Sector - Fleet
Pick-ups come of age
Go back in time two or three decades and the humble 4×4 pick-up was regarded as a basic utility vehicle in the UK, with very few refinements. It would more than likely have a normally aspirated diesel under the bonnet and there would be manual locking front hubs; it might have had a radio if you were lucky. How things have changed in the intervening years.
The modern pick-up is a very different proposition. It bristles with the latest tech, including a state-of-the-art electronic four-wheel drive system, and has become a fashionable lifestyle statement, especially in five-seater, double cab configuration which account for almost 95% of sales. Kudos must go to Mitsubishi’s UK importer, the Colt Car Company, for kick-starting this transition; it began marketing special edition versions of its L200, alongside a wide range of accessories to enable individual customisation, long before other manufacturers. It proved to be a successful move.
Pick-ups haven’t gone all soft, however; far from it. They are still capable of hauling in excess of a tonne, are built to take a vast amount of punishment without complaining and in some cases can tow up to 3.5 tonnes. A ladder chassis frame is de rigueur and the majority have a leaf-sprung rear live axle. They can be worked hard during the week and then used for playtime at the weekend.
One reason double cab pick-ups have become popular as company cars with business users in the UK is the tax benefit. Registered as light goods vehicles, just like a van, road tax (or Vehicle Excise Duty as it’s known officially) is currently fixed at £230, 100% of VAT can be reclaimed and the benefit-in-kind rate is £3,170 for the 2016/17 tax year. That equates to £634 for a base rate taxpayer. Include free fuel and it rises to £753; not bad, eh?
Buyers in the market for a new 4×4 pick-up couldn’t have timed it better. Brand new versions of just about all the major players have just been, or are about to be launched in the UK. On top of that there are two manufacturers entering the pick-up market for the first time by the end of 2016. Fiat and Renault are about to join the fray respectively with the Fullback (a rebadged Mitsubishi L200) and Alaskan (rebadged Nissan NP300 Navara). Mercedes-Benz is even joining the fun in late 2017 with a re-bodied, Navara-based offering, called X-Class.
Only unveiled as a ‘concept’ so far, X-Class will be aimed fairly and squarely at the premium end of the pick-up spectrum with a powerful 3.0-litre V6 diesel under the bonnet and using Merc’s 4MATIC permanent four-wheel drive system that has two locking differentials and a low-range transfer ’box. An alternative 4×4 system switchable between four- and rear-wheel drive will also be available and we would expect to see it mated to the 2.3-litre Nissan/Renault four-cylinder diesel in the more entry level versions.
The PSA Group has also announced recently that as part of its new five-year development plan it intends to introduce Citroën and Peugeot badged one tonne pick-ups by the end of the decade.
With the recent demise of the iconic, but agricultural, Land Rover Defender there are currently nine manufacturers offering one tonne pick-up ranges. They are the Fiat Fullback, Ford Ranger, Great Wall Steed, Isuzu D-Max, Mitsubishi L200, Nissan Navara, SsangYong Musso, Toyota Hilux and Volkswagen Amarok.
Fiat Professional’s new 4×4 pick-up, the Fullback, is available as a three-strong double cab model line-up in the UK, starting with the entry level 150hp/380Nm SX fitted with a six-speed manual transmission.
Based on the latest generation Mitsubishi L200, all Fullbacks are powered by a 2.4-litre diesel and feature electronically selectable four-wheel drive. The lower powered SX provides three drive settings, but move up to the more powerful and better specced 180hp/430Nm LX and there are four, including a locking centre differential. LX is available with either a manual or auto transmission.
SX specification comes as standard with a stop/start system, 16in alloy wheels, cruise control and variable speed limiter, remote central locking, electric windows and mirrors, Bluetooth connectivity, DAB radio, leather-trimmed steering wheel and gear knob, steering wheel-mounted remote audio controls, air conditioning (including rear vents), front fog lamps and LED DRLs, a tubular side step and a host of safety features including seven airbags. Safety is augmented by the fitment of a full ESP system which includes Trailer Stability Assist and Hill Start Assist.
Standard equipment on the LX brings with it a keyless dash-mounted start button, leather upholstery, electrically adjusted and heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, bi-xenon headlamps with washers, enhanced body styling, 17in alloy wheels, privacy glass and a 6.1in touchscreen infotainment system with DAB, Bluetooth connectivity and sat nav.
Fullback gives Fiat a strong foothold in the pick-up sector, albeit it at the high specification end of the spectrum; and there’s no extended or single cab variants. As a result of being based on the L200 it performs well both on- and off-road and benefits from the tightest turning circle in the sector.
Available as a single, super (extended) and double cab, Ford’s butch-looking Ranger has just undergone a mid-life makeover. There have been detail changes to the front end and dashboard, refinement levels have improved and there’s good news for the current diesel engines. They offer up to 17% better fuel consumption than the ones in the previous models. Fuel economy figures on the combined cycle range from 31.7mpg to 43.5mpg.
Ford offers two diesel engine choices; a 2.2-litre four-cylinder unit pumping out maximum power of 160hp and peak torque of 385Nm, and a 3.2-litre five-pot unit capable of 200hp and 470Nm. Both are Euro 5 compliant at present, but as every light commercial vehicle built after 1 September 2016 has to be fitted with a Euro 6-compliant engine, Ford will be upgrading these power plants as the year progresses.
Four specification levels are up for grabs (XL, XLT, Limited and Wildtrak) and electronically selectable dual-range four-wheel drive is standard on all double cabs. A six-speed manual gearbox is fitted as standard, with an auto six-speeder available as an option on Limited and Wildtrak variants.
Ranger is wider than the traditional Japanese one tonne pick-up and is only matched in this department by the VW Amarok. It feels big to drive, but is a real powerhouse off-road. It has a best in class wading depth of 800mm and comes with both Hill Descent Control and Hill Hold Control as standard.
On-road ride and handling have improved in leaps and bounds for pick-ups in recent years and Ranger is no exception. While not quite reaching the standards set by the current crop of large off-roaders, it’s not far behind; especially if there’s some weight in the back to help settle the rear axle.
Great Wall Steed
Great Wall may not be a well-known brand in this country, but it’s a hugely successful manufacturer in its homeland; China. International Motors is the UK importer – it’s also responsible for Isuzu and Subaru – and the first model to reach these shores is the Steed pick-up.
Available solely as a double cab with electronically selectable, dual-range four-wheel drive, Steed is powered by a 2.0-litre diesel, complete with variable geometry turbo. Capable of producing maximum power of 143hp it develops 305Nm of peak torque between 1,800rpm and 2,800rpm. A six-speed manual gearbox comes as standard; currently there is no auto option.
While not exactly bristling with cutting edge technology, Steed offers extremely good value for money. Where the Steed really scores highly is the specification. Even the base ‘S’ comes with remote central locking, twin front airbags, daytime running lights, air conditioning, heated leather seats, alloy wheels, twin airbags, electric windows front and back and an Alpine radio/CD player with remote steering wheel controls, USB input and Bluetooth connectivity.
Steed feels well put together, there’s no problem with the driving position and the gear change has a surprisingly short-throw. Refinement levels are acceptable, as is the on-road ride quality and it performs well off-road, despite the lack of a lockable rear diff.
It’s not going to turn any heads, so is unlikely to appeal to the lifestyle market, but on price alone the Steed is hard to beat as a civilised workhorse.
When Isuzu replaced the ageing Rodeo in 2012 it made quite a splash when it made its debut at the Commercial Vehicle Show. Here was a stylish newcomer from a manufacturer with a reputation for building ’em tough; and it didn’t disappoint.
There’s a full complement of body style choice and power comes from a 2.5-litre 163hp twin-turbo diesel. Maximum power bites at 3,600rpm while peak torque of 400Nm makes its presence felt across a 1,400rpm-to-2,000rpm plateau. In general use of diesel is little short of exceptional, with a seemingly endless supply of smoothly delivered torque. The electronically selectable dual-range drive system comes with a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, but a five-speed auto option can be specified on higher spec models.
Speaking of specification, even entry-level models come with air-conditioning, electric windows and front, side and curtain airbags as standard. Isuzu has also taken a leaf out of the Mitsubishi playbook by coming up with a slew of high-value limited edition models over the years, the latest being the Centurion, released to mark 100 years since the company set up operations in Tokyo, Japan.
Off-road, D-Max is a surprisingly effective performer, romping up and down muddy farm tracks and across sodden paddocks with ease. Show it some really rough terrain and it doesn’t disappoint, with the ESP system taking care of business effortlessly. On-road it has fallen a little behind the next generation newcomers in terms of refinement, but it’s due a round of revisions by the end of the year.
These will include an all-new 150hp (350Nm) 1.9-litre Euro 6 diesel which is claimed to be much smoother and up to 19% more economical than the current unit.
Mitsubishi was the first of the pick-up manufacturers to bring its next generation models to the UK when it launched the all-new L200 range in autumn 2015. Featuring a redesigned exterior – including rear hinged half doors for the extended club cab for the first time – with an all-new front-end and a brand new cab interior the big news lies under the bonnet.
It gets a re-worked 178hp, 430Nm 2.4-litre version of the diesel found in the ASX and Outlander mated to a manual six-speed transmission. The five-speed box fitted to the outgoing models was one of the main criticisms in the latter years of their lifespan. There’s the option of a six-speed auto box – with steering wheel-mounted flippers for manual shifting – and the dual range four-wheel drive system is controlled electronically via a turn wheel.
As with the previous generation, higher spec models get Mitsubishi’s excellent Super Select system. Not only does this mean that it can be driven in 4×4 mode on all surfaces, including dry tarmac, without any transmission wind-up, it also provides a low range setting which locks the centre diff.
Slightly bigger than its predecessors the new L200 is an impressive bit of kit. It remains an exceptionally competent off-roader, even outgunning the Shogun when the going gets really tough. The big difference, however, is the on-road manners. Refinement levels have increased dramatically and the ride quality is a vast improvement.
From basic workhorses to fully loaded bling machines Mitsubishi has the marketplace covered and the icing on the cake is a dealer network that really understands pick-up customers, whatever their ilk.
Nissan NP300 Navara
Mitsubishi is not the only manufacturer with a brand new pick-up range; Nissan introduced the NP300 Navara at the beginning of this year and it’s a bit of a game-changer. The reason is the rear suspension set-up. It’s the first in its class to offer an independent five-link rear coil/damper suspension system on double cab versions. All the mainstream contenders use more traditional leaf spring systems.
Extended king cab models – there are no plans for a single cab – retain a reworked version of the leaf spring arrangement found on the predecessors; the difference is that the leafs now sit above the rear axle (over slung), rather than being underneath (under slung).
There are also big changes under the bonnet. Out go the old 144/190hp 2.5-litre Euro 5 diesels – and the awesome 3.0-litre V6 for that matter – replaced by 160hp and 190hp 2.3-litre Euro 6 dCi power plants capable of developing peak torque of 400Nm and 450Nm respectively. The more powerful of the two features twin turbochargers and Nissan is claiming an up to 24% improvement in fuel consumption over the old diesels. Transmission choice is a standard six-speed manual or a seven-speed automatic gearbox.
New Navara can more than hold its own in the off-road stakes, fitted out as it is with the latest generation electronic control systems, but its on-road that the independent rear suspension really makes a difference. It’s the most un-pick-up like pick-up when it comes to ride and handling. No more bouncing at the rear end and for all intents and purposes it feels like a big car from behind the wheel. Quite an achievement and Nissan should be congratulated.
Bit of an oddity in the marketplace, this one. Nissan wasn’t the first to bring independent rear suspension to the pick-up market; South Korean manufacturer SsangYong was with the Korando Sports, recently re-badged as the Musso. Sold solely as a five-seater double cab it has a much smaller load bed than the competition. Although it boasts a one tonne payload, it falls a bit short in the towing stakes with a maximum 2.7 tonne capability.
Musso has a commendable on-road ride quality and is no slouch in the muddy stuff thanks to a dual-range 4×4 system, but it can be a bit limited by ground clearance compared with the opposition. There are two specification levels – SX and EX – and power comes from a 155hp 2.0-litre Euro 6 diesel with a peak torque figure of 360Nm. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, but an auto six-speeder is an option on the higher spec EX.
This is a value for money package, a bit like the Great Wall Steed. Go for the entry-level SX and it comes with 16in alloy wheels, manual air conditioning, leather covered steering wheel, remote central locking, Kenwood MP3/CD player with USB and 3.5mm sockets and Bluetooth connectivity. Move up to the EX and it includes leather upholstery with heated front seats, powered driver’s seat, heated, electrically adjustable and power folding door mirrors, and rear parking sensors.
Considered by many as the daddy of them all, Toyota’s Hilux has recently undergone a complete transformation. Eighth generation models have been on sale in the Far East and Australasia since last year and it recently made its UK debut at the 2016 Commercial Vehicle Show and customer deliveries began recently.
As with the current generation, new Hilux is available as a single, extended and double cab with a choice of rear- and electronic four-wheel drive. Suspension remains leaf springs and dampers at the back, but the former are longer than on the outgoing models in an effort to raise comfort levels, particularly on-road.
Under the bonnet of the new generation Hilux there’s a new Euro 6 diesel power plant; a 160hp 2.4-litre which develops 400Nm of peak torque. It looks unlikely that the 178hp Cummins 2.8-litre unit – the same one that’s in the revised Land Cruiser – developing 450Nm will be offered in the UK, unfortunately. There’s a choice of six-speed manual or auto gearboxes and for the first time in a pick-up the former features what Toyota refers to as Intelligent Manual Transmission (i-MT) which blips the throttle on downshifts for smoother changes.
New Hilux is a completely different beast to its predecessor. It’s grown slightly in size, the cab is much more car-like and refinement levels are much improved. The on road ride quality is much smoother and controlled, especially on the motorway, but Hilux has lost none of its legendary off-road credentials. All in all a massive step forwards.
VW’s Amarok is the most car-like of all the pick-ups to drive. Like the Ford Ranger, it’s a big beast and feels like it from the driver’s seat. Introduced to the UK market in 2011 it marked VW’s return to the one tonne pick-up sector after an absence of 15 years; it used to sell a rebadged Hilux as the Taro. Later this year will see the introduction of revised models as part of a mid-life facelift and a shift to Euro 6 engines.
Amarok is available solely as a 4MOTION double cab, with a choice of three specification levels; Startline, Trendline and Highline. Electronically selectable four-wheel drive, complete with a set of low range ratios, can be had in combination with all three trim levels. A permanent 4×4 option, minus low range, can be had as a Highline model only, along with a ‘softer’ on-road rear suspension set-up.
Currently, power comes from a choice of two 2.0-litre Euro 5 turbodiesels, derived from the units found in the previous generation T5 Transporter van. The single turbo TDI produces 122hp/340Nm and comes solely in Startline trim. A 180hp/420Nm twin turbo BiTDI is available in all three specs. A six-speed manual gearbox features across the range.
On-road ride is impressive for a rear leaf-sprung pick-up and there’s bags of torque available under the right foot. It’s no slouch off-road either and thanks to all the ESP system components, even amateur mud-plugging drivers can make good progress.
It’s all about to change before the end of the year, however, with the arrival of a revised line-up. And the big news is that the updated Amarok will be powered solely by 3.0-litre V6 Euro 6 diesels, derived from the power plant in the Touareg SUV. Choice of power outputs is 163hp, 204hp or a range-topping 224hp. Peak torque figures are equally impressive at 450Nm, 500Nm and 550 Nm respectively. At the same time VW has taken the opportunity to rework the interior and raise the infotainment stakes.
The choice of 4×4 pick-ups has never been so good, and it’s only going to get better. The latest generation models are available with all the latest safety-related tech from the passenger car market, not to mention the home comforts we have all become accustomed to in our vehicles. The real beauty of the 4×4 pick-up, however, is its schizophrenic nature. On the one hand it’s capable of tackling a hard day’s work while on the other it’s a very civilised means of transport for adventure-loving families; the best of both worlds.
By Neil McIntee, Editor, VansA2Z
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