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When commercial load-lugging meets five-seat practicality - these are the best pick-ups available to buy in the UK this year
Autocar
News
13 mins read
19 July 2021

Where commercial load-lugging meets five-seat practicality – these are the best pick-ups available to buy in the UK this year.

A few years ago, it looked like pick-up trucks might explode in popularity and turn into a real SUV alternative. Far from being the utilitarian workhorses of old, modern pick-up trucks can be specced extremely luxuriously and the driving experience gets closer to that of a regular SUV than ever.

Since they can be classified as a commercial vehicle, you also pay just £275 in road tax per year, and it’s possible to claim the VAT back if it is only used for business. What’s more, when they are registered to a company, but also used privately by an employee, pick-up trucks fall under the benefit in kind (BIK) rules for vans rather than cars, which means a flat rate of £700 per year for 20% tax payers – cheaper than most cars. Double cab pick-ups are a grey area for BIK, as they are often not actually used for carrying goods and HMRC has cottoned on to this. A rule of a 1,000kg minimum payload capacity used to apply, but HMRC is increasingly overturning that.

Despite the tax benefits and the improvements in the liveability of pick-ups, in 2020, the UK pick-up market shrank by 32.7%. Covid was the main driver of that, but the market for light commercial vehicles in general shrank only 20%. In the past year, several pick-up truck models like the VW Amarok, Mercedes-Benz X-Class and Nissan Navara were also taken off sale with no replacement in sight.

Your options for a pick-up truck might have reduced, but there are still some outstandingly capable options out there. Pick-up trucks will carry all the big, dirty, heavy loads that you don’t want to put in the back of today’s increasingly plush SUVs, and they won’t get stuck on a muddy building site where most vans will just spin their wheels. If you want to find out how to drive a vehicle off-road, we made this guide last year, or if you want to find out what pick-up trucks are like when you take them to a disused quarry, we’ve got you covered too.

1. Toyota Hilux

The Hilux has been part of Toyota’s commercial vehicle range since the late ‘60s, and it has since garnered a reputation for versatility and dependability that means nobody bats an eyelid when they find that the fully-loaded trim level is dubbed ‘Invincible’.

The Hilux is comfortable and decently finished inside, and also more refined and more pleasant to use than some of its rivals. Creditable ride and handling sophistication distinguish it also, as do dimensions that allow it to narrowly escape feeling elephantine on tighter roads.

As part of a mid-life update in 2019, the car got new bumpers and some cabin and equipment revisions, one of which made for better provision of active safety systems. A year later, Toyota refined the car’s chassis, styling and interior again, improving ride and handling by another step and adding equipment and visual appeal for range-topping ‘Invincible X’ versions.

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The Toyota now comes with a choice of 148bhp 2.4-litre- and 201bhp 2.8-litre four-cylinder diesel engines, which don’t make it sound exciting next to some multi-cylinder options even if the 2.8 has plenty of real-world performance and decent refinement.

Those who do need to transport heavier cargo may also be pleased to find out that its carrying capacity exceeds that of most of its competitors. Most Hiluxes will be double cabs, but a single cab and an extended cab are available on the 2.4 in no-frills trims. If you want all the bells and whistles – and there are many these days, including a potent JBL premium sound system – it’ll only be ‘double cab’ for you.

Save money with new Hilux deals from What Car?

2. Ford Ranger

It’s the UK’s best-selling pick-up truck, and for good reason. It’s got a wide selection of strong engines, the most car-like handling in the class and it’s good value.

The Ranger is the Blue Oval’s current ‘global’ light truck. It was launched in its current form in 2010; engineered in Australia, one of Ford’s bigger pickup markets outside of the USA; and is built in six locations around the world, with European-market vehicles sourced from South Africa. 

Like the Hilux, the Ranger is available as a bare-bones single cab or extended cab, or as a double cab, with load bay length decreasing as the passenger compartment grows. Engines are now all four-cylinder, 2.0-litre turbodiesels of up to 210bhp, with a choice of manual or automatic gearboxes.

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The Ranger doesn’t offer the material cabin appeal of some alternatives, but it has a comfortable driving position, decent mechanical refinement, and a relatively settled and compliant on-road ride, with harmoniously weighted and well-tuned controls that make for impressively intuitive drivability.

And then there’s the deliciously rabid, top-of-the-line Raptor performance version, with its hardcore offroading suspension specification and its wild body styling. It’s pricey – and since it’s not rated to carry a tonne in the loadbay, it’s not technically not that useful as a commercial vehicle – but it would make a very appealing privately-owned weekend weapon anyway.

The Ford Ranger is such a benchmark in the pick-up truck segment that under Volkswagen and Ford’s deal to share platforms and technology, the next generation of Volkswagen Amarok will be based on the Ranger.

Save money with new Ranger deals from What Car?

3. Isuzu D-Max

You would imagine Isuzu to be quite good at building pick-up trucks, since that is all it sells in the UK. The Isuzu D-Max has been a quiet mainstay of the pick-up truck market for years and has just been given a thorough refresh. 

With competitors like the X-Class and Amarok now off-sale, Isuzu is hoping to capture some of their market share. To do that, it continues to offer the D-Max in bare-bones workhorse spec, as well as more lifestyle-oriented versions with an up-to-date infotainment system, digital gauges and a nicer interior. It’s available as a single or double cab. There’s no extended cab version of the Isuzu, but then that’s a more niche choice anyway.

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The new D-Max is now a strong choice, with a nicer interior than before, a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating – not a given in the segment – and very acceptable on-road manners. The D-Max still sits on a ladder chassis, which means that it’s very stout and still extremely capable off-road.

Where it does still lag behind the competition is with it’s powertrain. It’s the same gruff 1.9-litre diesel as before. It’s now quieter, but performance from the 162bhp unit is still lethargic. 62mph takes close to 13 seconds whether you have the 6-speed automatic gearbox or the 6-speed manual. Buyers might well forgive it for that, since all variants undercut their Hilux equivalents on price.

Save money with new D-Max deals from What Car?

4. SsangYong Musso

If you are after an even more leftfield option than the Isuzu, there is always SsangYong, which offers the Musso. This means rhinoceros in South Korea, where this vehicle is produced. It’s a far cry from the vaguely sporty, Ken Greenley-designed SUV of the same name that came to the UK in the mid-1990s, but it delivers respectable performance and handling, as well as strong towing capacity and utility for value-savvy buyers.

The Musso’s 179bhp, 2.2-litre diesel engine offers more grunt than some in the class, and its rating to tow 3.5 tonnes on a braked trailer also trumps certain rivals. In standard form it looks a little peculiar with its short loadbay, but does offer four seats big enough to be usable by adult passengers. That it’s also one of the shortest cars of its kind stands to make it appeal to those who’ve struggled to get vehicles like these into parking spaces like those you typically find in UK car parks.

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SsangYong does also offer a Musso LWB Rhino if you do need a full-length bed. Yes, that makes it the Rhino LWB Rhino, if you’ve been paying attention. Nor does the additional length come from a longer wheelbase, as the name suggests. It just has a longer rear overhang to create a normal sized load bed. The LWB Rhino only comes in the top trim, though.

The Musso corners with very decent grip and roll control, and the fairly light steering (and helpfully small diameter steering wheel) has better centre feel than many. Same goes for the low road and wind noise. Ride comfort only just clears the threshold of acceptability but the engine is positively zesty low down and impressively quiet when you’re cruising; the six-gear spread giving it very long legs.

Save money with new Musso deals from What Car?

5. Mitsubishi L200

If you want a Mitsubishi L200, you’d better be quick, as Mitsubishi is leaving the UK market later this year. There’s no fixed date yet, but the latest is that it will be winding up sales operations by autumn 2021 and transitioning to aftersales-only business. 

For the time being, the L200 is in its sixth full model generation, with a 148bhp 2.2-litre turbodiesel engine and as a ‘club cab’ or double-cab body design, although various trim levels can be had to mix equipment, 4x4 capability, ruggedized looks and value to your particular preference.  

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In its current generation, this was the car that finished fifth and last in our pick-up truck group test in 2018. It attracted criticism for its curiously configured driving position; for its slightly cramped cabin; for particularly slow and vague steering; for its noisy diesel engine; and for its ability to maintain traction easily over tougher terrain. For modern styling appeal, cabin space and both towing and carrying capacity, the L200 is more competitive with its peers, and likewise for outright performance and fuel economy.

Save money with new L200 deals from What Car?

COMING SOON: 

Ineos Grenadier pick-up

Given how much the European pick-up truck market has thinned out in recent years, if you want something else, you will have to be patient or get creative and import something. If you’ve got time to wait and are after something that fills the Land Rover Defender pick-up sized hole in your life, you might be interested in the pick-up version of the upcoming Ineos Grenadier.

The Grenadier is supposed to be a tough, no-nonsense off-roader in the vein of the original Defender, with a ladder chassis, live axles and a hose-out interior. It will offer a payload of up to 1000kg, a braked trailer towing capacity of 3500kg and a 150kg roof-load rating. 

When sales start in March of next year, two versions of the Ineos Grenadier will be available: a five-seat station wagon and a two-seat commercial vehicle, both based on a standard 2921mm wheelbase. Shortly afterwards, Ineos will launch a double-cab pick-up truck and a seven-seat station wagon, both using a longer (3175mm) wheelbase.

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We’ve already driven a prototype and found formidable off-road performance. It is even fairly refined on the road, in part thanks to straight-six petrol and diesel engines from BMW. It does come with some compromises such as lots of body roll, vague steering, and limited grip due to off-road tyres. Some of those things might still be improved for the production car, but it’s already miles ahead of the original Defender it is supposed to be the spiritual successor to.

Jeep Gladiator

If none of the options available in the UK take your fancy, but want an interesting pick-up truck right away, you will have to turn to a grey-market import. Possibly the most painless option would be a Jeep Gladiator, which is essentially a pick-up truck version of the Jeep Wrangler, which is sold over here. 

The Gladiator is about the same size as a Ford Ranger, but should be seen more as a competitor for the Raptor than any of the work-spec Rangers or Toyota Hiluxes. It’s primarily a fun adventure vehicle to take a jetski to a mountaintop or a quadbike to a beach – or something. Its payload is 620kg rather than 1000kg-plus – despite having a rear axle from a Dodge Ram – and its towing weight is 2721kg.

For the Gladiator, the Wrangler’s frame has been extended by a fairly whopping 780mm, with 490mm of that in the wheelbase and the rest behind the rear axle. Due to its size, it won’t get quite as far off-road as a wrangler, but thanks to a breakover angle of 18.4deg and a departure angle of 25deg, as well as serious off-road tyres from the factory if so optioned, it is still a vehicle that will get you much further than you need.

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Whether Jeep will bring the Gladiator to the UK officially is still to be decided. It’s never going to sell in huge numbers here: the Wrangler doesn’t and its 2.2 diesel isn’t considered butch enough for the job, so it’ll have the 3.0 diesel that would be more expensive and thirstier still. In the US, the Jeep Gladiator starts from $34,040, but it’d have to be a £50,000 car if it ever came to UK dealerships. If you want one now, you will have to import one and you’ll be stuck with left-hand drive. There are companies who can help with bringing one over here, and one importer says they will sell you a gladiator for £62,000, but the ones they have in stock start from £71,000. You have to really want one for that money.

Ford F-150 Lightning and Ford F-150 Raptor

While you’re looking across the pond, you’ll find much excitement around the new electric version of the US’ best-selling vehicle, the Ford F-150. The F-150 pick-up truck really is as American as it gets, but from early 2022, Americans will be able to buy one with that will do up to 300 miles on a charge. At 95.7in wide, or a whopping 2430 mm including the mirrors, the Ford F-150 Lightning still won’t fit down English country lanes properly, but it might be slightly more socially acceptable than the V8-powered F-150s of old.

In the US, it will cost from only $39,974 (£28,200), which sounds like an absolute bargain, given that is what you pay for a well-specced Fiat 500e. Being electric comes with some compromises, however. Due to the prodigious weight of the batteries necessary for any meaningful range, its maximum payload will only be around 900kg. On the flip side, Ford promises a towing capacity of up to 4500kg.

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Ford contends the Lightning counters the lower payload with a number of other features that will make it a very useful tool, such as two-way charging. In other words, the Lightning can be used as a portable generator, delivering up to 9.6kW of power, which should be enough to power various tools, or even your house during a power outage.

Of course, if you prefer a dinosaur and an electric F-150 is still a bit too new-fangled, there is always the F-150 Raptor. Europe only gets the Raptor light in the form of the Ranger Raptor, and while the full-fat Ford F-150 Raptor no longer gets a raucous V8, its 444bhp twin-turbo Ecoboost V6 should be enough for most rally raids. It’s very silly, but brilliantly so.

Rivian R1T

The Rivian R1T is what you end up with if you set up a brand new car business with a small band of talented engineers and an ex-Jeep designer, and you design your own electric car platform from scratch in a bid to give the world its first ‘adventure EV’. Rivians will, according to company boss RJ Scaringe, split the difference between a modern Land Rover and a Tesla. It’s available to order in the US, and Rivian reckons first deliveries will take place by November, although the date has already been pushed back a few times. An R1S SUV will follow. Whether the Rivian R1T will come to Europe is unclear. It has been rumoured to be scouting a European production location, but that will be primarily for vans.

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The R1T will be the first Rivian to hit the road. It’s a compact double-cab pick-up by American norms, so it’s about the size of most of the other pick-ups on this list. Rivian promises a range between 300 from a 135kWh battery pack, or 400 miles from a 180kWh pack. A smaller pack with a 250-mile range is coming as well.

The company says the R1T will be able to tow up to five tonnes – that’s about two Range Rovers. However, it is positioned more as an adventure vehicle than a work truck, and it’s expected it will only be rated to carry up to 800kg.

For now, prices start at $67,500 (£49,000). Compared to the Ford F-150 Lightning, that might sound expensive, but for Europe, that would still be a good deal, especially when you learn that it has not one, not two, not even three, but four motors for over 700bhp, 800lb ft of torque and a 0-60mph time of 3 seconds. Having four motors means four-wheel torque vectoring, which in turn should enable it to turn like a tank. That’s quite the party trick.

Tesla Cybertruck

A year after the Rivian R1T arrives, it’ll be followed by an unusual-looking but inevitable reply from EV pioneer Tesla. The angular, and allegedly bulletproof, Cybertruck will have up to three electric motors and more than 500 miles of range in its top-level trim, with a claimed towing capacity of more than six tonnes and a loading bay the same size as that of a Ford F-150. Like Tesla’s other bigger models, the Cybertruck will run on height-adjustable air suspension.

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Tesla boss Elon Musk claimed that some 200,000 customers placed cash deposits for the Cybertruck within a week of the vehicle’s unveiling. Top-of-the-range versions are expected to cost between £50,000 and £60,000, with cheaper, less powerful and less rangey rear-driven versions available for less. 

READ MORE

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HiPo 289 6 August 2021

This top ten is madness.  Diesel pick-ups are obsolete and will be worthless as soon as the new generation of electric trucks arrive.  For the sake of your wallet, keep running your old truck until the market switches to electric.  Otherwise you will end up wth a stranded asset that no-one wants. 

jer 19 December 2020

All Vat commercial vehicals should be speed restricted and have vehical tracking. Not at all saying all are driven badly but plenty aren't when compared to HGV drivers. Would also reduce pollution and save people on fuel costs. 

Ad99 15 May 2020

Please tax them like cars!

Pick ups have a place as working vehicles. These fancy trucks are polluting and wasteful.