The main aim of this article is to provide further guidance in choosing between a multipurpose, everyday ute OR a purpose-built ute that is specifically designed to take on hard off-roads continuously for a good number of years.
Before you decide on a ute, you have to ask yourself these questions:
- Do you need a multipurpose everyday driver setup for short camping trips?
- Or do you need an expedition vehicle that can handle the rigors of off-roading day-in day out?
It’s important to delineate between these two questions because the resulting ute choice is vastly different.
I know in an ideal world, we would have one ute for both scenarios, but in reality, each scenario means making compromises to the other.
In this article, we want to convey that in-part, choosing a ute is very much about what you intend to use it for.
Like the old saying goes: “Horses for Courses”. A Clydesdale horse does not have the stamina it takes to run a Melbourne cup. Similarly, a thoroughbred horse will not be able to plough a cornfield either day in and day out.
This is what horses for courses mean – different utes are built for different purposes.
Utes are built in a variety of ways and can be used in different use cases. Whether for everyday driving, camping, or transporting heavy loads – identifying what you will use the vehicle for the long term can help you pick which vehicle to go for.
Do they want a purpose-built vehicle that might not be as comfortable as a multipurpose vehicle but will theoretically last longer in severe off-road conditions?
Let’s find out.
Purpose-built utes, as the name suggests, are built for one reason only – hard work. It is built to carry heavy weights off-road, to go on long expedition trips, and to travel in and out of rough terrain without too many hassles.
Purpose-built vehicles usually have thicker driveshafts, stronger or even stiffer chassis, and more rugged running gear. This way, it can handle off-road terrains and weights better.
Because of this, purpose-built vehicles may not be suited for everyone, mostly in terms of the out-of-box features it provides. They lack the more luxury and comfort features commonly found on lighter alternatives (e.g a nice high-tech dashboard and seat warmers).
In times past, there were other purpose-built utes like the older models of the Nissan Patrol, Landrover Defender 130 and the Mercedes G Professional. However, currently the Toyota Land Cruiser 79 Series* (both in dual cab or a single cab) stands alone in this category.
The Ineos Grenadier will be coming in later this year (wagon first, dual cab ute shortly after [fingers crossed for an extra and/or single cab model after that]). And it will be the second one in as many as eight years in that category.
* Note: While the 79 series Landcruiser is the only purpose-built vehicle that you can buy new on the market. Just keep in mind that Toyota aren’t actually taking orders, all orders have been put on hold for the supply chain to catch up as of writing this article in October 2022. Check with your local dealer to find out more.
On the other hand, a Multipurpose ute is more well-rounded in terms of the purpose/s it was built for. It is a general-purpose vehicle that can serve as an everyday driver. They have off-road capabilities that they can go and have fun with but that they can also use at home to go get groceries, to go to church, to go pick up grandma at the airport – these are usually mid-range four wheel drives.
Whereas the chassis in purpose-built ute is a bit on the stronger and stiffer side, a multipurpose vehicle would have a bit more flex in it to allow for comfort in order to cater to a larger sales demographic.
There isn’t one in the mid-range four wheel drive category that is purpose-built. That means that popular utes including Toyota Hilux, the Ford Ranger, the Mazda BT-50, Isuzu DMAX, and so forth are all multipurpose vehicles.
Which type of Ute to get?
So now, how do you choose which one would suit you, do you want a Clydesdale or do you want a Thoroughbred?
The main thing to consider is how you will use the vehicle, say in the next 15- 20 years.
Not everyone can afford to use a ute for 12 months, wreck it and then buy a new one.
Using Toyota’s range of vehicles as an example, the Toyota Hilux is a multipurpose vehicle. Meaning Toyota built it to cover a wider base of clientele or use cases.
For example, a mom wants to take the kids to their soccer game but does not want to have the stinky boots and soccer ball inside the vehicle. They want the tray, a canopy, or a tub to just throw all that stinky stuff in and scoot around town.
But then she can also use the vehicle for a fun weekend family trip to Noosa North Shore for some beach driving, a quick errand drive to Brisbane, or maybe a tag-along adventure tour to the Lamington National Park. For these purposes, a mid-range multipurpose vehicle will be your best bet.
But what if you wanted to explore the sort of places like the Simpson Desert? Or the Gibb River Road? A multipurpose can still certainly do it, but it will need appropriate upgrades to take on these terrains especially if you are carrying or towing extra weight other than the base vehicle and the passengers.
This is where purpose-built utes shine. They are built tough from the factory floor and can take on challenging off-road conditions more easily. Plus, they can carry heavy loads better.
On weekdays, it can take you from hard work on the farm – carrying firewood on the back, cattle, crates, etc. On weekends, you can pair it with a Trayon slide-on camper and ensure you have everything you need to to go explore that camp spot you heard about from ‘ol mate’. Then it can take you just as easily on a whirlwind adventure through the treacherous Gunbarrel Highway on that major trip you have been looking forward to all year.
As previously mentioned, the 79 Series is currently the only purpose-built ute in Australia. It’s made for hard work. With this Toyota, you can easily do 3-5 major trips per year if you drive to your conditions and ensure the vehicle is properly and well maintained… remember; even the mighty 79 series is not immune to abuse.
But is it perfect? No… it is stuburnely lacking in other areas.
Sure – these days it has air conditioning and some optional extras here and there. But it is built with an annoying offset wheel track, adding another gear from 5 to six-speed in the gearbox would have been great. Oh and some more “horses” out of the V8 would have been nice too. Recently they added a second cup holder which is a nice touch but a it would have been nicer to have a 6 speed auto gearbox option…. We can go on and on if we look hard enough.
But it serves its purpose really well, it is still “king of the Aussie bush” for a reason, the bush should not be underestimated! And with the right accessories and upgrades – this can be the most versatile and trusty vehicle one can get currently for the purpose of hard yakka year in and year out.
Again, identifying your realistic use case for the vehicle is the key.
Purpose-built vehicles through the years
In the past, driving a brand new 1990 Toyota Hilux off the showroom floor would shake the living daylights out of anyone. The Hilux back then wasn’t built for comfort. It was rough and heavy duty. The target market for these vehicles is very niche and people were buying them for a specific purpose – like farmers and/or people who want to travel.
In an effort to appeal to a wider audience, car manufacturers slowly adjusted the features – they scaled back on the suspension, added less rigid chassis and gave it all the mod cons including Bluetooth connectivity, automatic headlights, adaptive cruise control, rain sensing wipers and all kinds of bits and pieces that made them more appealing to the general public rather than just tradies and farmers.
Now, everyone from the office workers and even soccer moms would get a Hilux that they can use not only as an everyday driver, but also for when they decide to go for a bit of off-road fun.
However, just because you bought a four-wheel drive doesn’t mean it’s off-road worthy just yet. That’s why aftermarket third-party companies like ARB and JMacx can provide the necessary upgrades.
Big vehicles like large trucks or vans are also worthy options as purpose-built alternatives. However, they become slightly impractical when you consider using your vehicle for everyday driving tasks like going to the grocery store due to their sear size and the impact of a vehicle configured for commercial use. It is a different breed all together to what we are talking about in this article.
This is why both the Grenadier and the 79 Series are great choices, as they can easily be your everyday driver but also take on the tuff stuff as well as help carry your trade tools or even take the kids to soccer practice.
The new Ineos Grenadier will follow a very similar thoroughbred as the 79 Series. It will be exciting to see how the ute version of this model performs as a purpose-built vehicle. The new Grenadier should easily handle off road terrains while carrying or towing weigh better better than most other vehicle even outside of its category – being that they are built to a higher standard in the way of their purpose, there are some proper ‘Clydesdale’ genetics to be found all though its DNA from the ground up.
We will definitely check out the new Grenadier and we look forward to its launch. Hopefully, it comes out swinging because we desperately need it to add some diversity in the Australian market for purpose-built vehicles.
Wear and tear
Driving through off-road terrains regularly and over a long period of time can greatly affect your vehicle’s lifespan. The definition of ‘off-road terrain’ here is anything that is not “on-road” ie: not on the blacktop. From a dirt road to a beach highway to a washed out old creek bed. It’s not an exact science kind of thing – It’s just to give you an idea of what to consider regarding the longevity of your vehicle.
So if you are driving through hundreds of kilometres of severely corrugated road where your vehicle bounces, shakes and rattles then logic would dictate that you are wearing out its components faster than what hundreds of kilometers on the Bruce Highway would do. Your vehicle’s main components including the suspension, chassis, rims, engine, brakes, and metal – get an extreme workout.
A basic rule of thumb is that for every kilometre you do in off-road terrain; it is effectively two kilometres worth of on-road driving. What that means is you are wearing the vehicle out twice as fast in off-road terrain as to what it would be if it is just driving on the highway to the Trayon Factory on the Sunshine Coast, QLD.
This is a very crucial point when it comes to choosing horses for courses.
If at this point, you are leaning towards getting a ‘horse’ to take on any kind of off-road work then you may want to consider getting appropriate upgrades that can handle these off-road terrain stresses and mitigate weights properly to ensure both your safety and your ute’s longevity.
These recommended upgrades can help equip your vehicle to take on unforgiving off-road terrains such as the Canning Stock Route. Note that while these are applicable for both the purpose-built and multi-purpose utes – the latter can benefit more from getting these upgrades.
These upgrades can help set up your vehicle according to what you want it to do for you and get to where you want it to take you.
A well-equipped and upgraded multi-purpose ute can serve as an off-road capable vehicle for outdoor adventure but that can also be used at home to go get groceries, go to church and go pick up grandma at the airport.
A good idea would be to spend a bit of extra money on the shock absorbers as they help dampen the shock all the way through the vehicle. If you are planning to go on 1 or 2 major trips a year then suspension upgrades can help extend the vehicle’s lifespan for the purpose of what you’d want.
If you are carrying weight off-road – like a Trayon slide-on camper, it is very important to focus on your suspension.
The ARB BP-51 shock absorber range; while a bit on the pricey side – has a removed oil reservoir and offers great adjustability.
Leaf’s and/or Coil’s can also be very valuable as most of the multi-purpose its are designed these days to carry weight with the leaf flattened out, otherwise known as “dual-stage” leaf suspension. Conversely – by going to a constant load suspension, when you put weight on the ute; the rear leaf should still have a healthy parabola curve to it in order to mitigate the weight and to prevent your ute bottoming out on its bump-stops.
A bull bar is a metal frame attached to the front of a vehicle to help prevent damage in case of a collision with stray animals on Outback roads. It also helps fit other useful accessories and attachments such as spotlights, winch, UHF antenna, etc.
Some would say, “oh no, I’m not gonna travel at dusk or dawn so I won’t need a 65-kilogram steel bull bar hanging off the front of my vehicle!”
Unfortunately, this may not be a wise assumption to make. The likelihood of hitting a kangaroo while driving at high speed in the Outback can happen any time of the day. They tend to congregate on our roads for some reason.
An old joke is applicable here:
Steel bull bars can offer added protection for your radiator and other critical engine components. You do not want to get stuck in the middle of nowhere with a busted radiator.
Depending on the vehicle’s intended use, a good head unit can be a worthy upgrade. For example, the OEM Toyota head unit found in the 79 Series can be replaced with a with a bigger screen, more user-friendly interface and off-road maps capability and give you better rear vision when reversing.
- All Terrain tires – recommended with higher load ratings and stronger for off-road use
- Long range fuel tank – either a replacement tank that has a larger capacity or an auxiliary tank to compliment the OEM tank.
Repair and Maintenance
It is crucial to maintain your vehicle in good working order when you want to tackle an off-road adventure. The Outback is a sparse and unforgiving place and it is not to be underestimated. Success is reserved for those that are thoroughly prepared.
Regular servicing with a reputable and capable mechanic is a great way to make sure your vehicle will be ready for what you need it to do for you.
Being purpose-built – the 79 Series is more expensive than a mid-range ute even though it has less going for it in the way of mod cons and comforts. When you can still order them, it can cost about 30 grand more than the base Hilux model and some people cannot justify that in their head saying, “I get less for my money”.
But we also have to remember the purpose of these vehicles. It’s a Clydesdale, not a Thoroughbred. It’s built for hard work, not multipurpose use and it makes no illusions about that. So keep that in mind when you’re hunting for a ute.
At the moment, the mid-range multi-purpose utes will also have varying price tags. This is mostly due to the added features that come out of the box depending on the model. For instance – Ford Rangers were one of the first vehicles to come out as a C-Bus vehicle meaning they are completely networked.
Each component can speak to one another – the headlight to the taillight. The taillight to the steering wheel. The steering wheel to the rearview mirror. The rearview mirror is connected to the seat warmer. The seat warmer was connected to the adaptive cruise control, and so on. This is illustrative only but the bottom line it there is a computer chip controlling everything and if one thing fails it can possibly go into what’s called ‘limp-mode’.
These are of course all electronic features. Considerations should also be made for when these functions go awry when driving the vast Outback.
Lastly, these modern features will add to the overall cost of the vehicle.
So it is up to you to decide what you want to spend your hard-earned money on: the everyday creature comforts or the basic features needed for a safe and enjoyable adventure trip? Your course should determine the horse you buy.
So ‘horses for courses’ is effectively trying to get you to make a very strategic decision on which type of ute to get. Both are great options and as long as you know exactly what and how you are going to use the vehicle for, then you are pretty well covered.
Budget will definitely play a big factor in terms of the built-in features and recommended upgrades. Check out part 2 of our how to choose a ute series all about budget considerations.
So, will it be multi-purpose or purpose-built? That’s your call.
You will find that some of these factors weigh more to you than others but that’s the beauty of a ute, no matter how nuanced your needs may be— you’ll usually find one that’s just right for you.