THE rise in popularity of the dual-cab ute to become a vehicular reflection of the rugged Australian lifestyle – whether achieved or imaginary – continues to capture an audience and spawn new models.
Marginally less appreciated is the off-road-ready large SUV genre, with many contenders based directly on these utes and having similar off-road prowess plus, thanks to revised suspension, less-compromised road manners and ride comfort than their commercial vehicle brethren.
Technically, the ladder-frame utes and wagons are the ones chosen for their durability and strength. The framed chassis – compared with the more common monocoque body – claims better off-road performance when fitted with high-articulation suspension.
Underpinning a wagon – with most having seven seats – creates a strong, go-anywhere family machine that is great in the dirt as it is towing a large caravan.
The Australian market has long held the Toyota Prado as its durable wagon to the point where few actually go off the road.
Recognition of these more urban buyers is reflected in the fact Toyota offers a version of the Prado with its spare wheel moved from the traditional rear-door hanger to beneath the chassis, using space liberated by the fitment of a smaller fuel tank.
This year to July, Toyota sold more than 14,000 Prados to make it the best seller in Australia’s large SUV category. The next most-popular body-on-frame wagon, the Isuzu MU-X (based on its D-Max ute) sold less than half that number.
All contenders listed here have had strong sales increases over the past few years.
Much is based on the effects of COVID-19; firstly, an inability or reluctance to travel offshore turned attention to a domestic holiday, often motoring-based; and secondly, a delay in delivery of many vehicles has made buyers look at alternative brands and vehicle types.
This latter flow-on of the pandemic – triggered by component shortages, factory shutdowns and transport issues – has also increased sales of brands and models that generally attracted little interest.
Examples can include the LDV D90 wagon – based on the LDV T60 ute – which almost tripled sales in the first seven months of this year compared with the same period in 2021.
The SsangYong Rexton sold 760 units in the same seven months, up 49 per cent on the previous corresponding period.
LDV and SsangYong also filled a void left by the Holden Colorado 7 (later called Trailblazer) that was based on the Holden Colorado ute, and to a lesser degree, the demise of the Toyota FJ Cruiser that was based on the Prado.
It is interesting that the seven wagons listed here have all enjoyed year-on growth in sales that defies the overall automotive market.
While the broader market is down 4.5 per cent year-to-date, large SUVs are up 4.5 per cent.
And within that category, these seven wagons show gains ranging from 2.8 per cent (Isuzu) to 180 per cent (LDV).
Even Isuzu’s performance fails to reflect that consumer demand is very strong but production and logistics delays curtailed delivery – a situation not peculiar to Isuzu.
Toyota not only suffers from delays but from reductions in production volume that have also tethered potential growth.
Appeal of the four-wheel-drive wagon is not just limited to its towing ability and strength. The models based on popular utes – the Ford Everest, for example – replicates the drivetrain and most of the body and trim parts of the Ranger ute, making easy access to parts and a service and repair capability in virtually every major center in Australia.
The same applies to the Toyota Fortuner (heavily based on the HiLux), Isuzu MU-X (D-Max) and Mitsubishi Pajero Sport (Triton).