“We are the boys from down on the farm”

“We are the boys from down on the farm”

It had to happen. I had bitten off more than I could chew, and as the driver in front slowed his progress up the hill – killing my momentum – so I knew I was not making it to the top.

Car and SUV was out last month – on a farm north of Auckland – putting together the two utes doing battle, not just to lead our commercial market, but also the broader new vehicle trade – the Toyota Hilux and the Ford Ranger.

Our two test vehicles are – in fairness – not entirely equal. We had on hand a Hilux SR5 diesel automatic and a Ranger Wildtrak. But this test is not about detail – we have covered enough of that in Car and SUV before.

“We are the boys from down on the farm” Pic 4

This test is more about the experience.

Since the launch of the new Hilux, it could be argued it has struggled against the Range. The Ranger is still well ahead on sales, year-to-date, and most months triumphs in the sales chart – although the Hilux managed to top the Ford in April.

But why? Immediate impressions for a city-dweller has to be the Ranger’s competency in the city and on the highway, there is no getting away from it. The Ranger is smoother, quieter and more car-like. It has a far roomier back seat than the Hilux.

That car-like experience is more than likely why the Ranger has sold so well. It is city dwellers growing the market – the reason why the ute market continues to grow while the dairy industry sweats under the weight of decreasing milk fat prices.

But what happens when you get away from the Ponsonby strip and get down to the worksite, farm or quarry?

The picture becomes far – in more ways than one – muddy.

The Ranger was somewhat physically challenged, riding on Highway-Terrain rather than All-Terrain tyres, which quickly became slick on grassy slopes.

Where the Hilux feels a little-cramped inside, upright and a bit old school on the highway, head on to the farm and it suddenly makes absolute sense.

Sightlines are better, the steering firmer, and the Toyota’s 2.8-litre turbo diesel feels far happier to lug along at off-road speeds. It is surprising how much those necessary details make the car feel far more comfortable when idling along a tight ridge-top track.

The Ranger is no doubt far more capable than most people will ever need, but out here on the farm, the advantages that make it such an excellent on-road vehicle slightly hamstring it.

It feels like it wants to go fast – at a time when you want to go slow – and it is far harder than the Hilux to work out where your wheels are pointing, and where the corners are.

There is no way of getting around the fact that it feels huge.

The Ranger’s four-wheel-drive system is – just like the Hilux – controlled using a dial, and while it works, I found it a little slow and unclear on its function – yes there is an element of user error here – leading to the incident as mentioned earlier. Stuck half-way up a steep and slippery slope. In high-range, sliding at any hint of an application of throttle.

Yes, there was a tow rope connecting the Hilux to the Ranger when it finally crested the hill, but I would like to think the Ranger extricated itself, as by now I had managed to engage the low range system. We will never know.

“We are the boys from down on the farm” Pic 3

Specifications for both pickups are generous and reflect their dual-purpose work and recreation audience.

The full 2016 Hilux range will offer five-star ANCAP crash test rating thanks to seven airbags, vehicle stability control, active traction control, anti-lock brakes with brake assist, electronic brakeforce distribution and trailer sway control.

All well-side models come standard with a reversing camera, and every model has hill start assist control.

The 2.8-litre turbo diesel Hilux SR5 six-speed automatic as tested retails from $66,490, plus on-road costs.

The closest Ranger in a matching specification to the Hilux SR5 would be the XLT Double Cab 4×4 automatic, at $63,040, plus on-road costs.

Both the Ranger XLT and Wildtrak 4×4 models offer the 3.2-litre five-cylinder turbodiesel engine that has 147kW of power and 470Nm of torque allied to a six-speed automatic transmission.

The Wildtrak as tested offers more driver assistance features than any of the Hilux model range, but at a much higher price than pretty much anything else in the ute market from $69,640, plus on-road costs.

The top-of-the-line Wildtrak mirrors the Ford Mondeo Titanium by offering features such as heated leather-clad seats, Sync2 vehicle connectivity, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping alert, and land keeping aid.

It also provides forward alert with collision mitigation, front and rear park assist, tyre pressure monitoring system, trailer sway control, and a rear-view camera.

The weight hauling numbers on these cars go both ways. With a manual transmission form, they both tow 3500kg, but in automatic form the Hilux SR5 4×4 tows a bit less at 3200kg. In fuel economy, the Hilux dominates, drinking 7.6l/100km versus 9l/100km for the Ranger.

We are still picking the Ranger as the top dog in the ute market, but: When buying for the farm or tough work, it is hard not to argue that the Hilux may just have an edge.

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