Aside from electric cars, there is no sector of the car market going through such change as that for pick-up trucks. Not so long ago almost every car maker had to have one of these utilitarian monsters in its range. There were significant tax breaks for those double-cab specced-up versions with aggressive names such as Warrior and Blade we see around, and, because pick ups are simple/crude/cheap machines to make in places such as Thailand, but can be marketed as expensive lifestyle alternative family transport (hence the four-door, five-seater versions) they could be profitable.
Of course the market – primarily small businesses and farmers – wasn’t big enough for everyone, and the manufacturers or importers of vehicles were also finding that these heavy trucks raised their bills for missing emissions targets. So the ranks have been thinning out, with the Mitsubishi L200 (a leading player), Nissan Navara and Volkswagen Navara either gone or going from the UK market. For a while even Mercedes-Benz made a pick-up, the X-Class, which was more than the kind of “badge engineered” versions of Japanese models sold by the likes of Fiat and Peugeot. The Mercedes had a proper Mercedes interior and its own V6 engine adorning Nissan underpinnings; right posh but too expensive to sell in sufficient volumes.
Still, the Ford Ranger, a remarkable success, and the Toyota Hilux are still around, as is the more niche player Isuzu, which will sell all of 10,000 units of its new D-Max, its only “car” offering, in a year (it also sells medium commercial vehicles). The D-Max is even more of a workhorse than its competitors, a little simpler in its ways, a bit less technologically sophisticated, but still big and butch enough to do what’s needed – carry a tonne of stuff or tow 3.5 tonnes, which is par for this particular course. Thus classified as a kind-of commercial vehicle it wins significant VAT and/or benefit-in-kind tax advantages for business buyers, and with the twin cab and a lavishly equipped interior, the idea is it gives a more conventional SUV a run for its money.
There’s also the unquantifiable but real pleasure in piloting a slugging diesel contraption that has no pretensions about it, and which you know will conquer 99 per cent of the terrain in the UK, with its switchable four-wheel drive, locking rear differential and torquey, tried-and-tested power unit (the D-Max comes with a 5-year/125,000-mile warranty). In that respect the more basic “Business” models, about £10,000 cheaper, actually seem the more authentic buy – equipped with steel wheels, ina world where almost every other car has got oversized alloys.
Price: £39,244 (range starts at £25,144)
Engine capacity: 1.9 litre diesel 4-cyl, 6-sp manual
Power output (Bhp): 162
Top speed (mph): 112
0 to 60 (seconds): 13
Fuel economy (mpg): 30.7
CO2 emissions (g/km): 241
To be honest, though, it isn’t much fun to drive in any other sense than it being a road-going tank. The ride, with no load in the back, is just too jiggly and, with its high centre of gravity and basic suspension, you wouldn’t want to be trying to evade a deer or member of the Countryside Alliance jumping out into the road. You’d really splatter them.
The top-of-the-range D-Max, called a V-Cross, has got nice leather trim, heated seats, lovely big touchscreen, full connectivity with your smartphone, a reversing camera (actually essential on such a bulky vehicle), smart gun-metal matt alloys and even automatic emergency braking, sensing imminent collisions, which helps it get a 5-star NCAP rating. And of course you and your gear can go anywhere in it. On the other hand it’s noisy and wearing on the motorway, and there’s no built-in satnav (something to do with it being a small volume import).
At £31,259 (plus VAT), the D-Max V-Cross does make a case for itself, but you do have to possess a high tolerance for noise. It’s fun for a week or two, but the charm of these sort of cars is their potential long service on the farm or on a building site, so you’d have to learn to love its shortcomings (assuming you’re not such a successful entrepreneur that you haven’t got a Range Rover as well).
The Isuzu D-Max is proof that no vehicle can do everything, and that you can’t quite have your cake and eat it. Maybe they should send one round to Downing Street. It’s ideal for taking stuff to the tip.