Beaut new utes

By: Fraser Stronach

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  • Earthmovers & Excavators

Holden’s withdrawal from Australian throws a new twist in what is an ever-evolving ute market as new product looms for 2020, writes Fraser Stronach

The Holden Colorado Z71 ute

Just in case you hadn’t noticed, America’s General Motors is closing down Holden in Australia. That means no more Colorado ute, currently Holden’s best-selling model. In what is a very strong ute market, where the Colorado is the fourth best-selling ute, its demise will no doubt help others.

Mercedes-Benz has also announced that it’s withdrawing its X-Class ute, but the small number of sales involved here isn’t going to have a wider effect on the market.

The two best-selling new ‘cars’ in Australia are actually both utes, namely Toyota’s Hilux and Ford’s Ranger, and while they fight it out for top spot, Mitsubishi’s Triton sits in at third spot off the back of sharp pricing. The only way to buy a less-expensive ute than the Triton is to buy Korean, Indian or Chinese.

Isuzu’s D-Max


Meanwhile, the quiet achiever over the last couple of years has been Isuzu’s D-Max, which has overtaken Nissan Navara in ute sales to be the fifth best seller – and closing fast – behind Holden’s Colorado.

And soon potential Holden buyers will have look elsewhere and could well head to Isuzu given the previous tie-up between the Holden and Isuzu. What was sold here for a very long time as a Holden Rodeo was in fact 99 per cent an Isuzu ute, as was the first-generation Colorado. That may see the D-Max challenge for third spot in the sales race.

Certainly Isuzu will be the first cab off the rank in terms of a new ute for the Australian market, sometime around mid-2020. This new D-Max has already been revealed in Thailand last year and unlike the current D-Max is not a result of a joint venture with General Motors. This new D-Max is in fact an Isuzu from the ground up, which is the way that Isuzu has historically gone about designing its own utes.

The 2020 D-Max is bigger overall than the current model, no doubt to compete shoulder-to-shoulder with the big utes like the Ford Ranger and Volkswagen Amarok. The 2020 D-Max also will be better equipped and seemingly more passenger-car like in presentation and detail compared to the more commercially flavoured current model. At the same time more wading depth and standard rear locker suggest more 4WD ability.

Significantly, the 2020 D-max will be powered by a slightly tuned-up (140kW/450Nm vs. 130kW/430Nm) version of long-serving and well-regarded 3.0-litre four-cylinder diesel currently used, presumably backed by the current six-speed Aisin automatic and six-speed Isuzu manual gearboxes.

While a smaller (1.9-litre) and more sophisticated (bi-turbo and Euro 6 emissions-standard compliant) four-cylinder diesel is offered elsewhere, it’s unlikely that engine will come to Australia until Euro 6 does, and that’s still on Canberra’s backburner. If and when Euro 6 comes into play, Isuzu may still prefer to fit selective catalytic reduction technology (AdBlue) to the ‘big’ 3.0-litre four rather than adopt the ‘little’ 1.9, given local market preferences. We will see.

New features on the 2020 D-Max run to electric power steering, tilt-and-reach steering wheel adjustment, auto headlights and wipers, and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto. Rear cross-traffic alert and blindspot warning also become standard features rather than retrofit factory accessories. The Thai reveal of the 2020 D-Max didn’t mention automatic emergency braking but that could well make it onto Australian models.

Mazda BT-50 during our ute tow test in 2016


While Mazda isn’t giving anything away there’s also a new BT-50 ute – with ties to the 2020 D-Max – reportedly in the pipeline and will appear in late 2020. If so, this is a swapping of partners for Mazda and Isuzu, given Mazda worked with Ford, and Isuzu with General Motors in the design and development of the current generation utes.

The fact that Isuzu has already revealed its new D-Max while Mazda remains light-lipped suggests that, if these two new utes are indeed a co-operative effort, then Isuzu has taken the lead in this project. Isuzu being the senior partner would also make sense given Isuzu’s main game is utes (and trucks) where Mazda’s main game is passenger cars and SUVs.

Assuming that Mazda does have a new ute in the pipeline and there’s a tie up with Isuzu, there are a few possibilities. Mazda could just stick its badge on a D-Max, or do a re-skin (new body panels), or perhaps do all that and add its own powertrain. Mazda’s CX-8 SUV has a 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel that claims 140kW and 450Nm, which matches the new D-Max’s power and torque numbers.

Toyota Hilux during our ute tow test in 2016


And on the subject of joint ventures, Ford and Volkswagen are teaming up for their next-generation utes for a 2021 release. The current VW Amarok is effectively 10 years old and the Ford Ranger nine years old, so both are due for a generational change. Given VW makes what is arguably the best ute on the market now in the Amarok, and this new 2021 ute is rumoured to be much more Ford than VW, this may disappoint VW fans. This will be especially true if VW’s potent 3.0-litre V6 diesel is sidelined and replaced by Ford’s new 2.0-litre bi-turbo diesel. Ford’s ‘little’ high-tech diesel is impressive in many ways but as some say "don’t send a boy to do a man’s work".

The current, market-leading Toyota Hilux came out in 2015 and with recent safety updates will probably be around for another five years or so although that will most likely depend the timing of Euro 6 and whatever lies beyond that. Toyota has already hinted at a petrol-electric hybrid Hilux, where the petrol engine could well use some sort of forced aspiration, be that turbocharging or supercharging, which seems to be the future for petrol engines.

The current Mitsubishi Triton and Nissan Navara are also both effectively five years old so also have a while to run in their current life cycle even if there are minor revisions, extra equipment and the like, along the way.


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