As odd as it might seem, this was pretty easy to call. The Ranger is a clear winner when it comes to on-road driving.
It was especially happy on our drive loop, wich took in several rolling roads with off-camber crests and some less-than-perfect surfaces. Ford engineers have built a workhorse ute that gets as close to a car in terms of ride and handling. The steering is precise, it turns in with little fuss, and it sits relatively flat through the corners.
If the frame is flexing or vibrating, the fluid-filled chassis mounts do a good job of hiding it all from the occupants.
The Ranger is remarkably quiet, too, so you can easily have a conversation with someone in back without raising your voice. The ride is a little on the firm side, and it can get a bit fidgety at lower speeds.
Holden’s Colorado is a different beast. It’s a lot softer, and the body roll is far more pronounced. Occupants feel more movement through the frame, and you can actually see the cargo bed move in the rearview mirror. The steering adds to the cumbersome feel; you have turn it a lot to move around tighter bends. The power assistance groans slightly on full tilt.
Even so, the Colorado is still endearing as it is more comfortable at lower speeds with its plush suspension. Its engine is one of the noisier units at idle and low speeds, but its deep note is not annoying.
This is a strong engine, and even though it’s almost 25 cubic inches smaller than the Ranger unit, it appears to be just as capable. Both have lots of pulling power and don’t need to be worked hard. The Ranger engine is generally far quieter, but it has an annoying injector-related noise that is not linear. I checked with Ford NVH guys to work out what I was hearing, and I was told some people, especially older people, can’t hear it, so it might not be an issue for everyone.
The automatic transmissions in the Ranger and Colorado tended to hunt for gears more than they needed to.
The Volkswagen Amarok is not as sharp as the Ranger when it comes to on-road driving, but it’s not as blunt as the Colorado, either. The VW does have a fair amount of body roll, and the suspension is softer than the Ford’s suspension, which might be fine on the off-road section, but here it was a little unnerving. The steering is closer to the Ranger than the Colorado, but it can’t match the quick and agile feel of the Ranger.
VW says the Amarok’s small engine is not an issue, but driving it back to back with utes fitted with larger engines, we disagree. Giving away 50-some pounds-feet of torque is always going to be an issue, and you notice the difference even without any loads in the cargo bed.
We found ourselves pushing the VW into higher rpm ranges, and it can get loud when you do so. The manual gearbox does the job, but it is a shame the automatic is available only with the permanent all-wheel-drive model that misses out on low range.
The Hilux is the last to be mentioned, and it is appropriate because it finishes well behind the others when it comes to on-road manners. It is the least composed, bumping and jostling around over relatively small imperfections. The chassis appears to pass on many of the jolts into the cab from the suspension, which doesn’t seem to be dampening the bumps well enough.
Steering feel in the Hilux is too light, and it feels vague as a result. Toyota was unable to give us a diesel for our test, so we made due with the 3.0-liter gas option. We had driven with the same engine a few years ago, and it seemed fine then, too, but with just 254 pounds-feet of torque, this motor is off the pace these days.
Our gas engine revved out nicely, but the fuel consumption (which we’ll cover in our Overall Value section) would be an issue. Still, at least Toyota offers a large-capacity gas engine as an option. As for the transmission, it might have only four gears, but works well enough as it is.
2012 Global Pickup Shootout