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.
The mild refresh of Isuzu’s D-Max has now filtered down to the most extreme model in the range – the Arctic Trucks AT35 – including the new 1.9-litre engine. 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 shot to hell, and the new 1.9-litre engine just isn’t gutsy enough to offset it. However, 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.
Based on the Nissan Navara, the X-Class is 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. The 2.3-litre engine is shared with the Nissan, and although it’s hardly refined, it does a respectable job of ushering things along. It’s surprisingly economical, too. However, given Merc’s premium claims, there are just too many things missing: there’s no reach adjustment for the steering wheel, no central tailgate locking, no adaptive cruise control, and even the expensive COMAND Online infotainment system lacks Apple CarPlay – yet all this can be found on a Ranger. It’s also eye-wateringly expensive – our modestly-equipped X250d test truck weighed in at roughly £48,000 with VAT.
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.
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, most vans and pickups pay £240 a year, rising to £250 in 2018/19.
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 rising to £3,350 in 2018/19. 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.