Ford's revised Ranger (left) has been styled like an American muscle truck while new Hilux has a softer, almost car-like appearance.
Ford's revised Ranger (left) has been styled like an American muscle truck while new Hilux has a softer, almost car-like appearance.
The Hilux's ground clearance is listed at a more generous 286mm than the Ford's 237mm.
The Hilux's ground clearance is listed at a more generous 286mm than the Ford's 237mm.
In practice the Ford Ranger is just as competent offroad.
In practice the Ford Ranger is just as competent offroad.
We felt the Hilux's cabin was the smartest and most stylish of the two.
We felt the Hilux's cabin was the smartest and most stylish of the two.
The Ranger's dashboard styling is more rugged.
The Ranger's dashboard styling is more rugged.

By: Denis Droppa and Jesse Adams

Johannesburg: Bulls vs Sharks, Liverpool vs Manchester United, Apple vs Samsung. If you’re an acolyte of a particular sports team or brand there’s little chance of being swayed to the opposition. Much the same tends to apply in the bakkie market where the different brands have their strong adherents, particularly SA’s two best-selling makes: the Toyota Hilux and the Ford Ranger.

Still, for those undecided neutrals who have not yet nailed their colours to the mast, here is our side-by-side evaluation of the luxury diesel double-cab versions of the Ranger and Hilux. The all-new Hilux was launched here in February as a more refined and sophisticated machine than its popular predecessor, while the Ford Ranger has been with us for a few years but recently went through a major upgrade.

In the Toyota corner is the diesel flagship of the new Hilux range, the 2.8GD-6 double-cab 4x4 Raider auto selling for R547 900.

From the Ford stable we have the 3.2 double-cab 4x4 XLT auto priced at R567 900, which is not the top-of-the-range model (that title goes to the Ranger 3.2 Wildtrak) but is closest to the Hilux in terms of specification and price.

OUTSIDE

The Ranger looks more butch and the recent facelift, which includes an aggressive trapezoidal grille, has given it a distinctly American muscle-truck appearance. The meaner new look comes with a more chip and scratch resistant paint job too.

The Hilux is styled somewhat softer, more of a labrador compared to the rottweiler Ranger, but with its big grille and sheer size the double-cab Toyota still carries a decent amount of road presence.

The Ranger has gnarlier, more offroad-oriented tyres while the Hilux rides on the same size (265/65/17) rubber but with a more passenger car-like tread pattern.

The load areas are similar in size and should swallow an assortment of toys or garden rubble, but officially the win goes to the Ranger with its 937kg payload capacity versus the Toyota’s 810kg.

INSIDE

A sense of style pervades these two cockpits, which have shed all workhorse pretensions and look and feel more like upmarket SUVs.

We feel the perceived quality and styling of the Hilux’s cabin are slightly better than the Ranger XLT, even though the Toyota comes with fabric seats compared to the Ford’s leather upholstery (leather is available for an extra R12 800 in the Hilux). However, the Ranger does also come in a more nattily dressed Wildtrak derivative which has a classy-looking soft-touch dashboard with contrasting stitching – if you’re willing to spend R596 900. Where the Ranger’s dashboard styling is more rugged, with chunky blocks and stocky speedo cluster bezels, the Hilux’s is presented with more finesse. It’s passenger car-like with rounder surfaces and classy polished aluminium-look inserts.

The gadget counts between our two contenders are basically equal, right down to their cooled gloveboxes, reverse cameras, auto headlights, cruise-control systems, touch screen infotainment systems, and twin 12v power sockets. However, rain-sensing wipers are standard in the Ranger and not available in the Hilux. Safety is in good supply in both cases, with standard ABS brakes, seven airbags, stability control, and trailer-sway control.

Remote-operated central locking comes standard in both, but the Hilux gives neighbourhood-waking toots each time you unlock the vehicle. It’s much too loud, startling passers-by and setting dogs barking.

Passenger space in the two cabins is on a par. There’s plenty of space in the back seats for a pair of adults, and the backrests seem to be angled comfortably. That said, we didn’t spend a long time in the rear and longer journeys might reveal different results. In terms of our two rivals’ ergonomics, most controls come easy to hand in both cases, but the Ranger has only height-adjustable steering, not reach as well like the Hilux.

We have some issues with the user-friendliness of their touch-screen infotainment systems. In the Hilux there’s no volume knob and you have to set the level using tiny icons on the touchscreen – try doing this while driving on anything but a glass-smooth road and you’ll see what we’re complaining about. There are auxiliary volume buttons on the steering wheel that are easier to use, but c’mon Toyota, nothing beats a good old-fashioned volume knob like in the Ranger.

In the Ford the bugbear was having to navigate through the touchscreen menu to change the direction of air in the ventilation system; there was no button on the dash to do it quick and easy as in the Hilux.

PERFORMANCE AND DRIVING

The updated Ranger now runs quieter thanks to improved sound-deadening materials that reduce wind- and road noise. However, the Toyota runs even quieter, and feels more like an SUV than a bakkie in its noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels.

The new Hilux has improved ride quality with less bounciness than the old version particularly on corrugations, although with an empty load bay there is still choppiness which betrays the presence of rear leaf springs. The Ranger’s also a reasonably smooth rider for a one-ton bakkie but there was discord in our ranks as to which vehicle offered the superior glideability, so we’ll call this one a tie.

With its extra cubic capacity the Ranger’s 3.2 five-cylinder 147kW/470Nm turbodiesel engine outpowers the Toyota’s four-cylinder 2.8 with outputs of 130kW/450Nm. Both are paired with six-speed automatic transmissions that shift nice and smooth. The Hilux has three drive modes which affect the throttle response: Normal, Eco and Power.

The performance contest is a mixed bag. In our Gauteng tests the Ranger was quicker off the line and scooted from 0-100km/h in 11.7 seconds compared to the 12.5 seconds of the Hilux. But in overtaking acceleration the Hilux was slightly quicker with a 0.1 sec advantage from 60-120km/h.

Winning the economy battle by quite a margin is the Hilux, which averaged 9.3 litres per 100km compared to 11.3 litres for the Ford.

Both vehicles come with five-year service plans but you’ll have to visit the dealership more often if you own the Hilux, which has 10 000km service intervals versus the Ranger’s 20 000km.

Low-sulphur 50ppm diesel is recommended but both bakkies can also run on 500ppm.

OFFROAD

Despite their SUV-like sophistication these are very rugged vehicles with bodies mounted on sturdy ladder-frame chassis – meaning they can take a beating offroad.

The Hilux’s ground clearance is listed at a more generous 286mm than the Ford’s 237mm but in practice the offroad contest was a tie. The bad old days of having to manhandle stiff-feeling secondary gear levers are thankfully gone; in both our contenders, selecting between two- and four-wheel-drive requires an easy twist of a knob and can be done while the vehicle’s moving. They both have low range, rear diff locks and descent-control systems, also selectable with a simple button push or twist.

They make child’s play of off-tar adventures, and around our Gerotek offroad course they matched each other on every obstacle.

Ranger 4x4 buyers get free 4x4 training at the Ford offroad training academy. With the Hilux an offroad course can be purchased extra.

VERDICT

Denis: I prefer the more masculine styling of the Ranger and I like the fact that you have to service it less often, but my vote goes to the Hilux for its superior refinement and fuel consumption. It also costs 20 grand less. That loud unlocking hoot is annoying but Toyota is said to be working on a fix.

Jesse: I also like the more aggro Ranger’s look, but I also prefer its on-road mannerisms over the Toyota’s. The suspension’s definitely firmer, but somehow its chassis soaks up road imperfections better and transmits less bump into the seats. I can’t deny that the Hilux is quieter and feels better built, but I’d choose the Ranger as my daily driver.

Star Motoring

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