Second: Toyota HiLux SR5
Third: Holden Colorado LTZ
Ford Ranger won the inaugural 4x4 Dual Cab Ute award in 2013 and only on one occasion since then has it been defeated, and that was by Toyota HiLux last year.
But after a model refresh and some extra kit being added in 2016, Ranger is back on top with a comfortable win.
It excelled in all the things that these utes are bought for, such as being great towing vehicles as well as having a practical design that makes them easy to live with. And utes are becoming very civilised and car-like, with the inclusion of some luxury features.
The list of standard features in Ranger is the benchmark in this market. A rear-view camera and reversing sensors has become standard across most of the line-up, and the XLT also has front parking sensors as standard.
The update also saw the XLT receive Ford's new SYNC 3 in-vehicle communications and entertainment platform that has faster performance, more conversational voice recognition, smartphone-like touch-screen and an improved graphics interface. The new home screen on SYNC 3 hosts functions including the audio system, climate control and smartphone apps. The upgraded eight-inch screen with capacitive touch technology allows 'pinch and swipe' capability on selected features (similar to a smartphone or tablet), and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration includes the ability to access Apple Siri and Google Now. Ranger can also be used as a wi-fi hotspot.
Inside the cabin, Ranger was equal best in class for space, and outside tray space was equal to or better than any of the other contenders. The seating comfort was also equal best in class, and during the upgrade Ford put more sound deadening in the XLT. As such the cabin is relatively quieter but it's still not as good as the HiLux.
Even loaded with three judges in the cabin and half a tonne in the tray, Ranger easily lugged its way up a steep 4WD test track as the 470Nm delivered by the 3.2L 147kW 5cyl turbo-diesel powerplant was well and truly up to the task. Only the new Colorado did the climb better.
In fact the judges were impressed with how well all three finalists coped with the off-road testing and just how capable they were even when loaded. All had six-speed automatic transmissions to make the best use of the available torque.
Apart from safety and environment – which carry a mandatory weighting of 'critical' in every Australia's Best Cars category – the only criterion rated by buyers as critical in these utes is towing. And Ranger topped the list here, with a more-than-useful 3500kg rated towing capacity. Supported by trailer sway mitigation and tyre pressure monitoring, it will take some of the stress out of the task of towing. It is the only vehicle in the class to have a towbar as standard. Even without a trailer, the normal payload will cope with the workday needs of most tradies.
This class of 4X4 has come a long way over the years, and tradies who need a ute to help them earn a living but also want something to load the family into on weekends are now somewhat spoilt for choice, led by the impressive Ranger.