Recently, I spent a considerable amount of time poring over virtually every dual-cab ute on the current market and, among the numerous interesting revelations and insights, perhaps the most contentious is that none of them are any good.
Wait, allow me to apply some context to that sweeping aspersion. If you happen to be the owner of several thousand head of sheep on acres of farmland, the one-tonne ute is as indispensable as shear oil. And if your job involves hauling a ton of tools and materials onto a muddy construction site every day then a dual-cab is as essential as a 500ml can of Mother for breakfast.
But an increasing number of ute buyers are not putting them to hard yakka. Rather, they are being bought to replace the family car, and after spending a week in 11 different dual-cabs, this makes no sense at all. The Mazda BT-50 has the most car-like interior, but that car happens to be a 2014 Mazda 3.
The Ssangyong Musso XLV has easily the largest load space, but drive to the airport in the rain and your carry-on will look like it’s been fished out of a lake. And while the GWM Cannon has a cavernous second row, like all dual-cabs, the rear seats are about as laid back as a Virgo.
In virtually all objective tests, a ute is a worse family ‘car’ than the actual car it’s replacing. Any time someone mentions a particularly impressive dual-cab attribute it is always immediately followed by the caveat “…for a ute”.
For example, the Isuzu D-Max has really nice steering … for a ute, the LDV T60’s central touchscreen is really impressive … for a ute, while the Ford Ranger’s ride is particularly good … for a ute.
When compared with virtually every other class, light-commercial vehicles are harder to live with in suburbia, less comfortable, not as well-equipped and more expensive to run. And yet, each month Australia’s favourite ‘car’ continues to be some kind of one-tonne ute. This simultaneously perplexes and delights me because it’s actually history repeating itself.
Dual-cab ute comparison 2022: The daily living test
Dual-cab utes have charged in as a firm favourite for family hauling and daily duties, well beyond the old mould of tradie tasks and off-road adventures. It’s time to see which are best suited to the role.
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In the late ’90s, people all over the world, for no good reason at all, started chopping in their perfectly suitable sedans, hatchbacks and wagons in favour of the ‘Sports Utility Vehicle’. At the time, this emerging class of vehicle was represented exclusively by fat, ungainly, inefficient and ugly models – and the car-buying public couldn’t get enough of them.
But an amazing thing happened.
Soaring demand put the pressure on car makers to improve the safety, driveability and practicality of the SUV and a quarter of a century later the contemporary offerings are unrecognisable from their ancestors.
Lamborghini’s Urus SUV just summited Pikes Peak faster than Travis Pastrana in a Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport, Ferrari is poised to reveal its Purosangue SUV, while the Cupra Formentor I drove recently would give an Audi S3 a run for its money in the driving enjoyment stakes (it shares a lot of its oily bits).
As a family car, a late-’90s SUV made as much sense as a jetski. But thanks to incredible ingenuity and technology, car makers made a round peg fit a square hole, and exactly the same thing will happen to the ute.
In 25 years from now, campers will still be able to buy a ‘serious’ dual-cab ute in the same way you can still buy a Toyota Landcruiser if you want an SUV that’ll climb a mountain, but for a majority, the one-tonner will be a refined, fast and fun to drive machine, and I can’t wait.
In the meantime, you might be tempted by the imminent Ford Ranger Raptor which marks the start of the ute’s transition into a performance vehicle. It’s a very impressive car … for a ute.