2015 was a big year for new 4x4 releases, and one-tonne utes led the charge, making the next six months the best time in ages to be in the market for a new 4x4 ute.

So, it was with just a tad of excitement that we lined up all the latest utes with other popular sellers to test their mettle. The results can be found on page 46.

Of course, we had to wait for the last player in the segment to arrive Ė it also happens to be the biggest seller Ė and for many of our team it was their first chance to drive the latest Hilux. Iíve got to say that Toyota has done a great job with the makeover, improving the Lux in all areas over the previous model.

But itís the VW Amarok that continues to impress me. Each time I get behind the wheel of one of the single-range automatic models, I push it harder to find its limits both on and off the road and always come away amazed.

This time around it was the set-piece hill climbs at the Melbourne 4x4 Training and Proving Ground that impressed me. The hill we used was steep and rutted, but if you picked a good line you could drive most four-wheel drives up it.

The key to our test was to straight-line each vehicle up the same wheel tracks, directly through the deep ruts to challenge the traction systems in the cars. The three utes on this test without rear diff locks didnít make it past the first ruts!

The other five utes scrabbled to the top, working their systems hard. If they made it up with their diff locks in, we went back down and tried them without the locker just to test the traction control and, as expected, some fared better than others.

The mind-blowing result, however, came from the highrange- only VW that straightlined it up, with or without its rear lock in, easier than any of the other vehicles.

In doing so it showed that it could come off the road or highway and conquer a hill that stopped other 4x4s using low range Ė all without having to shift a lever, turn a dial or push a button. Astounding!

Factor in that you can get this ute with drivetrain for around $40K in Core spec, and itís the cheapest, best performing, most versatile 4x4 ute available Ė while still being one of the oldest of the group.