It's no secret that Australians love their utes. These days, light commercial utes like the Toyota HiLux, Ford Ranger and Isuzu D-Max are moving beyond their traditional rural and tradesman roles thanks to improvements in safety, refinement and efficiency, and often being used as family transporters or adventure machines.
These versatile machines are generally available in either two or four-wheel drive, which can also be expressed as 2WD or 4WD, but most commonly as 4x2 and 4x4.
Most buyers opt for 4x4 models, outselling their 4x2 counterparts by nearly four to one. However, there are several key benefits to owning a 4x2 if you're in the market.
"If it's likely to stay on the tarmac or gravel, a 4x2 model is generally all you are going to need"
Many 4x4s never see a dirt road or anything more than a puddle, let alone go completely bush or cross a river, so it's important to keep in mind how you plan to use the vehicle before buying.
If it's likely to stay on the tarmac or gravel, a 4x2 model is generally all you are going to need.
The most obvious benefit is the cost - 4x2s are cheaper than 4x4s. A Ford Ranger XL Double Cab Ute High Ride 4x2 turbodiesel with an automatic transmission is priced from $36,990 while the same ute with in 4x4 is $45,890. The 4x4 is $8900, or 24 per cent more expensive than the 4x2.
With the Isuzu D-Max, the picture is similar. The 4x2 SX Crew Cab Ute High Ride automatic turbodiesel is priced at $36,500, while the 4x4 is priced at $45,000. The difference here is $8500, or 23 per cent.
Weight and payload capacity are also areas where 4x2s outshine 4x4s. The absence of additional drivetrain components needed to power all four wheels makes a 4x2 lighter on its feet.
Keeping with our examples, the 4x2 D-Max tips the scales at 1815kg, while the 4x4 is 115kg heavier at 2020kg.
The story is similar with the Ford, as the 4x2 Ranger has a kerb weight of 1929kg while the 4x4 comes in 105kg heaver at 2034kg.
The added benefit of having a lighter car comes in the form of how much you can throw in the back. It may seem counter-intuitive, but 4x2s often have a greater payload capacity than 4x4s.
The 4x2 D-Max can carry 1035kg worth of passengers and cargo, while the 4x4 falls a few house bricks short at 1020kg. The Ranger has a bigger disparity, with the 4x2 rated to carry 1271kg and the 4x4 falling short by over 100kg at 1166kg. This may not seem much, but it could be the difference between giving that burly mate a lift home legally or not. There are harsh penalties for overloading your vehicle by exceeding its rated payload.
The lesser mass of a 4x2 also brings marginal fuel efficiency benefits.
"Lower fuel consumption also means lower CO2 emissions, making a 4x2 the greener choice"
An average Australian motorist drives 15,000km each year. Assuming that a litre of diesel costs $1.50, covering that distance in a 7.9L/100km 4x2 D-Max turbodiesel auto will cost you $1777.50, with the 8.1L/100km 4x4 coming in $45 more expensive at $1822.50.
The savings are even greater for the Ford Ranger, with the 8.9L/100km 4x2 automatic costing $2002.50 and the 9.4L/100km 4x4 auto is $112.50 more expensive at $2115. It all adds up over the life of a vehicle.
The lower fuel consumption also means lower CO2 emissions, making a 4x2 the greener choice.
The benefits of a 4x2 don't stop there, however. They are slightly less truck-like in their handling, and are also easier on consumables like brake pads and tyres.
"Save yourself a lot of money without compromising performance by sticking with a 4x2"
Even if you want a ute for towing, a 4x2 can still be considered. The Ranger has the same braked towing capacity for both its 4x2 and 4x4 models - 3500kg.
The 4x2 D-Max does fall short here however, with its 2500kg braked tow rating beaten by a full tonne by the 4x4's 3500kg braked towing capacity.
A 4x4 is still generally better if you want to explore the parts of the world that have not been smoothed and paved. Four-wheel traction and low-range transmissions were built for traversing rocky slopes in the middle of nowhere.
But if your version of going off-road is a leafy driveway on a rainy afternoon, you can save yourself a lot of money without compromising performance by sticking with a 4x2.
This article originally appeared on CarsGuide.