December 18, 2018

The ups and downs of the pick-up market

The 1-tonne pick-up market is becoming increasingly busy, as manufacturers rush to claim a share of a growing sector that could account for as many as 45,000 registrations in the UK this year. Dan Gilkes tries the latest Toyota Hilux, the recently launched Fiat Fullback and a revised VW Amarok.

Toyota Hilux

Toyota is the latest manufacturer to tackle the increasingly busy pick-up sector with the latest Hilux, the eighth incarnation of this popular truck. As with many competitors, Hilux has grown, with a larger load area and an increased towing capacity. However the Toyota remains very much L200 and D-Max size when at the wheel, rather than feeling like the massive Amarok or Ranger.

The truck is all-new, with a downsized 2.4-litre D-4D diesel engine delivering 148hp and 400Nm of torque. This is said to deliver up to 40.4mpg and 185g/km. Service intervals however remain at a relatively mean 1 year/10,000 miles, though Toyota is now offering an impressive 5 year/100,000 mile warranty on the new truck.

There is a larger engine offered in some countries, but Toyota GB has decided to go with the single power unit, in part as it boasts more torque than the 3.0-litre engine in the last Hilux.

There are six-speed manual and six-speed automatic transmissions to choose from, though all run through a four-wheel drive system that favours the rear wheels in normal use. Toyota expects at least 50% of UK buyers to opt for the automatic box.

The rear axle gets a limited slip differential controlled by a switch on the dash, while the front axle uses an electronic diff lock to further improve traction. There is still no centre diff however, so Hilux remains a two-wheel drive truck when on the road unless its particularly wet and slippery.

A strengthened chassis and longer rear springs provide an improved ride and Hilux retains an impressively small turning circle. A 3.5-tonne towing capacity will be available by the end of the year, however customers looking at early trucks should be aware that for now they are only homologated to tow 3.2-tonnes.

There are single, extra and double cabs on offer, with the double cab taking 75% of sales and the single cab 20%. Top specifications are only available in the double cab models.

Talking of which, there are four trim levels, with the base Active models expected to account for 25% of UK sales. Icon will grab 10% of registration while the Invincible model should get 45% of buyers. The range-topping Invincible X will take 20% of UK sales.

All models come with steering wheel controls, Bluetooth, a cooled front storage box, a host of airbags and electrically-adjustable heated door mirrors (not on single cab). Icon models gain a 4.2” display screen, cruise control, DAB and folding door mirrors, along with 17” alloys, front fogs, rear privacy glass and a Toyota Touch 2 multimedia system, which looks rather like a tablet computer stuck to the front of the dash.

The Invincible specification has Toyota Safety Sense, a colour multi-information display, 18” alloys, Smart Entry and Start (keyless), auto headlamp levelling and electric steering wheel adjustment. You also get auto air conditioning, dusk sensing headlights and chrome side steps.

The top of the range Invincible X takes the luxury levels even further, adding new 18” alloys, a chrome pack, leather upholstery with heated front seats, Toyota Touch 2 with Go sat-nav and on-board connectivity functions together with three years’ map and connectivity updates. There are also front and rear parking sensors fitted.

CV OTR prices start at £19,177 for an Active grade single cab, rising to £29,435 for an Invincible X double cab with the auto box.

On the road this latest Hilux drives well, thanks in part to those longer rear springs. The engine is reasonably strong, though the power tails off fairly swiftly as the revs rise. Given the opposition, it will be interesting to see if Toyota’s decision not to bring a more powerful engine to the market will cost sales.

Off road, Hilux remains incredibly capable, with electronic control systems making it even easier for drivers to cope with tough terrain. Active Traction Control and Downhill Assist Control make tackling difficult hills safe and secure, even on road tyres.

This latest Hilux is a good looking truck that should have little difficulty picking up the baton from its illustrious forebears.

Fiat Fullback

Manufacturers like to compete in every niche and sub-sector of the LCV market and Fiat Professional is no exception. This has led the company to launch the Fullback pick-up, based on Mitsubishi’s successful Series 5 L200 truck.

All UK Fullbacks will be 4×4 and double-cab only, with the entry level 150hp SX boasting a six-speed manual gearbox and the 180hp LX offering the manual or a five-speed automatic transmission. Vital stats are 44.2mpg and 169g/km for the 150hp manual pick-up, rising to 39.2mpg and 189g/km for the 180hp auto.

Fiat Professional’s corporate face has been successfully integrated across the front of the truck, working particularly well with the donor vehicle’s lights. The internal changes are harder to spot, being limited mainly to the steering wheel, which now comes complete with the Italian firm’s logo in the centre.

The SX trim includes leather and wheel-mounted audio controls on that steering wheel, along with 16” alloy wheels, remote central locking, electric windows and mirrors, Bluetooth, DAB, air conditioning, Start&Stop, front fogs and side steps.

Go for the more powerful engine with LX trim and the Fullback benefits from keyless go, leather upholstery, electrically-adjusted and heated seats, bi-xenon headlights, privacy glass, a 6.1” touchscreen with sat-nav, lane departure warning, a reversing camera and comfort-oriented Touring suspension with 17” wheels.

For some reason if you choose the automatic transmission you also get a larger 7” infotainment screen, along with paddle gear shifters behind the steering wheel. All Fullbacks have the requisite range of safety kit, including ESC with ASR, trailer stability assist, hill start assist, cruise control and seven airbags.

Competitive price

VAT-registered buyers will be pleased to see that the trucks can carry over 1-tonne, while the towing limit has been set at a slightly off the pace 3.1-tonnes. Prices start at a very competitive £20,995 for the SX model. LX trucks go from £22,995 for the manual to £24,395 for the Fullback LX with automatic transmission.

While there is steady growth in pick-up sales in the UK – this year expected to exceed 45,000 trucks – it is markets throughout Europe, Africa and the Middle East that have led Fiat into this sector. Fiat would like to greatly increase its LCV penetration, particularly in Africa and the Middle East, where pick-ups account for more than 650,000 vehicles, or 22% of the total LCV market.

That said, there is little wrong with Mitsubishi’s L200 and having a Fiat badge on the front will no doubt prove popular with fleet buyers as well as retail users.

VW Amarok 3-litre V6 TDi

At its launch in 2010 the VW Amarok set a new benchmark in the pick-up sector, particularly in the burgeoning business/leisure market that was being fuelled in part by a tax break that concedes that if a pick-up can carry a one-tonne load, HMRC will consider it a commercial vehicle. This allows businesses to claim the VAT back.

The Amarok – named after the Inuit word for ‘wolf’ – captured a sizeable chunk of the top end of that market with its looks, build quality and performance. But since its launch, model upgrades for the likes of the Ford Ranger, Nissan NP300, Mitsubishi L200, Isuzu DMax and, most recently Toyota Hilux, have closed the gap.

There are the newcomers, too, with Fiat launching its Fullback this year and Renault and, crucially for VW, Mercedes bringing their own pick-ups to market in 2017.

So Amarok’s first update after six years is an important one and at its core is a new powertrain, VW’s beefy 3-litre V6 Euro 6 engine, bucking the trend towards smaller, leaner engines. And it’s a delight: powerful and responsive on the road and absolutely assured on a dry and gravelly off-road course. Although there are three power outputs, only the top of the range 224hp with eight-speed automatic gearbox as standard will be available in the UK at launch. The 163hp (manual) and 204hp (manual or auto) versions are expected in 2017 although the 224hp is predicted to be the best-seller. Published figures give it a top speed of 120mph and 0-60 in 7.9 seconds.

Despite these lively performance figures, VW says its BlueMotion technology (which includes stop-start and battery regeneration) helps the 224hp Amarok deliver 37.2mpg on the combined cycle and CO2 emissions of 199g/km. In comparison, published figures for the current top of the range 180hp 2-litre bi-turbo are 35.3mpg and 211g/km.

In command

The Amarok has always had a commanding presence and the update sees some new styling touches at the front end which reinforce its bold, powerful looks. There’s a new grille and front bumper and also new alloy wheels and a third brake light.

Our first drive was in Germany where Amarok is being launched with a range-topping special edition called the Aventura. UK specifications have yet to be finalised, but it is likely to be offered in Startline, Trendline and Highline models as currently. Some features, including automatic post-collision braking, will be standard across the range, while others will be model specific.

Inside, the cab is more functional than luxurious, a reflection that this is after all a workhorse. The Aventura is fitted with ergoComfort driver and front passenger seats, infinitely electrically adjustable which live up to their name. Roomy door pockets go a little way to compensate for otherwise limited cab storage. The dash incorporates the VW infotainment system with touchscreen, radio, and navigation options according to model. Bluetooth will be standard.

Behind the wheel of the Amarok – both on winding country lanes and busy motorways – the driver sits high up with superb visibility. The powerful six cylinder engine is flexible and reassuring, the auto smooth and precise. You have to check yourself for that feeling of invincibility.

Off road, it’s another reassuring story. Four-wheel drive is standard on the 224hp and while purists may well be dismayed at the thought of tackling a serious off-road course in an automatic, if you’re happy to relinquish control the Amarok never puts a foot wrong.

The V6 powers it effortlessly up the most challenging inclines while hill hold assist automatically takes over on steep descents, reducing engine speed and applying the brakes when they’re needed. On really uneven surfaces, selecting the differential lock will shift the power to keep the pick-up moving even with two wheels off the ground.

It’s a shame but few Amaroks will be tested to their considerable limits.

Prices are still to be confirmed and the new Amarok is expected to reach UK showrooms in September.