TOP 10 WINNERS & Grinners

NEW 4X4 BUYERS CONTINUE TO PUT UTES AHEAD OF WAGONS, BUT HOW DO THE TEN BEST-SELLERS RATE WHEN WE RUN THE 4X4 AUSTRALIA RULER OVER THEM?

WORDS FRASER STRONACH

YEAR-ON-YEAR sales of new 4x4s continues to boom, thanks largely to 5893 more pick-up/cab-chassis variants being sold in the first half of 2018 compared to the first six months of 2017 (88,997 versus 83,104), representing a healthy 7.1 per cent increase.

Utes, led by Toyotaís Hilux, which has squeezed back past Fordís Ranger into top spot, are the dominant force in the 4x4 market. Some 80 to 90 per cent of utes sold are dual-cabs, reflecting their repositioning away from being work vehicles.

Against this ute-dominated background, sales of dual-range 4x4 wagons are also generally up, with Toyotaís Land Cruiser 200 Series increasing more than 12 per cent in year-to-date (YTD) sales to match the Hiluxís rise. Toyotaís Prado has also done well to climb up to fourth in YTD sales. Making it a very Toyotaflavoured start to the year, the Land Cruiser 79 Series has also climbed into the top 10 after years of hovering just outside.

However, not all of the top 10 are winners, with the Holden Colorado, Nissan Navara and Mazda BT-50 all sliding in popularity. So thatís the big picture, but how do these top 10 shape up in detail?

01 King restored

THE HILUX IS BACK AS AUSTRALIAí S MOST POPULAR 4X4, AFTER ITS 12-YEAR RUN ATOP THE 4X4 SALES CHARTS WAS BROKEN LAST YEAR BY THE RANGER.

Engine: 2.8L 4-cyl turbo-diesel Power/torque: 130kW/450Nm Gearbox: Six-speed auto 4x4 system: Dual-range part-time Weight: 2075kg GVM: 3000kg Towing: 3200kg Fuel: 80L ADR fuel claim: 8.5L/100km

TOYOTA HILUX

SALES

2018 (TO JUNE 30) 19,237

2017 (TO JUNE 30) 17,140

CHANGE 12.2%

THE HILUX is not just the best-selling 4x4 in Australia, itís the countryís best-selling new car overall; the only ute to achieve that distinction. It first got there in 2016, after 12 years as Australiaís best-selling 4x4. Last year, however, the Hilux was deposed as Australiaís best-selling 4x4 by the Ford Ranger. Toyota responded by fleshing out the Hilux model range by fitting alloys and sat-nav to the work-spec SR to create the SR+, and adding heated seats to the SR5+ to match top-spec rivals. Then came a range of accessorised models, first the TRD and then more recently the Rogue, Rugged and Rugged X.

Compared to the first six months of 2017, Hilux 4x4 sales are up 12.2 per cent, sufficient to see it squeeze back in front of the Ranger by a mere 21 units, despite Hilux buyers no longer having the option of the petrol V6. Dual-cabs make up 86 per cent of Hilux 4x4 sales, with single and extended cabs evenly split in the remaining 14 per cent.

Somewhat controversially, Toyota decided to downsize from a 3.0-litre diesel four to a 2.8-litre four in this latest generation Hilux, which puts it at a disadvantage against the notably bigger 3.2-litre five-cylinder engine in the Ranger, in a market where smaller engines are seen to work harder than bigger engines to do the same job.

While the 2.8 is well short of the Ranger Ė let alone the Amarok V6 Ė in performance, it is a quiet, refined and nicely flexible engine. Three-quarters of all Hilux 4x4 buyers opt for the sixspeed automatic despite its tendency to shuffle between fifth and sixth gears at legal highway speeds on undulating roads, which makes the manual the better choice for country driving.

Thereís no doubting the Hiluxís offroad ability, though, which is as good as it gets in its class. Build quality, day-to-day ownership practicality and aftermarket support are also second to none, but the Hiluxís cabin size and maximum tow and load capability is behind most rivals.

02 Photo finish

AFTER KNOCKING OFF THE HILUX LAST YEAR, THE RANGER HAS BEEN PIPPED AT THE POST AT 2018í S HALFWAY POINT.

Engine: 3.2L 5-cyl turbo-diesel Power/torque: 147kW/470Nm Gearbox: Six-speed auto 4x4 system: Dual-range part-time Weight: 2159kg GVM: 3200kg Towing: 3500kg Fuel: 80L ADR fuel claim: 9.2L/100km

FORD RANGER

SALES

2018 (TO JUNE 30) 19,216

2017 (TO JUNE 30) 18,563

CHANGE 3.5%

FORD HAS sold 19,216 Ranger 4x4s in the first sixth months of 2018, a 3.5 per cent increase over the same period in 2017. Unfortunately for Ford, that number puts Ranger just 21 units short of Hilux and, for the time being, has silenced Rangerís claim of being Australiaís topselling 4x4.

However, help is on the way in the form of a new Ranger, which will offer a more powerful 157kW/500Nm (but very much smaller) 2.0-litre four-cylinder bi-turbo diesel as an option to the current 3.2litre five-cylinder in best-selling XLT and Wildtrak models. The new Ranger will also bring a host of other suspension, NVH and equipment upgrades.

Thereís also a new Ďheroí model to help bolster the line-up in the form of the Ranger Raptor, which will be powered by the new 2.0-litre bi-turbo engine and come with a bespoke high-performance suspension. The new bi-turbo engine, which brings a surprisingly modest premium of just $1200 over the 3.2, will only be available with a 10-speed automatic.

The Rangerís popularity is, in some part, based on its biggest-in-class engine, so how this relatively small-capacity engine will be accepted is yet to be seen; itís no doubt the reason why Ford will keep the 3.2 in the range to cover its bets. The 2.0-litre wonít be offered with a manual, which is another reason why the 3.2 will be kept for the time being.

The Rangerís success is also built on a big and spacious cabin, excellent on-road driving dynamics and classleading towing and load-carrying ability. Interestingly, the Rangerís 3500kg maximum tow capacity is undiminished with the 2.0-litre engine, except with the Raptor where it drops to 2500kg.

Hopefully the new engine wonít affect the Rangerís off-road ability, which is currently as good as it gets in its class. One promise the new 2.0-litre engine brings is better fuel economy, which was always a notable negative with the 3.2.

03 Small package, big value

UNBEATABLE ON VALUE, THE MITSI TRITON DELIVERS MORE THAN IT PROMISES ON PAPER.

Engine: 2.4L 4-cyl t/diesel Power/torque: 133kW/430Nm Gearbox: 5-speed auto 4x4 system: Dual-range full-time (+2WD) Weight: 1950kg GVM: 2900kg Towing: 3100kg Fuel: 75L ADR fuel claim: 7.6L/100km

MITSUBISHI TRITON

SALES

2018 (TO JUNE 30) 12,187

2017 (TO JUNE 30) 10,318

CHANGE 18.1%

MITSUBISHIíS Triton 4x4 is the big mover at the pointy end of the top 10, despite remaining in third place overall and still a long way behind runaway leaders in Hilux and Ranger. That said, Triton sales are up nearly 20 per cent without Mitsubishi doing much more than a mild tweak of the line-up, which, among other changes, has seen the introduction of the Blackline dual-cab.

The sales success has much to do with its sharp pricing and ongoing factory discounting, with driveaway prices on the popular dual-cab variants sitting well below other mainstream utes and bettered only by the Indian and Chinese offerings. Dual-cabs make up 11,570 of the 12,127 Triton 4x4s sold (more than 95 per cent) while autos make up 73 per cent of all 4x4 sales.

The Triton stands out among the current crop of 4x4 utes in a number of ways. One is the full-time 4x4 of GLS and Exceed models thanks to Mitsubishiís Super Select system. Full-time 4x4 adds greatly to the Tritonís functionality, driveability and safety under most driving conditions and stands it apart from all of its competitors bar the Amarok. Super Select also has a 2WD mode, so itís different again from a conventional full-time system. Unfortunately, Super Select doesnít make the Triton a gun off-road ute, but thatís all to do with its modest suspension travel and ground clearance and nothing to do with the system.

The Triton is also a small ute by class standards in cabin size, payloads and towing capacity. The fact that most of the tray of the dual-cab overhangs the rear axle is also a negative for carrying or towing heavy loads; although, the 2.4-litre diesel holds up its end, even if the chassis layout isnít ideal.

One positive here is that the Triton is more manoeuvrable than others in its class thanks to a relatively short wheelbase, and it also has a sporty feel to the way it steers and handles thanks in part to also being lighter than most competitors.

04 All-purpose practicality

THE PRADO REMAINS AUSTRALIAí S MOST POPULAR NEW 4X4 WAGON, AND ITS POPULARITY IS ON THE RISE.

Engine: 2.8L 4-cyl turbo-diesel Power/torque: 130kW/450Nm Gearbox: Six-speed auto 4X4 system: Dual-range full-time Weight: 2290kg GVM: 2900kg Towing: 3000kg Fuel: 150L ADR fuel claim: 8L/100km

TOYOTA PRADO

SALES

2018 (TO JUNE 30) 9268

2017 (TO JUNE 30) 8657

CHANGE 7.1%

JUST WHEN you thought the days of the 4x4 wagon were numbered due to the dual-cab onslaught, the Prado has fought back to take fourth place in the 10 and move past Holdenís Colorado.

Prado year-on-year sales are up around 7.0 per cent off an increase last year and in spite of the popularity of dual-cab utes and more direct competition in the form of Mitsubishiís Pajero Sport, Isuzuís MU-X, Fordís Everest, Holdenís Trailblazer and Toyotaís own Fortuner. Looking at the broader picture, Toyota now sells more Prados than it did five years ago, despite a lack of direct competition back then beyond Jeepís Grand Cherokee.

After a slow start in late 2015, the Pradoís then newly arrived 2.8-litre diesel has been accepted as a decent replacement for the previous 3.0-litre diesel. And while the 2.8 isnít a particularly exciting engine, itís certainly quieter, smoother and generally more refined than the previous 3.0-litre and is both torquey off idle and still happy to rev. Itís offered with a six- speed manual (used with the 3.0-litre engine) and a six-speed gearbox, which has two overdrive ratios, whereas the previous five-speed had a single overdrive. If anything, sixth gear is too tall and itís a shame Toyota didnít see fit to lower the final drive gearing to bring the new sixth back to where the old fifth was and gain a performance benefit everywhere else.

Regardless of the new powertrain the Prado remains happy in town, on the open road and off-road, and itís a do-it-all wagon that impresses with its refinement, day-to-day practicality and effortless long-distance touring ability. It also now offers a 3000kg towing capacity; a long-overdue upgrade.

The pick of the Prado range is the VX, with the brilliant KDSS suspension which improves the Prado both on- and off-road. Unfortunately, KDSS is not available as an option on the popular GXL, nor does Toyota now offer the sweet but unloved 4.0litre petrol V6.

05 Off the boil

THE COLORADO WAS THE BIG MOVER IN 4X4 SALES THIS TIME LAST YEAR, BUT IT HAS HIT A SNAG.

Engine: 2.8L 4-cyl turbo-diesel Power/torque: 147kW/500Nm Gearbox: Six-speed auto 4x4 system: Dual-range part-time Weight: 2121kg GVM: 3150kg Towing: 3500kg Fuel: 76L ADR fuel claim: 8.7L/100km

HOLDEN COLORADO

SALES

2018 (TO JUNE 30) 8526

2017 (TO JUNE 30) 9603

CHANGE 11.2%

THE COLORADO has gone backwards in sales in the first six months of 2018, compared to the same time last year. The slower 2018 sales come off back of a surge in 2017 and reverse most of those gains with a year-on-year 11.2 per cent slide.

While the Colorado has slid down, the Prado has climbed up, with the two now swapping places in the top 10.

This generation Colorado first appeared in 2012, was tweaked just 12 months later and then again the year after, before being pulled completely apart and put back together again for the 2017 model year. The result was a completely different vehicle.

The changes to the engine, transmission, chassis and body were deep, extensive and thorough, resulting in a vehicle thatís far smoother and quieter engine-wise, rides and handles better on-road and is far more capable off-road.

The Coloradoís strong points include its punchy 2.8-litre turbo-diesel fourcylinder engine that lives up to the promise of 500Nm, a figure that betters the 470Nm of the notably bigger engine in the Ranger.

The Coloradoís engine is revvy, willing and aided by what is the best of the automatic gearboxes in any ute bar Volkswagenís Amarok.

The Colorado is also a polished on-road drive in terms of its steering and suspension performance, and if you want it to carry or tow anything notably heavy, it will do that without any complaints.

Best of all the Colorado is now a much better 4x4 thanks to its electronic traction control thatís been specifically tweaked to improve its off-road effectiveness.

Ultimately itís still no Toyota Hilux, Ford Ranger or VW Amarok off-road, but itís far better than what it was.

06 On a promise

RECENT CHANGES TO THE NAVARA D23 HAVENí T HELPED IT GAIN ANY TRACTION IN THE MARKETPLACE.

Engine: 2.3L 4-cyl bi-turbo diesel Power/Torque: 140kW/450Nm Gearbox: 7-speed auto 4x4 system: Dual-range part-time Weight: 1865kg GVM: 2910kg Towing: 3500kg Fuel: 80L ADR claim: 7.0L/100km

NISSAN NAVARA

SALES

2018 (TO JUNE 30) 6722

2017 (TO JUNE 30) 7373

CHANGE 8.8%

THE NA VARA is the second of the top 10 best-selling 4x4s to lose sales in the first half of 2018 compared to the same time last year, despite a rising market. the first six months of 2018 Nissan sold 6722 Navara 4x4s, some 651 fewer than the same time in 2017. This may not look like a big drop, but it comes despite two upgrades since this generation Navara (the D23) first appeared in late 2015 and in light of generally disappointing sales along the way.

When you consider the previous D40 Navara 4x4 was selling twice as many five years ago Ė in a 20 per cent smaller 4x4 ute market Ė and was second only to the all-conquering Hilux, the D23 hasnít been what Nissan would have wanted.

The D23 (or NP300 as it was initially known) came with the fanfare of coil-spring rear suspension, a theoretically better arrangement than leaf springs, and a sophisticated bi-turbo engine and seven-speed auto gearbox. While the engine provided plenty of performance, helped by the seven-speed auto and relatively short gearing, the coil-spring rear suspension, especially for heavy load carrying or towing, was problematic right from start. The front-to-rear suspension match wasnít great either, nor was the too-heavy and too-slow steering.

Within 12 months Nissan addressed this via the Series II model, with new rear coils, new dampers front and rear and revised suspension bushings. More suspension changes were implemented for the 2018 model with a second new set of rear coils, new rear dampers and a revised steering rack.

Thankfully the Navara is better for all these changes, especially in its general on-road handling, ride and steering, which is now very acceptable. But itís still not great at towing its claimed max 3500kg or carrying its full theoretical payload of around 1000kg. Nor is it a gun off-road ute, where its lack of wheel travel and lowish stance puts it at a disadvantage compared to its rivals.

07 The benchmark

IT MAY BE 10 YEARS OLD, BUT TOYOTAí S LAND CRUISER 200 SERIES IS SELLING BETTER AND BETTER.

Engine: 4.5L V8 turbo-diesel Power/torque: 200kW/650Nm Gearbox: Six-speed auto 4x4 system: Dual-range full-time Weight: 2740kg GVM: 3300kg Towing: 3500kg Fuel: 138L ADR fuel claim: 9.5L/100km

TOYOTA LAND CRUISER 200 SERIES

SALES

2018 (TO JUNE 30) 6581

2017 (TO JUNE 30) 5831

CHANGE 12.8%

PERHAPS itís a reflection of a lack of serious competition in the large 4x4 wagon market, but sales of the 200 continue to grow, climbing some 13 cent in the first six months of 2018 compared to the same period in 2017. And that comes off the back of two years where sales grew by 20 per cent and 30 per cent before that.

In fact, the 200 has never sold better despite being more than 10 years old. A few years back the 200 was hovering outside the top 10 best-selling 4x4s, but is now well established at number seven and closing on the Navara.

The 200 has no doubt benefitted from the fact Nissanís Patrol Y62 is petrol-only, and you havenít been able to buy a diesel Y61 Patrol for more than a year. And all in a market where diesel rules Ė Toyota offers the 200 with a very sweet 4.6-litre petrol V8, but only 1.0 per cent of 200 Series buyers take up the offer.

Nor does the new Land Rover Discovery offer much sales competition to the mighty 200 Ė in the six months that 6581 LC200s were sold, Land Rover sold 1026 Discoverys and Nissan just 716 Patrols.

The 200ís sales have accelerated since its facelift back in 2016. That facelift brought distinctive new styling, a raft of new safety and tech kit, and Euro 5 compliance via a DPF, improved fuel economy and even a slight jump in overall power.

As ever the 200 is effortless to drive both on and off the road. The engine may be a bit Ďtruck-likeí in terms of refinement, but it does every job asked of it without raising a sweat. And while the 200ís on-road dynamics arenít the sharpest, the ride comfort is excellent on even the nastiest of roads.

To improve the on-road dynamics of the venerable 200 (and the offroad ability even more), ticking the KDSS option box on the GXL diesel is a very good idea.

08 On the job

THE D-MAX REMAINS AT NUMBER EIGHT IN THE TOP 10, BUT ITí S STILL GAINING GROUND.

Engine: 3.0L 4-cyl turbo-diesel Power/Torque: 130kW/430Nm Gearbox: Six-speed auto 4x4 system: Dual-range part-time Weight: 1945kg GVM: 2950kg Towing: 3500kg Fuel: 76L ADR claim: 7.9L/100km

ISUZU D-MAX

SALES

2018 (TO JUNE 30) 6409

2017 (TO JUNE 30) 6127

CHANGE 4.6%

ATOTAL of 6409 D-Max 4x4s were sold in the first six months of 2108, a 6.4 per cent increase on the same period last year. Thatís not sufficient to see it out of the number eight spot in the year-to-date top 10, but at the same time itís not far behind the LC200 or the Navara 4x4 in sales and could pip both by yearís end to move up to number six.

Since the arrival of this generation D-Max in 2012 it has enjoyed a steady increase in sales. In its first full year in 2013, some 8488 D-Max 4x4s were sold. Last year 12,795 D-Max 4x4s found new homes. Thatís a 50 per cent increase over that fouryear period and sales continue to trend in the right direction so far this year.

However, the D-Max sold now is a different vehicle from the D-Max that arrived here in 2013, mainly thanks to a raft of upgrades for the 2017 model initiated by mandatory compliance to Euro 5 emissions standards that came into effect in December 2016. This bought a diesel particulate filter, but at the same time Isuzu reworked the engineís top end (from the pistons up), new turbo and all, to bump torque from 380Nm to 430Nm for better driveability and to quieten whatís always been a relatively noisy engine. At the same time an Aisin six-speed automatic, similar to whatís used in the Hilux and Prado, replaced the previous five-speed auto, and a six-speed manual replaced the previous five-speeder.

For the 2018 model, Isuzu made changes to the cabin, equipment levels and rear suspension. SX, LS-U and LS-T dual-cab 4x4s now have softer three-leaf springs instead of the five-leaf springs used previously. The end result is a more compliant ride when unladed but seemingly diminished ability to carry maximum payloads, if our recent nineute comparison is anything to go by.

As ever the D-Max is solid rather than spectacular and, while itís not the last word in what it does on or off the road, it makes a lot of sense as an ownership proposition.

09 Tough truck

ITí S THE OLDEST VEHICLE IN THE TOP 10, BUT ITS YEAR-ON-YEAR SALES INCREASE IS THE STRONGEST.

Engine: 4.5L V8 t/diesel Power/torque: 151kW/430Nm Gearbox: 5-speed manual 4x4 system: Dual-range part-time Weight: 2175kg GVM: 3300kg Towing: 3500kg Fuel: 130L ADR fuel claim: 10.7L/100km

TOYOTA LAND CRUISER 79 SERIES

SALES

2018 (TO JUNE 30) 5140

2017 (TO JUNE 30) 4142

CHANGE 24.%

THE LAND Cruiser 79, complete with its then all-new 4.5-litre V8 diesel, arrived in 2007 and has never been more popular than it is now. In fact, in the six months of 2018 it has sold almost as well as it did for the full 12 months of 2008. Whatís more surprising is its year-on-year sales increase to June 30 is better than any of the other top 10 best-sellers, with a 24 per cent increase, despite the fact itís the oldest vehicle here. This time last year the LC79 wasnít even in the top 10.

In its 11-year history in Australia, two significant things have happened to the LC79. Firstly, in late 2012 the dual-cab model appeared, Australia being the first market to receive it off the back of what Toyota said was ďdemand from the booming mining sector and othersĒ.

Then in late 2016 the 79 received a raft of updates, many of which came from meeting government safety and emission standards as well as industry safety demands. First up, all models gained the now mandatory electronic stability control (and electronic traction control as a side benefit). Then to meet Euro 5 emission standards all models gained a diesel particulate filter and piezo injectors. All variants also got locking hubs, cruise control and a new five-speed gearbox with a much-needed taller top gear as well as a taller second gear. To meet industry OH&S demands for a five-star ANCAP safety rating, the single-cab model also gained curtain and driverís knee airbags and thicker frame rails.

As ever the 79 is very truck-like to drive compared to others utes in this top 10, and it doesnít offer much in the way of on-road civility in terms of handling and ride or noise refinement. Plus, the top gear still isnít tall enough for relaxed highway cruising.

However, all of that is forgiven once you take the 79 off-road, where it is near unstoppable. The farther you get from civilisation, the more sense it makes; and if you happen to be in the middle of nowhere, itís the only 4x4 you really want.

10 Unloved sibling

THE MAZDA BT-50 SHARES THE FORD RANGERí S PARENTAGE, BUT NOT ITS SALES SUCCESS.

Engine: 3.2L 5-cyl turbo-diesel Power/torque: 147kW/470Nm Gearbox: Six-speed auto 4x4 system: Dual-range part-time Weight: 2118kg GVM: 3200kg Towing: 3500kg Fuel: 80L ADR fuel claim: 9.2L/100km

MAZDA BT-50

SALES

2018 (TO JUNE 30) 4683

2017 (TO JUNE 30) 4746

CHANGE 1.3%

MAZDAíS BT-50 is the third vehicle in the top 10 to suffer a sales decline in the first half of 2018 compared to the same time last year. Mind you, itís dropped by 1.3 per cent year-on-year, but, due to better sales of the others, the BT-50 now only scrapes into the top 10 by around 150 units in front of VWís Amarok.

In what has been a booming ute market over the last decade, BT-50ís sales have remained pretty constant since it arrived in late 2011. In its first full year of sales in 2012, 8279 BT-50 4x4s were sold, while last year 8900 were sold.

Itís hard to believe how poorly the Mazda BT-50 sells in comparison to the Ford Ranger given they are Ė in essence Ė the same ute. More than four Rangers are currently sold for every one BT-50 and, while the Ranger offers some notable technical advantages adopted for MY16, the BT-50 is generally cheaper. In Mazdaís defence, it is probably more concerned with its small passenger cars and SUVs, which are its big sellers, where for Ford the Ranger is the main game. Mazda is also well ahead of Ford in overall new-car sales.

In most ways the BT-50 drives much like the Ranger. For starters its 3.2-litre five-cylinder engine retains the same torquey, low-revving, smooth-running and agreeable character, even if itís not as quiet or as responsive as the Rangerís.

The BT-50 also doesnít have Rangerís electric power steering that makes for easier low-speed manoeuvring; although, others will argue that Mazdaís oldschool hydraulic system in its offering is potentially more robust.

Off-road the BT-50 is a good thing; although, a notch down from the Ranger due to another 2016 upgrade it received Ė leaving the front traction control active when the rear locker is engaged Ė which Mazda didnít adopt.

Otherwise everything that is likable about the Ranger, such as a spacious cabin and excellent towing and loadcarrying ability, is essentially true of the BT-50.