Whats best, an SUV or UTE?

Choosing between an SUV or UTE can be a difficult decision. We’ll try to demystify the differences and help you make the best choice based on your needs. Knowing what you want your new vehicle for, how you intend to use it, and the key factors that are important for you will really help in choosing the best type of vehicle.

So first let’s clarify what a UTE and SUV are.

What is an SUV? 

A Sports Utility Vehicle, usually shortened to SUV doesn’t have an agreed definition like saloon or wagon. Typically an SUV has a taller stance than a car, has the benefits of a wagon with extra load capacity and offers better off road capabilities than a standard road car. The seating position is typically more upright and often has a rugged appearance. Drive options range from 2 wheel drive and All Wheel Drive to full 4×4. SUV’s are the most popular class of vehicle sold in Australia, with the Toyota RAV4 the most popular followed by the Mazda CX-5.

Toyota Hilux
Hilux – Australias most popular UTE

What’s a UTE?

A UTE, short for utility vehicle, also known as a Pickup truck differs from a car, SUV or wagon by having an open loading area. Designed originally as a workhorse, it has now become one of the most popular vehicles in Australia. While SUV’s are the most popular class of vehicle, the two top selling vehicles in 2020 were UTE’s. Coming in at first place, the Toyota Hilux, followed closely behind by the Ford Ranger. A UTE typically has a load carrying capacity of 1 tonne, and comes with either a single or double cab. UTE’s are rapidly moving from being a basic utilitarian vehicle to a daily driver. In the same way an SUV has a range of drive options, UTEs also varying drive options, from 2 wheel drive to full 4 wheel drive. Typically while driving on road only 2 wheel drive would be selected, as most have true 4×4 capabilities.

Mazda CX-5
Mazda CX-5

Ride Quality. 

UTE’s by their nature are designed for carrying heavy loads across a variety of terrains, and as such have a suspension setup to accommodate these demands. Typically comprising of leaf sprung rear with coil front suspension. The result is that the ride, especially when carrying a light load is not great. Although exceptions exist such as the Nissan Navara which has coil sprung suspension all around, the ride is still compromised when compared to an SUV.  In contrast SUV’s are first and foremost a passenger vehicle, with suspension geared up to meet the ride and comfort expectations of passengers. While a UTE compromises ride quality for load capacity, an SUV in turn compromises load carrying ability for ride quality. 

Payload. 

Vehicle payload differs significantly between a UTE and SUV. Most UTE’s have a payload around 1 tonne and often exceed it, albeit by a small margin. In a number of countries having a payload over 1 tonne moves the vehicle in to the commercial bracket, and opens up tax advantages. A 1 tonne payload should give sufficient capacity for most uses, whether you’re a tradie moving tools and materials around, or loading up the family for a weekends camping.  

SUV’s have a much lower payload than a typical UTE, for example the RAV4 ranges from 410kg to 570kg, where as the Mazda CX-5 has a payload of between 388kg to 440kg (model dependent). While this seems like plenty, it’s easy to exceed with a car full of adults and a few bags of luggage. Although some high end SUV’s have a much better payload such as the Toyota LandCruiser 200 or Nissan Patrol, both having over 650kg.

Jimny boot
Jimny Read space with seats down.

Exceeding a vehicles payload limit can be disastrous, at best you’ll be driving illegally, while handling will be significantly impacted and could quite easily lead to an accident. Additionally, in the event of an accident your insurance provider could legitimately reject any claim. 

Boot Space

As with payload, boot space or carrying capacity varies significantly between SUV’s. With seats in upright position, the Suzuki Jimny has a minuscule 85lt of capacity – enough for a set of golf clubs but perhaps a little limited if you are planning on carrying 2 swags for a weekend away. While at the other end of the spectrum the Land Rover Discovery has in excess of 1,200lt of capacity which should suffice for extended trips away with the family. 

Things are a little more complex with a UTE. A typical UTE will have a tub volume of around 1,000lt but not having a top allows for a much greater overall carrying volume. Fitting a hard canopy will limit the total carrying volume, with the final volume being dependent on the design of the canopy. Additionally, the loading area in a UTE is separate from the main cabin area. This separates the driver and passengers from the items in storage such as spare fuel or wet equipment, and can be hosed out for cleaning. 

Refinement.  

UTE’s have come a long way in the past few years, with the likes of the Ford Ranger Wildtrak and Toyota Hilux Invincible X now competing with a standard and finish that you would typically find in a high spec Saloon or Wagon. With such enhancements as touch screen infotainment, leather seats and Alloy wheels. UTE’s also offer driving aids such as cruise control, collision avoidance, parking assistance and rear view cameras. 

Hilux dashboard
Hilux interior with Infotainment display and leather seats

Towing. 

Most UTEs have a maximum braked towing capacity of 3500kg, but towing at the maximum load handling can be negatively affected and vehicle performance can be poor, but when compared to SUV’s the typical UTE outperforms most SUV’s for towing capacity. SUV towing capacity ranges from 3500kg for the likes of the Nissan Patrol, to less than 1300kg for the Suzuki Jimny.

Modifications

Both SUV’s and UTE’s can be modified, from the addition of extra lighting to adding bull bars. However, the range and extent of modifications is somewhat limited on an SUV primarily due to the payload limitations as previously mentioned. 

bull bar
ARB Bull bar

So which one? 

This really depends on what you are looking to use your UTE or SUV for. Let’s look at an example of how to work out if your chosen vehicle will be suitable for you. 

  • Preferred Vehicle – LandCruiser 200
  • Family – 4 people; 2 adults and 2 teenage children
  • Main use – Daily driver
  • Other uses – Long weekends camping. 
  • Modifications – spot lights & front bull bar.

The Land Cruiser 200 has a payload of 650kg. To see if this is sufficient we need to first deduct the weight of the passengers, 2 adults are around 160Kg (based on average Australian weights 2020), along with 2 teenage children of around 110kg. Of our original 650Kg payload we are left with 650kg-160kg-110kg = 380kg. So as a daily driver there is plenty of payload remaining. However, if you now want to start to do start to enhance your vehicle for weekends bush bashing, you need to consider the weight of any modifications. A good steel bull-bar e.g ARB comes in around 80kg, along with a few spot lights at around 5kg, 4 swags of 10kg each and our 380kg is now down to 255kg. For a long Australia Day weekend camping off grid you’ll need to add water for 4 people for 4 days; so lets say 50lt coming in at 50kg which brings us down to 205kg. Add a few chairs, a BBQ with fuel and food and the payload remaining will be down to around 150kg and we’ve still to add a few slabs of beer. 

So while the Land Cruiser 200 would be ideal and meet the needs above, if your preferred vehicle was a Nissan X-Trail with a 530kg payload we’d be on the limit and a slab or too of beer would push you over.

So which one will you choose?