Double cab pickup group test

Ford’s all-new Ranger is the latest pickup truck to tempt you to part with your hard-earned, but how does it compare to double cab favourites from Nissan, Mitsubishi and Isuzu? Geoff Ashcroft holds the starting pistol.

There is little slowing of double cab pickup sales in the UK, even though the taxable benefit in kind allowance is currently getting an overhaul for those who choose a pickup truck as a company vehicle.

It is a system that still sees double cab pickups attracting tax on a flat rate benefit of £500 a year, if using one to travel to and from work, while enjoying unrestricted private use – even if provided with fuel.

From April next year however, the benefit in kind for unrestricted private use will increase from £500 to £30,00 and, if fuel is supplied, there’s a further £500 charge.

It means a standard rate taxpayer will have to cough up £660 a year for the use of a double cab pickup truck as a company car – and the boss still gets to reclaim VAT on the vehicle purchase.

But what do you choose?

In the last 12 months, Nissan, Toyota and Mitsubishi have all revamped their machines, followed only last month by Ford, which launched its latest Ranger. Mazda – who partners Ford on pickup truck production – will be launching its version of the Ranger, to be called the B50 later this year.

Our double cab group test pulls Ford’s new Ranger in its top-spec Thunder clothes together with Nissan’s Navara in bells and whistles Aventura spec, Mitsubishi’s L200 Warrior with a power upgrade and Isuzu’s Rodeo Denver Max SDT.

Absent from the list is the latest Toyota Hilux Invincible, as none of the recently repowered models – a 118hp ‘chipped’ 2.5 litre or 169hp 3 litre D-4D – were available in time for this locking of horns.

For those who think they are hard enough, Land Rover offers a double cab version of its now face-lifted and Transit-engined Defender.

This ensemble of pickup trucks is the full-fat milk versions of their rather spartan and utilitarian predecessors. Climate controlled air-conditioning, CD and satellite navigation systems, leather trimmed seats, auto-locking hubs and trick-differentials all serve to keep you comfy and secure when the farm track ends.

New kid on the block is Ford’s Ranger. At first glance, it looks uncannily like the old one – there is a sense of familiarity about it, which is encouraging for those who are looking to step out of the old and straight into the new.

But a closer peek reveals fresh looks and differences under the skin too.

A TDCi common-rail diesel engine now packs more punch, while increased towing capacity adds greater versatility while a revised interior promises more comfort.

Under the longer-nosed snout – which houses the engine’s cooling pack and intercooler to allow the new oil burner to meet Euro IV emissions legislation – is an all-new 2.5 litre TDCi diesel engine. Output is up from 109hp to 143hp, while torque has been fettled from 226Nm at 2000rpm to 330Nm at 1800rpm.

Power still goes through a five-speed manual – there is no auto option – but the box is extremely positive and easy to use, though tall geared. Fifth is pointless until 50mph is reached, unless you like the drone of a labouring diesel.

Service intervals have grown to 12,500 miles and the use of stiffer body and engine mounts contribute to a much quieter installation.

The Thunder version comes dressed with leather seats, 16-inch alloy wheels, reverse parking sensors and generous amounts of chrome detailing.

A one-tonne payload and three-tonne towing capacity give the Ranger more clout than before, while an ABS braking system, front and side impact airbags and seatbelt pre-tensioners keep the occupants cocooned in safety.

Compared to the Nissan Navara’s 174hp and 403Nm of torque, and the L200 Warrior’s 160-horse, power-upgrade, it looks like a poor relation. But don’t forget the biggest engine in this collection – Isuzu’s 3 litre four-pot – only packs 130hp in the 1845kg Isuzu Rodeo Denver.

When it comes to bragging rights, kerb weights factor heavily in this wager. The L200 tips the scales at 1,865kg, while the Ranger weighs a touch less, at 1,845kg – but fat-boy honours go to the Navara, which at 2,120kg, eats into its performance so much that the L200 feels the nippiest among this bunch.

The L200 also gets rack and pinion steering that offers better feel and allows the Mitsubishi to benefit from a smaller turning circle than the others, and at just 5.9m it is much less than the Nissan’s 7m.

The Nissan Navara is still the only truck in this group that packs a six-speed manual ‘box, though our test model came with a silky-smooth five-speed auto, which makes the motor run harder, creating a bit too much in-cab noise at times.

Nothing unusual in the low/high range departments, though Ford and Mitsubishi use levers – few can match the positivity and instant user-friendliness of the L200’s Super Select 4x4 system that combines with M-ASTC.

Called Mitsubishi Active Stability and traction Control, it keeps the L200 sunny-side up by braking and controlling torque individually to each wheel to enhance traction and stability, both on and off road.

The Isuzu gets a push-button selector system and Nissan uses a rotary dial, with lights on the dash informing you of what’s engaged.

Ford, however, insists that you stop the truck before the box can be shifted into four-wheel drive, and this just isn’t good enough anymore.

On the plus side, our test quartet provides four useful seats for the family and a modest load bed that can carry fuel drums, spares and other kit that you just would not want thrown on the seats.

Whether you can push the budget to the top of the scale to combine the practical with the luxurious is all down to your powers of persuasion. Okay if you sign your own cheques.

This is where our group shows its variations. Only the Navara and Ranger are top-level specification, while the others can be bettered if the cheque book allows.

As tested, and without VAT, our models start at £15,990 with the Isuzu Rodeo Denver Max SDT. It gets cloth seats, alloy wheels, air conditioning and ABS brakes, but getting into the ultimate Denver specification, the LE, costs £19,990 and brings a 155hp Prodrive performance pack upgrade, 18-inch alloys, keyless entry and Bluetooth phone kit.

Next up is the L200 Warrior at £16,999, though it’s the Elegance model that gets bells and whistles, stretching the budget by a further £3,000.

Ford’s Ranger crosses the £18k-mark by just £95, but lacks satellite navigation, phone preparation and cruise control, though it does get reverse parking sensors in the rear bumper. But just how long they stand up to field use remains to be seen.

At £21,967, the Nissan Navara Aventura with auto ‘box is the most expensive truck here, though opting for the manual transmission takes a grand off the price.

It’s also the most well-equipped. Alongside rain sensing wipers and auto headlamps is a Premium Pack that includes leather upholstery with power adjustable and heated front seats, an electric sunroof, Birdview DVD-based satellite navigation, dual zone climate control, bluetooth mobile phone kit, premium audio equipment with MP3 compatibility, plus front and side airbags.

That is on top of the steering wheel controls that include cruise control, voice activation and audio controls. Only metallic paint costs extra and is priced at £450.

It’s just too bad that it falls short in towing capacity, at just 2,600kg. Isuzu and Ford lead the way in this group, at 3,000kg.

They differ in servicing requirements too. Isuzu Denver drivers need to visit the dealer every 12,000 miles, closely followed by L200 and Ranger drivers at 12,500 miles. Only the Nissan driver needs to visit every 18,000 miles, which contributes to less downtime and lower running costs too.

So which one to go for? There is a huge following and support for Mitsubishi’s L200, which is understandable as it remains a good truck.

I would certainly give it four stars. Ford has undoubtedly transformed the Ranger, and that new engine really produces a relaxed drive, so there’s another four star motor.

After several years on the market, Isuzu’s Rodeo is now trailing the pack and would benefit from an upgrade. Despite its 3 tonne towing capacity it falls behind here and gets three stars only.

Which leaves Nissan’s Navara. I have loved it since the day it was launched and reckon it has still to be bettered.

There really is no arguing with horsepower, and though the big Nissan feels every one of those 2,120kg, it also feels massively solid and sturdy which, let’s face it, is just what a pickup should be. It gets five stars and remains my top truck.

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