Welcome to Club Ute

Pizza (oven) delivery meets the tradiesí union

TOBY HAGON

UTES are more than just a way to get around.

Theyíre a lifestyle, one thatís built an almost cult-like following with some of the more hardcore fellow ute owners. And Iíve learned more about Club Ute in recent weeks, having covered plenty of predominantly city kays, where utes are prevalent.

Thereís a ute peak-hour (itís over by about 7.45am and kicks off again at 2.30pm) and a general ute understanding in traffic. And it pays dividends when dicing for a gap on clogged roads. Ute-to-ute is so much easier when merging, with merely a glance to acknowledge such courteousness (although, then again, it could be the sheer bulk of the Hilux Ė bullbar, snorkel and all Ė that creates openings that didnít exist moments earlier).

The ute respect works much better in identical vehicles. Spot another Hilux SR5 and Iím almost certain to get a sideways glance and a steady but deliberate raise of a finger off the steering wheel.

But itís the ability to launch anything at the tray whenever you want thatís the biggest ute win. This month it was a woodfired oven to practice my pizza-making. The full 300kg disaster was forklifted into the back of the Hilux, where it was a fraction too wide to snug down between the inner wheelarches.

All that extra weight in the tail softened the ride just enough to make it borderline comfortable, adding a healthy dose of compliance to the rear end. And the 450Nm felt almost as strong as ever, comfortably lugging from its 1600rpm peak.

The wooden crate in which said oven was packed dug hard into the extra-cost-option plastic tray liner, but it flexed back into shape once the delicate job of removing the load had been achieved at the other end.

Iím less enamoured than ever with the Hiluxís unladen suspension behaviour, though. The rear end bucks around and does nothing for general comfort levels, which becomes an issue over bumpy roads with the family on board. The kids somehow think itís fun, the missus less so.

Points are made up with the digital radio tuner, although the speakers are terrible; any hint of bass and they start woofing and croaking. A $60K car laced with leather should have a better sound system than this.

Then thereís the touchscreen, which continues to be a source of frustration when it comes to big volume adjustments and flicking between stations.

Overall, though, the Hilux is a welcome addition to the garage and one that continues to get regular use as a family car, aroundtown runner and light-duty hauler.

NOW WEíRE COOKINí

300kg oven in tray: bad for consumption, great for taming uteís stiff rear suspension

TOYOTA HILUX SR5

Date acquired: September 2016 Price as tested: $63,311 This month: 834km @ 12.7L/100km Overall: 2217km @ 12.5L/100km

URBAN COUNTRY SPORTS FAMILY MOTORWAY

Ute climbs to the top

Itís official. The Toyota Hilux is the top-selling vehicle in the country, having pipped its Corolla stablemate (and former numero uno) for the honour. In 2016 Toyota shifted 42,104 Hiluxes, edging 700 ahead of Corolla, enough to keep Hilux at the top of the ute charts, beating Fordís It ha ho Co hard-charging Ranger. Ford doesnít compete as fiercely at the bottom end of the ute market: the cheapest Ranger is a $27,665 diesel, whereas the base-line Hilux is a $20,990 petrol, but Ranger makes up ground in the popular upmarket 4x4 dual-cabs, where it outsells Toyota.