With this improved D-Max, Isuzu has become a more competitive contender in the growing UK pick-up sector. It gets revised suspension, a slightly higher payload, an improved interior and standard Trailer Sway Control. As before, there's an efficient 1.9-litre turbo diesel engine that can haul and tow hefty loads through the wildest terrain you're likely to come across. Plus as ever, there are three bodystyles to suit a wide range of buyers. Smart, tough and affordable, it looks set to do very well.
The major change made here is the way that the Double cab variant's suspension has changed from a 5 piece to a 3-piece leaf spring suspension for improved ride comfort and reduced noise levels. Otherwise, it's much as you were. Pulling power is the first thing you notice about this D-Max once out on the road. Though the single diesel engine on offer is relatively small for such a beefy pick-up (1.9-litres in size), the power output (164PS) is quite sufficient and there's a willing 360Nm torque output. That kind of grunt makes low speed urban work easy and tough muddy inclines straightforward. It's also a major reason why this vehicle can tow a braked trailer of up to 3.5-tonnes - usefully more than an equivalent Fiat Fullback or Mitsubishi L200.
For wet or icy tarmac or light off piste work, you can take the opportunity, at up to 60mph, to twist the centre console dial and select high range all-wheel drive. It takes a second or so for the front wheels to engage but when they do, the D-Max feels notably more sure-footed on the slippery stuff. Of course, once in a while, you'll need to do more, occasions on which you'll be further twisting this dial to engage the full low-range four wheel drive mode, something that can only happen when the vehicle's stopped. In this mode, you really do get an incredibly accomplished off roader, aided by a well chosen first gear ratio that's an ideal 'crawler gear' over rough terrain on which you'll appreciate ground clearance that at 235mm is much higher than you get with most other rival pick-ups.
Styling was one of the things buyers always liked about the D-Max, so Isuzu hasn't changed it much in recent years. This means that the same rakish, wedgy styling has been retained, a shape that's supposed to look 'tough, poised and ready for work'. The large front grille is decorated with daytime running lights and flows into an A-pillar that's set at an acute angle leading to the relatively low roofline. At the rear, you'll find a set of large tail lamps, which feature LEDs on higher-specification models.
Climb inside this improved model and if you were familiar with earlier versions of this design, you might notice that Isuzu has updated things a bit, adding soft pad inserts to the arm rests, binnacle and utility box lid. Gloss black trim has been added to the window switches, air vents and glove box, which also incorporates smart D-Max badge. As before, there are wide-opening doors, and you're greeted by an interior that's hard-wearing and cleanly styled. Plusher models feature a revised range of touchscreen entertainment systems equipped with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto systems, so you can mirror in your smartphone.
The back seat is more comfortable than you might expect it to be, thanks to a long wheelbase that facilitates decent head, leg and shoulder room. Plus the seat back isn't as vertically inclined as it is on some pick-ups, so you get greater comfort on longer journeys. One nice touch is the way that 60/40 split-folding rear seats enable you to more flexibly use this rear passenger space for packages, should you so wish. Additional storage compartments in the floor under the rear-seat base are also useful for keeping things out of harm's way.
And in summary? If you thought Isuzu pick-ups were a bit rough and ready, it's about time you gave the D-Max a try. Once, this brand was really one reserved for the requirements of pure commercial operators. These days though, it'll also suit private buyers looking for an all-terrain utility vehicle that can play the lifestyle card.
But how does it stack up in what's becoming quite a crowded market? Very well actually. Pricewise, it's one of the best value choices in the class and now that a more competitive engine has been inserted beneath the bonnet, it's now a reasonable performer on the balance sheet too. We think it'll suit the sort of buyer who would previously have automatically looked to a Nissan NP300 Navara or a Toyota Hilux. The sort of person who might not be considering this D-Max. But probably should be.Click here to find out more about our Isuzu D-Max range
The Mercedes X-Class pushes the boundaries of what's possible from a classic mid-sized pick-up. It bends ruggedness and practicality with the typical Mercedes-Benz characteristics of driving dynamics, comfort, design, safety and connectivity. If you can afford it and don't want your pick-up to lead too arduous a life, it's a tempting combination.
The X-Class borrows its mainstream engines from the Nissan Navara NP300 pick-up model it's based upon. There's a choice of two 2.3-litre diesel units; the X220d gets a single turbo 163bhp powerplant and uses manual transmission, while the pokier biturbo X250d features 190bhp and comes only as an auto. Both models come only with engageable 4MATIC all-wheel drive. Power is transferred via a six-speed manual transmission. If you want more, then you can talk to your Mercedes dealer about the high-torque V6 diesel engine used in the X350d 4MATIC AWD variant, which offers 258bhp and a maximum torque of 550Nm.
Whatever your choice of engine, Mercedes reckons that this X-Class sets a fresh standard for tarmac driving dynamics in a pick-up, without compromising off-road performance. It's helped in this by the adoption of the Nissan Navara's coil-sprung suspension system - most rivals still have a cruder leaf sprung set-up. A wider track helps cornering stability and Mercedes is the only manufacturer in the segment to opt for large, internally vented brake discs on both axles as standard. Optional is the Mercedes 'Dynamic Select' driving modes system, this kind of set-up a rare thing to find in the pick-up segment. There are five drive programs to choose from: Comfort, ECO, Sport, Manual and Offroad. These modify the engine characteristics, the automatic transmission's switching points and the ECO start/stop function.
Mercedes hopes that the X-Class manages the fine balance between being both tough and stylish. A Doublecab bodystyle is the only one being offered, the design featuring a long 3150mm wheelbase, a short cladded front overhang, a backward-shifted passenger compartment and a very long rear overhang. The design of the side windows with their dynamic kink along the beltline is distinctive, while widely flared wheel arches that house 17, 18 or 19-inch rims aim to give this pickup a powerful on-road presence. Predictably, the front borrows from the looks of the brand's SUVs, with a centrally positioned star, a twin-louvre radiator grille, a high and powerfully honed bonnet and headlamps extending far into the wings.
Inside, there's a classier cabin than anything pick-up buyers have ever seen before. The instrument panel has the concave trim element typical of a Mercedes and round ventilation outlets add a sporty touch. Dominating the centre of the dash is a freestanding colour infotainment touchscreen which has a screen diagonal of 8.4 inches - the biggest in the segment.
Plenty of attention was paid to comfort when developing the seats, too. Premium materials and a seat structure featuring optimum lateral support, a high seat position and the use of ergonomically formed soft foam should make sitting comfortable for both the driver and front passenger, even on longer journeys.
The X-Class is the pick-up buyer's Rolls Royce, easily the most desirable contender in this growing segment. Mercedes has chosen its donor model wisely, the Nissan NP300 Navara providing this contender with car-like driving dynamics that'll impress those used to the crude responses of rivals like Mitsubishi's L200, Ford's Ranger or Isuzu's D-Max.
The X-Class has the smartest cabin in the sector too - and the most scope for personalisation. But would you really want to subject one to really heavy labour? If that's not on the cards but you still want a pick-up, then this one's likely to be high on your list.Click here to find out more about our Mercedes-Benz X-Class range
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 three guises offering either 163, 204 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 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.
On to design. 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 loadspace.
And in summary? Well, 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.Click here to find out more about our Volkswagen Amarok range