While it would be nice to have one of the flashiest, highest-spec new utes in the garage, they're not always within a buyer's budget.
We've covered the cheapest end of the dual-cab segment with our Best Ute Under $50K category, but what are the leading options in the midway $50K-$60K bracket?
Fully laden flagship models from challenger brands such as GWM, LDV and SsangYong have yet to climb above the $50,000 RRP mark (so we don't include here GWM's XSR that is $52,990 drive-away with on-road charges added).
Fortunately, there's no shortage of good offerings from the more established brands in the segment. There are both LS-M and LS-U variants of the Isuzu D-Max in the mix, the closely related Mazda BT-50 has the XTR mid-range model, and Nissan has the Pro-4X Navara.
You'll also find SR versions of the Toyota HiLux in this bracket, though Toyota's perennially popular dual-cab doesn't get serious with a good list of standard features until the SR5 which just creeps over $60,000.
While the models above can be worth checking out, it's the two newest models on the market that reign supreme: the Ford Ranger and Volkswagen Amarok.
The two models were co-developed and share a lot of their core engineering. They're also closely matched when it comes to price.
Both models are 4x4 dual-cabs powered by the same 154kW/500Nm bi-turbo 2.0-litre diesel engine.
An Amarok Core costs $52,990 but comes with a single-turbo diesel with lower outputs – 125kW and 405Nm – and fewer features.
You can also option the bi-turbo engine in the cheaper Ranger XL but the XLS gets you lighter alloy wheels for a more premium look and the interior has better finishes including carpeted floors.
They both deliver unrivalled levels of safety, refinement and performance at this price point.
|2023 Ford Ranger and Volkswagen Amarok standard features|
|Nine airbags, including rear curtain bags||Lane assist, lane keeping and lane departure warning|
|AEB with pedestrian & cyclist detection||Swerve steer assist|
|Dynamic stability control||Rear cross traffic alert|
|Electronic traction control||Speed sign recognition|
|ABS with emergeny brake assist||Hill descent control|
|Rollover mitigation||Front and rear parking sensors|
|Trailer sway control|
The key point to both of these utes is that although they're lower-specification models, they don’t feel like it when you slip inside and drive or ride in them.
They also share contemporary cabins that include 10-inch infotainment touchscreens and standard air-conditioning.
The Amarok Life, however, more than justifies its slightly higher price tag when standard-gear lists are compared.
Exterior advantages for the Volkswagen include 17-inch alloy wheels vs the Ranger's 16s, LED headlights and fog lights where the Ford uses halogens, and only the Amarok has rear privacy glass. One plus for the Ford is that it has front parking sensors not just rear sensors.
Inside, the Ranger XLS can't match the Amarok Life's leather-covered steering wheel and gear lever, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, and wireless phone charging. Tyre-pressure monitoring is also only available on the German (South African-built) ute.
LED headlights offer a huge improvement to driveability and safety at night, and having them in a ute at this level is a credit to Volkswagen. In fact, they are standard fit right across the new Amarok range.
As for tyre pressures, unless you are one of those rare folk who check at least weekly, we say a TPMS system is essential equipment. As the name suggests, they alert the driver to a drop in tyre pressure or sudden deflation, which could save your life by ensuring the optimal operation of the vehicle's driver assistance safety systems.
In XLS trim, the Ranger struggles against the Amarok Life for equipment.
The new Ranger and Amarok siblings are very similar vehicles, as you would expect, and they each represent the latest generation of mid-size utes in Australia.
It's no shock that they're not easy to separate.
The Ranger is at its best above $60,000, from XLT spec upwards, and (narrowly) wins most battles against the equivalent Amarok at higher trim levels. In XLS trim, however, it struggles against the Amarok Life for equipment.
This is no better illustrated by the fact that, to match all the Life's features in the Ranger, you'd even need to bypass the XLT model for the Sport that's priced from $64,990.
When those features include genuinely useful driver aids like LED headlights and tyre-pressure monitoring, and modern conveniences such as wireless phone charging, that makes the Volkswagen Amarok Life the clear winner of our Best Ute Under $60K category
|VW Amarok Life||Ford Ranger XLS|
|Safety, value and features||8||7|
|Comfort and space||8.5||8|
|Engine and gearbox||8.5||8.5|
|Ride and handling||8||8|
|Ford Ranger XLS||Volkswagen Amarok Life|
|Price||$59,653 (estimated driveaway price)||$56,990 + ORC and options|
|Engine||2.0L four-cylinder twin-turbo diesel||2.0L 4-cylinder bi-turbo diesel|
|Max power||154kW @ 3750rpm||154kW|
|Max torque||500Nm between 1750-2000rpm||500Nm|
|Transmission||10-Speed automatic||10-speed automatic|
|4X4 system||Part time 4x4||part-time, dual range 4x4 + rear diff lock|
|Construction||four-door ute on ladder frame||4-door ute cab with tub on ladder chassis|
|Front suspension||Independent via wishbones and coil springs||double wishbone IFS with coils|
|Rear suspension||Solid axle with leaf springs||live axle on leaf springs|
|Tyres||255x70R16||255/70-17 on alloys|
|Kerb weight||2216kg||2242kg tare|
|Towing capacity||3500kg||3500kg (braked)|
|ADR fuel claim||7.6L/100km||7.2L/100km|