4X4 Ute Shootout part 1: Nissan Navara NP300 vs Mitsubishi Triton vs Isuzu D-Max vs Holden Colorado

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  • Earthmovers & Excavators

We assemble eight of the country’s best dual-cab 4x4 utes for three days of good old fashioned mud bashing, off-roading and circle work. MATT WOOD looks at the good, the not so good, and the ugly.

4X4 Ute Shootout part 1: Nissan Navara NP300 vs Mitsubishi Triton vs Isuzu D-Max vs Holden Colorado
The contenders line up for our 4X4 Ute Shootout.

The good old Aussie ute may be on its last gasp, but 2015 has been one of the biggest years yet for new load lugging, trailer towing, hay haulers.

Not just any old utes but one of the fastest growing parts of the Australian new car market, the dual cab 4x4.

The modern diesel 4x4 ute now wears designer undies beneath its overalls, fast becoming as much a lifestyle vehicle as a work tool.

From the bush to the boat ramp these utes are becoming more than a little fashionable.

A much anticipated all new Toyota Hilux has arrived in Australia as well as an all new Nissan Navara and a mostly new Mitsubishi Triton.

Given the amount of action on the ute front we put 8 of Australia’s best utes head to head comparison both on and off road to see which load lugging work and play off roader stacks up as the king of the ute heap.

The assembled throng are all mid-spec automatics which tend to represent the most popular variants amongst buyers at present.

And all save the Volkswagen Amarok and the Mitsubishi are equipped with a shift on the go 2-speed transfer case. The Triton has a shift on the go all-wheel drive mode as well as 4 high and 4 low while the auto Vee-Dub is full-time all-wheel-drive. 

We use the Melbourne 4x4 Proving Ground at Mt Cottrell, West of Melbourne to throw these machines against off-road obstacles and river crossings before going for a drive in the bush and on the open road.

Which does the best job in the dirt? Which ticks the boxes as the best all-rounder? And which is just the best damn truck to drive? We had a crack at finding out.


Nissan Navara NP300

Ute Shoot Out -Nissan Navara NP300_exterior

The all new Navara NP300 has been keenly anticipated as this platform will also form the basis of double cab ute offerings from both Renault and Mercedes Benz.

The outgoing Navara STX-550 flagship was the most powerful dual cab 4x4 ute on the Aussie market and it went like a rocket. The new banger has some big shoes to fill.

Exterior and towing

The new styling of the Navara puts it in line with the rest of the Nissan stable, but does make it a little bland in comparison with others on the market.

In saying that, it does however have a rather cool sliding rear window.

The flared up edges of the NP300’s bonnet can make it difficult to see where the front wheels are going in the bush and the low seating position adds to this.

Angle of approach and departure are excellent, wheel base and ground clearance mean the Nav does have a tendency to rub its belly on some obstacles.

Towing is the class benchmark of 3.5 tonnes.

Engine and transmission

Under the bonnet lies a twin turbo 2.3 litre that creates 140kW and 450Nm. A choice of 7-speed auto or 6-speed manual is available and lower spec models are offered in single turbo guise.

In our ST, the 2.3 litre donk punched numbers above its weight but feels laggy under 2000rpm. It is very quiet and civilized but needs a boot full to get it moving on and off road.

Cab and controls

The Navara’s highlight is its interior which lends a bit of swank to what could be cold and commercial.

It’s comfortable from the driver’s seat and everything is easy to get to.

However, visibility is a bit of an issue with the Nav especially when off-road.

Ride and handling

Ute Shoot Out -Nissan Navara NP300_ride

The most significant feature of the NP300 is the multi-link coil sprung rear end which makes it the only vehicle in our pack of haulers that doesn’t sit on leaf springs.

The coil sprung rear end however doesn’t feel overly sorted. It copes quite well off road in the articulation stakes and romps up our hill climb course.

 It doesn’t however feel great on dirt or asphalt surfaces.

The Nav tends to wallow regardless of road surface and feels quite vague in the steering.

In an effort to make the NP300 more car like in dynamics but still retain its truck usability it’s ended up compromised in both areas.

However, it’s worth mentioning that the newly released NP300 single cab and extra cab models all ride on traditional leaf springs.


Mitsubishi Triton GLX-R

Ute Shoot Out -Mitsubishi Triton _exterior

If there was a winner for the truck that has been hit by the ugly stick the hardest it would be the Triton. It looks like an awkward teenager with braces.

But, look under the skin and there’s a lot to like about the all new Mitsubishi GLX-R.

Exterior and towing

The short wheel base of the Triton makes it quite maneuverable, but it pays a price for this by having quite a lot of overhang behind the rear wheels.

Angle of departure isn’t great and off road our tow bar spent quite a bit of time buried in the dirt. It also means a lot of the load area is behind the rear axle as well.

Towing is at the lower end of the segment expectation at 3.1 tonnes.

Engine and transmission

A new twin-turbo 2.4 litre engine makes 131kW and 400Nm and it can be had with either a 5-speed auto or 6-speed stick shift. Towing is at the lower end of the segment expectation at 3.1 ton.

The new engine is a vast improvement. There’s quite a bit of turbo lag under 1800rpm but once the tacho needle clears this figure it does get going quite nicely.

But just as importantly it’s also very quiet and civilized. The new driveline is a big step in the right direction for Mitsubishi.

Cab and controls

The new Triton is much comfier to sit in than the previous model as well. It’s now a nice place to be.

The cab has gained an extra 20mm which has added to leg room in the back. Some of the plastics are still a little harsh but the overall effect is still a big improvement for the Triton.

The simple instrument cluster is easy to read and sports a drive mode indicator in the centre, which leaves no excuse for forgetting to switch out of low-range.

The completely revamped Triton is also very well appointed inside and out. The Mitzi has the obligatory shift on the fly 4-wheel drive dial.

But where the mid and high spec Triton models differ from the rest is the additional all-wheel-drive mode that can be selected on the Super Select II 4wd system.

Basically, you can leave the Triton in this mode at all times if you want, especially if you are on icy or gravel roads and the front diff will kick in when needed.

Highway speeds aren’t an issue. For the rough stuff there’s still high and low range available.

Ride and handling

Ute Shoot Out -Mitsubishi Triton _ride

Our hill climb course isn’t kind to the GLX-R Triton we are driving, it makes it to the top but finds it hard to keep all wheels on the ground while doing so.

Axle articulation is pretty ordinary. Angle of approach is fine on most obstacles but coming back down the other side generally sees the Mitzi drag its bum.

On the road the Triton can seem a little jiggly on bad road surfaces but inside the cab is quiet and comfortable.

The Triton’s forte is really a bang for buck proposition and it’s reasonably competent in most roles that are thrown at it.

The new Triton is a massive improvement on previous incarnations.


Isuzu D-Max

Ute Shoot Out -Isuzu D-Max _exterior

Exterior and towing

These days the Isuzu D-Max often suffers from plain jane syndrome. What is essentially a good meat and potatoes ute is often overshadowed by the bling and tech offered by some of its competitors.

Sharing a platform with the Holden Colorado also muddies the waters as many consumers still think they are the same truck with a different badge. Nothing could be further from the truth.

It’s certainly not the most sexy vehicle here but it’s also looking at an update in 2016.

Towing is the class benchmark of 3.5 tonnes.

Engine and transmission

The D-Max uses an Isuzu 3 litre turbo-diesel which provides 130kW and 380Nm, as opposed to the Holden’s more powerful 2.8 litre VM Motori unit.

Transmission choice is a 5-speed auto or 5-speed manual. Isuzu has also gone their own way with suspension as well. 4-wheel drive is also a flick of a dial away when needed.

While those power figures may seem modest when compared with the rest of our entourage, the D-Max still punches above its weight on and off-road.

The engine and transmission talk to each other very well, it’s not a whisper quiet unit but neither does it sound like a tractor.

Cab and controls

Once planted in the driver’s seat, the cabin isn’t exactly inspiring. Our mid spec LS still retains more of a work truck feel than the others.

The D-Max does have the same poky instrument cluster and plain console as the Holden but for some reason it seems to get away with it more easily.

Ride and handling

Ute Shoot Out -Isuzu D-Max _ride

Hill climbing isn’t really the Isuzu’s forte but it still has a crack at the title and succeeds in the end. That’s the thing about the Isuzu it just does everything, it may not always excel at it but it’ll do it.

Axle articulation isn’t fantastic but the ‘Max’ will generally still manage to scrabble its way to most places. The lack of a rear diff-lock makes life difficult for the Isuzu off-road at times.

On the open road the Isuzu is a little coarse and noisy but on the whole it’s an easy drive to live with. It also handles quite well for what it is, if a little crude ride wise.

The Isuzu and the Holden are the only vehicles to get a little wet inside while we were playing in the river so perhaps wading isn’t the D-Max’s forte either.

The D-Max is clearly a generation behind its recently updated competitors but that doesn’t detract from it being an honest if not luxurious truck that will tackle most of what’s thrown at it.


Holden Colorado

Ute Shoot Out -Holden Colorado _exterior

The Colorado has played the value card for some time now. Yet the Holden ute is starting to look a little long in the tooth now in comparison to the competition.

While it’s admittedly a tough little truck, Colorado seems to lack finesse in many areas such as ride and handling. This year has seen more sound deadening added and some suspension tweaks.

Engine and transmission

A 2.8 litre 4 cylinder Duramax turbo-diesel engine gives the Colorado 147kW and 440Nm of torque. Auto variants get 500Nm in the torque department. This is all up there with the pack leaders.

The Holden offers either a 6-speed manual of a 6-speed auto.

Firing up the Durmax engine reveals that it has improved a little in terms of noise, but it still feels raw and agricultural.

Cab and controls

Our LTZ Colorado certainly looks the part, but climbing aboard after being behind the wheel of others in this group makes the Holden feel generationally lagging.

The instrument cluster has never been a highlight and feels small and busy.

The centre stack console is functional enough to operate though it too is starting to look a little dated.

Seating is comfy enough and the Holden doesn’t exactly feel lacking in the equipment department.

Ride and handling

Ute Shoot Out -Holden Colorado _exterior

Thrown at the hill climb course the Holden really struggles to keep its feet on terra firma and really needs to be pushed to get it to the top.

A lack of diff locks means momentum is really the only way to get the Holden to the top. There’s plenty of torque on tap but there needs to be plenty of exploration with the right foot to find it.

The Colorado has improved out on the open road however. While the engine still has a raw note to it the overall rumble through the cab has been dulled somewhat.

Cruising on the highway and even rough dirt roads seems to be the Colorado’s forte.

The addition of "Comfort Suspension" to the LTZ variant we drove has given the pick up a more cosseting ride than before.

Push it a bit harder off road though and the Holden does feel lacking in both ability and finesse.

See the links below for Part 2 of our ute shootout in which Matt takes the final 4 models — Toyota Hilux, Ford Ranger, Volkswagen Amarok and Mazda BT-50 — for a spin before delivering his final verdict. And make sure you ckeck out the video!


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