Pick-ups are the mainstay of the construction and related industries and with the current economic situation biting hard this sector of the market is suffering. If operators need a new pick-up, however, there has never been a better time to buy as Steve Banner explains.
Pity the poor old pick-up dealer. Potential customers such as builders are being hammered by the recession and in most cases their priority is survival; not acquiring a new vehicle. The same can be said of fencing contractors, landscape gardeners, roofers and other pick-up-loving outdoor trades people.
For customers who’ve got the cash, however, aren’t looking to take out a loan and aren’t trying to off-load a part-exchange, shopping for a pick-up in the current climate is a joy. Mouth-watering discounts are there for the asking and sales people anxious to clinch a deal are likely to be willing to throw in lots of lovely extras.
So which pick-up model should you go for? One model that’s well worth investigating is Mitsubishi’s L200, What Van?’s Pick-up of the Year in 2008.
Like the majority of pick-ups on sale in the UK today, it can handle a payload just north of 1,000kg. Power comes courtesy of a 2.5-lit diesel with 134hp on tap — an optional upgrade to 165hp is available too — and 314Nm of torque and the engine is married to a five-speed manual gearbox. An automatic box can be specified on some models.
L200 is up for grabs solely in 4x4 guise and buyers can pick from a single, an extended or a double cab.
Mitsubishi’s load-lugger looks good, rides and handles well and the engine pumps out enough torque to keep you moving in the mud. One drawback is the foreshortened cargo bed, but many buyers appear willing to put up with this limitation; especially those that are image-conscious.
That’s a tribute to Mitsubishi’s success in promoting high-specification variants of L200 under the Warrior, Animal, Raging Bull and Trojan banners.
Equally anxious to appeal to the image-aware is Nissan with the enormously-impressive Navara. Under the bonnet you’ll find a 2.5-lit diesel good for 171hp and 403Nm and linked either to a six-speed manual or a five-speed ’auto box. Like L200, Navara is 4x4 only and customers can opt for either an extended or a double cab. There’s no single cab, which is something of a pity.
As its specifications indicate, Navara doesn’t lack beef. There’s bags of performance on tap, both the ride and the handling are exemplary for a truck of this type,and we’re perfectly happy with the quality of the gear-change offered by the manual box.
Ample torque, effective engine braking and plenty of suspension articulation make Navara a useful performer off-road. For your money you get a well-equipped cab, especially if you elect to acquire one of the more upmarket derivatives.
While we’re unabashed fans of Navara, we’re not so keen on its more prosaic NP300 stablemate. Powered by a 133hp 2.5-litre diesel generating 304Nm of torque and relying on a five-speed manual box, it can be ordered as either a 4x2 or a 4x4. Single, Extended and Double cab variants all feature in the price list.
Advantages include effective performance in the mud, a sensibly-sized cargo box, long service intervals and rock-solid build quality. To that you can add a decent level of manoeuvrability and a precise gearchange.
On the downside, however, its on-the-road performance is stodgy and it suffers from woolly steering. Its three-man bench seat in the single cab has to be slid forward in its entirety to allow the driver to reach the pedals and there is zero legroom for the centre passenger.
That hapless individual is held in place solely by a lap strap. The lack of a head rest means that he’s likely to smack the back of his head on the rear window if the driver has to brake heavily. Extended and double cab versions come with regular twin front seats.
Nissan and Toyota have always been major rivals and the latter’s Hilux sports one of the best-known names in the pick-up business. With an enviable reputation for reliability, Toyota’s tough workhorse is marketed with a 2.5-litre diesel generating 118hp and 325Nm, and a 169hp 3.0-litre diesel good for up to 360Nm. It’s produced as a 4x2 and a 4x4 and with both a five-speed manual and a five-speed automatic gearbox. A single, an extended and a double cab are all up for grabs.
As we indicated earlier, pick-up makers are extraordinarily fond of special editions. That being the case, you might want to hunt down the 3.0-litre Hilux Invincible 200 double cab with a mighty 197hp champing at the bit. That’s the consequence of being breathed on by Toyota Motor Sport.
As well as rock-solid build quality, Hilux’s plus-points include decent handling, a precise gearchange and, in the case of the 4x4s, impressive ability off-road. While the 2.5-litre is no road rocket it soon gets into its stride while the 3.0-litre hurtles away from rest and has to be reined in firmly at motorway speeds.
On the downside the ride can be skittish at times, engine noise can be excessive and the trim levels to be found in the more basic models cannot be classed as inspiring.
Hilux has been revamped for 2009. Changes include the introduction of an auto ’box for the 3.0-litre that adapts the shift pattern in line with driving conditions. Modifications have been made to the suspension across the range aimed at improving handling and cutting road surface vibration. Bigger brakes are being fitted too while cosmetic alterations include a new front grille and bumper.
We suspect, however, that quite a few of the old-specification pick-ups are hanging around unsold so there could be bargains to be had.
Ford executives in the USA must sometimes scratch their heads and wonder why the Big Blue Oval doesn’t shift more pick-ups on this side of the pond. On the other side of the Atlantic Ford’s F-150 pick-up has long been a best-seller and still attracts large numbers of buyers, even in the current economic climate. Last October saw the launch of the latest version which was named North American Truck of the Year at the Detroit show.
In Britain Ford markets the made-in-Thailand Ranger. Two engines are on offer; a 2.5-litre diesel generating 141hp and 330Nm and a 3.0-litre diesel pumping out 154hp and 380Nm. Both 4x2 and 4x4 models are on sale.
You can order either a five-speed manual or a five-speed automatic gearbox and either a single, an extended or a double cab. If you want to stand out from the pack, then opt for the colourful Wildtrak.
With plenty of feedback through the steering and remarkably little wallowing when you push it hard through corners, the manual versions of Ranger handle surprisingly well. The ’box offers an exemplary gearchange too, although we can’t pretend to be keen on the umbrella-type handbrake. Nor are we keen on the ride. At times the front suspension struggles with even moderately rough road surfaces.
Venture off-road and you’ll discover that the 3.0-litre in particular is a star performer. The extra torque it produces helps drivers wrestle their way up steep and slippery inclines and the engine’s braking capacity is a boon when you go down the other side of the hill.
One thing that certainly isn’t a boon is the 3.0-litre auto’s tail-happy on-road behaviour in the wet. That’s something Ford definitely needs to sort out.
Ranger is also marketed as the Mazda BT-50. Both trucks go down the same production line.
Also built in Thailand is the Isuzu Rodeo. There are two power choices; a 2.5-litre diesel (136hp/294Nm) or a 3.0-litre diesel offering 163hp and up to 360Nm of torque. You can select either a five-speed manual or a four-speed auto ’box and Rodeo is imported as either a single or a double cab. The former is sold solely as a 4x2, the latter as a 4x4.
Strongly-built and tough-looking, Rodeo comes with responsive steering, plenty of grunt — especially valuable when you venture off road — and a user-friendly gearchange. It rides well too, noise isn’t an issue and lots of goodies are available if you’re willing to spend the extra cash. By doing so you may help to disguise the, slightly dull, interior.
The vast majority of pick-ups are built overseas, but there’s one that isn’t. That’s Land Rover’s 4x4 Defender, propelled by a 2.4-litre diesel engine sourced from Ford’s Transit. Married to a six-speed manual gearbox it provides 122hp and 360Nm.
Still looking a lot like the original Land Rover launched just after Word War II, Defender received a major revamp almost two years ago. In came the aforementioned Transit diesel — complete with a six-speed gearbox — along with modifications to the suspension. The interior was reworked, with decent heating and ventilation installed at last and the appearance of a dashboard borrowed from Discovery.
One thing has not changed, however. Get behind the wheel and you’ll find that you’re still wedged awkwardly against the driver’s door. Smoother and quieter than the 2.5-litre it replaced, the 2.4-litre makes driving on conventional roads far pleasanter and the new engine has not compromised Defender’s ability to tackle demanding terrain. When the off-roading gets tough, it’s still a world-beater.
While most pick-ups can shift around a tonne, there’s one widely-available model with rather less carrying capacity but an enviable ability to wriggle into tight corners. Able to move upwards of half a tonne, Piaggio’s forward-control Porter dropside is up for grabs with two different body sizes. Employing a chassis that can be ordered as either a 4x2 or a 4x4, and with a 64hp 1.3-litre petrol engine and a five-speed gearbox, Piaggio’s pocket-sized load lugger is pretty much unique.
That’s especially the case when one remembers that it’s marketed with battery power as an alternative. The lead-gel battery pack offers a range of up to 85 miles between recharges and is stowed beneath the vehicle. Also available as a tipper, an MPV and a panel van, Porter drove off with What Van?’s Microvan of the Year award in 2008.
The advantage of a dropside as opposed to a pick-up body lies in the name. You can drop down the sides as well as the tailgate giving you far greater access to the cargo bed.
The drawback is that the bed tends to sit above the wheel boxes in most cases, which means that the loading height tends to be higher than it is with a standard pick-up. That’s not a problem if you’re loading and unloading the vehicle using a forklift, but can pose challenges if you’re relying on muscle power.
On the other hand dropside cargo beds tend to be longer and wider than those to be found on their pick-up counterparts, and boast more payload capacity. Typically they’re mounted on chassis cabs such as Ford’s Transit, Vauxhall’s Movano and Volkswagen’s Crafter.
Set into a steel surround, the beds tend to be constructed out of 15mm ply — a one-piece floor is preferable — with a non-slip surface and rest on metal bearers. The dropsides and tailgates are usually made out of anodised aluminium. That makes them easy to raise and lower and they won’t rust.
Dropside body makers often provide load tie-down rings — retractable ones represent the best bet — in the side raves and rope hooks just underneath the body to make it easier to sheet the cargo over with a tarpaulin. At the cab end you’ll typically find a bulkhead with a mesh insert plus hinged stops at the top to stop any ladders propped up against it sliding off to one side.
While some manufacturers fit dropside bodies on the production line, others have them built and installed by a UK bodybuilder. Telford-based Ingimex is one of the key suppliers. Such bodies often form part of a manufacturer-backed one-stop-shop programme designed to make it easier to purchase bodied vehicles. Ingimex’s Thor dropside body, for instance, is fitted to a Relay under Citroën’s Ready to Run programme; a scheme that won What Van?’s One-Stop Shop award for 2008.
Short of customers, dealers are desperately anxious to sell vehicles of this type at present, so makes sure you negotiate a cut-price deal. In today’s market you need to save every penny.