Sales of pickups increased almost 8 per cent to more than 51,000 last year, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. Demand dropped towards the end of the year – no doubt because buyers of these five-seater double cabs were put off by the flight from diesel engines, which are used by pickups because of their pulling ability and economy.
The biggest seller was easily Ford’s Ranger, with Nissan’s Spanish Navara at number two. Holding fifth spot was the truck here, the Isuzu D-Max. Making up the Big Five of the pickup world are the Mitsubishi L200, Volkswagen Amarok and Toyota Hilux. They have been joined by the L200-based Fiat Fullback, the SsangYong Musso and, based on the Navara, the plusher Mercedes-Benz X-Class.
Pickups are popular as work and play runabouts because of what they will carry, and their rugged image. They have the heft of a proper 4x4 SUV with the advantage of an open load area – which can be covered with a flat or raised hard top.
I met a hale and hearty skyscraper architect who was thinking of buying one to carry his scuba diving apparatus. You’ll see them carrying motor bikes, quad bikes, plain push bikes, lawn mowers, plus the pay-load trappings of life on the farm or building site. On days off, they can become reasonably smart passenger carriers.
As a lifestyle car I would not choose the D-Max. Even in its de luxe Blade specification, it retains its gruff manners which – maybe – is why it appeals to builders and farmers. It is the pickup I see most often. Its appearance makes no pretence at smart gentility. It is the toughest looker, with a pug’s face, bulging bodywork. Scary even.
The market for a lighter, faster pickup was spotted by the Americans and the Japanese. The Ford F series and the Toyota are dominant. The Ford is number two seller of any vehicle, while the Toyota is 21st. Many of the pickups sold in Europe are made in Thailand, including the Isuzu. It has a 1.9-litre turbo diesel, rated at 162bhp and 266ft lb of torque from 2,000rpm. The 0-62mph time is a churning 13 seconds and it is rated at 36mpg and 205g. Maximum tow load is 3,500kg and the payload is 1,101kg.
On a cold start the motor rattles with diesel knock. It gets quieter but is always noisy when pulling. Conversely, at 70mph and 2,000rpm with the six-speed automatic, it is almost serene.
The leaf-spring rear suspension – used by most pickups – is bouncy and harsh when the truck is unloaded. The steering is low-geared and heavy and the throttle response is lazy – a combination which doesn’t work well in urban situations where drivers treat junctions as speed tests – and you plod out in the less than nimble truck. Sorry, parp, sorry, snarl, sorry…
I’d actually planned some decent hauling, but that never happened, so the days were spent doing the sort of trips more suited to something else. I did take the Isuzu a few hundred miles on the motorway, where its comparative bulk was a comforting bulwark in the endemic and congested 50mph zones. The Blade, being plushly equipped, has comfy punched leather seats with orange stitching and a very good navigation system. The radio reception relied on a roof fin and even on FM could be crackly while DAB was patchier than usual.
For the record, in this double cab body, the load bed is just 56 inches long (tailgate up) which is shorter than many estate cars offer, but gaining with a maximum width of 58ins, reduced to 40ins between the wheel arches. A sliding, weatherproof locking cover kept things secure but was awkward to unlatch.
Verdict: Not a horse for my courses but it has just been voted “best workhorse pickup” by Trade Van Driver and is reigning WhatVan? pickup of the year and the Professional Pickup & 4x4 Magazine’s most reliable pickup.