If you have gundogs and do a bit of shooting, there are a lot of hardy, workmanlike vehicles that will do the job for transporting them about and all the other kit you need on a day.
It used to be that pick-up trucks were basic, raw and uncomfortable, but many of the latest generation are as smart as the SUVs some of the other Guns might be in, but more rugged and reliable. We pick some of the best.
Relatively new to the pick-up category is the rather smart Mercedes-Benz X-Class, a truck that attempts to bridge the camp between workhorses you can wash out with a hosepipe and a luxurious SUV.
Certainly it looks the part with its muscular nose sporting that iconic three pointed star, and a cabin which is the epitome of pared-down style with just an iPad type screen and some air vents. On high level models, the dashboard is covered in stitched leather, and you get many of the trinkets you might expect in Mercedes such as comfortable heated and electrically adjusted seats, and fancy roller and touchpad for controlling things like the satnav and digital radio.
Also if you want a hardtop, it has the best one bar none. Made by Mercedes rather than outsourced to a third party, it is beautifully built and solid, with wide opening side and rear windows controlled by the central locking. The dogs will think they’re being transported by a Rolls-Royce.
Problem is, the X-Class might be answering a question that nobody has asked: do you really need a pick-up truck that could cost nearly £50,000 with a few extras bolted to it?
What doesn’t help its cause is that it is based on the Nissan Navara, and there are various bits such as the key and air con switches that give the game away. But it’s basically a donor job rather than a light rear badging, because having inherited things such as the excellent multi-link rear axle from the Navara, it has then been beefed up, widened and retuned with upgraded springs and dampers. The result is a very refined truck.
Handily, Mercedes has put a proper engine in it too. Earlier versions came with four pot crow-scarers (and you can still buy them), but this top of the range X 350 d 4MATIC has the 3.0 litre V6 turbocharged diesel engine of many an executive express, with a hefty 253hp, seven speed automatic gearbox and permanent 4MATIC four-wheel drive. The cheaper ones get a selectable system, which is far more agricultural.
The result is a pick-up that is tremendously fast and incredibly quiet, takes to off-roading like a Challenger tank in battle, and will mix it happily with the Range Rovers transporting the Guns. As with everything, it comes down to money: if you have the funds, then I would thoroughly recommend the X. If you have the funds…
Many a wag will say that the aforementioned X-Class is just a Navara in a posh dress, but some time in the Nissan will prove otherwise. There is very clear water between the two.
Despite recently upgraded suspension to improve the ride, handling and comfort, and front and rear disc brakes are now applied as standard for improved stopping power, and a lightly refettled cabin the Navara is far more workmanlike. Its twin-turbo four cylinder engine comes with a choice of two outputs offering 163hp and 190hp, which means it chugs about happily enough, and will do much of what is demanded of it, but fully loaded it is having to work hard.
The revised suspension means the Navara can now also carry heavier payloads and has Intelligent Trailer Sway Assist technology, for safer towing (and at 3,500kg it is one of the best in class on his front). Many of the model’s advanced safety features – including a number of first-in-class technologies such as Forward Emergency Braking, Hill Start Assist and Hill Descent Control (on 4WD models) – come as standard, and there’s also a comprehensive five-year/100,000 miles warranty.
Not that you are likely to need it though, because being a Nissan, very little will go wrong, and with double cabs starting at around £27,000, it is very good value. As an all-rounder, it’s not quite at the Botham or Sobers level, but it is a very useful performer.
The Ford Ranger is a very handsome beast and seems to be very popular with builders thanks to some competitive monthly lease rates and the addition of stickers and plastic cladding that give it some lifestyle-y cool, suggesting a look that after you’ve built that garage, you might go jet-skiing.
In that sense, it seems a model for the more urban type and it has plenty of technology for that sort of living. Available in Regular Cab, Super Cab, and Double Cab body styles, it has four-wheel drive as standard, and offers Ford’s SYNC 3 connectivity and FordPass Connect on-board modem technology, and was the also first pick-up to offer Pre-Collision Assist with Pedestrian Detection and Intelligent Speed Assist as standard.
Active Park Assist is now also available, where using sensors the pick-up helps drive you into a space. Not sure how much use that is on a Yorkshire grouse moor, but it probably is tremendously beneficial in Waitrose.
There are a number of 2.0-litre four cylinder and 3.2 V6 diesel engines, all grouped between 130hp and 200hp, and the best of the bunch is the twin-turbo 2.0-litre, with the V6 not delivering enough power but also being rather thirsty.
The Volkswagen Amarok is probably the market leading vehicle in the segment. While the X-Class is more luxurious, and the Navara and L200 more workmanlike, the Volkswagen marries high quality with practicality.
Its cabin is far more car- or SUV-like than any of the others - it uses all the kit you might see in a Passat - which if you tend to end up getting your pick-up dirty a lot, might not suit.
If you tend to be late for a shoots, then the Amarok will be very useful, because it leaps from a standing start like an undertrained labrador. It is genuinely fast, thanks to its eight speed automatic gearbox which turn the throttle into an on-off switch. Even the big Mercedes would struggle to keep up despite its greater power.
The Amarok range has grown steadily since its introduction and in addition to this range-topping 224 PS V6 version with eight-speed automatic gearbox, customers can also choose a 204 PS or new 163 PS version, along with a manual gearbox.
While the dogs might not be overly impressed with its acceleration (even if you are), at least in some part that is mitigated by excellent handling for such a big beast, which is the best of all the pick-ups. Where it falls down compared to the X-Class is its Truckman hard top, which is less robust, and less well finished than the Mercedes, and a lesser towing weight. Prices start from around £30,000 OTR, but should you so wish, you can spec your Amarok up to a massive £50,000.
The Mitsubishi L200 is a right old wellie boot of a thing, but none the worse for it. Massively popular, it’s easy to see why, because it can carry a huge amount and feels like it has been made out of girders and recycled yoghurt pot. You will never feel too precious about the L200, but you may well love it just the same, like that working dog that just gets on with the job with no fuss.
Compared to the Amarok or X-Class (and even the Navara), the L200 has a rather more old-school driving proposition thanks to a leaf-spring rear suspension from a horse drawn carriage and a 2.4-litre engine in either 151hp or 178hp versions that both roar their displeasure at almost any demand for effort.
What it does have is a switchable four-wheel drive system that means when it’s not needed you can just tootle about in fuel-saving rear-wheel drive mode, and a payload of up to 1,060kg with a towing capacity of up to 3.5 tonnes. It will go anywhere, climb anything and pull those fancily shod SUVs out of muddy field too when needed.
The cabin is a bit of a mish-mash of plastic, but continues the rugged theme although the infotainment system is a puzzle at the best of times, having a rather arcane Japanese logic to it.
With L200 double cabs starting at around £25,000 on the road, you get a remarkable amount of truck for your money and while there are more refined pick-up trucks, for sheer honesty and grunting hard work, it’s clear why the L200 has been so popular for so long.
Isuzu D Max
Cheap and cheerful, the Isuzu D Max will do the job adequately, if what you need is a pure load lugger without many frills. A fuel efficient, 40mpg four-cylinder 1.9-litre diesel engine is all that is offered, and it would be unfair to call it refined. There’s a slicker exterior look, improved interior trim and infotainment, and increased payload weights now too. But you generally get what you pay for– prices start from just over £20,000 although there are versions costing £46,000, which is bonkers.
The Hilux is known the world over as a pick-up that goes on for ever. But it’s been updated and is much less the functional tool it once was. There’s a single 2.4-litre diesel option with 148hp and it is pretty agricultural and not much quicker than a tractor either. That said, it will go anywhere off-road and the interior might not be very plush, but it is made of plastic that will never break and it’s very much a wipe clean cabin.
Land Rover Defender
There’s a new one on sale next year, which is likely to be higher tech than the (very) old one but it will have a long wheelbase version. There’s always the option of the old Defender but finding one that is good value and hasn’t been worked into the ground is a hard job. And then there’s always that reliability issue…
Mercedes-Benz Sprinter AWD
If you’ve got a lot of dogs, the new Sprinter, which is very swish with a new well-appointed cabin, comes with a four-wheel drive option. As well as four-wheel drive hardware, low-range gearing and Downhill Speed Regulation, there are also extra grab handles around the driver and passenger doors, plus ‘mud and slush’ tyres. Cage the rear out, and you’ll have the ultimate canine carrier.