By Mark Borlace
Published: Tuesday, May 14, 2019
Our car comparison series pits some of the most popular vehicles on the used-car market against one another to help find the perfect fit for you. This time around, we’re weighing up 4 4x4 dual cabs under $30,000.
Originally only for the tradies, dual cab utes have crept off the building site and into the family driveway. A lot has changed over the past decade for that to happen though. Wind-up windows, noisy gearboxes, rock hard suspension and plastic seats have been replaced by modern features, primarily aimed at comfort.
These mod-cons often place the starting price beyond the realm of family budgets, but five years into their lifespan they usually come down to the land of punter affordability.
Essentially, the dual cab is now more accessible than ever, appealing to adventurous couples, small families and tradies alike. The trick is to find one that hasn’t had too hard of a life.
Ford Ranger XL 3.2 (4×4) diesel turbo 2013: The home-grown Ranger is the biggest and the most powerful of the bunch, with a towing capacity to boot.
Mazda BT-50 XTR (4×4) diesel turbo 2013: A little softer than the Ranger but with all the same attributes, the BT-50 is a solid all-rounder.
Holden Colorado LTZ (4×4) crew cab diesel turbo 2013: Spacious and comfortable, the Colorado’s suspension makes for a smooth ride whether the tray’s loaded or not.
Mitsubishi Triton GLX-R (4×4) diesel turbo 2013: This workhorse of a vehicle is tough, durable and great value for money.
For the task of carting the family around, the Ford Ranger and the Mazda BT-50 are pretty similar, having the best cabin and tray space. As they share a lot of their components, it’s no surprise that they also have similar strengths.
They are the most powerful of the 4, and with the greatest towing capacity they handle South Australian roads well and thrive in off-road conditions.
The BT-50’s stiffer suspension is not as comfortable as the Australian-developed suspension of the Ranger, especially over bumpy roads. That said, the BT-50 has the highest ground clearance of the 4, helping it get over the really rough stuff with ease.
When new, the Triton had a five-year warranty, which means that half a decade on, most major repairs would have been covered.
Holden has had a long relationship with Isuzu in building and developing the Rodeo and Colorado utes. Of the two, the Colorado is our top pick, having been designed with comfort in mind, giving it a softer ride both on and off road.
Safety levels are relatively high across the board, with each ute getting a 5-star ANCAP rating except the Mitsubishi Triton, which scored a 4.
Big cars mean big bills, whether it’s the fuel bill (our 4 contenders are equally thirsty) or running and repair costs. The Holden Colorado and the Mazda BT-50 are slightly more expensive than the others to run, with the latter needing a service every six months or 10,000km.
Wrestling any of these utes into a tight shopping centre car park will be a task, so if you haven’t lived with a ute before, make sure you have some ‘test parks’ at your local shopping centre before you commit to buying. The Triton has the tightest turning circle of the 4 at 11.8m, and is narrower and shorter than the other 4 Practicality-wise, it’s our top pick.
All 4 utes have been subject to recalls, so make sure any vehicle you’re looking at buying has all necessary work carried out, especially the Takata airbag recall. To check, just go to ismyairbagsafe.com.au and enter either the rego or VIN number of the car you’re thinking of buying.
Our mates on the spanners tell us that none of our contenders have major common faults, but the Triton can get carbon build up in the manifold which could cause injector issues.
No matter which ute you’re interested in buying, make sure it has been serviced on time and by an experienced mechanic. This is especially important with the Ranger and the BT-50, as both can develop engine problems if the correct oil draining process isn’t followed.
Finally, take a look underneath the car for signs of stone and scraping damage. This will tell you how hard a life the ute has had.
The value package
The Triton has depreciated the most, which is bad news for its first owner, but great news for you.
The Triton, along with the Colorado and BT-50, comes with 17-inch alloy wheels, auto climate-controlled air-conditioning, a leather steering wheel, fog lights and side steps. All 4 have cruise control, power windows and dual front and head airbags.
The Holden Colorado has the shortest list of standard features of the 4. As the Mazda BT-50 shares a lot of the same mechanical components as the Ranger, you would expect the two to have similar features, but this isn’t the case.
The BT-50 is better-equipped, with rear child-seat anchor points, a differential lock, hill descent control, hill holder, emergency stop signals, halogen head lights, sat-nav, a trailer stability system and height-adjustable front seats.
Overall, the Triton is our good-value pick. It was the cheapest new and is even cheaper used, with a substantial list of features.
The Ford Ranger and the Mazda BT-50 are the most powerful contenders with their 3.2L engines.
The Triton has the smallest engine and may struggle with a full load in some conditions. With all utes, handling is dependent on load weight. Their firm suspension means all can be a little jittery over bumps when unladen, but the Colorado is the softest of the bunch.
The final word
Buying a dual cab ute is a lifestyle choice. Owners have the freedom to travel off-road with bulky goods, but running costs and overall comfort are often compromised.
Of the 4 utes we have tested, the Ranger is the best all-rounder, followed closely by the Mazda BT-50. The Colorado is the big comfortable cruiser while the Triton is the best value for money.