Buying a 4WD is a pretty big decision, and once you start looking into it you’ll see its just the beginning of a myriad of choices you’ll need to make.
Petrol vs Diesel? Automatic vs Manual? Ute vs Wagon? New vs old? The list keeps going, and ultimately, you should be looking for a vehicle that is going to suit your requirements as best as possible.
In this post, we are looking at whether a wagon, like a 200 Series Land Cruiser, Y62 Patrol or a Prado is better than a Ute, like a 79 Series Land Cruiser, an Isuzu Dmax or a Toyota Hilux.
Everyone is different, and the point of this post is not to convince you one way or another, but to point out the differences that aren’t always considered. From there, you can choose what is most suitable for your circumstances.
When is a 4WD Ute better?
Trying to dig gear out of the back of a 4WD Wagon can be a right pain in the backside. By nature you have one good access point, at the rear of the vehicle, via the main door. Of course, you’ll have windows down the side (although some don’t open) but trying to get gear out here is quite a challenge.
Ute’s have far better accessibility in general, especially if you end up with a Gull Wing Canopy. In this configuration, you’ll have access to the full length of both sides of the canopy, and sometimes the rear too (if you get a third door). One side can be the kitchen, and the other is your storage. If you want to know how to set a Ute up well, check this out; The Ultimate guide to Ute Canopies.
This is made very obvious, when you see companies like Emu Wing selling replacement setup for the side windows at the back of a Wagon, to convert them into ‘gull wings’.
If I want to keep things safe when we are parked up, they go into the back of the Ute – in the canopy. It’s got no windows to be smashed, no one can see what’s inside and it would take a lot of effort and a few tools to get inside.
A quality canopy on the back will snap the locks long before it opens the canopy, and there’s nothing worse than someone throwing a brick through your window to nick a bag left on the seat. Wagons on the other hand are easier to get into, and can be checked out easily through a myriad of windows.
Obviously, this depends on the canopy arrangement you have, as some of those are extremely easy to break into!
Ute’s absolutely destroy wagons for available payload. If you get 750kg of payload from a wagon, you are doing really, really well. Many are only 550 – 700kg, and that leaves very little to play with once you’ve added the usual accessories. Single cab Utes often have payloads of 1000 – 1250kg, with dual cabs somewhere around the 950 – 1050kg.
Now, you can’t put all of that over the rear or you will exceed the maximum axle rating, and break something, but it is hugely beneficial. On our Dmax, I ended up with a GVM Upgrade even with the 1000kg payload it came with!
The only extra issue you need to be aware of is the position of the load, as you cannot put the full payload at the back of a vehicle, which you are more inclined to do with a Ute. If you ignore this, you’ll end up with a bent chassis.
In most cases, you can buy a dual cab or single cab 4WD Ute for substantially cheaper than its wagon alternative. I’m sure you can find deviations of this, but they are generally much better bang for your buck.
Dirty storage and fumes
There was only a tiny handful of times that I put firewood inside my 80 series land cruiser. It wrecks the seats, is likely to smash windows and in general is just a pain to transport. The Dmax on the other hand, is often loaded up with wood on the way back to camp as the canopy can be cleaned super easily, and there’s not much to damage. If I have wet, or salty gear, I can chuck it out of the way and not worry about it rusting my panels away!
If you are carrying a chainsaw, or fuel, or anything else that generates fumes, a Ute is the winner every day of the week.
There’s little more important than travelling with separate cargo. This means in the event of an accident, or even near miss, things from the back of your 4WD can’t come forward and clock you in the head. Ute’s by nature offer great cargo separation, and don’t require the fitment of cargo barriers and the likes.
In some states, it costs a different amount to register and keep a Ute on the road, depending on how they classify it. Some are considered commercial vehicles, which affects the cost of rego and tolls.
When are Wagons better?
I’m not going to make out like Utes are the best solution on the market. Wagons are better in a number of ways, and you need to look at it and consider it for your own situation.
When you need to carry more than 5 people
If you need to carry more than 5 people, or more than 2 (3 maybe) in a single cab, you can rule Utes out for good. Wagons have 7, and sometimes 8 seats, which makes carrying a lot of people the only option.
When comfort is a huge priority
Wagon’s are more comfortable. There’s no doubting this. They ride better, brake better and in general just handle nicer. Utes usually come with leaf spring suspension and drum brakes on the rear, being a more agricultural unit. I’ve had both, and I can tell you that our 80 series was far more comfortable in terms of handling than the Dmax is, especially off road.
Dual cabs are pretty average when it comes to leg room, especially when you are comparing them to wagons. If you have kids that are turning adults, or transporting other adults, a dual cab might not be the best option for them, as they will constantly be ramming their knees into your back!
Most wagons come with disk brakes all round, and on the flip side, a lot of Ute’s only have drums on the rear. Disks are better overall, and will pull up better.
You very rarely see a Wagon with a bent chassis. I guess the same applies to single cab Utes too, but dual cabs have a tendency to bend and snap chassis, purely because of how much overhang there is behind the rear axles, and that there is no body to support it. You shouldn’t load a dual cab up with excessive weight behind the rear axle anyway, but many do, and suffer the extremely costly affects of a bent chassis.
You get the complete car
When you buy a wagon, you are buying the complete car. It’s rare that you see a ute on the road in the same formation as when it rolled off the floor. If you have a well body, most people fit a canopy on top, or replace it with a tray and then a gull wing canopy. What ever you do to the back of the car, you have to pay extra for it on a Ute, whereas a wagon comes complete, ready to roll.
When length is an issue
Ute’s are often longer than their wagon counterparts, and with the normal house size decreasing, it can be a big challenge to get a new ute into the garage of a house due to length. This is amplified when you fit a bull bar and tow bar, and wagon’s will certainly take the cake in this area.
Wagons are generally better for towing because the distance from the rear axle to the tow point is less than that of a Ute. This gives you greater stability.
We’ve still gone for a Ute
After swapping to a 4WD Ute, I don’t think I’ll go back to a wagon for a very long time. To me, a well set up 4WD Ute is so much more practical than a wagon, and unless we end up with a tribe of kids, I think I’ll be sticking with Utes for the time to come (not that I have any plans to flog the Dmax off anyway!).
Now, I will also say this; a Ute that is not well set up is no good. If your Ute is not user friendly, it loses a huge chunk of the benefits that you get by going to a Ute in the first place. For touring, I find the well body style Utes very impractical, even with a nice canopy on top. Access is difficult, they are easy to damage and they steal so much of your room its not funny.
Our Isuzu Dmax is certainly not one of the more impressive 4WD’s out there. In reality, its fairly basic, and yet I absolutely love the setup, especially with two young, messy kids!
Wagon or Ute; what’s better?
There is no perfect touring 4WD. It doesn’t matter what you buy, it won’t be perfect in every aspect. At the end of the day, you’ve got to do the looking yourself, and decide what you want, and what you are willing to put up with. For us, a Ute is working out far, far better than the wagon ever did, and I like it, a lot.
What do you prefer?