Vehicle Comparisons

Toyota Hilux

Toyota Hilux

Although the Toyota Hilux has forged a reputation as something that cannot be killed, a little luxury inside still plays well with buyers and the latest eighth generation model serves up a more refined feel aided by its more sophisticated 2.4-litre turbo diesel engine. The styling changes also give it a more upmarket look yet prices have remained reasonable.

The key thing about this new-generation Hilux lies with the installation of its new 2.4-litre D-4D Global Diesel (GD) engine. With 400Nm of torque, pulling power is improved over the old 2.5 and 3.0-litre diesel units, plus there's enhanced efficiency too. All variants feature all-wheel drive, while the Invincible and Invincible X models at the top of the range offer the option of a six-speed automatic gearbox. Both transmissions have been extensively revised to improve durability and low-speed driving performance, with quieter, smoother gear changes. Both manual and automatic Hilux have a top speed of 106mph; acceleration from nought to 62mph is 12.8 seconds for the auto and 13.2 seconds for the manual.

Under the skin, there's a new ladder-frame chassis that gives the vehicle a 20% increase in torsional rigidity, improving improved handling, ride comfort and refinement. The robust leaf spring and twin shock absorber rear suspension system has been extensively revised to provide off-road articulation capabilities and SUV-like ride comfort and handling stability. The Hilux is equipped with a switchable all-wheel drive system featuring a high and low-ratio transfer case, and both front and rear locking limited-slip differentials. The improved low and medium speed torque delivery of the 2.4-litre diesel engine and the increased strength of the redesigned ladder-frame chassis together enable an increase in towing capacity to 3.5 tonnes.

The most obvious change to the latest Hilux is its exterior styling. It's 75mm longer, 20mm wider and 45mm lower than before and aims to display its combination of toughness and refinement in a sleeker frontal design which features a unified arrangement of the upper grille and headlamps and a deeper bumper housing a large lower grille. The bonnet wraps over the front wheel arches to reinforce the vehicle's solid, road presence while the line of the second horizontal bar in the upper grille extends into the headlamp units to form a distinctive daytime running light arrangement, featuring 12 white LEDs.

Inside, the cabin's been redesigned with the centre console now dominated on most models by the Toyota Touch 2 integrated, seven-inch multimedia touchscreen. The revised driver's instrument binnacle features large, analogue speedometer and tachometer dials either side of a 4.2-inch TFT multi-information display. And the more premium appearance of the cabin is reinforced by metallic-effect details on the dashboard, door trim, instrument binnacle, steering wheel and gear lever bezel. A consistent blue tone has been introduced for the instrument backlighting.

The Toyota Hilux has always scored well with those who need a tough pick-up that drives better than the class norm. Rival manufacturers have aped this formula and added a more refined feel to their wares and the Hilux felt as if it was falling off the pace a little. The eighth-generation version's round of revisions give the big pick-up the sort of classy feel that you'd expect from Toyota, building in a plusher interior and a front end that borrows from the Land Cruiser.

That it can do this while retaining the appeal to lifestyle drivers who need a vehicle with good hauling capabilities and easy access speaks volumes about the essential rightness of the car's engineering. The latest 2.4-litre diesel engine certainly has a lot to be said for it. With three different body styles and four trim levels to choose from, there should be enough variation in the range to suit most on and off-road requirements. The Hilux offers high levels of comfort and equipment, bomb-proof engineering and remains relatively cheap to run. Expect this one to run and run.

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Volkswagen Amarok

Volkswagen Amarok

Oriental models have for too long held sway in the UK pick-up truck market, a state of affairs that Volkswagen set out to change when they launched this Amarok model in 2011, then updated it in 2016. Big, economical and very capable, Volkswagen's off-road load-lugger was designed to give the Japanese contingent a few sleepless nights but originally boasted a 2.0-litre diesel line-up in a class where rivals had 2.5 or 3.0-litre units. Hence the development of a lustier six cylinder 3.0-litre TDI unit for this latest version claiming an effective mixture of power and efficiency. The result should be a very complete pick-up indeed.

A tough ladder-framed chassis and a solid, leaf-sprung rear axle necessary to carry heavy loads offer the inevitably utilitarian feel. Within the confines of this approach though, the Wolfsburg engineers have actually done a very good job in making this Amarok as car-like as it reasonably could be. The introduction of 3.0-litre V6 TDI power means that there's nothing wrong with the performance now on offer, this unit available in four guises offering either 163, 204, 224 or 258PS. The pokiest unit develops 580Nm of torque at just 1,500rpm.

UK customers can choose from selectable (with manual gearbox) and permanent (with auto) 4MOTION four-wheel drive. An optional mechanical rear-axle differential lock is also available for demanding off-road use. On the road, this improved Amarok should feel sharper to drive courtesy of a new Servotronic steering system. Plus, new 17-inch brake discs on the front axle and 16-inch discs at the rear ensure that this pickup always comes to a stop quickly and safely.

As before, with a length of 5.25 metres and a width of 2.23 metres, this Amarok is a substantial thing. To reflect the changes made beneath the bonnet, Volkswagen's stylists have tried to give this improved version a more athletic-looking front end. As before, the chunky shape appears solidly planted to the ground with cleanly sculpted bonnet curves and a large Volkswagen emblem and grille, with clear horizontal lines linking them together across the front of the vehicle.

Inside, there's a completely re-styled dashboard. Together with new ergonomic seats, these features aim to lend the vehicle a more sophisticated appearance. As before, there's neat switchgear, clearly defined instruments, a lovely three-spoke reach and rake-adjustable steering wheel and soft-touch plastics lifted straight from Volkswagen passenger cars. It's rather like being in a Golf on stilts and it'll be rather surreal if you come to this vehicle straight from an older pick-up rival. It's practical too, with lots of storage, including large bins in all the doors which can hold a 1.5-litre bottle in front and a 1.0-litre bottle in the rear. There's also a lidded bin, a lockable glovebox, a compartment for your sunglasses, two cupholders between the front seats and under-front-seat drawers on most models.

In the rear, the extra width of the vehicle makes it easier to accommodate three adults if need be - though two will obviously be more comfortable. All will get proper three-point seatbelts and most trim levels include rear cupholders for their use. If the rear bench isn't in use and you need more storage room, you can tip the backrest forward to free up extra load space.

Pick-up users aren't necessarily expecting their vehicles to be advanced, car-like and fuel efficient. But most would be very pleased if they were. These are people who should get themselves behind the wheel of this very complete 3.0-litre V6 TDI Amarok. You do have nagging worries in the plush, car-like cabin as to whether this vehicle really is going to prove as tough and durable as its Asian rivals in the long term. But these are concerns your Volkswagen Van Centre will be quick to play down, pointing to this vehicle's development in the Patagonian wilderness and its use on the testing Paris-Dakar rally.

This aside, the only issues are those common to all pick-ups, essentially based around a utilitarian on-tarmac feel. And this is less of an issue with an Amarok than with any other rival model. Limited UK numbers mean that this Volkswagen isn't going to threaten its Oriental rivals' market dominance too much, but in terms of product excellence, it certainly should give them plenty to think about. At last, we Europeans have given the Far East something it can learn from.

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Nissan Navara NP300

Nissan Navara NP300

Nissan are promising that in NP300 model form, the Navara pick-up will offer significantly improved refinement and performance whilst remaining a dependable workhorse. More efficient engines, suppler suspension and a greater sense of style promise to appeal to commercial and private buyers alike. Add in reduced emissions and it seems Nissan are in with a shout of class leadership.

The Navara's 2.3-litre dCi turbodiesel is available in two different power outputs; 160PS or 190PS. The lower powered of the two is standard equipment on Double Cab models and the only option on everything else. The 190PS version is reserved for the Double Cab only and makes its extra power through a second turbocharger that can provide additional boost to the engine. Two-wheel drive is an option for King Cab (two seat) models, while 4WD is standard on all other variants. The standard gearbox is a six-speed manual item, while a seven-speed automatic is an option but again, this is reserved for the Double Cab model only.

One of the big problems with using a pick-up as an everyday vehicle is comfort. As vehicles of this kind are primarily designed to carry up to a tonne of weight in the bed, rear springs must be pretty industrial. The issue is that when unladen, things can get pretty bouncy. Due to this, the Double Cab Navara ditches old fashioned leaf springs for the back axle. Instead, there's a five-link rear suspension setup with coil springs to give a much plusher ride without sacrificing load capacity.

There was a time where pick-ups were square-edged things that you could never call stylish. Mitsubishi's L200 bucked the trend with its curves proving a hit with buyers. With this in mind, Nissan has been more daring with this improved Navara while incorporating its latest 'V-motion' grille and boomerang shaped daylight running lights. Whether you choose this vehicle in double cab or king cab guise, gone are the sharp creases and flat panels of the previous model, having been replaced by curves and contours. From the confident nose rearwards, it looks much more modern while retaining a tough edge.

The basic chassis of the Navara may be that of the old model - Nissan themselves describe it as 'a fully updated version of the previous generation' - but don't let that put you off. The Japanese brand really has gone over the whole vehicle with a fine-tooth comb and improved it in every appreciable area. This includes a completely re-designed dashboard to lift interior quality and NASA-inspired seats (yes, really) to make for an even more car-like experience. Those that plan on making the Navara work for a living will be more interested in the range's ability to tow 3,500kg and the Double Cab's 67mm increase in bed length.

Nissan's NP300 Navara goes up against some tough recently revitalised rivals - primarily Mitsubishi's L200 and the Ford Ranger. In comparison to these two key competitors, this Nissan's clever five-link rear axle could give a clear advantage for those looking for a more car-like driving experience. With no penalty on load capacity or towing ability, it could be the stand-out feature on this much improved pick-up.

That could mean little if this NP300 was ugly, or worse, dull. With looks so important, Nissan should be commended for modernising the design without losing the butch appeal of the old model. It won't just be the more efficient engine that helps with running costs either: standard fit autonomous emergency braking not only makes the truck safe, it should help reduce insurance premiums too. As an overall package, the NP300 will be hard to beat.

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