Ute Tow Test 2016
Today’s popular dual-cab 4x4 utes make big claims when it comes to tow ratings and payloads but are they really up to serious yakka? Matt Wood and Fraser Stronach ask them to muscle up to prove it
Towing is the latest marketing buzzword when it comes to workhorse utes. Three tonne? Three and a half? Automotive manufacturers would have you believe these utes can do the job without raising a sweat. But how do they actually drive with that much weight hanging off the back? We decided to put the manufacturers’ claims to the test.
But first we had to tackle the unsexy notion of gross combination mass (GCM) and axle load ratings. Without getting bogged down in too much detail, it basically means that for every kilo put on the trailer hitch, the less you can put on the actual ute.
The all-singing, all-dancing ad campaigns don’t tell you that, for the overwhelming majority of these vehicles, 3,000 to 3,500kg of braked trailer load on the back equals close to no payload in the tow vehicle.
So we’ve assembled seven of the most popular dual-cab 4x4s on the market to see how they perform at or near maximum towing capacity. And, of course, we made sure they were fitted with electric trailer brakes. We also tested them at maximum GVM without a trailer.
You may ask why they’re all autos. Well, in Oz, it’s by far the most popular tranny choice. Volkswagen declined to be a part of the test due to the need for electric trailer brakes to be fitted.
A quick squiz at the Kennards Hire website found us some equipment payload, while the guys at KADS Hire happened to have some heavy plant trailers that suited our purpose for 3,500kg towing. Throw in some bagged cement from Bunnings, and we were in business.
We loaded the larger trailer with the site forklift and a pallet of bagged cement, weighing 3,500kg in total. To cater for the lighter-rated Toyota Hilux (3,200kg) and Mitsubishi Triton (3,100Kg), we had a second trailer carrying an excavator totalling 2,800kg.
To test load carrying, we had a pallet of bagged cement weighing 800kg, which, when added to the other payload elements (driver and passenger, etc.), brings the total payload to close to 1,000kg – effectively the maximum payload in the class, give or take a little.
In each case, the 800kg pallet was loaded up against the front of the tub, not an easy task given the tailgates don’t drop right down on any of these mid- and up-spec utes. Before and after loading, the ride-height (at the axle) was measured to see how far the rear of each ute dropped.
The tow and load tests were conducted separately (see GCM, GVM and payload). For the separate load and tow tests, the vehicle was driven over a set course encompassing an uphill winding road followed by a downhill descent, again with lots of corners. The course was covered at least twice for both load and the tow tests, so four or more runs for each vehicle.
GCM, GVM AND PAYLOAD
When it comes to carrying and towing, there are a few things you need to know to be legal and safe.
Gross vehicle mass, or GVM, is how much the vehicle can weigh when it’s fully loaded. So that includes the weight of the vehicle itself, known as the kerb weight. The difference between the GVM and the kerb weight is the payload. Before you put anything into the tub, however, payload includes all passengers and any and all accessories fitted, even a towbar.
Some manufactures don’t claim a kerb weight, which includes a full tank of fuel, but a tare weight instead, which includes 10 litres of fuel only. In this case, any extra fuel over 10 litres also eats into the payload. Payload figures for cab-chassis models (not tested here) don’t even include the tray weight.
When towing, the tow ball weight also becomes part of the payload and not necessarily at a one-to-one ratio, so you need to check the manufacturer’s towing information.
Gross combination mass, or GCM, is the towed weight added to the weight of the vehicle plus any payload.
None of these utes can be loaded to their GVM and tow their rated maximum at the same time, as in each case – although in varying degrees – this exceeds the GCM and overloads the rear axle. When you are towing at or near the maximum tow rating, the GCM is the critical factor in determining how much you can carry at the same time.
Ultimately, in the real world none of these vehicles are great for constant everyday heavy towing. Some do it better than others, but there remains a dearth of information to educate buyers about what weight they can or cannot load into their utes, and what weight they can tow safely. And the last person you’d want to ask is a car salesman! The marketing hype has gotten a little out of hand.
For constant towing over three tonne with a load on the tray, the best vehicles for the job remain the 70-series Toyota Landcruiser, a converted American pick-up, or a light truck. A tradie towing a load like our excavator would also likely have a selection of buckets, fuel, tools grease and a bunch of accessories to go with it. It’s a balancing act that makes it very easy to overload a ute that is not even at maximum GCM.
Big League - 3,500kg
1. Ford Ranger: A combination of grunt, finesse and solid engineering.
2. Holden Colorado: This ute can finally haul with a degree of classy comfort. There's plenty of power on tap and the new steering is excellent under load.
3. Mazda BT-50: It may lack the updated kit of both the Ranger and the Colorado, but it's a solid tow unit that's confident and capable.
4. Isuzu D-Max: Has a go, but lacks the grunt and capability of recent arrivals and updates
5. Nissan Navara NP300: Just don't.
Little League - 2,800kg
1. Toyota Hilux: A good all-rounder that is no doubt capable of more. We'd love to try it in manual 3500kg guise.
2. Mitsubishi Triton: Very capable at this weight, a surprising performer. It's hard to ignore the value proposition.