The winds of change are whistling through the pickup market, with the choice of 10 brands slashed to just four as big players desert the sector en masse.
Nissan and Mitsubishi will be gone by the start of next year, following Mercedes-Benz and Fiat out of the door.
Great Wall scurried back to China some time ago, having failed to bloody the noses of more illustrious foes despite heavily undercutting them on price.
And Volkswagen has pulled the plug on its Amarok, too – although it will return as a rebadged Ford Ranger sometime next year.
Nissan and Mercedes blame underwhelming pickup sales, while Mitsubishi’s top brass have decided to sack off the European automotive market altogether. All of them also have the challenge, and expense, of emissions regulations to contend with – choppy waters to navigate when your buyers are clamouring for big, powerful engines.
Either way, the wholesale evacuation leaves slim pickings. Ignoring the peripheral Musso from South Korean maker Ssangyong – which itself has been riddled with financial difficulty and may well end up snuffing it – there are just three contenders.
One can only imagine just how much the salespeople at Ford, Toyota and Isuzu will be salivating at the impending feeding frenzy – up for grabs is the combined 18,000 units-a-year average of Mitsubishi and Nissan, which are third and fourth in the sales rankings.
Isuzu’s launch of the new D-Max has been timed impeccably to coincide with the departures.
It is gunning for the premium £30,000-plus market with a major interior overhaul designed to finally shake the frill-free reputation that has served the company so well.
Isuzu D-Max DL40
- Engine 1.9-litre, four-cyl diesel
- Power 164hp@3,600rpm
- Torque 360Nm@2,000-2,500rpm
- Max speed 112mph
- 0-62mph 12.7sec manual, 13sec auto
- Combined consumption 33.6mpg manual, 30.7mpg auto
- Ground clearance 235mm
- Kerb weight 2,000kg manual, 2,030kg auto
- Payload 1,100kg manual, 1,070kg auto
- Towing capacity 3,500kg
And with the lucrative “lifestyle” market in its cross hairs, Isuzu hopes that the top-spec V-Cross (£32,759 ex VAT) will contribute one-third of the 10,000 unit/year sales it is targeting by 2025 – triple that of 2020’s order book.
Two mid-range models, the DL20 and DL40, are expected to account for 45% of D-Max sales, with the basic Utility chipping in 25%.
- Utility double-cab – £24,509
- DL20 double-cab – £26,759/£28,259
- DL40 double-cab – £29,759/£31,259
- V-Cross double-cab – £31,259/£32,759
*On the road price, ex VAT; manual/automatic
The most extreme changes involve the top of the range – now the domain of the heavily specced V-Cross.
A rear parking camera is standard, as are half-a-dozen driver assistance systems. These include traffic sign recognition, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking.
The interior has a softer, smarter finish, culminating in the addition of a 9in touchscreen.
It’s far better integrated than before, but the look is somewhat deceptive – on first impression, the old-hat graphics and a clumsy layout were a bit of a disappointment.
The saving grace is that it can run Apple Carplay and Android Auto, which avoids using most of the features.
However, such improvements will be of little interest to some farm buyers, and anyone keen to forego luxury in return for a keener price has three lesser double-cab models to choose from.
The DL40 and DL20 look a better balance of money and spec than the V-Cross – they both have a rear-diff, 18in alloys and body-coloured bumpers.
Utility models prop up the range and they come in single-, extended- and double-cab configurations.
The spec sheet isn’t entirely barren, either – steel wheels and wipe-clean vinyl flooring are accompanied by automatic windscreen wipers and headlights, and a DAB radio.
Engine and transmission
The last major update to the D-Max’s drivetrain was the introduction of a 1.9-litre engine in 2017 – albeit to a lukewarm reception.
The four-cylinder engine develops an unassertive 164hp and 360Nm of torque. There’s a 3-litre version too, but you can’t have one – it’s only available in Australia, South Africa and Asia, where there’s no Euro 6D emissions class to ruin the fun.
No amount of interior decorating will be able to disguise the engine’s limitations, but Isuzu has worked hard to address one of the other shortcomings. Automatic gearshifts, previously dithery and slow, are now 25% faster.
A new actuator has also made four-wheel drive engagement a bit quicker. It can be done on the fly, but the absence of a central differential means it can’t be driven in four-wheel drive on the road.
The rear diff, standard on DL and V-Cross models, can be engaged below 5mph and with low range selected. This kicks out the ABS, traction control and hill descent system.
Other changes to note include wading depth up by 200mm to 800mm, a thicker steel underbelly, an extra cross-member and larger chassis rails to stiffen up the undercarriage, and new chassis cab mounts to absorb more noise and vibration.
Towing capacity remains 3.5t, the payload is 1.1t on manual models – autos are limited to slightly less – and the load bed is a smidge deeper, at 490mm.
Pickup options disappear
Nissan is the latest pickup maker to pull the plug on the UK market. Though a heavily revised Navara is scheduled for global launch this year, it won’t be landing on these shores.
Instead, it will continue to offer the current generation until early 2022, or as long as dealer stocks remain, according to Professional Pickup and 4×4 magazine.
The firm’s factories have been affected by Mercedes-Benz’s decision to abandon its Narava-based X-Class, which lasted just two years, and the failure of the Renault Alaskan (also a Navara under the skin) to make any headway in Europe.
The company intends to focus on bigger, more profitable markets in South-East Asia and Australasia.
Another of the pickup big four, Mitsubishi, is withdrawing from the European market altogether. The Japanese company plans to cancel all scheduled vehicle launches, including that of the next-generation L200 pickup.
Existing models will remain on sale until they fail to comply with updated emissions regulations or residual stock runs dry. Fiat stopped bringing the L200-based Fullback to the UK a couple of years ago.
Meanwhile, Volkswagen is no longer building the Amarok, though the name will return when a new model based on the same platform as the next-generation Ford Ranger is launched in 2022.
This may well bring the Land Rover Defender Hard Top – the commercial version of the latest Defender – back into play as a genuine farm option, albeit at the top end of the price range. You can read about it in next week’s issue of Farmers Weekly.