James won an Owner Review competition that saw him join our recent Ute of the Year mega test.

    He spent a week in Melbourne, Lang Lang, and Anglesea with the CarExpert team, during which time he helped collate data, ferried utes around, captured content for our social media channel, and generally provided a healthy injection of good vibes.

    He also showed he knows what to do when presented with a slick skid pan and a Ford Ranger Raptor in rear-wheel drive.

    James, thanks for all your help on the mega test! Scott Collie

    Who am I, and why was I at the ute Mega Test?

    I’m James G, and I was fortunate enough to win the Owner Review competition writing about my 2012 Ford XR6 Falcon. (It’s a great review, check it out here – Ed.)

    The competition ran over a few months and the winner scored a trip to Melbourne to meet the team and tag along in the Ute of the Year mega test.

    What happens on a CarExpert mega test?

    This mega test featured a packed line-up of nearly every ute on sale today. The sheer number of cars being tested was a challenge in itself. Logistics were carefully thought out, so all the cars arrived at the right place at the right time, ready for a bumper filming schedule.

    For this test we used a number of interesting locations.

    Firstly, the utes were dyno tested at Maxx Performance in Dandenong so we could observe their power figures and driveline efficiency.

    Following dyno testing we spent some time at Holden’s old proving ground at Lang Lang. We used various facilities to comprehensively test performance and towing abilities in a controlled, safe environment.

    Some of these facilities that I found most interesting were the noise road (a road where different sections are paved to mimic road surfaces from around the country, even Sydney’s impressively bad roads!), the skid pan with concrete featuring different friction levels, the high speed banked oval, and the ride and handling circuit that features in many CarExpert YouTube videos.

    The ride and handling circuit was fascinating. It convincingly replicated a wide variety of characteristics exhibited by Australian roads on one stretch of tarmac. The proving ground even had several families of kangaroos watching us to add to the level of realism!

    After performance testing at Lang Lang, we travelled to Anglesea for a seachange. It was at Anglesea we evaluated the Utes’ off-road abilities at the Australian Automotive Research Centre (AARC).

    It’s nestled in the rugged bushland surrounding Anglesea, in contrast to the flat farmland encasing Lang Lang. The terrain and artificial facilities at the AARC let the team safely explore the vehicles’ limits and get valuable insights into their mechanical capabilities and software driven systems.

    Some of my favourite tests at the AARC included the rollers on an incline, the rutted gravel hill climb, and the offset mogul flex test. The inclined rollers are a set of steel rollers suspended in a concrete incline that freely spin, similar to a conveyer belt.

    The right half of the vehicle was driven on the rollers to test traction control effectiveness and response.

    After all the testing and filming was completed, the team then took all the footage and data back to base for a thorough examination. Results are then formulated, the written accounts finalised, and the YouTube videos edited.

    What most jumped out at me about the process?

    Two things stood out to me most during testing.

    The was the time and effort taken to film and eventually produce a quality product for YouTube and the CarExpert website.

    Numerous practice drag races and trial tests of all the cars were completed to ensure accurate results were produced during the performance tests. These runs also allowed the camera crew to refine camera angles and tweak their setups to produce professional-looking footage.

    The second thing that jumped out throughout testing was the care the team took to capture performance related data. Automotive journalism is a very subjective industry, and disagreements concerning driving impressions amongst the audience are common.

    The team takes seriously the fact someone could be trusting their words to influence what is likely their second biggest purchase, apart from a house.

    As a result, this test was not just an exercise to take the cars out for a nice group photo. The data was meticulously collected and managed, so concrete conclusions can be formulated to accompany the subjective elements of testing.

    Which ute most impressed me?

    Up until this test, I had not spent an extensive amount of time in utes, only read about them, so I was keen to get some more time behind the wheel.

    What I discovered is the majority of them still struggle to hide their utilitarian roots. However, I was lucky enough to get a decent amount of time in the new generation Ford Ranger Wildtrak.

    The Ranger stands head and shoulders above its competition in terms of refinement and technology. If you didn’t look through the rear-view mirror, you’d be convinced you are driving a slightly firm-riding family SUV.

    The refinement is bolstered by a smooth 10-speed automatic, paired with a muscular turbo-diesel V6. One of the features that was particularly impressive to me, as I navigated Melbourne’s busy freeways, was the excellent adaptive cruise control and crystal-clear digital instrument cluster.

    The cruise control was intuitive to operate through buttons on the steering wheel and corresponding information was displayed on the digital dash. Likewise, the large centre touchscreen was a breeze to navigate.

    I didn’t have to go hunting for buttons or hidden menus like I did in some of the other utes. This made driving the Ranger a relaxing experience in comparison.

    MORE: Why the Ranger was our Ute of the Year

    The test in a nutshell

    As a lifelong car enthusiast it was a privilege to shadow the CarExpert team during testing. Watching from behind the scenes during the performance testing and driving around the coveted Holden proving ground was an awesome opportunity.

    I hope the facility stays in operation for many years to come! I even had the opportunity to slide a Ranger Raptor around the skid pan briefly…

    Finishing the test at the AARC and watching the utes tackle steep climbs was the perfect end to an excellent trip. I still struggle to wipe the smile off my face thinking about this incredible opportunity! The CarExpert team was amazing to work with and I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity to tag along (James is being too kind here, and we’re suspicious – Ed.)

    To everyone who missed out this time round, get writing! I guarantee you’ll love the next competition CarExpert runs.

    MORE: All the drag race winners
    MORE: Which ute shone on the dyno?
    MORE: How the utes stacked up in our towing test
    MORE: All the performance data from testing
    MORE: The overall winner is…

    James Gelding
    James Gelding is a Contributor at CarExpert.