Here we round up the runners and riders in an expanding class that is closely fought by a variety of accomplished opponents. The Toyota Hi lux and Mitsubishi L200 are two trucks that have been solid performers in this category for years, while the Ford Ranger, Nissan Naval are also popular choices among commercial fleets and private buyers.
Cheaper options like the Isuzu D-Max and Swansong Russo offer utilitarian functionality along with an SUV image. Double cab pick-ups that can carry more than one tonne of payload in the bed are classified as commercial vehicles, and as a result they qualify for a fixed rate of Benefit-In-Kind tax.
Ford Ranger Toyota Hi lux Mitsubishi L200 Nissan Naval Isuzu D-Max Swansong Russo Volkswagen Amar ok In a bid to keep rivals at bay, Ford has modernized the styling inside and out, adding a clutch of the latest technology and safety features.
The Ranger's 2.0-litre Blue engine comes in three power outputs: 128bhp, 168bhp and 210bhp, with a six-speed manual gearbox as standard for all versions, except the high-spec Thunder and Raptor variants, which use a ten-speed auto transmission. The Ranger is also extremely capable in heavy-duty use on the road with the Double Cab offering a 1,199 kg payload and a class-leading 3,500 kg maximum towing weight.
Gone is the flimsy plastics and dated switchgear, replaced by a dashboard which looks and feels like it’s from one of Toyota’s passenger cars. There are plenty of hard plastics to remind you’re in a pick-up, but it’s now on par with the car-like Nissan Naval for fit and finish.
The double-cab truck’s load bay offers 1,470 mm square with a depth of 475 mm and there are plenty of lashing points and grooves to keep your goods stable. It’s not the cheapest, but the low-ratio gearbox helps provide a superb off-road experience and the steering is responsive, making cornering composed and the truck easy to control at speed.
Constant evolution means the Isuzu D-Max is still a top pick-up choice on the market, even though there are plenty of newer rivals out there. It’s still a solid choice though, offering low running costs, a five-year warranty and a 3.5-tonne towing capacity, and the broad range of models means there's a truck to suit all sorts of jobs.
The Arctic Trucks AT35 is also based on this spec, with few changes inside, but a dramatic external makeover, with 35-inch Nokia off-road tires, flared whee larches and a lofty ride height. Swansong offers EX, Rebel, Saracen and Rhino trims, and all models are well-equipped, featuring plenty of kit taken straight from the Sexton SUV.
On the road it’s easy to forget that the Amar ok isn’t an easy-driving SUV, although a hint of rear-end bounce that typifies the pick-up genre is evident. The hefty ladder-framed Amar ok can’t truly match the poise, dynamism or comfort of contemporary road-focused SUVs, but with V6 muscle many more drivers should find the vehicle rewarding enough for that not to matter.
The interior fit and finish is excellent, including a handsome new fascia design that looks and feels well screwed together. The front seats offer loads of support, and with full steering wheel adjustment, the driving position is more car-like and comfortable than you might expect from a pick-up.
By now, you've probably heard that the U.S. auto industry closed the books on 2015 in style, setting a record high for annual sales. Europe is a different story, in a market that favors much smaller vehicles, and rarely trucks.
Ford's Ranger sold 27,300 units in Europe last year, which was good enough for a 27% year-over-year increase. In fact, the Ford Ranger was introduced in late 2011 and has increased its market share in Ford's 20 traditional European markets from 11.7% in 2012 to 23.5% through October 2015, ahead of competitors such as Toyota's Hill.
The Ranger's sales in Europe in 2015 hardly move the needle considering Ford sold 1.3 million units total in its traditional 20 European markets. Ford currently produces the Ranger in South Africa, Argentina, Thailand, and Nigeria for almost 200 overseas markets, but not here in the U.S. Not so long ago, it was unclear whether demand existed in the midsize truck market, but General Motors proved in 2015 that it does indeed.
Furthermore, folks wondered where exactly the Ranger could be produced here in the U.S., and that became clear in recent months. The Ranger continues to sell well overseas, even in a market like Europe which is so different, and General Motors' Canyon and Colorado sold well their first full year back in the U.S. -- these are just more signs that it's time for the Ranger to reclaim its midsize crown in America.
Running a pick-up in place of a mid-sized family SUV could save a fleet driver a tidy four-figure sum on his annual tax bill as a result of the lower liability that all commercial vehicles qualify for. The Hi lux has been part of Toyota’s commercial vehicles range since the late ‘60s, and it has since garnered a reputation for versatility and dependability that means nobody bats an eyelid when they find that the fully-loaded trim level is dubbed ‘Invincible’.
Creditable ride and handling sophistication distinguish it also, as do dimensions that allow it to narrowly escape feeling elephantine on tighter roads. The Toyota now comes with a choice of 148bhp 2.4-litre- and 201bhp 2.8-litre four-cylinder diesel engines, which don’t make it sound exciting next to some multi-cylinder options even if the latter has plenty of real-world performance and decent refinement.
Volkswagen was ahead of the pack when it moved into the light pick-up market in 2010, and attempted to use the pseudo-premium allure of the VW badge to make a flatbed truck that would be more palatable to an audience of customers who hadn’t considered one before. It was a moderately successful bid, producing a vehicle with at least a recognizable semblance of the perceived quality and onboard technology for which VW’s passenger cars are known, but also genuine utility and ‘4Motion’ 4×4 capability for those that wanted it.
While you certainly wouldn’t mistake an Amar ok’s cabin or ride for that of a modern Tuareg or Tiguan SUV, both will be good enough to lift the VW’s ownership appeal above that of most of its competitors even now. And when VW elected to replace the slightly overworked 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel engines that motivated early cars with a 3.0-litre TDI V6 in 2017, they added refinement, performance and disability.
It was launched in its current form in 2010; engineered in one of Ford’s bigger pickup markets outside the USA, in Australia; and is built in six locations around the world, with European-market vehicles sourced from South Africa. The Ranger doesn’t offer the material cabin appeal of some alternatives, but it has a comfortable driving position, decent mechanical refinement, and a relatively settled and compliant on-road ride, with harmoniously weighted and well-tuned controls that make for impressively intuitive disability.
It has a cabin only sparsely populated by the necessary secondary controls, with oversized knobs, switches and levers that are easy to grab if you’re wearing work gloves, and a roomy foot well. That the D-Max can be bought for less than £17,000-plus-VAT in bottom-rung, single-cab, commercial-derivative form, however, must also help endear it to those who like to look after the pennies while they’re looking after their particular flock of Welsh mountain sheep or many hectares of Cambrian hill forest.
A slightly weedy-feeling 1.9-litre diesel engine insists on being worked hard to move the D-Max along with any gusto, and it’s one of several factors that make this option one of the least refined and habitable in the pick-up class. It’s a far cry from the vaguely sporty, Ken Greenley-designed SUV of the same name that came to the UK in the mid-1990s, but it delivers respectable performance and handling, and strong towing capacity and utility, to value-savvy buyers who need such things on a budget.
The Russo’s 179bhp, 2.2-litre diesel engine offers more grunt than some in the class, and that it’s rating to tow 3.5 tonnes on a braked trailer also trumps certain rivals. A skittish and noisy ride is easily the car’s dynamic Achilles heel, though, and is what prevents it from featuring anymore highly on this list.
The Mitsubishi L200 was one of the first vehicles to benefit from the company car tax loophole that has allowed the pick-up truck market to grow in the UK. It’s now available in its sixth full model generation, with a 148bhp 2.2-litre turbo diesel engine and as a ‘club cab’ or double-cab body design, although various trim levels can be hard to mix equipment, 4×4 capability, ruggedized looks and value to your particular preference.
It attracted criticism for its curiously configured driving position; for its slightly cramped-feeling cabin; for particularly slow and vague steering; for its noisy diesel engine; and for its ability to maintain traction easily over tougher terrain. For modern styling appeal, cabin space and both towing and carrying capacity, the L200 is more competitive with its peers, and likewise for outright performance and fuel economy.
The angular, and allegedly bulletproof, Cybertruck will have up to three electric motors and more than 500 miles of range in its top-level trim, with a claimed towing capacity of more than six tonnes and a loading bay the same size as that of a Ford F-150. Tesla boss Elon Musk claimed that some 200,000 customers placed cash deposits for the Cybertruck within a week of the vehicle’s unveiling.
Although pickup trucks have been the big seller in the US for years, here in the UK they’ve been largely the preserve of builders and game wardens. However, as efforts to make them more comfortable have combined with SUVs becoming more focused on their on-tarmac performance, those who need a genuine 4×4 have been turning to the humble pick-up in greater numbers.
At the same time, company car users have been able to take advantage of more favorable benefit-in-kind (BIK) taxes for pickups, while businesses can benefit by reclaiming the VAT on a truck just as they can on a van. Sensing this shift, car manufacturers have been scrambling to ensure their product line-up includes a pick-up of some kind, although in some cases this has been little more than badge engineering.
Despite having more power on paper than the Hi lux, the D-Max is considerably slower than the Toyota and, crucially, on the road it feels both under powered and raucous. Despite the update, some areas were left unaddressed: there’s still no reach adjustment for the steering wheel, for instance, nor is there a locking rear diff, not even as an option.
Despite that, the D-Max continues to feel the most utilitarian of all the pickups, and to our mind that makes it the most suited to a hard day’s work, whether that’s lugging a pallet of bricks across a building site or a small herd of sheep across a field. Based on the Nissan Naval, the now discontinued X-Class was Mercedes’ attempt to claim the title of the “world’s first premium pick-up.” It certainly rides well, and handles better than any other pick-up thanks to its Mercedes-tuned all-coil suspension.
With a payload well below the one-tonne cut-off, businesses can’t reclaim the VAT on its considerable £48,784 purchase price, nor can they avail themselves of more favorable BIK terms. While Isuzu’s Arctic Truck is built to conquer the frozen wastelands of the north, the Raptor must surely be the king of the desert.
Its fearsome well-engineered suspension is more than capable of spending its time jumping from one sand dune to the next, and although its 2.0-litre bi-turbo diesel engine isn’t as ballsy as the US-spec Raptor’s V6, it’s still a strong performer. Double cab pickups are classified as CVS (Light Commercial Vehicles) by the government, as long as they have a payload of at least one tonne.
While most double cabs on the market today fall into this category, you should be aware that fitting additional accessories (such as a hard top, or canopy) adds weight to the vehicle and therefore reduces its payload, although most have sufficient headroom in their ratings to allow for this. CVS pay a fixed rate of LED, or road tax, rather than follow the CO2-based regime laid out for cars.