As Sean mentioned last week, with the coming demise of the Ranger, we’re about to be screwed in terms of small trucks in the U.S. He suggested the Mexican-distributed Chevy Tornado as a possible niche-filler, but readers offered an even better idea: Tap the Australian market and give us a “ute.”
About a month ago a friend visited me in Texas from her home in Australia, and about halfway back from the airport her first comment was “Wow, I don’t recognize almost any of these cars.” Throughout the week we discovered that Australian and American culture are pretty close cousins — but the vehicle market is another story altogether. Though Ford and others manufacture vehicles for both countries, their offerings differ dramatically.
Take, for example, the ute. Common in AU, the ute fills much the same role as the Ranger does — did — here in the U.S. Utes are essentially small cars with a truck bed. Think Subaru Brat and you’re in the general vicinity. Toolmonger reader Mark points out one in particular (pictured above), the Falcon Ute Styleside Box.
As you can see in the inset, it’s also available with a rear tray, so it’s clearly a work vehicle, but with a sport compact twist: Under the hood you’ll find a 4.0l six-cylinder with a six-speed manual transmission. Hotchkiss rear suspension keeps it driveable, and those are 16″ steel wheels with 215/60 R16 tyres (gotta stay Aussie with the spelling, right?). Inside you’ll find a whole digital suite of infotainment gear, including an iPod interface and an MP3-capable disc player.
The bad news: While this thing would make a kick-ass tow vehicle for, say, a weekend Formula Ford racer — you’d be king racer geek showing up in this at the crap diner at your fave out-of-the-way SCCA tack — it’s not really what Sean and I are looking for to replace the Ranger. We’d rather leave the six-speeds and high-output sixes to the kids. Why? They’re expensive. The “base model” Falcon Ute checks in at a whopping $30k US (about $28k AUD). Its simple little large-displacement four-banger and decades-old suspension will run you less than half that.
Then again, if sporty is your thing, you could just give in and grab the XR6 Turbo, which adds sweet aluminum wheels, forced induction, leather, and a ZF 6-speed automatic tranny with sequential shift. Boo frakkin’ yah.
Anyway, as cool as this sucker is, we’re still looking. Hopefully you’ll keep sending in the recommendations. Maybe if we hammer away hard enough on this, Detroit will get the idea and offer something going forward that’ll let us get the job done on the cheap.
Falcon Ute [Ford Australia]