The UK’s traditionally strong pick-up sector has undergone a considerable amount of churn in the last few years, with several leading players departing the scene and one or two names either entering the market for the first time or making a comeback.

Demand for these 4×4 light commercial vehicles, particularly the higher-specified lifestyle versions, has, however, remained robust.

During the last 12 months, two models have emerged that stand head and shoulders above the competition, making them deserving joint winners of the What Van? Pick-up of the Year Award for 2024.

Co-developed by the brands and built at Ford’s plant in South Africa, Ford is the lead development partner, utilising the engine, transmissions and chassis of the new Ranger for use in the Volkswagen Amarok. It returns to the sector after a three-year hiatus following the withdrawal of the previous Amarok, which was solely a Volkswagen product.

By all accounts, however, it was the German brand in the partnership that insisted on there being a V6 diesel engine in the line-ups.

Previously the pinnacle of the Ford Ranger line-up, the Wildtrak now occupies the middle ground as the only trim available with both four-cylinder 2.0-litre and V6 3.0-litre diesel. If you want a more basic and affordable truck, lesser trims are available but they only get the 2.0-litre engine. Equally, if you want a more extravagant lifestyle pick-up, it is only possible to have the new range-topping Platinum with the V6 diesel. 

Whatever powertrain you opt for, both the Ranger and Amarok offer quick steering, decent cornering abilities, limited body roll and high levels of grip, not to mention peerless off-road performance. The V6, though, delivers guts and full-blooded mechanical oomph. With 600Nm of torque and a 10-speed gearbox with short low ratios, there’s enough muscle under the bonnet to pull a locomotive. The seats in both the Ranger and Amarok are comfortable for driver and passengers and the interior quality is more SUV than pick-up. Despite the shared platform, the trucks do possess different characteristics – power and performance may be the same, but overall the Ranger feels more down to earth, rugged and purposeful. The Amarok, on the other hand, strives for more of a work and play compromise, that feels softer and more mellow. The Amarok is unashamedly targeted at the luxury end of the pick-up sector, from where the withdrawal of the Mercedes-Benz X-Class has done its prospects no harm. Volkswagen is offering the double-cab only Amarok in four specification grades: Life, Style, PanAmericana and Aventura. Ford’s Ranger comes in seven trims and includes a single-cab in the entry-level XL grade. The two newest additions are the Wildtrak X and Tremor. Both are off-road-focused vehicles featuring reworked chassis with suspension upgrades including advanced Bilstein dampers as standard. 

Most of the differences between the VW and the Ford model are cosmetic, the Amarok’s exterior looks more sculpted, with a high waist and flat-top wheel arches. It gets distinctive horizontal upper radiator grille crossbars and integrated narrow LED headlights. The rear features new C-shaped lights and a full-length tailgate embossed with the word ‘Amarok’.

That said, piggy backing the Ranger platform has given the Amarok more interior space and increased it’s off-road ability: wading depth has increased by 300mm to 800mm thanks to shorter overhangs while towing capacity has gone up from 3.1 to 3.5t.

Highly Commended: Toyota Hilux GR Sport

Pick -up Of The Year Highly Commended class=

The Toyota Hilux’s image may be that of a tough commercial workhorse, but while that remains a vital part of its appeal, Toyota also acknowledges the growing importance of the lifestyle pick-up market. Half of UK Hilux sales are now of the high-spec Invincible X variant, and a further 10% are taken by the new range-topping GR Sport. The GR stands for Gazoo Racing, the name of Toyota’s motorsport arm. Hilux GR Sport features an upgraded suspension system, with new shock absorbers and front springs designed to provide improved handling. It features the most powerful engine option from the existing Hilux range, a 2.8-litre 201hp diesel that also provides 500Nm of torque, and is mated to a six-speed automatic gearbox. 

The Hilux GR Sport is available as a double-cab model only, and retains the Hilux’s regular load-carrying capabilities, with a payload of up to 1t and braked towing capability of up to 3.5t. Exterior styling features include a black front grille with G-pattern mesh and a prominent central horizontal bar with classically rendered Toyota branding.