AA Buyer's Guide: why are utes so popular in New Zealand?
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The Ford Ranger has been the bestselling vehicle in New Zealand for four years running, selling 9485 units in 2019 compared with the trusty Toyota Hilux in second place with 7126. In fact, three of the top five bestselling vehicles in 2019 were utes; why exactly are they so popular here in NZ?
Utes are a popular choice of vehicle for farmers and tradespeople due to their payload, size and reliability. But lots of today’s other consumers also desire a multi-functional vehicle.
Utes today have many similar features to passenger cars and come with the latest safety technologies, making them far more versatile. They are also a popular choice among drivers with towing requirements - many Kiwis need a vehicle to launch the boat or haul a caravan, as well as do the school run. Utes in today’s market are much more than just humble workhorses.
Many utes still have a traditional ladder chassis, but lots of manufacturers now use improved soundproofing and suspension systems, which can adapt to changing loads. That means no more bouncing around in your seat like a beach ball when driving without a load onboard.
Some models incorporate intelligent electronic power steering (EPS), making parking manoeuvres easier and offering firmer steering when on the open road. Adaptive cruise control is also more available, which is perfect for when you’re stuck in traffic on your way home from a weekend getaway.
Lean-burning turbo diesel units are popular among many models, and considering the size and weight of these vehicles, they offer a surprising amount of power and impressive fuel economy figures. Some manufacturers also offer refined, quiet V6 diesel engines.
While some may find driving these larger vehicles a little daunting, technology like parking sensors and cameras help make the driver’s life a little easier. Driving a ute now feels similar to a regular car, thanks to the availability of automatic transmissions and good ride quality in many model ranges.
Utes feature plenty of the latest safety technologies that passenger cars also possess.
In order to compete against the increasingly popular SUV market, utes had to adapt and be able to create a comfortable and safe space for occupants.
This has resulted in better occupant protection through side and knee airbags and collision avoidance systems, which allow them to achieve competitive safety ratings. By boasting the same safety features as SUVs, utes have been able to broaden their target market.
It’s not just the focus on safety features that have helped utes to maintain their strong position in the new car market - all the visual trimmings from SUVs are slowly creeping into their ute counterparts. Utes now commonly have electric seats, leather upholstery, stitched dashboards, cooling compartments and other options.
The interior attention to detail, increased passenger space in double cab models, elaborate infotainment systems and USB charging plugs, can all be very appealing to drivers with families.
The dominance of utes in the market shows no sign of declining. In fact, if you’ve previously considered a ute to be an addition or alternative to the household’s passenger vehicle, it may be time to think again and revisit buying one. There may well be better equipped and more practical models out there compared to the last time you looked, and you could potentially end up saving money that’s normally spent maintaining and running two vehicles.