Ford Ranger Raptor vs Holden Colorado SportsCat vs VW Amarok - Top Tier One Tonners


With the recent introduction of Raptor, HSV-fettled Colorado SportsCat and refreshed Aventura V6, we thought it time to compare the three most expensive one tonners on the market

Words: Peter Louisson   |   Photos Tom Gasnier
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Raptor Soars

After letting rip with the F-150 Raptor which, in a much-watched video, flew 90 feet before landing badly, it made sense for Ford Performance to develop Raptor Junior. And after much hoopla the Ranger-based Baja bird is finally here, costing $84,990. Given how well the Ranger has sold over the past five years, the more models on offer the better.

There’s now a more modern diesel option in the top tier offerings, dubbed Panther, guess because it’s black like the handle on the fuel pump that feeds it. Or maybe because it has a bit of a growl. Whatever, the bi-turbo four-pot pumps out more than the 3.2 that continues to be the main workhorse in the Ranger line-up. This is the sole engine for Raptor, optional for Wildtrak, and though smaller it makes for a faster truck.

That’s partly because it runs a 10-speed auto. Who’d of thunk? It functions so well that you’re seldom sucked into using Raptor’s standard shift paddles that work a treat. You play with them just for fun instead, no? It revs keener than the 3.2 and higher, but without quite the absolute low-end urge of that engine. Performance seems best above about 2000rpm.

My first encounter with the Raptor was at the jump site we’d chosen and the Baja-tuned suspension worked insanely well. The seat is the best of this bunch, which helps but the suspension is special. It has been developed to soak up the big hits so it lands with a degree of grace we’ve not experienced with any offroader previously. Owners probably won’t do this much but it’s definitely up for sand play, the big reinforced three-ply tyres giving plenty of go-forward momentum.

Raptor’s a hoot on gravel too, especially when you select Baja mode where it allows plenty of tail-out action but catches things before a spin. Here it aced the other two once again. This kind of airborne chassis performance does come at a cost. Where the Ranger Wildtrak has a 3.5 tonne braked towing capacity, this is limited to 2.5 tonnes.

And the payload of 750kg is down by 250-odd kg too. So if it’s towing or lugging stuff, the Wildtrak will cost you a less and get the job done better. Only it’s lower flying. Like the Colorado, the fettled suspension improves on road behaviour as well, a good trick. Despite the rubber that’s optimised for desert duelling, this makes a very good fist of tarmac running. You’d not credit how well this hangs tough in the dry, though at the limit it hasn’t quite the grip of the road-biased rubber that Amarok uses.

But with 60kg less over the front axle it has a more even weight balance than regular Rangers (56/44 vs 58/42) and tracks true, holding onto corner speed like it’s hard to come by. The lack of roll helps. What it also does is ride in distinctly non-ute-like fashion, soaking up the big road irregularities like they’re not there, and with very little of the typical ute jiggle.

There’s little between this and the Amarok in the comfort stakes.

With its more road-oriented rubber, the Amarok gets the edge in corners, barely. The Raptor not only has a wonderfully evocative name (unlike the SportsCat and too-busy Aventura) but it could well be the best looking ute anyone has ever done in the history of the genre.

the bi-turbo four-pot pumps out more than the 3.2 that continues to be the main workhorse in the Ranger line-up

The big Ford grille up front with the squinty headlights, the fender flares and the gentle curves in the metal give this an outstanding silhouette. Nothing comes close. It’s much improved inside too. The hip-hugging seats just work, and it’s a nice place to be. And did we mention comfortable?

It has more room in the rear (as opposed to the tray) than the VW, similar to the Colorado by HSV. Minor load limitations aside, there’s no reason not to consider this, especially given how well it goes. No, it doesn’t quite have the effortless gait of the Amarok but this modern 2.0L biturbodiesel sure does a swell job. More power would make it even sweller. Raptor is real fun, about as much as you can have in a ute offroad, and threads its way down winding roads with aplomb too.

So not for everyone, perhaps, but will likely sell on its looks, and to those with a technical bent who like to go bush or beach every now and again. Thanks Ford (Performance) for taking the plunge and going where no-one has dared to tread before.

The Other VW that Rocs

Since the arrival of the V6 Amarok a couple of years ago, buyers have been happily shelling out the extra over the 2.0 biturbo, content in the knowledge that they have the fastest one-tonne load lugger you can buy. The Aventura gets to open roads speeds almost two seconds quicker than anything else, all the while being more refined. Not that speed matters to many but you know, ute bragging rights and all.

With the promise of a 3.0L turbodiesel arriving for the X-Class, VW fettled the mill to retain its bolter title. The latest Aventura is now good for 580Nm, as on the registration plates. It ramps up to 600Nm temporarily on overboost. And for ease of remembering, power rises from 190 to 200kW when you need a burst of added zip at higher revs. That also distances itself slightly from the 190kW/550Nm Mercedes X350d, which has a claimed sprint time of 7.5sec.

Supposedly the VW improves to 7.3sec. Aventura’s towing ability remains up there with the best at 3500kg braked, and the same goes for payload, at one tonne. VW claims the tray is also the biggest in the business, capable of holding a pallet between the wheel arches (1222mm), if need be. There’s also 2.5 square metres of load space. The downside is that rear seat legroom isn’t quite so generous as in the red or blue trucks but then workhorse needs must.

The Amarok is the oldest of this trio and you can tell that by the ute’s upright squared off look, whereas the other two are more rounded, with smaller glass house to metal ratios. They’re smarter to behold then. On the inside, though, the VW is amongst the most car-like and it’s specification is good, though you’d hope that for this pushes one tonne ute price limits. ‘From $89,990’ is getting up there. As a road-going prospect, this currently has no equal. It is utterly effortless in just about any situation; bury your boot and go. There are no engine modes, and nor are they needed. It’s not light but then all of these utes exceed two tonnes.

Need more urgency? Select S transmission mode and the eight-speed auto adds vigour.

On the refinement front, there’s nothing quite like the Aventura. Amongst this trio it is the most car-like to drive, with well sorted Servotronic steering, and is the quietest on road. The V6 you can scarcely hear, while the Raptor’s engine has a bit of a snarl and the Colo’s is, well, a typical big four-pot diesel, always audible.

The VW’s driving position is great, the seat’s plush, and visibility fine. For ride quality, it is also the best. Nothing can touch the Raptor’s ability to mop up and diffuse dips and ruts off road, but on road the Amarok has long held the high ground. Both are better riding unladen than the SportsCat+ which really isn’t too bad given its ‘sports’ suspension. For trips, the Aventura is the pick of this lot, even quicker than it used to be. On a hot day with tar melting, we repeatedly got 7.5sec 0-100 runs, and low 5s passes for the overtake.

That’s roughly 0.3sec better than before. Brakes are up for it too, discs all round, and produced a stoppie of 38m. This has the strongest bite while its a flip with the Ford for best brake pedal feel. The combined fuel use figure is a claimed 8.6L/100km and this engine meets Euro6 emissions regs thanks to its AdBlue tank. Amarok kicked off in 2010 and is due for replacement in the next couple of years.

It’s not the most stylish of utes any more, never was really, and inside the central screen is smaller than those of its rivals, the reversing camera gives a restricted view, and there is no blind spot monitoring, nor comfort entry but in other regards it’s highly competitive.

Standard fare includes Nappa leather trim and seat heaters, an overhead camera, shift paddles and perhaps most importantly, permanent AWD. You also get a sports bar/styling bar, silver skid plate for the front bumper, a bedliner, running boards and 20-inch alloys. Our vehicle had a roll cover that adds $4500 to the bottom line.

Until the X350d debuts, this is unquestionably the quickest and most refined ute on the market, albeit the most expensive of the one tonners. Take it for a decent strop though, and you’ll understand why.

SportsCat Bites

Without the Aussie-built Commodore, you’d have thought HSV’s days are up. But no, they’re busy re-engineering US machinery, and tweaking the Colorado.

Peugeot 508 GT

The end result is the oddly named Colorado SportsCat+ by HSV. So not a real HSV, despite the badges. More a fettled Colorado. It doesn’t even get a power up. Evidently engine mods wouldn’t have been cost effective. Besides, power (147kW) and torque (500Nm) figures from the 2.8L turbo four are similar to those of the twin-turbo 2.0L Ranger Raptor. Best to let sleeping cats lie then.

The most significant changes are to the suspension and wheels, which is probably why they chose the name SportsCat, improved agility and all. There are also changes to styling by way of a new grille design and a body kit. Minor interior titivations, like different seats, round out the upgrade. To improve ‘performance’ they opted to make it handle better.

And there they’ve succeeded, but not as well as Ford did with Raptor. Certainly the way it rounds up corners is a step up on the Z71 which wasn’t bad to begin with, but in doing so the ride has deteriorated. There’s now a degree of jiggle even on minor motorway ripples. Ford managed to improve both ride and handling with their big bird. They spent up on the Fox shocks which are standard on Raptor while HSV made its locally developed SupaShock dampers a $4000 option.

The sports suspension consists of better dampers and slightly firmer springs along with a 33 per cent stiffer sway bar to reduce roll and enhance grip. There’s a new wheel and tyre combination, the taller rubber (Cooper Zeon LTZ Pro) raising ground clearance by 20mm to 251mm. So we checked how both this and Raptor went off-road (on sand) by seeing which got more air. And as expected with its Baja-developed suspension designed to handle jumps, the Raptor flew true, where the SportsCat+ wasn’t quite so agile over moguls as its name might suggest.

We pulled the pin early while it was still landing reliably on all four. One trick the SportsCat alone has is a disconnecting rear sway bar, helping with articulation but this only works in low-range and we forgot about that when photographing the trio with one front wheel resting on a log. No doubt it’s handy in more extreme off-roading situations.

Like Raptor’s, you’d be amazed at how well these tough off-road tyres work on tarmac. It used to be that such rubber hummed like a spinning top on chipseal but on these trucks it’s no noisier than regular rubber. Okay it doesn’t quite hang tough like the VW’s, but in dry conditions they do a great job. This deals to corners better than the Z71, leaning less and turning more incisively.

It will also round up into bends under power should it start to run wide of the line. The downside is that the ride quite isn’t as forgiving but it still manages sharp-edged bumps well. The other aspect to the SportsCat+ is its uprated AP Racing brake system with 362mm rotors at the front, and a bigger master cylinder but the rear drums remain (discs on both the others).

Does it stop better? Yes, but it’s not a marked difference like with the suspension, and a best crash stop from 100km/h of 39m is no better than the Z71’s. Perhaps that’s because the SportsCat+ weighs 100kg more.

Moreover, it takes a reasonable amount of pedal pressure to get the most out of the picks.

The Plus model costs $82,990 and comes with a hard lid as standard. But the others are worth paying more for.

Consider also that the SportsCat+ gets by with a six-speed auto (8- and 10-speeders for the others) while it misses out on things like comfort entry, dual zone climate air, idle-stop, four-way adjustable steering column (VW only), driver’s lumbar adjust, 360-degree camera, drive modes (Raptor), and wheel-mounted shift paddles that are standard on the Ford and VW.

The leather and suede seats are nice enough but not the quality or comfort of the other pair, and nor is the interior quite as enticing. The hard lid comes gratis but you pay $1500 extra for the sportsbar while the tubliner costs an additional $400.

In this comparison the HSV-fettled Colorado Sportscat+ comes in at second-runner up position. Only one person thought it placed second but then he has a red tattoo on his head so his opinion doesn’t count.

The Stats

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Model Ford Ranger Raptor  Price $84,990

Engine 1996cc, IL4, TDI, 157kW/500Nm

Transmission 10-speed auto, switchable 4x4

Vitals 10.39sec 0-100km/h, 8.2L/100km, 212g/km, 2372kg

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Model Colorado SportsCat by HSV  Price $82,990

Engine 2776cc, IL4, T/DI, 147kW/500Nm

Transmission 6-speed auto, switchable 4x4

Vitals 10.41sec 0-100km/h, L/100km, g/km, 2282kg

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Model Volkswagen Amarok V6 Aventura  Price $90,000

Engine 2967cc, V6, T/DI, 190kW/580Nm

Transmission 8-speed auto, all-wheel drive

Vitals 7.47sec 0-100km/h, 8.6L/100km, 199g/km, 2290kg

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