A FARMER friend of mine is a good judge when it comes to finances. Alec is used to juggling figures, balancing the books and working out the economics of everything he does while coping with a whole catalogue of uncertainties from the changeable Scottish weather to the health and fertility of his beasts. So when I assessed a couple of specialist vehicles, more likely to be seen in a ploughed field than in a city street, he was clearly my man.
I’d deliberately gone to the lower end of the market – in one case, the bargain basement – rather than the more sophisticated four-wheel drives such as Range Rover, BMW X5, Audi Q7 or Mercedes ML. Instead my test drives were a couple of pick-ups and like most in the market, from the Far East.
The first was the Isuzu D-Max, which has seen a huge rise in sales in the past year and is expected to hit more than 4,000 in 2014 to help consolidate an amazing growth by the brand in the UK of almost 300 per cent since 2009. The other is one of the newest arrivals, the Great Wall, which unsurprisingly comes all the way from China and has one of the lowest price tags of any serious 4x4, starting at under £14,000, plus VAT.
Both brands come under the umbrella of the successful English Midlands-based International Motors Group who also look after Subaru.
Of the two pick-ups, the Isuzu is without doubt the better but then it carries a £6,000 premium. The test car was the top-of-the -range Utah double cab with a smooth auto transmission and a beautifully gutsy but efficient 2.5-litre twin-turbo diesel engine.
For a working vehicle aimed at tradespeople and recreational users it is remarkably well-equipped, with loads of equipment such as cruise control and Bluetooth and comfortable electrically-adjustable heated leather seats and heating ducts for the rear passengers. The test vehicle also came with chunky tyres on 18-inch alloys, a lockable canopy and a sliding rear loadspace tray for handling bulky and heavy items but which reduces the overall space inside.
It’s not frightened of hard work, capable of towing three tonnes and carrying up to 1,000kgs payload.
Isuzu is very sure of the D-Max. Before it was launched it underwent four million kilometres of testing, which is why it comes with a five-year, 125,000-mile warranty.
Alec the farmer liked it a lot, especially when he saw the financial figures showing the ultra-low cost of ownership, thanks to good insurance ratings, favourable contract-hire packages and good residual values. The estimates are that after three years the D-Max would still have around 40 per cent of its original value, which in the case of the test car meant he’d have lost around £16,000 in that time. And that, coincidentally, is roughly the new cost of the Great Wall equivalent, the first Chinese-branded vehicle to come to the UK. It represents great value for money but to put it bluntly, lacks the Isuzu’s sophistication, finish, quality or, I suspect, robustness.
There are two Steed models and the test car was the more upmarket SE. Even with leather seats it felt basic and the 2.0-litre diesel engine sounded as though it had come straight from a tractor, with a rattle reminiscent of the old black cabs. I hear it’s competent off-road but was a bit of a handful and a touch wayward on the asphalt.
Utilitarian is the only word to describe the hard plastic dashboard, and the fact that the fuel gauge appeared to have a mind of its own didn’t inspire confidence in the rest of the limited number of dials and switches. Having said that, it’s the only pick-up to come with a six-year warranty, so if things did go wrong, you’d be covered – but you’d have to live without it any time it had to go off for treatment.
On the positive side it has galvanised body panels and a fully rust-proofed chassis which won’t disappear before your eyes and the anti-perforation warranty, also for six years, does offer some peace of mind.
For some reason, the test vehicle came with a double dog cage in the rear so it was difficult to judge the size of the loadspace.
You may not have heard much about the privately-owned Great Wall company but you will over coming years. They are huge, employing 27,000 people worldwide and exporting cars, SUVs and pick-ups to 120 countries. There are currently only five dealers in Scotland but that’s set to expand as they bring more models here.
Alec clearly preferred the Isuzu but the overall figures for the Great Wall won him over – as long as he could be sure of its abilities as a workhorse. He’d worked out that even if it lasted only three years up to its first MoT, he’d have spent and lost less than if he’d bought the Isuzu. And if it failed its test? “I’d use it in the fields – and when it finally packed up, it would make a great henhouse.”
PRICE £15,998 (plus £3,200 VAT)
CO2 EMISSIONS 220g/kms