Car Buyers' Guide: Do you really need the big ute?

By Jack Biddle

Ford Ranger.
Ford Ranger.

After completing my Saturday morning cycle ride with mates, we parked up the bikes and sat outside our regular haunt drinking coffee.

A guy pulled up in a near-new Ford Ranger and one of my lycra-clad buddies said how much he liked the shape of it while another said he had owned Toyota Hiluxes for years and wouldn't change.

Of course they asked me, "which one do you reckon is best Jack?".

The Hilux owner, who runs his own concrete business and has just replaced two ageing Toyotas on his fleet, liked the fact that after a couple of hundred thousand kilometres his overall running costs were always within budget, and he has been able to negotiate a better than expected trade-in price when upgrading.

The argument against that was the Hilux is starting to show its age and the Ranger has now set the benchmark for design and desirability, plus, the Toyota no longer has bragging rights about superior reliability due to industry catch-up.

I don't believe there is a clear answer. The Ranger wins the points in the beauty stakes but the Hilux only gets better in terms of upgrading its specification package to match its closest rival. Plus the add-ons Toyota is offering include free five-year servicing/WoF, roadside assist and an extended new vehicle warranty package.

The end game is the same for both distributors: to win the race to be crowned number one in total sales in this market segment for 2014. It's a title Toyota does not want to relinquish after 30-plus years at the top and one mountain top that Ford seems desperate to fly their flag from. The winners seem to be those buyers who can play one franchise off against the other to achieve the best deal they can.

Those who work in industries where commercial vehicles are used are more than capable of doing their own research and driver evaluations on which make/model best suits their requirements. They are well informed and have that vital experience to fall back on to help decide whether to make the call to change or stay with one particular brand of vehicle.

Toyota Hilux

It's those potential buyers attracted to the thought of simply owning a ute because of its looks, specification and price package that are at a greater risk of becoming caught up in all the hype and become unstuck and ultimately disappointed.

As we have said previously, it's all about having a particular need for a certain type of vehicle. If the need is for regular drives in the busy inner city, easy to park and overall refinement, then a ute, regardless of make/model, is probably not the right choice full stop.

These utes are basically refined commercial trucks, built to take on the hard yards while offering a certain degree of driving comfort. Think of them as All Blacks props; gentle giants with engines that contain loads of low down grunt, tough, uncompromising and the harder the battle the more they like it.

I have driven the Toyota and Ford and they both do a similar job. So if I was in the market to buy, it would no doubt come down to a specific specification comparison for a particular model, ownership benefits and price. But the bottom line would be: do I really need this type of vehicle?

If the answer is yes then don't forget Nissan, Mitsubishi, Isuzu, Holden and Mazda can also offer attractive alternatives. As far as resale values go, the popularity of the Ford and Toyota would suggest a slightly better deal can be struck at trade-in time.

But be careful all the hype surrounding these vehicles doesn't get in the way of common sense. Clearly identifying one's needs has to be the priority.

- NZ Herald

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