The days when a Pick-up was just a pick-up are long gone, the 4×4 has gone through a mini revolution in terms of luxury, from a heavy load bearer to a 4-seater capable of outdoing all other 4x4s on the daily school run in all weathers.

This transformation has fascinated me for a while, and it comes as technology advances and the expectations of the user widens. It is also borne of a need, in such frugal times, of maybe not having to own more than one vehicle. The modern pick-up is truly a vehicle fit for all purposes, although it still bares an undisputed likeness to the pick-ups of the 1940s/50s like this beautiful 1954 Chevrolet pick-up.

1954 chevrolet pick-up

During my days at Nissan, the war was truly on as the Navara pitted itself against the popular Mitsubishi L200. I remember feeling a little defeated in the popularity stakes when the L200 appeared covered in Animal decals, surely this was the winning sales hand?

Buying a pick-up was – or could be – a bit of a minefield though, if you are a business, you want to make sure that your commercial vehicle is indeed a commercial vehicle so that you can reclaim VAT.

The problem was that the lines had become slightly blurred and confused with the invention of all-singing, all-dancing luxury pick-ups like the L200 and Navara. We had become so used to a commercial vehicle being something that is basically just a powerful luxury-free workhorse.

The HMRC describes a car as something normally used on public roads and constructed or adapted mainly for passenger carrying. They describe a commercial vehicle as any vehicle that has a payload of 1 tonne (or more). No problem now then, but before issues could arise due to the fitment of rear hard covers on a double cab that could carry 4 or 5 people.

The problem with fitting a rear hard canopy was that it could reduce the payload to below the legal payload limit that enabled the vehicle to be regarded as a commercial vehicle. It was an issue that was far too confusing for the buying public – and then only if they knew or found out that the problem even existed.

So here we are in 2013, and the same old heavyweight fighters are still slugging it out in the ring for the prize of Best Pick-up, so let’s take a loose look at some of what’s on offer.

nissan navara lisboa dakar pick-up

The Nissan Navara
The Navara started out as a special edition of the Nissan Pick-up a long time ago, it was then promoted to being an official Nissan vehicle and continues to be a popular choice. Thanks to the modern 2.5 turbo-diesel engine and more refined suspension this pick-up drives more like a car than you might expect if you haven’t had the chance to sit behind the wheel of a modern pick-up.

The high-spec Outlaw has an even more powerful 3.0 litre engine. The Navara will carry up to 5 people, although I’d dispute the brochure’s ambitious claim that the Navara double cab is a “full five seater”, the 3 in the back are going to suffer in comparison to a mainstream car.

At the top of the scale, the Navara comes with all the mod-cons of Bluetooth hands free connectivity, built in Sat-Nav, the ability to play DVDs or CDs and connect up your iPod or MP3 or a USB stick.

A full compliment of driver/passenger airbags, air con or climate control and Electronic Stability Programme (ESP) plus various other 3-letter abbreviated safety devices give the sort of peace of mind you might have previously expected to see only in a luxury car.

Nissan is so confident in the Navara that service intervals are now set at 18,000 miles rather than 12,000. Oh, and the payload is 1,100kg.

mitsubishi l200

Mitsubishi L200
The L200 has a 4-star EuroNCAP safety rating, whereas the Navara only has a 3. Mitsubishi proudly boast that What Van? Has voted the L200 pick-up of the year 15 times out of 18. That’s pretty impressive.

The L200 was the first pick-up to reach beyond the inside of the cab to better the driving experience. Introducing independent double wishbones and coiled springs as opposed to the standard torsion bars, the L200 produced a dramatic improvement in ride quality. Going head-to-head with the Outlaw is the L200 Warrior, with increased power over the standard L200 2.4 engine.

Again, all mod cons abound, and the Walkinshaw and Barbarian versions even include rear park cameras. The usual 3 letter abbreviated suspects can all be found here too, like the now standard ABS, and a couple you might be less familiar with in EBD (Electronic Brake-force Distribution) and ASC (Active Stability Control).

Payload ranges, but the maximum is 1,050kg. Interestingly, it took a fair bit of searching on the official brochure to find any mention of payload. A fair indication of how such vehicles are being marketed these days I suspect.

british waterways ford ranger pick-up

Ford Ranger
The Ranger engines take a slightly different approach to that of Nissan and Mitsubishi with a choice of 2.2 or 3.2 diesel engines.

Again, finding out the actual payload takes a bit of searching, it seems that like Mitsubishi, Ford doesn’t feel it needs to be emblazoned across the brochure. Despite the strapline “I need a truck that can handle bigger, heavier loads” you have to look to the small print at the bottom of the page to find out that the payload can be up to 1,340kg (not Double Cab).

The Ranger adds another 3-letter acronym to the ever expanding list – IPS (Intelligent Protection System). Which looks pretty good to be honest, including side airbag protection for the rear passengers as well.

Bluetooth and sat nav are here as you might expect and music lovers are catered for too with a USB port and dedicated iPod connector as an accessory.

As with the others, alloy wheels become available as you climb the spec ladder. Something you would perhaps have raised an eyebrow at seeing on a pick-up a few years ago. The same can be said of Cruise Control, which the Ford Ranger XLT boasts.

toyota hilux used in top gear

Toyota Hilux
The Hilux has been around in one form or another since 1968 and offers a similar choice of engine sizes to many of its rivals in either 2.5 or 3.0 litre diesels. Sales figures are now over 13 million worldwide.

The Invincible comes equipped with a rear-view camera, which is invaluable when reversing such a high seated vehicle round about town. For added comfort, both front and rear park sensors are available as an option.

The car-like luxury can be seen in the 6.1” Multimedia colour touch screen with the usual to be expected connectivity options. The 2.5 litre engine boats fuel consumption of around 38.7mpg (combined) – not bad. And again, a plethora of 3-letter acronyms abound to keep you safely on the road – and the Invincible boasts a full 6 airbags.

Payload was easier to find and at maximum is 1060kg. One thing worth noting here, is that the service intervals at 10,000 miles are far more frequent than the likes of the Navara, although the Hilux pricing and running costs fall in its favour.

Of course, there are other pick-ups out there like the fairly new Volkswagen Amorak – VWs pick-up was only introduced to a curious public in December 2009 in Argentina and has received some good reviews since.

We seem to have reached a weird place in pick-up and 4×4 fashion, we are driving vehicles called the Wildtrak, Barbarian, Outlaw, Invincible or the Warrior. It’s a place where we want to look and feel tough out on the street in our near-as-dammit armoured vehicles, even if all we are doing is popping to the local shop for olive oil and ciabatta bread.

But beneath the tough guy names that make us feel that we could survive for several nights alone in the wilderness – as opposed to struggling to last the night in a tent at the bottom of the garden – we are bathing in the glow of electric blur interior lights with dimmer switches, while resting on heated leather seats and flicking through DVDs with the gentle swipe of a screen. Meanwhile, the wild outside is kept safely at bay with climate control and a sat nav for a quick escape home.

When I started this, I though there would be a clear winner from all the usual suspects, but now I’m not so sure. Ironically, I think it all still depends on how much, and what, you need to carry.

Sales Manager, Ben Halcro, from Performance Direct comments, “At Performance Direct Insurance we cater for all kinds of Pick Up insurance requirements. Whether you are looking for commercial use or social domestic and pleasure we have many schemes to cover all types of situations. Another area of expertise is double cabs, many insurers struggle to insure these vehicles but at Performance Direct we have plenty of schemes to get these vehicles insured.”

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