Think work, think utes and one tonners. Whether you choose Chinese, Japanese or a vehicle made right here in Australia, you're bound to find one with the options and price-tag to suit.
The new contender: Great Wall Motors
The Chinese automotive brand Great Wall Motors would have been unfamiliar to most Australians until recently but since June this year there has been a dramatic recognition in the form of buyers rushing to obtain every Great Wall ute that makes its way into a showroom.
Affordability is a factor, but those in search of working wheels rarely buy on price alone. Great Wall utes have already impressed customers with their toughness and quality, as well as their bargain basement pricing.
Two versions are available with the entry level SA220 costing just $19,990 drive-away, while the upmarket 2WD V240 is $23,990 on road or $26,990 if you want 4WD with that. From a standing start Great Wall recorded 274 sales in July and this result came in a light commercial vehicle segment which was down 30 per cent.
The toughness of these Great Wall utes is beyond dispute but the inclusion of leather trim also attracts buyers. And a drive-away price for such a competent vehicle was unheard of until late June 2009.
By the end of this year the Great Wall range should include single cabs and the choice of a turbodiesel engine, further enhancing the appeal of this new-to-Australia brand of workhorse.
The rugged, powerful and stylish Toyota HiLux has been Australia's top-selling ute for some years. But some observers were surprised when, in April 2008, it became the first ute in history to be the top-selling vehicle, full stop. This success was repeated in October 2008 and June 2009. It has been an astonishing result, which shows how work-focused the vehicle market has become.
The HiLux was upgraded late in 2008 with suspension improvements and a facelift. For the first time automatic transmission was made available in the entry level Workmate variant. This took the total HiLux range to a dizzying 32 models. While the working credentials of the HiLux are beyond question, this does not mean that either performance or style need be sacrificed. The SR5 variants really come into the sports ute category, especially when powered by the 175 kW 4.0 litre petrol V6 engine.
One of the Hilux's main rivals is the revitalised Mazda BT-50. With a huge range of variants, the latest BT-50 spans the $25-50K price category. Significantly, Mazda offers diesel engines only, with buyers having a choice between a 2.5 litre unit (105 kW of power, 330 Nm of torque) and a robust 3.0 litre job which makes 115 kW of power backed by 380 Nm of torque. All transmissions have five ratios. The BT-50 is especially stylish and the new Mazda workhorses are making great traction in a competitive market.
Whether you favour Toyota, Mazda, Nissan or Mitsubishi, it is obvious that the Japanese industry produces a huge number of workhorses ideally suited to our tough local conditions.
The traditional Aussie ute, too, continues to fare well in a diversifying market, although the theme has changed over the past couple of decades. It is hard to believe but almost 20 years have passed since HSV unleashed its first Maloo ute with a then astonishing output of 180 kW. It was to be a sign of the coming times! The sports variants have been the strongest sellers since the late 1990s but there is still plenty to be said for the less extroverted models. Perhaps the best value proposition of all locally manufactured utes is the Falcon equipped with the E-Gas sixpack. Because this is a dedicated engine rather than one compromised to be able to use either LPG or petrol, it is more effective. Back in the 1970s when Australia's taxi fleets were changing from petrol todual-fuel, you could really feel the sacrifice in performance. The Falcon E-Gas engine makes 156 kW of power compared with 195 for its petrol equivalent but performance is still strong. This is, after all, a higher output than an XR6 model of the mid-1990s.
The FG Falcon utes pack plenty of improvements over their popular predecessors, in a reminder that FG came almost nine years after the phenomenally successful AU ute range. The Styleside box has been redesigned and is now better integrated into the overall appearance. It looks less as if it is a bolt-on addition. The box has the same contours as the rear of the cab and the gap between them has been reduced. Additionally, the top lip of the box has also been redesigned and now has neat powder coated black aluminium rails running along its top edge. There is a new soft, flush-fit tonneau cover. This is optional on the standard model but standard fitment on all other Styleside utes.
If you shop around it may not be too late to find a Proton Jumbuck. Introduced here in February 2003, the Malaysian ute has established a strong reputation. But it has now reached the end of the model cycle. In many respects the Jumbuck is the modern equivalent of the old Subaru Brumby, which is still much in evidence the further you get from big cities. But it would have been even more appealing had Proton engineered an all-wheel drive version.