In 2010 we pitted six mainstream double cab bakkies against each other, with a panel of 12 judges deciding the outcome. VW’s then new Amarok dominated that fight. Now Ford has unleashed its Aussie-designed Ranger, and it’s time to find out how the Ranger stacks up against our reigning champ and the best-selling bakkie by far, Toyota’s Hilux. To decide a winner we recruited a panel of no-nonsense judges. This is what happened
Text: Danie Botha
Photography: Jannie Herbst and GG van Rooyen
In the summer of 1969 a little bakkie appeared on local Toyota showroom floors. Compared to the fashionably large pick-ups of the time that were powered by big cubic-inch mills in either six- or eight-cylinder format, the little trokkie – at first glance – looked like rubbish. It was powered by a mere 1,5-litre four-cylinder engine producing an underwhelming 55 kW of power and 116 Nm of torque at 2600r/min. A four-speed manual gearbox (with column shift) sent the power to the rear wheels. Most owners of big and burly pick-ups scoffed at the puny little Japanese bakkie, even though it came with a typical pick-up ride of A-arms and coil springs up front and a live axle and leaf springs at the back. This little bakkie was called the Hilux.
Today we know that, within a matter of months after its introduction here in 1969, and with an international oil crisis looming, the Hilux became the best-selling light commercial vehicle (LCV) in SA.
Since then it has failed only three times to be the best-selling LCV, and Toyota Motors South Africa (TMSA) will readily admit that the company’s huge success and reputation in this market can largely be attributed to the Hilux. The Hilux seems to be as South African as braaivleis, minibus taxis and pot holes. According to TMSA personnel, some of their most loyal customers are so into the Hilux that they honestly believe the bakkie is a South African product. The design, the development, the manufacturing – it’s all done here, finish and klaar.
A Japanese company? What is this nonsense about a Japanese company? It can’t be! The Hilux is as South African as the Springboks, the Proteas and Bafana Bafana! That’s how deep it runs.
Since 1969, though, the Hilux has evolved into a much bigger machine, powered by a three-litre turbodiesel engine – but it still outsells everything else on the market by a massive margin.
Das bakkie, mein hehr?
In the summer of 2010 a brand-new German bakkie was introduced to the local market. VW’s Amarok double cab was even bigger than the already big Hilux. It was much wider, and the cabin resembled that of an SUV, not a bakkie. It had an electronic stability program and traction control, Off-Road ABS, amazing comfort, good looks, excellent ride and stability, and oodles of class.
Yet it was powered by a mere two-litre turbodiesel engine. Predictably, the alarmists gasped in horror. What? A 1 968cc engine, in that big frame? It will never fly! But – like the small-engined Hilux had done 41 years earlier – the Amarok did fly, and soon overtook the Isuzu KB in the double cab sales race.
The Amarok duly won our double cab shoot, published in the November 2010 issue, after 12 judges voted it the best. Truth be told, it actually annihilated the opposition, beating the second-placed Nissan Navara by 138 points. The Hilux followed in third position, 197 points behind the Amarok.
This result probably had little impact on the sales performance of the respective vehicles, and the Hilux continued to dominate that department. And, as most ardent Toyota fans will point out, that’s the department that really matters.
Crickey mate! Is it really… a Ranger?
Now Ford has stepped up to the plate in the double cab segment with its all-new Ranger. With a clear goal to revolutionise the bakkie segment, the Ranger follows some of the Amarok’s examples, but also creates a few of its own “firsts”.
We’ll get to more intricate details later, but let’s highlight a few of the Ranger’s “revolutionary” features, just to put you in the picture of how big a step forward this new Ford is.
Some of the Ranger derivatives can tow up to 3350kg, and drive through 800mm deep water. The interior of the new Ranger looks like that of the Ford Focus, and not a bakkie. Rear-seat space is truly remarkable. Even with a tall driver, a tall passenger can get very comfortable in the Ranger’s second row of pews.
Ford provided the new Ranger with a range of engines. A 2,2-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel is available in two output levels: 88 kW and 285 Nm of torque, or 110 kW and 375 Nm of torque. Petrol fans are catered for with a Duratec 2,5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine that produces 122 kW and 226 Nm of torque. However, at the top of the engine hierarchy is a 3,2-litre, five-cylinder turbodiesel that pumps out 147 kW and 470 Nm of torque. This model is obviously the top dog in the line-up, yet it sells for only marginally more than the other top end double cabs – which makes one ponder the sense and sensibility of Nissan’s Navara 3.0dCi V6 (170 kW and 550 Nm), which will add another R100 000 to the vehicle finance deal.
The good news for Ford fans doesn’t end there. The all-new Ranger has already managed to rewrite the history books by becoming the first bakkie ever to be awarded the top five-star safety rating by the influential Euro NCAP organisation. In 2008 the previous generation Ranger managed just two stars (out of a maximum of five), so the bar has been significantly raised. No other bakkie can match this safety rating.
So on paper this new Ford Ranger seems to have all the answers. It’s good looking, apparently very tough, powerful, refined and luxurious. It’s the safest bakkie in the world, it is modern – and it sells at a price that current double cab bakkie owners can really relate to.
Will such credentials be good enough to challenge and conquer the mighty Toyota Hilux and our reigning champion, the VW Amarok?
In what has become a Leisure Wheels tradition, our six judges (two per bakkie) had to complete a comprehensive score sheet, marking each vehicle according to set criteria. The test included an on-road section of nearly 60km, consisting of both good and not so good tar stretches, as well as good, bad and horrible dirt roads – with several fast and slow corners along the way.
A standardised 4×4 driving loop, at African Outdoor Group’s venue near Hartbeespoort Dam, provided a not very demanding run for man and machine, but rather a platform from which to compare the basic apples with the other basic apples. Wheel articulation, grip, engine braking, engine performance, ease of use of 4×4 controls and several other factors were assessed without having to worry about recovery and damaging of vehicles.
To ensure optimal repeatability, one judge started his or her stint in a bakkie by tackling the 4×4 test. The same person then drove the vehicle for almost 30km over the same tar and gravel roads, to a predetermined driver changing point. The second judge took over the driving duties, returning on exactly the same route and finally completing the same 4×4 test.
This process was repeated with all the judges, driving all the bakkies – and each judge compared each bakkie over exactly the same surface and in the same conditions. It doesn’t get more repeatable than that.
Engine performance, comfort, confidence levels, braking performance and a whole lot of other criteria came into play.
Also part of the test was the all-important static evaluation. Here the judges spent some stationary time with the three bakkies, scoring looks, perceived quality, interior space, practicality, and various other elements.
So, all in all, it was a comprehensive evaluation, designed with Average Joe’s requirements in mind.
This test is not designed to see which bakkie is faster from 0-100km/h, which bakkie can break through the 200km/h barrier, or climb that 60-degree incline. Rather, the vehicles were judged on matters that the ordinary driver – like our judges – can relate to on a daily basis.
Styling issues are subjective ones – what is a Picasso for one person may be a Rembrandt to another. So the average of six different subjective views should give us a good indication of which bakkie gets the thumbs up in categories such as perceived build quality, desirability in its segment, and overall styling.
Toyota’s newly face-lifted but clearly older Hilux top-scored in the perceived quality segment, followed in second position by the Ford and the VW in third, one point behind the Ranger. The VW probably would have scored better had some of the more technically minded judges not decided to peek under the bonnet. They found a few fittings and clips that they said didn’t inspire lots of confidence in their durability.
In the desirability section, the Ford and VW both scored 25 points, but in the “overall styling” department the VW was the winner by a single point.
Segment wrap-up: And so, after the first blows of this battle, the Ranger and Amarok ended up with an equal 72 points (80%). The Hilux, bolstered by its performance in the perceived quality segment, ended with 66 points (73%).
Total points in segment
Ford Ranger 72/90 (80%)
VW Amarok 72/90 (80%)
Toyota Hilux 66/90 (73%)
Here the judges had to score each bakkie in 15 separate categories. These included desirability, perceived build quality, practicality, space, comfort, ease of use of controls, and so on. Looking at the total sum of points does deliver a winner – but it gets rather interesting when one analyses the results a bit more comprehensively.
The VW beat the other two bakkies hands-down in the “desirability” section. And, it must be said, its cabin rather resembles that of an SUV, and not a bakkie. The trend continues with perceived build quality. The Amarok’s interior is a surprisingly classy affair, even compared to the new and very car-like Ranger, and especially so when compared to the familiar and now somewhat brassy Hilux interior (with that new infotainment system taking centre stage).
Not all the judges liked the Ford’s centre console, though – they found it just too busy and too complicated. In the practicality stakes, there was nothing to choose between the three bakkies – all three lived up to the expectations of a workhorse-cum-plaything-cum-daily runner.
Space is an important element, and up front the Ranger narrowly beat the Amarok and the Hilux. In fact, all three double cabs fared really well in this department. However, the picture changed markedly when the focus shifted to space for the rear-seat passengers.
The Ranger absolutely trounced the opposition in this section and even with a six-foot-something driver in the front, a six-foot-something passenger can sit comfortably in the rear, without his knees touching the front seatback. The Ford has effectively rewritten the rulebook regarding rear-seat passenger comfort. Really, it has.
In second-place followed the Toyota – offering an average amount of space. Falling completely out of the bus was the VW Amarok. While the front-seat passengers enjoy a most comfortable and spacious driving experience, the rear-seat passengers get exactly the opposite. It’s cramped and uncomfortable in the Volksie second row of seats. This fact was highlighted in the comfort division. The Volksie top-scored in this segment (for the front seats) and beat the Ford and the Toyota (in third) by quite a margin.
In the rear-seat comfort department, however, our judges were not impressed by the Amarok. It managed only 20 points, compared to the Hilux’s 22 and the winning Ranger’s 24. The same trend continued in the ease of getting in and out section. The Ford, with its big and wide-opening rear doors and low sills, scored 27 points. The Hilux, as consistent as ever, got 25 points. And the VW, with its small rear doors, managed only 24 points. In summary, if you ride in one of the Amarok’s front seats, all is great. If you are relegated to the second row of pews and especially if you are large of frame – well, then maybe you’ll have a valid reason to object. In the “features for the price” segment, the pickings were very much equal, and the same can be said for the “oddment storage space” in the cabins, even though the older Hilux lagged slightly behind.
In the “ease of use of the controls” segment, all three bakkies scored exactly the same — 25 points. But in the “standard safety kit” section the Ranger – not surprising, considering its five-star Euro NCAP rating – came out tops ahead of the Amarok and Hilux.
The positioning and the number of auxiliary 12V points in the Ranger’s cabin impressed the judges most, followed again by the Amarok and the Hilux. All three bakkies feature top-notch CD sound systems. The VW scored one more point than the other two bakkies, mostly because its system’s quality is really good, even though it can swallow only one CD at a time. It was a close thing, though. The systems in both the Toyota and Ford are above average too, with loads of features.
Although Toyota’s new Display Audio System that features a radio with RDS, CD/MP3 player and Bluetooth compatibility is cool, some judges felt it detracted from the simple yet classy effect of the Toyota’s cabin. The finishes on this system, along with some interior colours, said these judges, were a bit too “bling” for their liking. All three bakkies are fitted with climate control systems as standard. The Ranger and Amarok shared the same points for air-conditioning performance, while the Hilux lagged slightly behind.
Segment wrap-up: In the end there were nine points between the first and second-placed bakkie in this segment. The new Ford Ranger, with its passenger-car like cabin and its unique party tricks – the rear seat comfort and space and the safety pedigree – saw it land up ahead of the VW Amarok in the points race, on 379 points. The Amarok managed a total of 370 points, while the Toyota Hilux earned itself 340 points.
And overall it’s a mighty close thing – nine points to be exact – between the new Ranger and the Amarok, with the Hilux waiting to pounce if either the Ford or VW stumbles.
Total points in segment
Ford Ranger 379/450 (84%)
VW Amarok 370/450 (82%)
Toyota Hilux 340/450 (75%)
ON THE ROAD – TAR
This section consisted of good and bad tar roads, long straights, and various corners. The judges had to score items such as comfort, handling, steering, engine performance and refinement, the gearbox, stability, braking performance, visibility and the confidence factor.
On paper the recently face-lifted Hilux’s more advanced age counted against it. With an older-generation turbodiesel engine that delivers 120 kW and “only” 343 Nm of torque at 1400r/min, linked to a five-speed manual gearbox, the Hilux seemed outgunned and out-geared by the Ranger and Amarok.
Experience has taught us that one shouldn’t always judge a book by its cover or an engine by its figures. However, with 147 kW of power and 470 Nm of torque, the Ford’s new five-cylinder turbodiesel engine clearly was the favourite in the power department. But how would these figures translate on the road? And how would the judges experience the VW’s very narrow power band (the 400 Nm peaks for only 500r/min)? Would they even notice?
We kicked off this segment with comfort – and maybe not surprisingly it was the Amarok that scored full marks here. That’s right… each judge allocated the maximum five points to the Amarok. The front pews in the SUV-like cabin, combined with the pliant ride, really impressed them. The Ford followed in second place with a pretty good 25 points, and the Hilux came in third with 22 points.
In the handling department, all three bakkies were just about on a par, with the Ford and VW each scoring 25 points, and the Toyota 24. Much the same thing happened in the “steering” section, where the bakkies finished within three points of each other.
In the “visibility from the vehicle” category, the Amarok again impressed with an almost full-house score of 29 points. However, the Ford was hot on its heels with 28 points, while the Toyota raked in 25 points.
Ah, engine performance. And no surprises here as the Ranger’s powerful 3,2-litre engine gathered 29 points out of 30. The judges were smitten by the 147 kW and 470 Nm plant.
Interestingly, most judges commended the VW’s two-litre mill, remarking that its ability and eagerness to rev almost as freely as a petrol engine were a surprising bonus from a diesel engine.
We’d thought the Amarok’s high-revving nature, combined with the narrow power band, would be its undoing. And here some of the judges commended it for these very characteristics!
The Volksie managed 25 points. The Toyota’s older-generation engine scored 19 points. However, several judges remarked that the Toyota engine and gearbox combination would still be their preferred choice for an arduous cross-continental trek, even though it was showing a few grey hairs.
In the “engine refinement” category the VW engine’s was rewarded with 27 points – one more than the Ford could manage. The Toyota trailed in third, with 21 points.
Both the Ford and VW are equipped with manual six-speed gearboxes, yet our judges preferred the switch-like, always precise five-speed ’box of the Toyota. The Hilux ended up with 25 points in this segment, compared to the Amarok’s 24 and the Ranger’s disappointing 22 points, with several judges complaining about a “notchy” gearbox in the Ford.
All three bakkies are equipped with stability control systems, and all three ride on similar suspension set-ups and wheel and tyre combinations. Still, the younger Ford and VW managed 26 points, while the Toyota managed 22 points.
Why? Well, according to some of the judges, the Ford and Amarok stability systems function without the driver really knowing they are doing their job, and they don’t let the vehicle get even close to being out of shape. Instead, in a most unobtrusive manner, the ESP systems sort out any “situation” before the bakkie’s occupants even realise it is brewing.
The Toyota’s vehicle dynamic control (VDC) is not as deft, said some of the judges. It will actually allow a generous amount of skidding to take place before jumping into the fray with alarm bells going off and the electronics braking the skidding wheels hard, in a ferocious intervention. Sure, it works, but less eloquently and less unobtrusively than the Ford and VW’s ESP systems.
It also impacted on the “confidence on tar” section – the VW top-scored with a commendable 28 points, the Ford was second with a consistent 25 points, and the Toyota third with 23 points.
Braking performance on tar was just about equal for all the bakkies (all three of them have ABS).
Segment wrap-up: In the overall scoring for this section the Toyota Hilux scored 232 points (77%). The new Ford Ranger managed a highly commendable 259 points (86%). But this still wasn’t enough to beat the VW Amarok and its SUV-like ride. The Volksie scored 267 points (89%).
And overall… with the Amarok claiming a close category win, there was only a single point difference between the Ford and Amarok, with the Ranger clinging on to the lead. The gap to the Toyota had widened, but it was still not far from the sharp end of the field.
Total points in segment
VW Amarok 267/300 (89%)
Ford Ranger 259/300 (86%)
Toyota Hilux 232/300 (77%)
ON THE ROAD – GRAVEL
It’s amazing, the difference a set of tyres can make to a vehicle’s ride quality and stability. That’s why we were particularly pleased that all three bakkies were fitted with all-terrain tyres in the size of 265/70 R17 (and all inflated to the same two bar for this test).
Although the Volksie gets 245/65 R17 highway terrain tyres as standard, this unit came with the aftermarket all-terrains, in exactly the same size as the Ford and Toyota that get the all terrain rubber standard. So our judges could compare the bakkies equally, and not be influenced by different-sized tyres.
Right, so let’s talk dirt – and kick off with comfort on dirt roads. The VW ruled this category, scoring 28 points versus the Ford’s 24 points. Our judges were less impressed by the Toyota, and it managed 21 points.
One judge remarked that the latest Hilux was much more comfortable than the older Hilux he used to drive on a farm, years ago. “The Hilux has come a mighty long way,” he said. “However, the Ford, and especially the VW, are even more comfortable!”
In the corners, the Hilux again failed to score big, recording only 21 points. The Ranger and Amarok both scored 26 points.
Although one judge particularly enjoyed the fact that the Hilux’s tail was a bit on the loose side, most other judges felt that the stability control system’s intervention when the tail stepped out was delayed too long. And when the intervention eventually arrived, it came “in an alarmist fashion”.
In other words, the electronics acted too late, and when the computer did come to the party, the system “over-corrected” the situation.
You could chuck both the Ford and the VW into corners at seemingly crazy speeds, said the judges, and the tails would just stay put, and not slide at all. And while this was going on, it didn’t actually feel as if the electronics played any part in this feat, and that the bakkies (even with no load on the bak) just handled brilliantly.
There was no indication, for instance, that the power tap had been closed, or even that wheel speeds were being regulated on an individual basis. It all happened behind the scenes, in a most undramatic fashion.
This clearly again had an influence on stability, with the Amarok raking in the most points with a very commendable 28, followed by the Ford on 26 and the Toyota on 23 points. Much the same happened in the “confidence factor on gravel” section – the Amarok got 28 points, the Ranger 26 and the Hilux 22.
In the braking department, the Hilux fared better, recording 24 points. But it was again pipped by the Ford Ranger with 25 points and the VW Amarok with 26 points.
Both the Ford and VW’s ABS systems feature a “gravel-road” function. The Volksie’s is the best – by the press of a button next to the gear lever, the ABS system allows more wheel lock to occur, reducing stopping distances on gravel. It really works well, too.
In the “steering on dirt” category, the Ford garnered the most points (27), followed by the Amarok on 26 and the Hilux on 25 points.
Segment wrap-up: By now you’ve probably recognised a pattern – the one where the VW Amarok fares rather well in the ride and handling department. There were only eight points in it (162 versus 154), but the Amarok won this category ahead of the Ranger. The Hilux did not have a great time here, and recorded a total of 136 points,
And overall… the Volkswagen bakkie had stretched its one point lead to seven – up to this stage it was 871 points for the VW, 864 points for the Ford and 774 points for the Toyota. At the front of the field it was still anyone’s game.
Total points in segment
VW Amarok 162/180 (90%)
Ford Ranger 154/180 (85%)
Toyota Hilux 136/180 (75%)
OFF THE ROAD – 4×4
AOG’s 4×4 track is certainly not the most extreme test for man or machine. Instead, owner Derick Lategan, who has decades of experience in 4×4 driver training and vehicle testing, created a track that certainly tests a vehicle’s capabilities but does so without the risk of damaging a vehicle, or putting lives at risk
In this segment the judges had to score the bakkies on “ease of use of 4×4 controls”, ground clearance, engine performance, traction in 4×4 conditions, “4×4 features for the price” and “overall 4×4 ability in the double cab bakkie segment”.
Let’s start off with an obvious anomaly in the “ease of use of 4×4 controls” segment, namely the traditional second stick shift versus the modern button. Both the Ford and VW have buttons, but the Toyota gets a traditional second lever.
“When you are out in the boondocks, you don’t want an electronic light flashing at you indicating that for some weird reason the thing is not engaging four-wheel-drive. I prefer to have something that engages with a ‘thunk’, even if it means a bit of elbow effort,” said motoring journo Stuart Johnston of the Toyota’s stick system.
However, it seems the majority of the judges fell in love with the Amarok’s button arrangement. The VW scored 28 points here, compared to the Toyota’s 24 and the Ranger’s disappointing 23 points.
In the ground clearance category, the Volksie again ruled the roost with 26 points, followed in second place by the Ranger (23 points), and the Hilux in third (21 points).
Johann Marx, former Bridgestone Fundi 4×4 champion, was not impressed with the Hilux’s clearance, and especially not the break-over angle.
“I drove all three bakkies on exactly the same line over the same obstacles, and the Hilux was the only one that touched on the break-over test. That was surprising, to say the least,” he said.
In the “engine performance” category, the Ford recorded a near-perfect score of 29 points. The judges were very, very impressed by the five-cylinder engine’s tractability, especially at lower revolutions. Yet they also commended its smooth nature, and eagerness to rev.
The Volkswagen followed in second position with 26 points, and the Hilux was third with 23 points.
“Traction in 4×4 conditions” proved an interesting category. The Ford and Volkswagen both come standard with traction control and a mechanical rear diff lock. However, the bakkies’ traction control systems proved more than capable of dragging them over the axle twisters, no matter how high the opposing wheels were off the ground.
The Toyota, that gets the vehicle stability control (VSC) and the mechanical rear diff lock, proved a bit more entertaining. Tackle the axle twisters at a slow pace and at low revs, and the bakkie will stop, the wheels in the air spinning aimlessly. But by adding a whole lot of engine revs, the computer brain was tricked into thinking that an accident was imminent. It braked the spinning wheel(s), and sent power to the wheel(s) with traction, and off the Hilux went, slowly but surely.
Of course, engaging the rear differential lock on any of these bakkies will ensure a no-nonsense, no-spinning driving experience over the twisters. Here the Volksie top-scored with 26 points, marginally ahead of the Ford on 25 and the Toyota on 24.
In the “4×4 features for the price” category the Amarok, which is the cheapest of the lot, got the most points (26). That Off-Road ABS system, the hill descent control, the traction control and the hill start assist all counted in its favour here. The Ford followed in second place with 23 points, and the Hilux in third with 21 points.
Surprisingly, we had thought the more traditionalist 4×4 system in the Hilux would see the Toyota score its first victory – but instead it came in last in the “overall 4×4-ability in this segment” category, with 23 points. The Ranger claimed second place with 25 points, but it was the Amarok – with an extremely consistent performance – that got the top marks with 26 points.
Segment wrap-up: The winner was the consistent VW Amarok, with 158 points. Ten points behind the Volksie followed the Ford, with 148 points. The Toyota Hilux accumulated 136 points in this category.
And overall the Amarok had now drawn 17 points clear of the Ranger. With one category left, could the Ford still reel in the German double cab?
Total points in segment
VW Amarok 158/180 (87%)
Ford Ranger 148/180 (82%)
Toyota Hilux 136/180 (75%)
VALUE FOR MONEY AND SERVICING
Value for money is, without doubt, a buzzword of the times we live in. With a tight economic climate, everyone is looking for the best deal, and for ways to get the most out of every single rand. Times have changed, too, and instead of a double cab bakkie, a sedan and a multi-purpose vehicle (MPV) in the garage, motorists have to rationalise – and this often means acquiring one vehicle that can fulfil multiple roles.
So this is a vital category for the three bakkies.
First up was the “features and bakkie per rand” section. Not surprisingly, the older Hilux did not fare well since it has a six-year-old design, dollied up with a fancy infotainment system and new headlights and grille.
The VW and Ford are both new-generation bakkies, so they get all the modern tricks, such as a more pliant suspension, more features and more buttons. Importantly, they are certainly more car-like than the Hilux – indicating the future of the bakkie. In this segment the Hilux got 21 points, the Ranger 23 and the Amarok 27 points.
The VW and Ford need to be serviced every 15 000km. The Hilux’s service intervals are pegged at 10 000km, which does have some practical implications. This was reflected in the points (the VW and Ford each got 23 points, and the Toyota 20).
In the “overall value for money perception” category the VW – with its long list of standard features – ruled the roost with 26 points, followed by the equally impressively equipped Ford with 25 points. The Toyota managed 20 points here.
The last category, “overall desirability in segment”, was yet again a VW benefit, with the Amarok scoring an impressive 28 points. The Ford followed in second with 24 points, just two points clear of the Hilux.
Segment wrap-up: Das German bakkie won this segment with 104 points (86%). The Amarok was a long way in front of the other two bakkies, with the Ford scoring 95 points (79%) and the Hilux 83 points (69%).
And overall… well, it’s close, but it’s pretty clear by now that a certain German bakkie had impressed our judges. Check the final tallies in the “summary” section.
Total points in segment
VW Amarok 104/120 (86%)
Ford Ranger 95/120 (79%)
Toyota Hilux 83/120 (69%)
In third place, with a total tally of 993 points, is Toyota’s best-selling Hilux. In second position, just 26 points behind the winner, is Ford’s new Ranger (1107 points). And the winner is that German bakkie. Yes, the Volkswagen Amarok 2.0BiTDI 4Motion has done it again, scoring a total of 1133 points.
This was a much closer fight than we had expected. In fact, we thought the Amarok would do well, but that the Ford’s 147 kW and 470 Nm five-cylinder turbodiesel engine, along with the five-star safety rating, the styling and host of new features, would swing it. One never knows with the Hilux either – it’s always there or thereabouts.
So what is it with the Amarok? What is its secret?
Well, there’s the ride comfort and composure, on any surface. And driving this bakkie feels more like you’re driving an SUV. Throw in the SUV-like interior (in the front), the relatively good looks, features and gear you get for the money – it all adds up to one very car-like bakkie that can also carry a load.
Is it perfect? Should you immediately and without any pause proceed to the nearest VW dealership and buy one of these bakkies? Not so fast, no… first read our conclusion.
VW Amarok 1133/1320 (85%)
Ford Ranger 1107/1320 (83%)
Toyota Hilux 993/1320 (75%)
The VW Amarok won this shoot-out, courtesy of our panel of six independent judges. However, this doesn’t mean that we recommend the Volksie as the undisputed, best double cab bakkie on the market.
Instead we say that, as some of our judges rightly pointed out, it’s a case of different strokes for different folks, And of a different bakkie for a different application.
After also driving all three these bakkies, and listening to what our judges had to say, we have come to the following conclusions about each double cab.
The VW Amarok is perfect if you require a really comfortable daily commuter that can also carry the occasional quad or dirt bike to your favourite off-road playground – which is not accessible by a two-wheel drive vehicle. It’s refined and safe, and it’s the SUV of bakkies. It’s really comfortable and car-like.
The Ford Ranger 3.2TDCi model, with all those smooth-running horses under the bonnet, combined with a class-leading towing capacity of 3,3 tons, is the ideal daily runner-cum-heavy duty tow vehicle-cum hard worker. It’s safe, modern, good looking and has managed to rewrite a few rules in the double cab book. It’s really powerful, tough and modern.
Most panel members agreed that, if they had to choose one of these double cabs in which to traverse Africa and the Americas, it would be the Toyota Hilux. No question. Yes, it’s a six-year-old design, but it’s solid and dependable. One judge remarked that if he had to buy a bakkie that had to last more than five years, the Hilux would get his vote. It’s dependable and solid. It’s Hilux.
And lastly, there is the rather important matter of a track record. The Hilux certainly has that. The Amarok is slowly getting there, but has hit some speed wobbles along the way. The Ford is brand new and parts supply problems from Thailand – that has been hit by massive floods – have delayed the Ranger’s introduction here.
In the end, it comes down to personal preferences, applications, choices and sometimes perceptions. Yep, you pay your money, you make your choice.
For the record – fuel consumption
In an anomaly of note, VW Amarok – which drank the most diesel in our previous double cab shoot-out — sipped the least in this three-way contest. It must be said that in our previous test there was a whole lot of flat-out driving going on. In this test the driving was more relaxed, and more Joe Public.
So the VW drank an average of 10,1 litres/100km, and the Toyota needed 12,44 litres/100km. There’s an old saying that says power corrupts – and in the 147 kW Ford Ranger’s case that seems to be spot on, as the judges leaned on its accelerator, long and hard. The Ford’s 3,2-litre mill used an average of 13,04 litres/100km.
The ones that didn’t make it…
The Nissan Navara 2.5dCi 4×4 (140 kW) was at the top of our wish list for this shoot-out. It finished second behind the Amarok in our previous double cab shoot-out, and ahead of the Toyota Hilux. And we certainly tried to get a vehicle – and even had one booked.
Alas, it turned out the “booked Navara” was the new five-speed automatic version, and no amount of phone calls or e-mails or favours could land us a six-speed manual – to compare manual bakkies with manual bakkies – in time.
It’s becoming more apparent that the modern trend is to go for double cab diesels with auto shifters. It just takes all the effort out of driving a modern, turbocharged diesel in and around town, instead of constantly swapping gears. But that’s a discussion for another day.
Sure, we could probably also have included an Isuzu KB, a Mazda BT-50, a Mitsubishi Triton, a Tata Xenon, a Mahindra Scorpio or a Nissan NP300 in this test.
However, since the three bakkies in this test are the only ones that feature stability control as standard, and represent the newest, the best-selling and the defending double cab champ, er, camps, we thought it would be unfair to include the older generation bakkies.
Frankly, the older generation bakkies – even though they may be solid and well-proven and more affordable – wouldn’t have stood a chance in this threesome’s company. Sorry about that.
This test was conducted by six independent judges, driving three bakkies on a certain day in certain conditions. The results of this test may vary according to factors such as tyre options, weather conditions, driving conditions, roads and surfaces, and so on.
Long live… the King – Toyota Hilux 3.0D-4D 4×4
The current generation Hilux has essentially been around since 2005, if you look past the few cosmetic and specification upgrades it has received over the years. Most recently it got a new nose, new wheels and new tail lights, as well as some glitzy interior upgrades. Importantly, it also got Toyota’s vehicle stability control (VSC) system. The 3.0D-4D engine, that delivers 120 kW and 343 Nm at 1400r/min, has remained unchanged since 2005.
The Hilux is the solid option in its segment, both in terms of the way it feels when you drive it and the way it handles tough conditions. However, one can’t simply classify the Hilux as just another bakkie. It was introduced here in 1969, and since then it has evolved into an enigma and a phenomenon. It just keeps raking in the sales numbers.
We recently pondered what would happen if Toyota took some Chinese-made bakkies, stuck Toyota Hilux badges on them, and parked the vehicles on Toyota showroom floors. We reckon they would probably sell like hotcakes until quality issues were eventually identified! So for any other brands it is not just a question of building a better vehicle – it also needs the change the mindset and perceptions of a lot of Hilux-isti.
This Toyota Hilux sells for R416 600, which includes a five-year/90 000km service plan, slotting in between the Ranger and the Amarok.
The jousting champion – VW Amarok 2.0BiTDI 4Motion
When VW Commercial Vehicles announced that it would produce an all-new, all-Volksie bakkie range, most motorists probably had a good old “Really?” chuckle about such an ambitious move. However, we can guarantee you that in the head offices of the other major firms that sell bakkies, emergency meetings were called to discuss the implications, ramifications and counter measures.
Now, a year after the Amarok’s introduction here, the Volksie has garnered up a surprisingly strong following. In 2010 it was voted the best double cab in our six-bakkie shoot-out – it actually won the panel-based test by a mile. Still, the nay-sayers bemoaned – and some still do – the fact that the big Amarok is only available with a two-litre engine, never mind that it has two turbos.
The engine delivers 120 kW and 400 Nm, but it comes with a narrow power band that requires some getting used to. The clutch action is also an acquired taste.
But in 2010 the Amarok revolutionised the bakkie segment with its ESP stability control, traction control, Off-road ABS system and unheard of driving comfort for a bakkie. The Amarok represented the next-generation bakkie, and our panel loved it.
It is the least expensive of this threesome, selling for R403 700. It also gets the mandatory five year/90 000km service plan.
The challenger to the throne – Ford Ranger 3.2TDCi XLT 4×4
Fans of the Blue Oval had to wait many years for this one, but it seems to have been worth the wait. The all-new Ranger was developed by Ford Australia for the world market by an international team of designers and engineers, and it will eventually be sold in 180 countries.
It truly represents a giant leap forward for Ford’s Ranger. The new bakkie, for instance, gets a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating. No other bakkie has ever come close to achieving this.
It is good looking, its interior resembles that of a luxury passenger car and it gets all the electronic safety systems, such as ESP and traction control.
However, one of its trump cards can be found under the sleek new bonnet: a range of powerful and refined and economical new turbodiesel engines. These include a 2,2-litre turbodiesel engine that – in its higher output specification – makes Toyota’s older three-litre turbodiesel mill seem ancient.
The top model’s five-cylinder turbodiesel mill delivers 147 kW and 470 Nm – and this 3,2-litre engine speaks straight to the potential owners who dearly want the sophistication of a new Amarok-type bakkie, but who prefers cubic inches over two hair dryers.
Five-star safety, all that power and torque – it must be an expensive and exclusive thing, like Nissan’s Navara 3.0dCi V6, right? It’s not. The Ranger sells for R426 900 — just a whisker more than the Toyota. And yes, that price includes a five-year/90 000km service plan.