Ranger vs Hilux:
Clash of the Titans
These two, Toyota’s new Hilux and the Ford Ranger, are best sellers in New Zealand. The Ranger has been all-conquering, and the Hilux would like its crown back as the best selling truck. But is the new one good enough?
Toyota still rules the sales roost in New Zealand, quite comfortably, accounting for one in five cars sold. But recently it has ceded not one but two best seller titles to the Ford Ranger. The big Ford unseated Hilux in 2014 as New Zealand’s most preferred truck, and last year usurped Corolla as the best selling passenger vehicle overall. We knew the Ranger was good, naming it out overall ‘Car’ of the Year upon its release, and it has stirred up the ute sector, causing its rivals to up their games. Of those opponents, Hilux is the newest, Toyota having the most time to strategise a reprisal. However, Ford hasn’t been sitting around basking in Ranger’s glory and has been busy improving its truck too. Here we compare the new Hilux SR5 and the Ranger XLT double cabs in 4x4 auto guise.
The lowdown on Hilux
Now in its eighth-generation, the new ’Lux is bigger than ever, longer and wider than the previous model, and it has a bigger tray too. The new body is more rigid and sits on a beefier frame. It still uses wishbones up front with a leaf sprung live axle, though now with longer leaf springs, giving it more wheel articulation. Along with the wheelbase dimensions, tracks have increased too, as has the ground clearance, Toyota quoting a massive 286mm at the ramp-over point (though there’s around 222mm clearance under the diff which, in our view, is the lowest point underneath). It’s heavier too now registering 2120kg on the scales (with a tow bar), up from 1956kg from the previous SR5 model we weighed. The powertrains are new, the 2.8-litre diesel being shared with the Prado. In Hilux it makes 130kW and 420Nm when paired with the six-speed manual and 450Nm with the new six-stage auto. It gets a smaller but more responsive turbo, and a timing chain replaces the old engine’s belt, while service intervals are every 15,000km. With water cooled exhaust gas recirculation and a diesel particulate filter, it’s said to meet Euro5 standards. The 4x4 SR5 auto is rated at 8.5L/100km on average. There’s a new six-speed auto and a new manual with rev matching tech. However, most opt for auto, especially when buying the higher grade models. Tow rates have improved; the manual 4x4 is good for a maximum of 3500kg, the auto 3200kg. The SR5 4x4 has a quoted 900kg payload. Hilux now has a rotary dial to engage four-wheel drive on the fly, there’s 4Lo with rear diff lock, and various electronic traction aids. It has gained a five-star ANCAP rating, all models get seven airbags, and ESP features a trailer sway function. Double cab variants get two Isofix mounting points while a reversing camera is standard on all wellside models. No Hilux model offers any active safety gizmos however.
Ford took the opportunity last year to update its Ranger, concentrating on refinement. The 3.2-litre five-cylinder gained a new engine map, engineers honed the combustion process and improvements were made to the exhaust gas recirculation system to trim consumption (XLT 4x4 rated at 9.0L/100km on average) but emissions remain at Euro4 levels, and the sooty diesel smell on start-up reminds you of that every time. No more power was extracted but 147kW and a stout 470Nm at 1500rpm still does the job. The six-speed auto’s control unit and shift schedule were retuned and a redesigned torque convertor lends an improved launch feel. Fresh hydraulic driveline mounts sooth some of the engine vibes while a suspension retune helps smooth the ride and Ranger is the first ute to adopt electric power steering. Like Hilux, it uses a wishbone type arrangement on the front and a live axle with leaf springs. There’s switchable four-wheel drive with a rear diff lock while the clearance is quoted at 237mm. There’s also a six-speed manual if you prefer, it too being revised with a better shift quality and revised ratios. No matter which transmission you opt for, Ranger is rated at a maximum 3500kg for tow and the XLT auto has a payload of 954kg. Ranger is a big rig, weighing in at 2207kg. While XLT misses out on the active safety systems of the Wildtrak, it has ESP with trailer sway function, six air bags, rear camera and five-star Euro and ANCAP scores.
What’s on offer
Buyers are gravitating towards the higher end of the ute market but there are still plenty of models to choose from. Hilux has 21 variants, the cheapest double cab being a $40k low rider and the range tops out at $70k for the SR5 Limited. Ranger offers 14 variants, the least expensive double cab being the 2WD XL at $44,540 right up to the $69,640 for the Wildtrak. The SR5 in 4x4 auto guise is $66,490, the Ranger XLT $63,040 (before both brand’s apply the discount). Common to both are 17-inch alloys, cruise control (with a limiting function in Ranger), side steps, auto air (dual zone in Ranger), Isofix and tether anchors in the back for kid’s seats, reversing camera (and rear sensors on Ranger), privacy glass, sat nav (Hilux with traffic updates) and a 220V power outlet. The Ranger gets tyre pressure monitoring and comes complete with a plastic trayliner. The plus for the Hilux is the smart key and LED headlamps with automatic levelling. What they both need is front parking sensors however. The RRPs for utes are always eyebrow raising, especially considering the 19th century chassis fundamentals, but there is also a lot of wriggle room on prices so bargain hard.
On the go
As far as the drive is concerned, there is really only one in it. The Ranger, though heavier, displays more mid-corner grip, feels better balanced, rolls less, particularly in the rear, and is less fazed by bumps. You can drive Ranger enthusiastically without it ever feeling unruly. It delivers a better response, especially from the front end, and you hardly ever need to make a steering correction mid-corner. It’s fairly easy to get the front wheels stressing under a cornering load in the Hilux, but the Ranger needs a more determined effort to test its limits in bends. Hilux has reasonable steering feel, but isn’t as precise. Thankfully, neither has overly active stability control. While the Hilux’s ride has improved it’s still too jiggly compared with that of the Ranger. Neither is particularly glamorous in the ride stakes, but the Ranger is better, particularly as speed increases. The Ranger’s five-cylinder turbodiesel never feels taxed, it slugs away with engine speeds below 3000rpm usually sufficing. It feels like it has a much larger torque advantage over Hilux than the numbers would indicate. We performance tested the two trucks back-to-back and the Ranger proved comfortably quicker. The Hilux’s four is rather refined for a truck engine, and is generally quieter than the Ranger’s five-potter when cruising and at idle. The Ford’s auto is a slicker operator, slipping through its ratios more effectively. Shifts in the Toyota aren’t as smooth, the protocols not as smart, while the Sport mode is a little too racy as well. Both are quiet on the main road with in-cabin noise levels down in the low 70dBs at 100km/h. After our time behind the wheel, both were registering in the 10s for fuel use (lower tens for the Hilux, and higher for Ranger).
Rough and the smooth
While we didn’t test any 4x4 heroics this time around, we’ve driven both over challenging terrain and each has capabilities that most owners will never come near to testing. Given the hefty premium asked for the 4x4 models (see PreRunner sidebar), you should take into account how many times a year you’ll touch the 4x4 dial when considering your purchase. The big smoke is not the natural environment for these big utes but it doesn’t stop city folk buying them in their droves. Ford’s move to electric steering has helped Ranger here. The wheel is ultra-light at parking speeds, making wheel twirling easy. Given the growing size of trucks and the shrinking nature of car parks, docking a ute can be a challenge and the light weighted steering sure helps. It’s also a boon when you’re generally tooling around town, the less effort the better, especially with 12m plus turning circles. The Hilux’s steering is hardly heavy, but it requires more effort than the Ranger’s.
Toyota has given the Hilux a quality interior, bar the nasty feeling steering wheel trim. Like all utes, there is still a lot of hard plastic about but the build quality is tops, and there’s even tilt and telescopic adjustment for the steering column, something Ranger lacks. We preferred Ford’s infotainment system (even though the screen is easily marked with finger prints) and the fact that the reversing camera comes online smartly after start up; it takes too long in the Toyota. Both systems have a few too many soft buttons that are too small and fiddly to hit accurately on the go. Ranger’s new instrument binnacle we like with its two LCD displays either side of the speedo which change to relay a variety of data. Leg room in the back seat is reasonable in the Toyota but there’s more in the Ranger; the Toyota’s seat back is too upright and your knees are still slightly raised as well. It’s easier to climb into the Ranger with a wider opening door and lower seat positioning. We like the abundance of grab handles in the Hilux, helping little folk to clamber aboard more easily. At the rear, the Hilux’s tray is around 10cm longer but both are within a few mills of each other for width and depth while the load height is slightly lower in the Ranger. The Hilux tailgate gets new steel straps which won’t stretch over time, while Ranger has six tie-down points, two more than Hilux, a 12v power supply and a light which illuminates the cargo area at night.
And so which wins?
The Ranger is where our money would go. It’s better in nearly every facet, bar fuel consumption and emissions where it’s close. And if the January sales are anything to go by, it seems the market has a clear preference as well, Ranger outselling the Hilux two to one.
Model Ford Ranger XLT 4x4 2016 Price $63,040
Engine 3198cc, IL5, TDI, 147kW/470Nm
Transmission 6-speed auto, switchable 4x4
Vitals 10.32sec 0-100km/h, 9.0L/100km, 236g/km, 2187kg
Model Toyota Hilux SR5 4x4 2016 Price $66,490
Engine 2755cc, IL4, TDI, 130kW/450Nm
Transmission 6-speed auto, switchable 4x4
Vitals 11.54sec 0-100km/h, 8.5L/100km, 223g/km, 2120kg