Drive Car Of The Year

Best Off-Road Dual-Cab Ute 2022

Australia’s appetite to explore the great outdoors has helped create a new category of so-called ‘super utes’. These are the best of the breed to date.

In the same way that some Porsches and Ferraris are not quite enough for performance-car enthusiasts, the current crop of dual-cab utes don’t necessarily go far enough for buyers with a lot of money and a strong sense of adventure.

That’s why utes like these were created. The three examples gathered here were already highly capable in their standard guises. But Ford, Nissan, and Jeep saw a demand for model variants with even more capability to go further off the beaten track.

These utes share similar philosophies – add off-road ability and beef up the tough-truck looks – although the executions are different. 

With the Jeep Gladiator – itself based on the already capable Jeep Wrangler, but on a stretched platform – the company’s engineers applied the ‘Rubicon’ heavy-duty off-road treatment. That means gnarly off-road tyres and suspension, the fitment of front and rear differential locks, and heavy-duty tow points.

The locally developed Nissan Navara Pro-4X Warrior took the original donor vehicle and then, after extensive local testing, developed a unique wheel, tyre, and suspension package to give the vehicle better off-road clearance – and ability.

Nissan also fitted a winch-capable hoopless bullbar and an LED light strip. The result is a turn-key solution for Nissan Navara customers who don’t want the hassle of taking their vehicle to an aftermarket outfitter to set up their new rig.

The Ford Ranger Raptor in many ways pioneered the concept of the ‘super ute’ in Australia. Released in 2018, it set a new benchmark for off-road ability, though it did have to make some sacrifices, with reduced towing capacity and payload versus most peers.

While there were some initial reservations about the Ford Ranger Raptor’s modest output from its twin-turbo 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel engine, it has proven itself to be a capable ute overall. 

And, as we would discover, it is still the benchmark in the ‘super ute’ class. 

Winner: Ford Ranger Raptor

What we love
  • Phenomenal off-road ability thanks to Fox shocks, excellent wheel articulation, generous clearance angles, and a sophisticated traction-control system 
  • Also the benchmark for on-road refinement and comfort among this trio
What we don’t
  • The twin-turbo 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel and 10-speed auto get the job done, but more grunt and more refinement would be welcome 
  • Lacks radar cruise control, rear cross-traffic alert and blind-zone warning, now considered basic safety tech

The Ford Ranger Raptor is the 2022 Drive Car of the Year Best Off-Road Dual-Cab Ute.

While other utes aim to compete in the same ‘super ute’ space, it has become apparent that no-one else has come close enough to truly challenge the Ford Ranger Raptor for its epic bandwidth of on-road comfort and off-road ability.

That it manages to feel almost luxurious to drive after spending time behind the wheel of the other two finalists demonstrates what an engineering feat this is.

However, as with all vehicles, the Ford Ranger Raptor is not perfect. At about $85,000 by the time it’s in the traffic, it is priced at the top end of the scale.

As we’ve reported before, the twin-turbo 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel could do with more urge (and has had reliability issues in the past), and the 10-speed automatic needs to be calibrated for smoother and more intuitive shifts. Payload and towing capacity are limited to 714kg/2500kg versus 952kg/3500kg for the Navara Pro-4X Warrior, and 693kg/2721kg for the Jeep Gladiator Rubicon. 

Despite these traits, the Ford Ranger Raptor is, quite frankly, in a class of its own.

As fellow judge Justin Narayan noted: “The Jeep has a nice engine but the ride quality is horrible, there’s too much wind noise at cruising speeds, and the tyres are too aggressive on the road. The Nissan does a lot of what the Ford can do, but it has lost its strong value proposition. It’s now priced closer to the Raptor, but after driving them back-to-back, it’s apparent the Nissan and the Ford are not in the same league”.

Colleague Rob Margeit said: “The Raptor is the one you want in this segment. It feels like a luxury car after these other two. It feels like a class above. You have to spend a bit more money, but you get a lot more vehicle. If we are here to award excellence, the Ford Ranger Raptor is it”.

Off-road expert Sam Purcell said the Ford Ranger Raptor is superior off-road in every regard (thanks to suspension, tyre size, and sophisticated traction control) and better on-road. “It’s the best all-rounder here, and happens to be the best off-road to boot.”

With a new Ford Ranger Raptor around the corner – with a more powerful twin-turbo V6 petrol engine – the future is looking bright for this flagship model. And we are curious to see how rivals will respond.

Finalist: Nissan Navara Pro-4X Warrior

What we love
  • Retains 3500kg towing ability, has a decent payload
  • Is better off-road than a standard Navara
  • Looks the business
What we don’t
  • Too high driver’s seating position, interior starting to feel dated, lacks the refinement of the class benchmark
  • Underdone brakes, misses out on radar cruise and speed sign recognition 
  • Price has increased by $10,000

The Nissan Navara Pro-4X Warrior is the successor to the Nissan Navara N-Trek Warrior. Although the changes may seem skin-deep, engineers re-tuned the Warrior’s locally developed suspension to suit the new uprated payload.

The hoopless bullbar is now winch-compatible, and the Navara has gained key safety tech with the latest facelift (which also brought with it better bi-LED headlights). Autonomous emergency braking, rear cross-traffic alert, and blind-zone warning are now standard.

However, radar cruise control and speed sign recognition (standard on most variants of the Toyota HiLux, Ford Ranger, Isuzu D-Max and Mazda BT-50) are still not available.

As with the original Warrior, this is not simply a sticker pack with jacked-up suspension. The Nissan Navara Pro-4X Warrior has retuned suspension tailored to suit off-road tyres which, combined, deliver better ground clearance. Alloy wheels with a wider offset deliver a slightly wider track for better stability on-road and off-road.

As we’ve previously reported, the Nissan Navara Pro-4X Warrior is a step up compared to the standard Navara. Driven in isolation, it shines brightest when it’s off-road. But alongside this company, the Nissan Navara Pro-4X Warrior sounded and felt less refined overall – even for a ute – and the cabin is starting to look dated, despite the new steering wheel and digital instrument display.

The $10,000 price rise with the new model hasn’t helped. With automatic transmission, the Nissan Navara Pro-4X Warrior now costs north of $75,000 in the traffic, putting it much closer in price to the Ford Ranger Raptor.

The original Nissan Navara N-Trek Warrior was praised for having improved off-road ability and tough-truck looks at a much more affordable price than the Ford Ranger Raptor. But bringing the price of the Nissan Navara Pro-4X Warrior closer to the Ford Ranger Raptor has highlighted the capability gap between these two vehicles.

Finalist: Jeep Gladiator Rubicon

What we love
  • Good off-road ability (with the exception of the ramp-over angle), transforms into a rock crusher at the press of a button to lock the front and rear diffs
  • Awesome stereo
  • Removable roof panels are a great way to hear and smell the outdoors
What we don’t
  • Tyre rumble and steering vagueness at highway speeds (other off-roaders aren’t this bad). Long wheelbase can be restrictive off-road and in the daily grind
  • Cramped driver’s seating position. Not the most efficient use of space in the cabin or the ute tray
  • Three-star safety rating in a category where five stars is the norm

Priced close to $85,000 in the traffic, the Jeep Gladiator Rubicon is at the top end of ute-buyer budgets. Available with a 3.6-litre V6 petrol engine only – in a market dominated by diesel – it also has higher running costs than its peers.

It’s comparatively thirsty in this company. We averaged 13.6L/100km after mostly open-road driving; the fuel rating label average is 12.4L/100km. So this is one of the least fuel-efficient vehicles in its class.

The trade-off? The Jeep has superior engine and driveline refinement – the eight-speed auto is a smooth operator – and there won’t be any diesel particulate filter dramas.

The Jeep Gladiator Rubicon has most mod-cons covered: a clever infotainment system, a cranking sound system, and the convenience of removable roof covers above the front seats – in case you want to show off to your friends, or smell and hear the great outdoors.

But the driver’s seating position is a little cramped because the transmission tunnel along the centre of the floor has been skewed to occupy some of the driver’s footwell space. In left-hand-drive markets – where most Jeeps are sold – it is the passenger rather than the driver who is inconvenienced.

That said, after an extended time with the Jeep Gladiator Rubicon, we got accustomed to the driving position.

Other compromises: there is plenty of tyre rumble and steering vagueness at highway speeds (more so than other off-road utes with gnarly tyres), and the long wheelbase delivers a massive turning circle (13.6m in a class where 12.5m to 12.7m is the norm).

The Jeep Gladiator Rubicon begins to flex its muscles, however, once the road gets rough.

The off-road tyres combined with heavy-duty front and rear axles, lockable front and rear differentials, and a front swaybar that can be disconnected electronically, give the Jeep Gladiator Rubicon excellent off-road ability. 

Ample underbody protection helps secure the vitals under the vehicle, though the long wheelbase means the Gladiator is more prone to scrape its belly than the other utes here, which have better ramp-over angles.

The Jeep Gladiator Rubicon’s payload of 693kg, towing capacity of 2721kg, and wading depth of 760mm compare to the Ford Ranger Raptor (714kg, 2500kg, 850mm) and the Nissan Navara Pro-4X Warrior (952kg, 3500kg, 600mm).

In the end, while the judges could see the appeal in the Jeep Gladiator Rubicon – and were impressed by its off-road hardware – it was more compromised on-road and off-road than the others, and priced at the top end of the scale.

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