Back in 2018 when the Mercedes-Benz X-Class arrived in the UK people baulked at the thought of a pick-up truck that cost in excess of £47,000, excluding any on the road costs and without VAT. 

All in, the X-Class tipped the scales at around £58,000 for an X 350d with a 3.0-litre V6 diesel producing 258hp. It was a lot of money, and still is, but somehow people came to accept it. As the price of a premium pick-up has gradually crept up so too has the market for even more outlandish and extreme models. 

When Ford launched the previous generation Ranger Raptor it was derided for its price and inability to claim the VAT back due to its sub-1.0t payload, and yet one in 20 sales in all of Europe were for the Raptor version of the Ford Ranger. 

The new Ranger – an altogether different beast, with a V6 petrol engine – remains ineligible for a VAT refund but still sales are predicted to be huge despite an eye-watering £48,800 list price. Yet it’s not alone in the market for a pick-up truck that, on the road, will set you back close to £60,000. 

The Isuzu D-Max Arctic Trucks AT35 is arguably even more outlandish than the Raptor with its chunky tyres and wide wheel arches. It’s also more expensive, at £49,640 for the top-spec automatic model. What then, is the appeal of these halo trucks, and what do they offer that the X-Class didn’t? To answer that question it’s important to look at the pick-up segment, not just in the UK but across Europe. 

The UK is one of the largest markets for pick-up trucks and also one of the markets that likes to specify the higher end vehicles. More than 70% of sales are for trucks that would be regarded as high-end models and in comparison to other markets in Europe our appetite for double-cab pick-ups is unsurpassed. Turkey, another large market for pick-up trucks, is equally fond of luxury models, but their mix of single-cab and other lesser trims makes the segment appear more restrained than our own. But the high-end pick-up trucks are not a new phenomenon, extravagant Mitsubishi L200s were, after all, once a popular choice and Toyota has rolled out many modified Hilux variants. However, you could argue that the access to high-end pick-ups has simply become easier. There’s now no longer the need to go to a bodybuilder or accessory provider to tune up the look of your truck. 

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The Ranger Raptors and Arctic Trucks of this world are also far more extreme than pick-up trucks have been, and not just visually either. While the AT35 is 180mm wider than a standard D-Max, and a Ranger Raptor is 112mm wider than a conventional Ranger it’s the alterations under the skin that arguably command the premium. Where the X-Class went for a V6 diesel engine to keep pace with the V6 Amarok of the time, the newest Ranger Raptor has a 3.0-litre V6 petrol. Moreover, it’s also got Fox Live 2.5in dampers to produce a level of ride quality previously unimaginable in a pick-up truck. Add in the novelty items like the tuned exhaust and the appeal of a premium sports pick-up starts to make sense. The D-Max AT35 doesn’t quite go to the same extremes, as it still utilises a standard 1.9-litre four-cylinder diesel engine but there’s still a certain level of bespoke trickery underneath those wide arches. The AT35 gets Bilstein dampers behind the 35in tyres and exclusive Arctic Truck alloy wheels. It might still have a common or garden engine, but the monstrous lift in ride height that increases the nerdy off-road numbers to deck winners in a Top Trumps battle make up for that. With a 35° approach angle, 34° departure angle and a 22° ramp angle, the AT35 means business where it matters. As halo products in the range, these trucks are also the mobile advertisements for the rest of the range. Isuzu has the most comprehensive line-up of pick-up trucks on offer, with its utility range offering single and king-cabs, and then double-cab options from the modest DL20, to the sweet spot that is the DL40 and up to the well-appointed V-Cross. The D-Max range covers all bases with the AT35 waving a wild flag at the front of the pack. The Ranger line-up is equally all encompassing, with a total of seven models in the range from basic XL and working spec XLT to more salacious models like the Wildtrak X which gets its own set of Bilstein dampers. With such depth, the existence of a £50,000 pick-up doesn’t seem quite so ridiculous given that there’s a price point along every step of the journey all the way up from Isuzu and Ford’s £23,929 and £28,275 respective starting points. 

How long might it be before we see a competing range topper from Volkswagen to usurp its £46,200 PanAmericana and £47,000 Aventura trims? For now, though, the AT35 and the Raptor are the pinnacle of the UK pick-up market, so what are their respective merits? At almost the same price, the biggest discussion point is perhaps diesel versus petrol. There’s no denying the Ranger Raptor has this battle won, the V6 petrol engine not only sounds considerably better than the AT35’s diesel, the performance is also in another league. The Isuzu’s 13-second 0–62mph can’t compete with the Ford’s 7.9 seconds, nor does it have fancy systems like the anti-lag turbo that keeps the pressure high enough to instantly boost power if you get back on the throttle within three seconds of lifting off. When it comes to performance, the Raptor has the AT35 beaten at every turn. The same is true of its ride comfort. As good as the Bilstein dampers on the Arctic Truck D-Max are, they don’t offer the same level of refinement as the Ranger Raptor. On road the Raptor irons out all the lumpy, wallowing inadequacies of our road network and off road it allows you to float on a cushion of refinement that even £100k luxury SUV off-roaders struggle to match. The AT35 in comparison is capable in the dirt but it has a firm ride on the road that rebounds into softness when you hit an obstacle. As a result, you get a semi-harsh ride with a jelly-like wobble. While the interiors of the two trucks are worlds apart in appearance – the Ford is unashamedly upmarket, the Isuzu more working chic – they’re actually more closely matched than you might think in ability. Both have wireless smartphone mirroring and there are all-round
parking sensors. 

The Raptor does however, have the edge when it comes to driving modes and the simplification of the off-roading experience for novice drivers. Simply rotate a dial and the system takes care of the settings from low ratio to diff-locks. The AT35’s integrated top-mount lightbar is a great addition – powerful yet understated – but the Raptor gets six auxiliary switches to allow you to integrate such aftermarket accessories seamlessly onto the truck should you wish. Where the D-Max prospers, however, is in its abilities to be a worker. It’s a proper truck. For all of the Raptor’s nice-to-have features, there’s the nagging issue of payload. The AT35 has no such problem and as a result that near £60,000 on the road price suddenly becomes easier to swallow for a VAT registered person or business. 

As for the looks, well, they’re both imposing in different ways. The Isuzu certainly feels like it has more presence when you drive it as you see the enormous, flared arches in your mirrors, but the flat-fronted grille of the Ford is arguably more imposing. Perhaps as the Wildtrak and other Ranger versions become more commonplace the novelty of the Raptor design will wane. The AT35, on the other hand, will always stand out from the crowd. The interest and acceptance of high-end pick-ups isn’t a new phenomenon but as more models move upmarket it feels like these once-upon-a-time, high-end unicorns will become increasingly common. Emission concerns aside, perhaps full-size US trucks will be the next pick-up truck trend on this side of the pond.

Going to extremes

To say that the AT35 and the Raptor are peak pick-up in the UK is actually a bit of an untruth, as there’s actually a small market for US imports of proper American full-size pick-up trucks. 

I’ve mentioned the F150 Lightning before in this column and as extreme as that is, it’s still not amongst the most ludicrous trucks on offer. Most are grey imports and despite the inherent problems – mainly the size and the left-hand-drive steering wheel position – I’m told there’s a growing interest in them. 

The Ram brand is particularly buoyant following the modernisation of the line-up some years ago, and there’s a renewed interest in Ford’s F150 because of the furore around the electric version. 

My interest, however, lies in (slightly) humbler imports. The Hennessey Performance Engineering version of the Raptor is a new level of swoon. While European Ranger Raptors have to have their power downrated for emissions purposes, the Hennessey Veloci Raptor 500 is unashamedly full blooded. A $24,950 upgrade on the existing Ranger Raptor, it gets 500hp and 745Nm of torque. It’s the next level of performance pick-up. However, unlike the full-size monsters, it will also actually fit on UK roads. 

George Barrow is the UK jury member for the International Van of the Year Award