Feature article

Best utes of 2023 and 2024

Picking the best ute in NZ is tough. We've pulled some info together to help you with your decision.

Last updated: 13 February 2024

There is a lot of brand loyalty out there, owners firmly entrenched in their camps and one eyed when it comes to these things. If sales are anything to go by, it’s the Ford Ranger, NZ’s best selling vehicle now for the past eight years. And then there’s the Toyota Hilux, the next best selling vehicle. So clearly there are two top dogs, and we’d have to agree that these two represent the best options for buyers. Both Ford and Toyota have a big range, with many different variants for all sorts of buyers from those that do the work to those that give the work orders. Other utes like Navara, D-Max and BT-50 fall into the also ran category, being either older, or just outclassed. And Ford and Toyota are constantly updating their utes and introducing new variants to keep the battle interesting. The only other ute that comes close is the VW Amarok, a mechanical twin of the Ford Ranger. Mitsubishi has a new Triton coming along soon that could be interesting, but here are our picks of the Hilux, Ranger and Amarok ranges.

Ford Ranger XLT - as much truck as you’ll ever need

The Ranger XLT is the back bone of the Ford range, and in 4x4 double cab guise, is all the truck you’ll ever need. This has a retail price of $67,490 but is $10k cheaper if you only need 2WD. It has a bi-turbo four cylinder that’s not lacking in pull with 500Nm of torque to go with the 154kW. It’s rather refined for a ute donk, and has a good mate in the 10-speed auto behind it. As for diesel consumption, expect something around the 10L/100km mark. 

Ford Ranger XLT

The Ranger’s a good thing to turn through the bends; it’s stable, the roll is well controlled and it rides the lumps.

The cabin has more of an SUV feel to it than a utilitarian pick-up. The dash is dominated by the large centre screen and the XLT is smartly specified with items like a smart key, LED lights and all the safety gear. This includes nine airbags, active cruise with stop and go, lane centring, evasive steering assist, reverse brake assist, and blind spot monitoring.

Rear accommodation remains adequate, two adults fitting comfortably, with enough leg and head room and there are Isofix points for car seats.

It has a decent 900kg payload and a 3.5 tonne tow rating. Getting things out of the back is made easier with the bed step, while a tray liner is standard, as is the tow bar.

Read our Ranger XLT and Wildtrak V6 comparison here

Best boss ute 2023 Volkswagen Amarok PanAmericana

The Amarok range isn’t as varied as the Ranger’s, focusing on higher grade models such the PanAmericana, which gets V6 power and spec aplenty. The PanAmericana (PA for short) has an off road focus to its character, with 18-inch alloys wrapped in all-terrain rubber and less chrome and more black bits. While it shares mechanicals with Ford, the VW’s styling is unique, with minimal exterior body parts shared and a VW-specific interior.

VW Amarok PanAmericana

The PA gets a 3.0-litre V6 diesel with 184kW and 600Nm on from 1750-2250rpm and a ten-gear auto. There’s always enough torque on tap from the V6 and the auto is smooth. It’s all rather quiet too, for a ute, with minimal road and wind noise, the engine refined and hushed. The stated fuel use is 9.6L/100km while we saw 11 on test.

The new Amarok now gets switchable four-wheel drive with 2H and 4H settings, a variable AWD mode, and a genuine low range. A rear diff lock is standard as are various terrain modes for the traction control system to keep it trucking along.

VW Amarok PanAmericana

The PA gains a ‘comfort suspension’ tune and with the generous sidewalls of the 18-inch rubber, the unladen ride is fairly settled at all speeds, the jiggling kept to a minimum.

The cabin is quite flash for a ute with special leather work and comfy seats. It has a big touchscreen with nav included and while there is a wireless charger there’s no CarPlay or Android Auto. Old Amarok owners will like the added back seat space in the new model.

Amarok comes with a tow bar fitted at the factory, all models with the mandatory 3500kg braked rating. The deck gets a spray-in liner, has 1.2m of load width between the arches, and is 1.6m long, payload rated at 967kg.

VW Amarok PanAmericana

Amarok has always had a higher price point in the market, the PanAmericana costing a lofty $88,000. But at least buyers no longer have to pay the ute fees in 2024, which used to add $6555 to the price.

Read the full PanAmericana review here

Toyota Hilux SR5 Cruiser - a top spec ute

For those that just can’t do the Ford, the Hilux SR5 will do the job. The SR5 ranges in price from $48,390 (good value but not as well specified as its Ranger equivalent) up to $63,390 for the SR5 Cruiser. Toyota runs a no-haggling, on-the-road pricing system too and offers fixed price servicing.

Toyota Hilux SR5

The Hilux rolls with a 2.8-litre four cylinder diesel, outputting 150kW and 500Nm of torque. While it has a six-speed auto, the Hilux has a strong midrange and pulls its ratios well. Consumption figures for the SR5 Cruiser read 9.5L/100km (10.9L100km during our testing). It has the usual switchable 4×4 set-up with 2- and 4-Hi, a low-range transfer case, rear diff lock and electronic hill descent control.

The ‘widetrack’ SR5 Cruiser gains suspension changes that are said to bring about both increased on- and off-road capability and stability. The Hilux can jiggle over the bumps, but otherwise it drives competently.

Toyota Hilux SR5

Hilux shows its age in the cabin, still with analogue dials while the touchscreen is rather small but is CarPlay and Android Auto equipped. There are only a few convenience features, and nothing special like a chargepad but it comes with enough active safety gizmos to keep you out of trouble.

There’s okay room in the rear of the cab, not segment leading, though the tray dimensions are good and it’ll tow 3500kg.

The main problem with the Hilux is supply, it can fluctuate and some models can be hit with long wait times for delivery.

Click here for our Hilux vs Ranger comparison test


Kyle Cassidy
Kyle Cassidy
Editor NZ Autocar magazine - autocar.co.nz

Kyle has been reviewing cars since starting at NZ Autocar magazine in 2003 and has been editor since 2009. In that time he’s become an expert on what makes for a good vehicle while also gaining insights into the local automotive industry.