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 favourable 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 many cases – such as the Fiat Fullback – this has been little more than badge engineering (the Fiat is a restyled Mitsubishi L200).
So where does that leave today’s pick-up buyer? We’ve assembled a quick run-down of the current market, along with our thoughts on each one.
Pick of the bunch for us at the moment is the Ford Ranger. We like the choice of either a frugally-minded 2.2-litre or more interesting 3.2-litre diesel engine, both with either a six-speed manual or automatic gearbox. It’s one of the few pickups to benefit from modern safety features such as a lane keeping aid, adaptive cruise control, and traffic sign recognition, and as a result is one of only two pickups to score a full five stars in Euro NCAP’s safety tests. Practical touches include a heated windscreen and bed-liner as standard, plus the option of an off-road pack with skid plates and electrically-operated rear diff lock – you can even specify a 230v power inverter in the cabin. As a commercial vehicle, it benefits from Ford’s most extensive testing regimes, and now that it features the company’s latest Sync3 infotainment system, it feels the most complete and cohesive pickup on today’s market.
Top of the pile from the Japanese manufacturers is the Series 5 Mitsubishi L200. Its new 2.4-litre diesel engine delivers 178hp and a respectable turn of speed, and as an extra bonus it’s the only pickup on the market to offer a full-time 4WD setting whereas most make do with a strictly part-time set-up. It’s practical in other ways, too, achieving 34mpg during our testing and offering a genuine 500-mile range, while it boasts perhaps the tightest turning circle of all the pickups. However, despite the new engine’s power it’s only rated to tow 3.1 tonnes whereas the Ranger can manage 3.5, while some of the trim and equipment can feel like hasty add-ons – the satnav in particular feels somewhat aftermarket. That said, the L200 has rightly earnt a reputation as a hard-working truck.
Although Isuzu’s D-Max has recently received a mild refresh and a new engine, the most extreme model in the range – the Arctic Trucks AT35 – still makes use of the old model as its base, complete with 2.5-litre twin-turbo engine, and we feel that’s just as well. For sheer road presence, the AT35 is unbeatable, and we think Isuzu deserve serious kudos for having the balls to offer this thing through the dealer network, complete with a five-year warranty. No-one will dare pull out in front of you when you’re behind the wheel of one of these, and as a tool for crossing glaciers it’s completely unstoppable. It’s not perfect, though – Isuzu opted not to change the diff ratios to suit the 35-inch tyres so the gearing is off, and the use of lift blocks instead of longer springs means the ride’s a touch on the bouncy side. But if you’re in the market for a monster truck, the AT35 really is the only contender.
Toyota’s long-lived pickup is also perhaps the most well known, and the latest model moves the company’s work-horse towards a far more car-like persona than ever before. This is most obvious in the cabin, where the driving position is more comfortable and soft-touch materials make more of an appearance. But it’s not universally successful, because some of it looks far less hard-wearing than the previous models. Toyota have also taken the curious decision not to offer the 2.8-litre engine in the UK, leaving just a 148hp 2.4 as the sole engine choice. It suffers from a very narrow power band and is a little on the noisy side when extended, plus it can only tow 3.2 tonnes. The Battlestar Galactica looks aren’t to everyone’s taste, either.
The new D-Max benefits from a minor facelift and interior update for 2017, but the big news is a new 1.9-litre engine. Despite having more power on paper than the Hilux, the D-Max is considerably slower than the Toyota and, crucially, on the road it feels both underpowered 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. It retains its 3.5 tonne tow rating, too.
Any new models to look forward to?
The forthcoming Mercedes X-Class is interesting, particularly as it will be offered in three distinct forms: a work-oriented ‘Pure’ model, a more comfortable ‘Progressive’ lifestyle version, and a range-topping Power model. The company will also offer a 258hp V6 diesel model with permanent 4WD, although that won’t arrive until mid-way through 2018. However, Mercedes’ first pickup is based heavily on the Nissan Navara/Renault Alaskan and, having made no mention of extra engineering or testing work, we can’t help but have questions about the new model’s reliability and longevity.
Talk to me about tax
Double cab pickups are classified as LCVs (Light Commercial Vehicles) by the government, as long as they have a payload of at least one tonne. While all 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. Two seat – or single cab – pickups are automatically classed as LCVs, so there’s less of a worry there.
LCVs pay a fixed rate of VED, or road tax, rather than follow the CO2-based regime laid out for cars. For 2017/18, vans and pickups pay £240 a year.
Whereas company cars pay benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax based on a sliding scale of their emissions, pickups are taxed at a flat rate set out by the treasury each year. For 2017/18, that rate is £3,230. That means an employee earning a salary within the 20% income tax threshold who opts for a pickup as a company car would pay just 20% of £3,230 which is £646 a year, while a 40% earner would pay £1,292 – still substantially less than they’d pay on even a modest company car.
As a final incentive, companies and registered individuals can claim back the VAT on the purchase of a pickup, and that’s why you often see pickup prices published as CVOTR (Commercial Vehicle On The Road) which includes all delivery charges but excludes VAT.