If there was ever a vehicle that typified the work hard / play hard lifestyle, it is the double-cab pick-up. Tough, practical and pretty cool, these rugged pickups are winning plenty of favour with buyers across the world. There are work pick-ups, you know, the single-cab, budget-focused models aimed at traders specifically and there are lifestyle pick-ups, those that cost the same as SUVs, that are more often seen with well dress individuals rather than a person with overalls. The focus on this month’s head-2-head are the Toyota Hilux, Ford Ranger and the Isuzu D-Max.
In 2011, the Ford Ranger raised the bar in terms of refinement and comfort in the pickup sector which left utilitarian workhorses like the legendary Toyota Hilux looking long in the tooth. The Isuzu D-Max on the other hand remained in its utilitarian workhorse life until 2013 when finally, Isuzu responded to the Ford Ranger onslaught. Fast forward the clock to 2017 and the Ranger is facing its toughest competition from the recently redesigned D-Max and Hilux. But which one is best?
The Hilux features the most unique design in all three pick-ups. At the front, a prominent grille with strong horizontal bars extends towards the wrap-around headlights, creating a powerful, unified look. Protruding, integrated fender flares add to the rugged appearance.
Viewed from the side, muscular wheel flares perfectly tie in with the strong virtual line which flows from the front, to the rear of the vehicle. The sloping rear side window and cabin silhouette form a visual parity with the slanted rear design. The slanted theme is further reinforced by the strong design line which harmoniously flows from the rear combination lamps to the side profile.
The D-Max’s design consists of a redesigned chrome grille and bonnet garnishes. The Projector style headlamps have paved way for new ones with integrated daytime running LED lights. The new projector styled lamps are standard on all high-end models for improved visibility.
The smooth flowing lines of the headlamp clusters provide a seamless transition from the front of the vehicle though to the side. The integrated fog lamps now feature a chrome surround, while the redesigned bottom air-intake gives the D-MAX an aggressive look. The bonnet, which lacks any projections of the intercooler or turbocharger intake, blends well with the D-MAX’s redesigned front grille and headlamps.
The Ranger on the other hand features a bold look compared to the Hilux and D-MAX. The front of the Ranger is defined by the muscular bonnet and trapezoidal grille. The integrated headlamps feature signature LED daytime running lights. At the lower half of the front end, an integrated bumper connects to the fog lamps. Large headlamps, big mirrors, and stamped-in wheel arches contribute to the Ranger’s stance.
The Hilux does indeed feature a more unique look which is better compared to the angular look of the D-MAX and the bold design theme for the Ranger. Choosing a winner here depends on which particular design appeals to you.
Size matters in this segment, but too much bulk is undesirable because it undermines a performance/efficiency as well as dynamic ability, let alone manoeuvrability in tight and congested urban areas. In terms of dimensions all three pick-ups stand about 18 hands high (from 1 815mm to 1 851mm) and they’re also quite similar in length, width and track, but the Ford has a 200 mm longer wheelbase compared with the others. The slightly heavier Ranger also has a slightly larger and deeper load box, but when it comes to payload it lags behind the Isuzu.
The Toyota Hilux has the smallest engine compared to the other two pick-ups; a 2.8-litre unit. Output for the engine is rated at 130 kW (174 hp) and 420 Nm of torque. This may only be 10 kW more than the trusty 3.0 D-4D, but the smaller, lighter power plant produces over 100 Nm more lugging power. The 2.8 litre GD engine strikes a formidable balance between power and economy, returning an impressive 8.5 litres per 100 kilometre figure. Paired with the engine is a six speed automatic transmission.
The Isuzu D-Max is equipped with a 3.0-litre D-TEQ power unit with 130 kW (174 hp) and 380 Nm of torque. The horsepower is at par with the one for the Hilux but torque is significantly less. Paired with the 3.0-litre D-TEQ power unit is a new 5-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission. The D-MAX consumes 7.9-litres per 100 km which is marginally less than the Hilux.
The Ranger features the largest engine of the three pick-ups: 3.2-liter Duratorq five-cylinder TDCi diesel engine. Power output is also higher compared to the D-MAX and Hilux at 147 kW (198 hp) and 470 Nm of torque. However, the bigger engine consumes 8.9 litres/100km which is the highest of the three pick-ups.
As expected, the Ranger performs better than the two rivals. However, the Hilux is surprisingly great thanks to the eagerness of their powertrain. The Power mode and well-timed snap-changes makes the Hilux the second best in terms of performance. the D-MAX’s 5-speed transmission tends to strain too much; making it difficult to drive smoothly. The 0 to 100 km times for Range is 10.9 seconds, 11.2 seconds for the Hilux and 12.3 seconds for the D-MAX.
The three pick-ups performance and style on (and off) road is important as well. Perhaps most significant of all is ride quality and comfort, as these vehicles will, besides long-distance trips, spend most of their time being used for the daily commute or doing family chores. Their workhorse origins dictate sturdy ladder-frame underpinnings, and all the pick-ups utilise a double-wishbone front suspension and leaf-spring type rear suspension.
The Hilux utilises an innovative pitch and bounce control system that in response to road conditions adjusts engine torque automatically to reduce body pitch and roll. The end result is a noticeable difference in the Toyota’s ride comfort when referenced against its predecessor’s hard, sometimes unforgiving, ride quality, and now measures up to that of the Ranger. The D-MAX is still firm, though, and slightly bouncier over rutted surfaces than its rivals.
Low levels of cabin and engine noise in the Ranger further contribute to its drive comfort; the slightly uneven rumble of its five-cylinder is barely audible at idle and well suppressed at highway speeds. The coarse clatter of the D-MAX’s sabotages any attempt at noise elimination in the supposedly rattle-free interior. Isuzu should consider improving the Noise, Vibration and Harshness (NVH) levels of the D-MAX in its next update.
However, it is the drastically improved NVH levels of the Hilux backing up its enhanced interior ambience and augmented by the new, smaller GD-motor’s smooth and quiet operation, which really stands out.
In terms of handling, there is not much difference between the contenders. They’re all competent and despite their size, quite nimble in the corners. The three pick-up’s steering assistance and input are accurate enough, but steering feel is still numb and remote. The Ford’s steering felt too light at slow speeds (due to over-assistance from its EPAS system), while on the D-MAX initial reaction to steering input was quite slow.
The Hilux steering was more responsive, with better-weighted systems whichever the speed one is driving at. All three pick-ups are also closely matched on safety; all of them endowed with a cluster of airbags and a compatible list of acronyms for systems such as ABS, ESP, EBD and more. And when it comes to braking, they all employ ventilated discs up front and drums at the rear.
Hilux has become an off-road legend in own right and in its latest incarnation, the Toyota, like the Ford and Isuzu, uses an electronic rotary dial to select two or four-wheel drive, replacing the “second gear lever” as used in the D-4D, that allows selection of 4WD High at speeds of up to 50 km/h (88 km/h for the Ranger, and 100 km/h for the D-MAX). The Hilux, as its rivals, has a rear electronic differential lock.
With superior approach, departure and break-over angles, as well as good ground clearances and wading depths the triplets can handle extreme terrain with ease. They’re also equipped with a number of electronic driver support systems to make light work of any task, including traction control, hill launch assist, hill descent control and adaptive load control. The Isuzu, however, lacks downhill assist control.
Still, the Ranger’s longer wheelbase and limited front wheel articulation (due to its heavier engine) can compromise it in extreme conditions. Its accelerator pedal was also too sensitive in low-range, making it difficult to modulate precisely.
The D-MAX and Hilux both showed impressive wheel articulation, further strengthening their off-road credentials, but judging by how they fared in our tests, all of our contestants will (when required) get you to some of the remotest destinations imaginable. And back. Confidently and safely.
The interior of a pick-up provides a discreet balance between form and function. Inside the D-MAX logically and intuitively placed are the controls for the pick-up. They are easy to reach and operate. The dashboard and centre console is sporty in appearance and functional in design. All switches and controls fall easily and naturally to hand for excellent ergonomics. Passive entry and start system (PESS) is a keyless entry with Start/Stop ignition button is standard on all high-end double cab models.
Heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning controls are accessible on the large diameter rotary type controls placed within easy reach of the driver. Above the rotary type control switches is new infotainment system with navigation, internet, WiFi, and smartphone integration. The 6.5-inch screen also acts as the display when browsing, or using the DVD player. The screen also displays video from the integrated reverse camera on the high-end D-MAX models.
The steering wheel features a three-spoke design with a soft grip covering and tilt adjustment. Behind the steering, are the redesigned instrument cluster with improved functionality and gear shift indicator for manual models. Multiple storage compartments add convenient and secure stowage for smaller items.
The D-MAX offers plenty of interior space for all occupants. The angle of the seats backrests further adds to the pick-up’s overall comfort especially during long journeys. On double cab models, the rear seats have a 60/40 split. The foldable rear seat can allow loading directly on the floor of the vehicle. Additional storage compartments are located in the floor area under the rear seats.
The interior design of the Hilux features a flowing metallic trim, which runs across the dashboard. A high-tech touch screen audio system seems to ‘float’ from the centre of the dash. When the unit is powered off, another party trick is revealed, as all illumination is suspended creating a tablet-type look and feel.
The driver instrumentation follows suit with higher grade models receiving a full colour 4.2-inch TFT multi-information display, with easy-to-read displays and powerful shapes, all adding to the advanced toughness theme. The driver is able to access a raft of information, at the touch of the four-way directional buttons mounted on steering wheel.
The steering wheel makes use of a strong horizontal spoke design and features rake and reach adjustability, as well as thumb rests and a thicker rim. Cool blue illumination flows throughout the cabin, from the easy-to-read instrument cluster to the air-conditioning control panel, audio system and switchgear illumination.
All Hilux models are fitted with tough and durable patterned black seat upholstery tailored to their usage. All three designs offer excellent durability without compromising on design and a sense of quality. Double cab models employ a 60:40 split ‘tip-up’ rear seat cushion for even greater flexibility, with a handy storage compartment recessed into the floor.
A cool feature (pardon the pun) is the Cool Box fitted to high-grade models. Taking the form of a second glove box, it cleverly uses the air-conditioner system to cool or heat items placed inside. A large centre console provides ample storage space as well as doubling up as an armrest. A 12-volt power outlet is standard across the range, with a second outlet forming part of the range topping model’s specification sheet.
The door pockets will comfortably stow 1 litre plastic bottles with a host of cup holders and convenience hooks, including a ‘ceiling hook’ located above the rear seats on double cabs and shopping hooks affixed to the rear of the front seat on Double cab high-grade models, being present throughout the cabin. A revised deck design has been adopted, which offers improved packaging with more usable space, increased re-enforcement and greater overall strength.
The Ranger’s interior features a new dual 4-inch TFT instrument cluster, giving the driver access to vehicle information, 4×4 data, entertainment, phone and climate control details via the multi-function steering wheel. Three passengers can easily fit into the second row of the Ranger. It offers ample knee clearance and better foot clearance between the B-pillar and the seat. That means getting in and out of the new Ranger has never been easier for rear-seat passengers.
Ample storage is provided throughout the interior cabin with up to 20 storage locations. Double Cab pockets in all four doors can easily fit water bottles and, on selected models, a deep centre console keeps beverages cool. The glove box is large enough to accommodate a laptop computer. Storage for mobile phones and other small items can be found in the console. Underneath the rear seats, a convenient hidden storage area for electronic items and small packages is provided, while on selected Ranger models, an armrest in the centre rear seatback fold includes two cup holders.
The D-MAX and Ranger offer plenty of space especially for the rear passengers. The Hilux shorter wheelbase offers less rear legroom compared to its two rivals. The headroom at the rear seats is limited as well, especially for taller passengers.
The D-MAX’s performance in our test shows that the game has moved on quickly in the past few years. However, with its sixth generation D-MAX has not upped its game enough to stay in the leisure pick-up race. Sure, the latest D-MAX is solid enough, but in current company it felt unrefined, unpolished and clumsy, nearly agronomic. A good workhorse perhaps, but not a leisure vehicle for a family. In most part it can be blamed on its older generation drivetrain.
The engine, while powerful enough, is coarse and loud, and our testers pondered the possibility of General Motors replacing it with the Duramax in the Trailblazer. The outdated five-speed gearbox also doesn’t help the D-MAX. Only die-hard Isuzu fans or someone looking for a comfortable work-minded pick-up with added amenities will consider this model.
The Hilux demonstrates major improvements over the previous model in all aspects. It’s more comfortable, much more refined, more dynamic and efficient, safer, has more features, and yes, it’s still tough. What this means is that current Hilux-owners won’t even consider anything else; they’re going to replace their current Hilux with the new versions. However, for the more discerning buyer, someone who’s looking for an upgrade or those who want to move into the leisure market the final result won’t be as clear-cut.
The top Ranger models, when launched locally, set a new benchmark in the leisure pick-up market, and with the latest upgrade, Ford has moved the bar up another notch. The new Hilux has narrowed the gap substantially, but when it comes to a leisure application the Ranger still has the edge. It still holds a slight space advantage, particularly when it comes to rear passengers, it has a slightly better ride quality on a wider variety of surfaces. In conclusion then, we feel that the Ranger continues to present the best leisure double cab product on the market, if only by a nose. It is quite an achievement, given the latest Hilux’s long gestation period.
General Motors East Africa are the franchise holders for Isuzu. Their showroom is located along Mombasa road in the outskirts of Nairobi City and across the country. The Ford brand in Kenya is under the able hands of CMC Motor Group, a subsidiary of Al-Futtaim Automotive Group. Visit Toyota Kenya, located along Uhuru Highway, for more information about the Hilux.
Quote: With superior approach, departure and break-over angles, as well as good ground clearances and wading depths the triplets can handle extreme terrain with ease.
What we like
- Spacious interior
- Smooth ride
- Powerful engine
What we dislike
- Heavier compared to the two
- Small loading bay
- Plastic bits in the interior
What we like
- Refined engines
- Upmarket interior
- Off-road prowess
What we dislike
- Cramped rear seats
- Not as economical as rivals
- Limited headroom
What we like
- Spacious load bay
- Spacious interior
- Off-road prowess
What we dislike
- Noisy interior
- Jittery ride when off-road
- Sluggish transmission
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