Utes and SUV's Australia's most popular cars

Published: 10 August 2017


We’re gloating to our friends by parroting at the Pub; “I haven’t filled up my tank in weeks,” before hopelessly trying to reinforce the image of our masculinity by following it up with “I use more petrol in my motorbike.”

Sound familiar? The year is 2002, and here is the well hidden secret from back then that we never uttered out loud.

Everyone hates small cars.

Really, they're rubbish. Cramped and dull for the driver, full of small, flimsy plastic fittings including their tiny go-kart steering wheels. The only mate you can ever give a lift is one with at least some skills as a contortionist, and the second your life gets more complicated by having a partner, dog, or even a pet goldfish, it’s suddenly too small and has to be replaced. 

That’s because everything we’ve ever been told is a lie. In the real world ‘bigger is always best’ and ‘size really does matter’.

Sure they served their purpose back in the days when global fuel prices went bonkers and large cars were so environmentally poisonous they could only make it to the end of your driveway before the fuel light came on. In that period we all went rushing out to buy tiny clown cars. The smaller the better. Now thankfully, after nearly two decades struggling to squeeze into cars tiny enough for a toddler to play with in a sandpit, order is finally being restored in the automotive universe. 


Just like bleached tips, roller blades and wearing your cargos down below your underpants… How did we ever think this was a good idea?  

Today an unprecedented two large utility vehicles, the Toyota Hilux and Ford Ranger, are the two best selling cars in the country this year. A list that just a few short years ago was exclusively filled with compact cars, is now dominated by the two biggest ‘light trucks’ available.

The shift towards bigger cars is also shown in the booming SUV market. Since February this year, SUV's have overtaken the passenger segment for the biggest percentage of car sales, which according to the NRMA’s Peter Khoury is a sign of the changing tastes of motorists.

“We are not surprised by this. Particular among younger motorists. Utes and SUV’s have become safer, which was a major issue and they have become more fuel efficient.”

This is because advances in technology mean the size of your car no longer dictates how much petrol you use. There’s now 7 seater SUV’s and two tonne trucks on the market that are as fuel efficient as a 4-cylinder hatchback. Especially the diesel trucks, which seem to go on forever. So if you’re giving up nothing by having a big comfortable car, it’s a no-brainer.

The Hilux is the country’s best seller… However, it’s debatable that the Ford Ranger is the first vehicle in its class that truly lives up to its name as a ‘utility vehicle’. With the ‘party up the front’ and ‘business down the back’ Ford has finally answered the famed letter sent to the company in 1932 by an Aussie farmer’s wife, wanting the blue oval to build a “vehicle that can go to Church on Sunday and carry the pigs to market on Monday”.

It’s just taken them 85 years to get around to it.

This is because modern design now allows it to have everything you need. Take a seat inside the Ranger four-door dual cab, and you’ll be forgiven for thinking you are in a comfortable SUV. It’s equipped with sat-nav and reversing camera, all in the famed Ford SYNC 3 system that packs controls in an 8” inch touchscreen, which is compatible with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. 


Inside the Ranger Wildtrak. Once you would be lucky if your Ute came with a radio. Now, they’re decked out with every extra and mod-con you’d find in fully fledged passenger vehicles. 

It also combines work and play, as a genuine off-roader, with on-the-fly switchable four-wheel drive, its Hill Descent Control, as well as its benchmark towing and payload capabilities, useful for hauling loads or towing a caravan. 

While Dual Cab Utes have been available on the market in Australia since the 1980’s, according to the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, it’s taken an incredible leap in the advancement in technology to see them become the nation’s most popular cars as they are now.

“Technology has always played a role in shaping the dynamic of the new vehicle market. What is becoming common now is that light commercials have passenger car-like attributes (with correspondingly higher levels of comfort, safety, and technology). The bonus with the light commercial ute is the towing capacity and the cargo tub, which for many consumers adds to the vehicle versatility and appeal,” an FCAI Spokesperson said.


The back seats in modern Dual Cabs which were once a cramped after thought, are now comfortable, intelligently designed sections that hold their own against any passenger vehicle

The Ranger also includes a full safety suite of airbags as well as Adaptive Cruise Control, Forward Collision Warning and Lane Keeping Aid technology that was unheard of on a passenger car, yet alone a pick-up a decade ago. And it is the first vehicle of its kind to receive a five-star ANCAP rating.

In this area of the market, the other limitation previously holding back bigger cars, was that they were so difficult to drive. They were big, slow, and handled like a Woolworths shopping trolley. However, with the new Ranger, you feel as control of two tonnes of vehicle as you would in the most manageable hatchback. This is because the reverse camera and parking sensors around the vehicle make it easy to get into the tightest of spaces and through traffic.

Just ten years ago, the idea of driving a giant dual cab was daunting for some, however the technology has levelled the playing field, making it as simple as driving a sedan, perhaps even easier because of the height factor.

This was a priority in construction according to Ford’s Damon Smy, saying in designing the Ranger, it was all about making it multi-functional so that owners no longer had to buy a family car, and a separate work truck.

“The unique combination of off-the-beaten track, work capability combined with the space and comfort to take the family on a weekend getaway is what has made the Ranger an Australian favourite.”

And the numbers don’t lie. The Ranger has clearly outsold countless similar vehicles in its class.

When talking to the FCAI about the resurgence of “Big Cars” they say despite seeming big on our roads, they are still babies compared to their American cousins.

“The industry has always supported customer choice and while some vehicles sold in Australia are perceived as “big” by European standards, they are not by comparison to size of vehicles sold in the US, for example (where the biggest selling vehicle is the Ford F-Series truck). Larger vehicles provide more comfort and space for long distance driving (which is still common in Australia), accommodate larger families, and generally are superior tow vehicles.” 

That’s what makes it so well suited for Australian use, is the fact it was designed in Australia, for Australians.

star car

Ford Ranger, Australian Designed for use on Australian roads, small enough for cities, tough enough for the outback   

The Ranger, and it’s 7 seater SUV cousin the Everest, were dreamed up in Ford’s multi-billion-dollar design and research facilities in Victoria, which gives the company an ability to put an Aussie stamp on our vehicles, not just try to sell something created for a European, Asian, or American market, where conditions are totally different. Which is akin to jamming a square peg into a circle hole.