The Ford Ranger has secured the Wheels Best Ute of 2023 accolade, continuing its fine form since winning our dual-cab megatest last year.
Such is the irregularity of all-new models in the dual-cab segment, there were limited challenges in 2023 to the Ford's crown.
Toyota delivered a new variant – the latest HiLux Rogue with a significantly altered chassis and suspension that improves on-road performance. That was followed by a GR Sport flagship that is so fresh that our first review of it published the same day as our Best Utes content.
But while the HiLux platform remains strong and dependable, the Toyota – around since 2015 in this generation – is simply getting too long in the tooth to keep up with the latest offerings.
Similarly, we've seen a new flagship model from Mitsubishi with the Triton Xtreme, while local engineering firm Premcar created a more affordable version of its Navara Pro4X Warrior for Nissan.
Which all led to just a single, all-new ute that had a realistic chance of establishing a new benchmark - or at least matching it.
The second-generation Volkswagen Amarok arrived this year with great expectations – as a vehicle sharing its platform and powertrains with the Ford.
While the Amarok alone offers a 2.3-litre turbo petrol that's highly distinctive in the market (if only in the flagship Aventura), it otherwise shares 2.0-litre four-cylinder and 3.0-litre V6 diesel engines with the Ranger.
And it's the bigger engine with 10-speed auto transmission combo that – in terms of performance, towing, and refinement – is a world ahead of the four-cylinder diesels found elsewhere in the class.
Another advantage these two leading utes have over their competition is the transfer case that offers full-time four-wheel drive as well as 2WD, and 4x4 high and low range. Full-time 4WD allows you to drive with all four wheels powered on any road surface which is something you can do in a part-time, locked 4x4 setting. It is a benefit when traveling on roads that vary from sealed to gravel and in wet conditions where traction is limited.
Only the Mitsubishi Triton on some of its higher specification models offers the full-time 4WD function. There are differences on road (and off), however.
The Ford Ranger generally has a superior ride on both the bitumen and the rough stuff.
VW has equipped its higher-grade Amaroks, including the PanAmericana and Aventura, with a 'Dynamic' suspension set-up. The calibration is extra-firm, resulting in a less comfortable ride on both gravel and poor quality sealed roads where more exaggerated head toss was evident.
The Aventura – ironically considering its bigger, 21-inch wheels – rides more plushly than the 18-inch-wheeled PanAmericana, and, while not perfect on poorer surfaces, wins a rare comfort victory over the equivalent Ranger, the (20-inch-wheeled) Platinum.
Both the US-brand and German-brand utes deliver the most compentent and stable handling in the class, but our testers prefer the Ranger's steering for its extra weighting and connection.
Volkswagen went to great lengths to differentiate the Amarok from the Ranger and give it its own character and feel and there are differences in the model specification and levels of equipment.
Although there are inevitable commonalities inside the respective utes, the Amarok uses softer touch points on the window sills, dash and steering wheel on more models, which give them a more premium feel inside. VW also employs the larger available 12-inch infotainment touchscreen in more models than the Ranger line-up.
However, the Ford's ergonomics are notably better.
Where VW chose to move the cabin temperature and auto stop-start buttons to within the Amarok's touchscreen, the Ranger employs physical temperature dials and separate console buttons for a more intuitive and less distracting approach.
And for an exterior advantage, one small but practical design element that falls in the favour of the Ranger is the little step on the rear corners of the cargo beg to make stepping up to load the ute easier.
Our 2023 Best Utes comparison series reveals there are other utes to consider depending on your needs.
The Mitsubishi Triton GLX+ gets our nod in the Under $50K category where neither dual-cab Rangers or Amaroks play, while the Isuzu D-Max is tops for value and the Toyota HiLux SR5 is our pick for family-focused duties.
Although the Amarok Life pipped the Ranger XLS in our Under $60K battle, the Volkswagen ute has been edged out by the equivalent Ranger more often than not in our comparison tests this year.
It's no coincidence the Ford Ranger scores more category wins – four – than any other ute.
The Raptor performance variant is virtually a default winner owing to a lack of worthy direct competitors, yet the Ranger flagship also contributes to a line-up that is unrivalled for its breadth of choice and capability.