Make no mistake, there’s a huge variety of 4×4 utes to choose from these days. From Great Walls to Toyota Landcruisers, and everything in between. The difference in price from the bottom end to the top end is significant, and we all find ourselves wondering if it is justified.
Why buy a high end 79 Series Landcruiser or a Mercedes G300 Professional Ute at over $100,000 for a fully kitted out off road rig, when an entry level low budget ute like an Indian made Mahindra comes in at under $30,000? Well, there are a range of valid reasons. We have reviewed most of the top customer choices like the Ford Ranger ute, Toyota Hilux and Mazda BT50. We have also reviewed the high end Landcruisers and Mercedes, reserved for the real serious off roading and touring enthusiasts (we compare the two in our recent article called ‘Mercedes G Class Ute Vs 79 Series Landcruiser: Apples Vs Apples’). So now it’s time to shed some light on the budget side of the market and find out if the cheaper utes available are worth their salt.
This article is a review of the cheaper ute options. Of which, there is now many. Manufacturers like Great Wall, Mahindra and Foton are all working hard to tap into the off road ute market. While you may see them scooting around the city from time to time, it’s rare to find someone who can say much about them. Rarer still is to see them jumping around through the Australian bush.
There is no doubt we have all had that fleeting thought, “is it worth it?”…..”maybe they’re not that bad, maybe it’s just the larger vehicle manufacturers spreading bad reviews to reduce their competition.”
Well, in this article, we explore that fleeting thought, to try and get to the bottom of the situation. More importantly, we will find out whether these vehicles are capable of safe, confident off road travel, and if they are worthy steeds for Trayon slide on campers.
First, let’s explore the options.
There’s a range of utes on the market for under $30,000. Often, that includes the 4×4 version with a range of 4×4 running gear. Most brands provide a single and dual cab option. These brands and models include:
These are all either Chinese or Indian made vehicles. In the last decade they have entered the market as budget options to our more well known brands, however they have struggled to take a foothold for a range of reasons.
These reasons include specs, safety, warranty, off road performance, reliability, resale vlaue, lifespan and accessibility to spare parts, which we explore in more detail below.
They all come in turbo diesel options, between a 2.0L and 2.8L, with five to six speed gearboxes. Specs can be quite good, but the longevity of those specs aren’t tested. The problem with small engines is that the vehicle has to work a lot harder, all of the time. Many leading ute manufacturers have also downsized in recent years, by reducing engine capacity and turning up turbo pressure. It seems the budget ute manufacturers have done the same. Traditionally, Australians like larger engines (over 3L four cylinders preferably, six cylinders even better!), and these utes below fall short of our preferences.
|Tata Xenon||2.2L, 110 kW 320Nm|
|Mahindra Pikup||2.2L, 103kW 330Nm|
|LDV T60||2.8L, 110kW 360Nm|
|JMC Vigus||2.4L, 101kW 370Nm|
|Foton Tunland||2.8L, 130kW 365Nm|
|Great Wall STEED||2.0L, 110 kW 310Nm|
When it comes to pulling and carrying capacity, the budget utes match the market leaders by the skin of their teeth, and some fall short. Payload ranges from around 800kg to around 1100kg, and towing capacity ranges from 2 Tonne to 3 Tonne. This doesn’t allow a great deal of wriggle room when carrying heavy loads while touring, which we will touch on later in the article.
|Vehicle||Payload (kg)||Towing capacity (Tonne)|
|Great Wall STEED||1020||2|
This is where these vehicles raise some concern. While the leading 4×4 ute manufacturers maintain a five star ANCAP safety rating, only one of these cheaper brands have the same. Most are between 2 and 4 stars.
The Great Wall currently has the lowest safety rating of the pack at 2 stars. The Mahindra and Foton have a 3 star rating. The Tata Xenon has a four star rating and the LDV T60 has a 5 star rating, reflecting their hard push to compete with the market leading brands. The JCM Vigus hasn’t yet been given a safety rating.
|Vehicle||ANCAP rating (stars)|
|Great Wall STEED||2|
This is another area to be wary. While most leading brands now have a five year warranty (Toyota only recently came to the party!), the cheaper utes in general do not match these five year warranties.
Mahindra, JMC and Foton all provide a three year, 100,000 km warranty (note that Mahindra is moving to a five year warranty). Tata provide a four year, 100,000 km warranty. LDV provide a five year, 130,000 km warranty, and Great Wall have, as at April 1 2019 also moved to a five year, 150,000 km warranty.
You will also want to pick the warranty apart with a fine tooth comb to make sure it provides the support needed for remote travel.
|Tata Xenon||4 years, 100,000 km|
|Mahindra Pikup||3 years, 100,000 km|
|LDV T60||5 years, 130,000 km|
|JMC Vigus||3 years, 100,000 km|
|Foton Tunland||3 years, 100,000 km|
|Great Wall STEED||5 years, 150,000 km|
To put it bluntly, it’s very rare to see a cheaper ute carrying a Trayon. We have heard the odd story about a Trayon getting around on a lower end ute, it’s just not common. But this doesn’t mean they can’t.
How well they carry one all depends on the situation. For example, if you just want an easy getaway not too far from home, and you’re not tackling rough country, then a cheaper ute just might do the job. It’s worth weighing up your options, and making your own conclusions based on research and the advice of seasoned off road travellers.
Just like the higher end of the off road ute range, you can always get a suspension upgrade to make sure you have enough legal carrying capacity. Check out our recent article called “Slide on Campers: Do I need a 4WD Suspension Upgrade?”, for more information about when and how to do a suspension upgrade. The real problem here is finding a suspension upgrade that increases the vehicle’s GVM as most suspension companies only produce these kits and upgrades for fleet vehicles (Hilux, Ranger, Landcruiser 79 series, Dmax etc…) This is due to the expensive process of getting suspension upgrades and GVM increases certified and engineered. It’s only worth spending big coin on getting a kit developed for a vehicle if they know that they are going to make their money back and as these lower end vehicles are not so popular for fleet sales or even considered a fleet vehicle – you might find it hard to get hold of any upgrades at all.
The dilemma even after upgrades is, if you plan on going “off” the bitumen, on some of Australia’s well known tracks like the Canning Stock route, we can’t’ vouch for their success.
Remember that last big off road trip you did, and that convoy of Foton Tunlands sped past?? Probably not. In fact, it would be hard to believe anyone with such a story, because it just doesn’t happen! However, utes like the Toyota Hilux, Ford Ranger, Mazda BT-50 and Landcruiser are a dime a dozen off the beaten track. Even more recent additions to the off road ute market, like the Isuzu DMax are becoming more common on the long dusty roads of Australia.
There is a reason that budget utes aren’t commonly seen in the rough extremities of the Outback. People don’t trust them. People trust tried and tested brands and models, and there are a number of reasons why.
Reliability is where these vehicles throw up serious questions. They are not around in high enough numbers, and largely untested for long periods off road, under heavy load. The last thing you want when you are 1000 kms from the bitumen is a break down, particularly when rescue costs are so high.
This may be one of the most important considerations when looking at the cheaper range of utes. You have to assume that when travelling of road you will need spare parts at some point in time.
That’s where the old adage came from – “Landcruiser country” – which refers to the old Outback farmers who only ever drove Toyota landcruisers around because there were always spare parts available. They would have an old shell of a vehicle in the back shed with just the part needed. And if they didn’t, their neighbour did. A six pack of beer later and the vehicle was fixed and ready to go. At least that’s how those old stories go.
How often this happened is uncertain, however the adage has a practical side, which is more likely related to the proximity of dealerships. Toyota has a huge amount of dealers around the country, which means parts are always available and relatively close by (by Australian standards), no matter where you are. Darwin, Alice Springs and the rest. This also means that parts distribution can happen very quickly across the country, because they don’t have to come from as far as a part from a Great Wall dealership might, for example. Secondary distributors like Repco are also more likely to stock parts for more common brands and models.
However, if you’re out there in a less common ute like a Foton or Tata, spare parts may be very hard to come buy, and that is a scary thought in remote conditions. Your “bush mechanic” skills may be tested.
Another key off road consideration is how long the vehicle will live. The rule of thumb is, compared to a similar ute that never leaves the black top; the rigors that come with off-road work would generally half your vehicle’s lifespan – kilometer for kilometer.
With the more common utes, it’s evident that they last for a long time, because you will regularly see models made decades ago cruising happily around town and in the Outback.
The same cannot be said for the cheaper manufacturers, and this is cause for concern. Lifespan is a very important factor when determining the long term price of your vehicle. Sure, it may be cheap to purchase in the beginning, but if it only lasts you half the time as the more expensive option, then you have actually picked the expensive option in disguise.
A reputable brand will hold its value far better than a non-reputable brand; of course that’s not to say any of the brands in this article are non-reputable. All you have to look at is if there is a large market for the vehicle when its new then logic dictates that there will be a large market for them as second hand steeds.
Take the landcruiser 79 series; you can pick up a 10 year old rig on the second hand market with over 200 thousand on the odometer for well over 50% of what it cost new back in the day, in some cases more.
Can these lower end brands give you a lower depreciation rate on your ute to keep a high resale value so that you can get at least some of your coin back when you sell it one day?
The off road performance of the cheaper utes is getting better. The Mahindra Pik-up in particular has some good off road credentials. However, as mentioned before, how long it can keep high performance up is another question.
The disadvantages include:
When considering whether it is worth buying a cheaper ute to carry a Trayon off road, it seems the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. This doesn’t mean they aren’t fit for other purposes. But we would not recommend using these kinds of vehicles for serious off road travel in very remote locations.
Even if engine specs and payload capacities are similar to many of the leading utes on the market, we would recommend sticking to the proven off road vehicles like Landcruisers, Rangers and Hilux.
The cheaper utes just don’t provide the confidence needed to travel to remote places on rough tracks. Potentially, in the long run, it will cost you more to make repairs than it would have to buy a more expensive ute in the first place, with fewer repairs needed along the way.
Sure, it’s a super cheap off road vehicle, but as the old saying goes, you get what you pay for.
This concept does blend over into the camper industry as well. Right now there is a very large amount of imported campers on the Australian market, alot not declaring where they make them or even worse – lying about it.
The same advantages and disadvantages listed above also apply to these imported campers when compared to a reputable Australian made camper but people are buying these cheap imports on mass anyway and putting up with the disadvantages. They forget that the bitterness of poor quality sticks around a lot longer after the sweetness of a cheap price is forgotten.
Using that trend as a baseline thought process – Does this mean we are all going to trade in our Landruisers and Rangers on a Great Wall to tackle the Gun Barrel hwy?………………………..NAH!