranger Wildtrak takes on perennial ute-buyer favourite, the Toyota HiLux SR5 on the rutted, slippery and steep hills of Mount Walker, NSW.

WITH THE FORD Ranger name going back almost 20 years (although here it was known as the Courier), it might come as a surprise to learn that the all-new 2011 Ranger, designed and developed by a team headquartered in Australia, was the first time Ford had ever actually engineered the Ranger. Yep, before 2011, it had simply taken the Mazda B-Series ute and slapped its own badge on the thing… and now it’s the other way around, with the Mazda BT-50 a Ford Ranger twin-under-the-skin.

Until the new Ranger strolled into town, the Toyota HiLux had had the market all sewn up. Sure, Nissan’s Navara was its closest sales rival, but it was the Ranger that really gave the HiLux, and Toyota, the fright of its life. Toyota’s HiLux had been trading on borrowed time; sure it was tough, but it was woefully under equipped against newer rivals from both Ford and Volkswagen.

So, as the Ranger started eating away at Toyota’s sales lead and, indeed, beat it in the New Zealand market, the all-new HiLux couldn’t arrive soon enough. And then, late last year, it landed in Australia but at exactly the same time, so to did a refreshed Ford Ranger. Snap.

And that’s why we’ve brought these two rivals to Mount Walker, which lies just out of Lithgow in the NSW Central West, to see which one’s the better all-rounder. Will it be the show-off Ranger Wildtrak, or the lightly decorated HiLux SR5?

Ford Ranger Wildtrak

Pricing $60,090 (+ORC) Warranty three years, 100,000km Safety five-star ANCAP Engine 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbo-diesel Power/Torque 147kW/470Nm Transmission six-speed manual (standard); six-speed automatic (as tested) Body 5351mm long; 1850mm wide; 1848mm high Angles 29-degrees approach; 25-degrees breaker; 20-degrees departure (towbar) Weight 2200kg Fuel Tank 80 litres Thirst 9.6L/100km

Comprehensive Car Insurance

VISUALLY, THE MOST significant change to the refreshed Ford Ranger is the new grille, head lights and front quarter panel, which now gets a side vent (which is a blank) and which can’t be retro-fitted to older Rangers. On the inside, the refreshed Ranger gets a new dashboard, soft-touch materials, more insulation for better cabin sound proofing and Ford’s SYNC2 in-car infotainment and communication system. Under the skin, one major change was the dumping of the older car’s hydraulic steering assistance in favour of electric power assistance, there was also some slight adjustments to traction and stability control software.

As far as the look of the thing is concerned, the Ranger Wildtrak definitely turns heads wherever it goes, and while you could argue against the practicality of all the contrasting bits of plastic tacked onto the thing, you can’t argue against how the Ranger looks.

Inside, the Ranger, like its virtual twin the Ford Everest, now feels more like the inside of a Falcon than ever before. And that’s not intended to be a criticism, rather I mean the Ranger, especially in Wildtrak trim, now blurs the line between work and play. And while some of the plastics feel hard and scratchy and maybe not so deserving of the $60k price tag, you’ve got to remember that this thing is, to all intents and purposes, designed for work first and play second.

The seats are broad but there’s plenty of side bolstering and lateral support and the electric adjustment (forwards, backwards and up and down) makes up for the lack of reach adjustment on the steering wheel (it’s tilt only). The back seats will accommodate three adults on short journeys as the intrusive transmission tunnel means the middle-seat passenger will be sharing foot well space with the two outboard passengers.

Over in the tray, the size of which hasn’t changed, the Wildtrak gets a tub liner and a roller-style lockable tonneau cover. There’s also a light up in the plastic wrapped sports bar. The factory fitted towbar definitely eats into the departure angle, and it’s a shame that Ford didn’t take the opportunity to do some reengineering around this item for this refreshed model. The large side steps also get in the way when driving off-road.

The Ranger’s 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbo-diesel engine makes 147kW and 470Nm of torque and is mated to a six-speed automatic only. Fuel consumption is a claimed 9.6L/100km (combined). The engine is as strong as its numbers suggest and the six-speed automatic is as slick as you could hope for, offering smooth shifts up and down the ‘box as needed, although it’s default setting is to run to a high gear quickly for fuel consumption savings.

On road, the Ranger Wildtrak is nice and comfortable and, even without a load in the back, feels stable and competent at speeds you wouldn’t normally drive a ute at. Head onto loose dirt and the Ranger remains just as sure-footed with its traction and stability systems doing a good, subtle job of keeping you in a straight line.

However, as the speed drops and the terrain becomes tougher, and low-range is selected, the Ranger requires considerably more revs than you would normally employ, and thus allows more wheelspin before intervening. Indeed, in some cases, I backed off before the system cut in, instead engaging the rear differential lock to climb up and over an obstacle. If, however, I’d simply given he Ranger more revs, the clever Brake Traction Control would likely have got me out without needing the rear locker.

Select 4H and the ESC system will be slightly detuned, but not fully off. Then in 4L engine traction control and stability control are switched off and B-TCS is able to work on its own. One of the tweaks you’ll never even realise the Ranger has is a small bit of software in the throttle mapping that softens the throttle pedal when you select 4×4 Low. It means you won’t upset the throttle when crawling over bumpy ground, and we did do a lot of crawling over bumpy ground.

Watch our video of the Ranger Wildtrak off-road:

2016 Toyota HiLux SR5

Pricing $55,990 (+ORC) Warranty three-years, 100,000km Safety five-star ANCAP Engine 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel Power/Torque 130kW/450Nm Transmission six-speed automatic (on test) Body 5330mm (long); 1855mm (wide); 1815mm (high) Weight 1775-2080kg (kerb) Angles 31-degrees (approach); 26-degrees (departure) Fuel Tank 80 litres Thirst 8.5L/100km combined

THE EIGHTH-GENERATION Toyota HiLux launched here in September last year, which was a staggering 10 years after the launch of the seventh-generation HiLux. While the new-look nose and the improved cabin are the most noticeable visual changes, it’s the changes that took place beneath the skin that are most significant.

Toyota has made everything tougher, starting with the frame which is now thicker (offering 20% more torsional rigidity), the body, which is stiffer thanks to higher-strength steels and a 45% increase in weld spots. The underbody protection has also been beefed up and is both 40% thicker and 30% larger to make it more resistant to damage in off-road situations.

Ground clearance for 4×4 variants is 225mm while approach (31-degrees), departure (26-degrees) and wheel articulation (520mm on both sides) are all improvements over the seventh-generation model.

As far as the looks are concerned, the HiLux doesn’t have quite the same street presence as the Ranger Wildtrak. But, looked at in isolation, and in SR5 trim, it’s actually a pretty good looking thing. And the design is meant to be practical, too. For instance, the turned up corners of the snout mean greater clearance and thus less likelihood of damaging the thing when driving off-road.

The interior of the new HiLux looks to have taken inspiration from the Corolla, and runs a large seven-inch colour touch screen to control the infotainment and communications system. Some people I showed the HiLux to thought it looked like an afterthought, but I don’t agree. The dashboard controls are all easy to use and well laid out, but the quality of the interior plastics is way behind the Ranger Wildtrak, betraying this things utilitarian function.

The seats aren’t quite as supportive as those in the Ranger but they do offer plenty of adjustment and the steering has reach and rake adjustment, meaning it’s pretty easy to find the right driving position. The back seats are easy to get in and out of, and there’s a stowable arm rest; you’ll get three adults in the back as the transmission tunnel is much less intrusive.

The tray is a little bigger in the new-generation HiLux, measuring 1569mm long (up 19mm), by 1645mm (up 79mm) at its widest point and 1100mm between the wheel arches. Side panel height is 481mm which is up 20mm. The loading height has been reduced by only 4mm to 861mm.

Under the bonnet of the HiLux SR5 is a 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel which offers more more torque, uses less fuel and is quieter inside the cabin and with less vibration thanks to more insulation and a 50% bigger dash silencer. That said, it doesn’t feel quite as refined inside as the Ranger.

The new engine makes 130kW at 3400rpm and 450Nm of torque between 1600-2400rpm. In our test car, this engine was mated to a six-speed automatic, but a six-speed manual is standard. Combined fuel consumption is a claimed 8.5L/100km which is one litre per 100km better than the Ranger, but there’s less power and torque on offer too. The engine is strong enough but the throttle pedal feels dull and lifeless and it takes awhile to get used to not overpressing it and then having to back off like a taxi driver.

The HiLux is only a part-time 4×4 and, so, pushing it on wet roads with no load in the back will see back end break traction quite easily but, then, so do all utes and particularly so when unladen. The suspension, even without a load, does a pretty good job of ironing out bumps and ruts in the road without trying to bump steer or shake loose your fillings. Indeed, my old man, who drives a Range Rover everyday thought the ride was “very impressive”, but he’s getting on a bit and I wouldn’t quite go that far. It’s good and much better than the previous generation, but it’s not the best-riding 4×4 ute on-road on the market; that title goes to both the Ford Ranger and Volkswagen Amarok.

Across rougher surfaces the suspension remains quiet and unfazed, and the additional insulation, 100mm longer leaf springs which now have revised attachment points, and the fact the dampers have been tuned to maintain a flat(ter) ride and dial out all of a sudden impact harshness, mean the HiLux is a pretty comfortable place to be across broken and corrugated surfaces.

And as the speed slowed and the terrain became rougher the HiLux shone even brighter. The equal articulation rates at the back (it was uneven on the old model HiLux) meant the HiLux kept contact with the ground in places where the Ranger picked up a wheel.

The HiLux’s Active Traction Control (A-TRC) which is different to stability control is a stand-out in the segment. As proof, one hill we drove up which had required 4×4 Low on the Ranger, and then, in one place the rear differential lock to be engaged, the HiLux which followed the same line as the “other’ vehicle had been accidentally left in 4×4 High and it crawled up beautifully. And that’s the genius of A-TRC which works by detecting wheelspin and then braking that individual wheel to maintain forward momentum and, in most cases it will negate the need to engage the rear differential lock, so, whatever you do don’t disengage it… but, if you do engage the rear differential lock, just be aware that it disengages A-TRC.

As mentioned in our piece about the Ranger, though, the problem isn’t that the HiLux’s system is so much better than the Ranger’s, just that it requires less revs to work and so you’re less likely to pull out of a situation earlier than you might if you were driving the Ranger.

Watch our video of the Toyota HiLux SR5 off-road:

2016 Ford Ranger Wildtrak Vs. 2016 Toyota HiLux – The Verdict:

SO, FORD RANGER WILDTRAK OR TOYOTA HILUX SR5? Well, the answer to that question comes down to where you live, how much money you’ve got in your pocket and just what you plan to do with your ute. See, the Ranger Wildtrak, once you add on-road costs to the equation is going to cost more than the HiLux SR5, but it’s also better equipped and a more attractive vehicle, so, maybe the dollar argument becomes moot.

If you’re specifically looking for a dual-cab ute than can double as a family car then, out of these two, the Ranger Wildtrak is the pick. It’s more comfortable inside, gets a more sophisticated infotainment and communications system and generally features a nicer fit and finish with better quality materials.

The Ranger Wildtrak also offers a better ride on-road and its engine is grungier and its gearbox smoother and is just generally a more refined package. That’s not to say the new HiLux is a let down, because it isn’t, indeed, it’s easily the most comfortable and refined HiLux ever. But, in the end that’s just not good enough, and across key criteria it’s just very slightly behind the Ranger Wildtrak and so, in this case, it’s the Ranger Wildtrak that gets the nod over the very impressive Toyota HiLux SR5. But, hey, if you choose the HiLux over the Ranger, I won’t hold it against you because, as I said, it’s still a very good vehicle. And, if you’ve always been a HiLux fan then, no matter how good the Ranger is, you’ll always choose the HiLux.

Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober was born in the shadow of Mount Panorama in Bathurst and, so, it was inevitable he’d fall into work as a motoring writer. He began his motoring career in 2000 reviewing commercial vehicles, before becoming editor of Caravan & Motorhome magazine. He then moved to MOTOR Magazine before going freelance and contributing to Overlander 4WD, 4×4 Australia, TopGear Australia, Men’s Health, Men’s Fitness, The Australian, CARSguide, and many more.