Underrated and overlooked: six obscure utes that are worth considering
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But, each motoring segment has its underrated hidden gems. And that’s true of the bustling world of double-cab utes. Here are six often overlooked contenders.
In motoring, the tide is turning. Vehicles that are considered too aged or old-fashioned in how they go about their business are starting to gain appeal for those very reasons. Sitting at that intersection is the Isuzu D-Max.
It might not be a household name here, but the D-Max is one of the best-selling utes across Asia. This stems from its iron-clad reputation for dependability and an engine with a cult following.
We were recently reunited with the D-Max thanks to Auckland Isuzu. Specifically, in the form of a black double-cab LS. Pricing starts at $39,990, ranging to $57,990 for our tester and $62,490 for the top-spec LS-T.
Tough looks mask a ute that hasn’t seen many updates over its seven-year lifespan (although an all-new model is expected to land in 2020). But, those wanting an utilitarian workhorse will hardly complain.
Clamber in and you’ll find that even the seating position feels old-school. Occupants are perched high. Steering is heavy, but will be instantly familiar to long-time ute owners.
The 3-litre turbo-diesel “4JJ1-TC” doesn’t necessarily stand out on paper, with 130kW/430Nm at its disposal. And when you stomp the gas pedal, it isn’t particularly earth-shaking.
But, this engine isn’t unique to the D-Max. It also makes an appearance in some of Isuzu’s trucks, where in some applications it has a towing capacity over more than six tonnes. This means that, even towards the 3.5-tonne towing capacity, the D-Max rarely breaks a sweat.
In day-to-day usage, it's a likable throwback to a gruff past. When it turns over on start up, it kicks into life with a high-pitched burst like they all did once upon a time.
Kick it in the guts with your right foot, and it doesn't necessarily propel you forwards in any kind of hurry (although the six-speed automatic might have something to do with that).
But when you're not trying to maximise the overtaking lane or win the traffic-light Grand Prix, the engine and transmission combination are an adequate pair. Perhaps a bit of noise dampening wouldn't go amiss (particularly when the D-Max's SUV cousin, the M-UX, comes with plenty), but all in all I can see the appeal.
2. Mazda BT-50
Once direct cousins with the segment darling Ford Ranger, Mazda’s BT-50 hasn’t had the same level of love from either the factory or the buying public over recent years. But it’s still worthy of a look in.
Like the Isuzu, a new BT-50 is reportedly on the horizon. That means current iterations of the double-cab ute are likely to represent good value as they get run out the door. Mazda is including $6000 free extra kit on each BT-50 sold, as part of its Fieldays festivities. As it stands, pricing starts at $35,295 (2WD GLX) going up to $59,795 (4WD Limited).
The BT-50 comes with a five-cylinder turbo-diesel making 147kW/470Nm. That is undoubtedly one of its strong points — knocking on the door of the most powerful in the class.
Click here for our full Mazda BT-50 road test
3. LDV T60
Toys and specs, specs and toys.
If there’s one thing the LDV T60 is known for, it’s having shed-loads of standard equipment. A 10in infotainment screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a tub liner, parking sensors and a reverse camera are all standard from base. Opt for the Luxury model, and you get heated front seats, lane departure warning, cushier suspension and more.
A five-star ANCAP safety rating is another plus, but the biggest is price. The entry-level 4WD double-cab starts at just $34,488, with the Luxury at $39,088.
The engine is one of the few gripes, with a middling 110kW/360Nm and 3-tonne of towing capability. Our advice? Skip the Luxury (that suspension tune needs work) and go with the base.
Click here for our full LDV T60 road test
4. Mahindra Pik Up
While most of the utes on this list are made to the same template (and in some cases, on the same platform) as the mainstream models, the Mahinda Pik Up goes about things differently.
Its looks will divide, but the weird shapes and odd proportions are oddly endearing in person. Slap a snorkel, black wheels, and a bull-bar on, and it almost looks tough. Think of the Indian-made Pik Up as the ute equivalent of the Suzuki Jimny. Agonisingly simple, and all the better for it.
All models come with a 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel that produces 103kW/320Nm. On the flipside the Aisin-sourced six-speed manual is one of the sweetest in class, and the supplied Grabber tyres help make it a capable off-roader. Pricing starts at $25,990, with the top spec double-cab just $33,990.
Click here for our full Mahindra Pik Up road test
5. SsangYong Rhino
Like the Pik Up, the SsangYong Rhino (all new for 2019) does things differently. Built on the same platform as its Rexton SUV cousin, it has an enormous and surprisingly plush cabin with an excellent second row of seats. Those wanting a ute that can double as a family wagon should keep the Rhino front of mind.
A large cabin would normally mean a small bed, and this is true for most standard Rhinos. However SsangYong has also produced a long-bed variant called the XL — meaning that the Rhino has the honour of having the shortest bed (1300mm) and longest bed (1610mm) in class.
Power and handling are adequate, with the 2.2-litre turbo-diesel good for 133kW/420Nm and the 2-litre turbocharged petrol 166kW/350Nm. Pricing starts at $29,880, while the top-spec SPR XL is $52,313.
Click here for our full SsangYong Rhino road test
6. Mercedes-Benz X-Class
The three-pointed star’s ute contribution might look like an odd-fellow in this company, but there’s no denying that it has endured a slow start.
Pricing starts at $54,200 for the 130kW/403Nm 2WD X220d Pure, with the 4WD X250d 140kW/450Nm Power bookending the lineup at $69,000.
Based on the same platform as the Nissan Navara, the X-Class works hard to look and feel like a true Mercedes. The cabin is a cut above anything else in the class (perhaps apart from the Volkswagen Amarok), and its appearance turns heads.
Although admittedly, some of those heads turn in a “wait, Mercedes makes a ute?” kind of way.
Click here for our full Mercedes-Benz X-Class road test