Two new performance utes tackle each other and the Outback … and come out second best
The top-end 4×4 dual-cab diesel ute market is the next golden goose the car industry has in its sights. They’re cheap to build and to spin multiple variants from, so expect to see lots of variations on the theme.
Take these two brand-new offerings, for example: the Holden Colorado SportsCat+ ‘by HSV’ and Toyota HiLux Rugged X. Call them sports-performance utes if you like, as they both are selling a capability upgrade compared to the models they are based on.
To test them out we’ve headed for the Outback, wandering a path through northern South Australia and southern Northern Territory.
It’s a tough drive and it exposed some serious flaws in both vehicles.
Why are we comparing them?
The SportsCat is a crucial plank in Holden Special Vehicles’ new era. With the death of the local Commodore, the hot tuner is modifying Colorado 4×4 utes and right-hooking Chevrolets to make a buck.
We’ve previously covered the concept, engineering and ambitions of the SportsCat family and reported the hefty pricing. We’ve also had a couple of drives – both at the launch and on our own for a week — which have left us impressed.
Essentially, SportsCat takes the Colorado Z71, retunes the suspension, overhauls the look with some cool bolt-ons, tickles the interior and leaves the 147kW/500Nm 2.8-litre four-cylinder Duramax turbo-diesel engine, six-speed auto and part-time 4×4 system alone.
HSV’s aim is to make a tougher looking ute that drives better on and off-road.
The SporstCat+ is the top model, which means it gets exclusive kit including AP Racing front brakes (drums on the rear like most utes) and a rear sway bar that decouples in low range for increased articulation.
Our example also had optional Australian-developed Supashock dampers, rather than the standard HSV sports suspension, with cool remote canisters up-front.
We’ve already covered off the philosophy of the Rugged X, analysed pricing and had a decent first drive.
The Rugged X is focussed on improved off-road ability via new exterior gear. Like the HSV, it has no drivetrain modifications, so the 2.8-litre 130kW/450Nm turbo-diesel four-cylinder and optional six-speed auto must cope with a 207kg hike in kerb weight compared to the donor SR5.
While the skew of these two is slightly different, they share the rare distinction of being locally-developed adaptations of Thai-built donor models. In both cases, final assembly is completed in Melbourne.
How much do they cost?
The SportsCat+ starts out at $68,990. That’s $8200 more than the standard SporstCat and $14,000 more than the most expensive Colorado, the $54,490 Z71.
Equipment that carries over from mainstream Holden to HSV includes seven airbags, a reversing camera, forward collision alert, lane departure warning, trailer sway control, roll-over mitigation, hill start assist and hill descent control.
Like all utes bar the new Mercedes-Benz X-Class, there is no autonomous emergency braking.
An 8.0-inch colour touch-screen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, sat-nav, digital radio, front/rear parking sensors, climate control and auto wipers also migrate from Colorado.
Standard SporstCat+ gear includes a unique front bumper and grille incorporating a pair of LED foggies and a cosmetic bonnet bulge.
Casselated wheel-arch flares house 18-inch alloys and Cooper Zeon A/T tyres. There’s a quick-release hard tonneau cover and a sports bar.
Inside, there are new heated front seats, unique trims and a leather-clad steering wheel. SportsCat and Colorado decals complete the picture.
Our SportsCat+ came with the ($3600) Supashocks, a sail plane, a tubliner and towbar, bumping its price before on-road costs to $74,540.
The Rugged X auto starts out at $63,690, making it the most expensive HiLux you can buy, and our example climbed a few hundred dollars more with the addition of metallic paint. The SR5 auto it is based on is priced at $56,440.
Unique Rugged X gear includes a hoopless high-tensile steel front roo bar sitting under a new grille, snorkel, winch-compatible alloy bash plate, twin front tow hooks rated to 8000kg, 17-inch alloys and A/T rubber.
These are housed under moulded wheel-arches, heavy-duty steel side-steps, a four-piece sports bar that can carry up to 75kg vertical mass or help tie down 200kg in the tray.
A heavy-duty rear bar has more recovery points and an integrated tow bar. The extra weight prompts a 10 per cent increase in front spring stiffness.
Inside, there’s perforated leather seat trim, a new instrument cluster and black roof lining… so not much extra, really.
Carrying over from the SR5 are six airbags, a reversing camera and hill ascent and descent control – a pretty short driver-assist list compared to the HSV!
Climate control, sat-nav, cruise control and a 7.0-inch touch-screen are standard but there is only one USB output, no digital speedo or Apple/Android phone connectivity.
In terms of numbers, the SportsCat+ has a 3500kg braked towing capacity and the HiLux 3200kg. The HSV has an 876kg payload and the Toyota only 748kg — a reflection of all the extra kerb weight its off-road gear adds.
Having said that, the HSV weighs in heavier at 2274kg versus the Toyota’s 2252kg kerb weight.
Rugged X’s ground clearance, approach and departure angles were all reduced compared to the SR5, while HSV claims SportsCat+ has better clearance than the standard Colorado.
The HSV is covered by a three-year/100,000km warranty and is serviced every 15,000km or nine months. There is no set-price servicing schedule offered.
The Toyota has an identical warranty and servicing every six months or 10,000km. Toyota charges $1440 for first six services.
What do they do well?
On smooth surfaces the SportsCat+ is the best-driving ladder-frame ute I’ve ever had the pleasure to steer.
There are obvious signs of HSV’s chassis tuning skills here in the way it points accurately and hugs the road. On bitumen it’s truly good fun, on drifty gravel it’s a complete hoot.
The SportsCat+’s excellent body control shows up when you hit big, long depressions like a smooth creek crossing at high-speed. While the HiLux wobbles, jumps and generally gets loose, the HSV settles straight back down and motors on.
Like the Colorado, the SportsCat+ comes with a helical limited-slip diff rather than a locker. For road driving that’s a definite advantage.
It also has a strong engine, even if it is untouched by the Clayton crew. It still has plenty of grunt from step-off and good response through the range.
The Rugged X can’t hang with the SportsCat+ dynamically or in a straight line, but once the going gets rough or you head off-road it is the better drive.
The more compliant suspension, the way the bumpers have been shaped to aid corner clearance, the bash plates and the heavy-duty tow hooks are all off-road plusses. The Toyota’s locking rear diff also make substantial off-road progress achievable.
But perhaps the Rugged X’s best feature is its combination of LED headlights and lighting strip, which turn night into day. That’s a huge asset in the Outback, where bouncing critters like to get in the way.
Neither vehicle is that special inside, but the SportsCat+ has a better look, more comfortable seats and more space in row two.
What could they do better?
Hang together on corrugated roads! The sort of roads that run for hundreds of kays at a time through the Outback.
The mountings for the SporstCat+’s quick-release tonneau cover sheared off and the whole thing had to be tied in place for much of our trip. The left-hand plastic sailplane cover also fell off.
HSV says there were fixes in-place for these issues even before we struck problems… they just hadn’t applied them to our vehicle before they handed it over.
But more fundamentally, the Supashock set-up is simply too stiff on bad roads. It drums through corrugations, setting your teeth on edge, and undoubtedly played a role in parts breaking.
Go seriously off-road and the SportsCat+ runs out of travel and ability, as it lacked a locking diff to go with its low range. Get stuck and there’s no rear tow hook to help you out of a jam.
But if you’re thinking the HiLux cleaned up, you’d be wrong. The Rugged X had its own issues on the rough roads. The instrument panel surround slipped down and partially covered some warning lights, and a plastic trim on one of the rock rails came loose.
But far worse was the engine’s persistent habit of dropping into limp-home mode. It happened four times and was rectified only temporarily by disconnecting and re-connecting the battery.
So far Toyota hasn’t explained what the problem is and an answer is long overdue. We’ve heard of this issue before with the 1GD-FTV engine, so hopefully we can tell you more soon. Conversely, if you know something let us know.
Even when it’s running properly, the Toyota’s engine is a bit of a sleepy-head. It could do with a fair bit more poke. At least it is quieter than the Holden donk, which does get raucous…
In both cases on-test fuel economy was less than stellar. The HSV claims 8.7L/100km and returned 12.93L/100km on test, the Rugged X 7.9L/100km and 12.55L/100km.
Which wins, and why?
To have these two vehicles struggle to cope with Outback conditions was very disappointing — especially so in the case of the HiLux, which is supposedly ‘unbreakable’ and has the back-up of Toyota’s reputation for quality, durability and reliability.
The SporstCat+? We’re inclined to cut it a tiny bit of slack. It was a pre-producton car and the bits that failed were attachments rather than core components… such as the engine.
But the Rugged X still wins the comparo. The HSV is simply too compromised off-road and in the Outback to take the honours here. It’s also too expensive!
The Toyota is focused on what it needs to do and does it well… when it’s running.
But far from being golden geese, these two came out of this exercise looking more like wood ducks!
How much is the 2018 HSV Colorado SportsCat+?
Price: $68,990 (plus on-road costs)
Engine: 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel: 8.7L/100km (ADR Combined)
CO2: 230g/km (ADR Combined)
Safety rating: Five-star ANCAP (2016)
How much is the 2018 Toyota HiLux Rugged X?
Price: $63,690 (plus on-road costs)
Engine: 2.8-litre four-cylinder turbo-diesel
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel: 7.9L/100km (ADR Combined)
CO2: 210g/km (ADR Combined)
Safety rating: Five-star ANCAP (2015)