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Which double cab is the fairest of them all?

Wednesday June 5 2019

Ford Ranger

The Ford Ranger is fast with the 3.2 litre, economical with the 2.2 litre. PHOTO | COURTESY 

Baraza JM
By Baraza JM
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While the consumer market is obsessed with lifted wagons or miniaturised rigs, both methods of manufacture have a convergence point commonly called the crossover, a nine-year war that has been quietly simmering below the surface of this column.

It is slowly drawing to a close... at least we think it is.

Battle lines have been drawn and various manufacturers, dealerships and franchise holders have pushed forward their janissaries to make a final stand against each other before the inevitable hybrid-electric crossover takeover comes to pass, before this multipurpose platform takes a seat at the back of the automotive concert hall that is the buyer's market.

I am talking about double cab pickups. It seems like every now and then we are in one version of the Amarok or the other if we are not already in a Hilux.

Bashing the dunes of the Namib desert in a DMAX felt like just a few weeks ago (it wasn't, we drove the DMAX in 2016), while a first-impressions afternoon jaunt in the new Navara was quite literally a few weeks ago.

COMPARISON

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We've even had a go at a Ford Ranger, so brief was that drive that we weren't able to draw any meaningful conclusions.

We've also had a go at a Mitsubishi Triton, a.k.a the L200, and came away not just underwhelmed and unimpressed, but wondering who on earth would build and sell such a vehicle in this day and age of the Mercedes-Benz X Class, which we have not had a go at but are already suspicious and pessimistic about its interior based on photos alone.

As you can see, there is no shortage of exposure to double cab pickups here, which is why we present this: the first-impressions comparison test between the current double cab pickups in the market.

Please note that this list is not comprehensive: there is a notable absence of Chinese and Indian (remember last week’s article?) cars because we honestly believe these occupy a slightly different niche from the pro wrestling superstars we are about to present:

Full disclosure: the initial plan was to present a list with entries ranked in order of merit, but we figured that would be a nice addition to our Car Of The Year Award towards Christmastime, so why spoil the surprise?

The following presentation follows no particular order or formula, the entries just appeared as they were shouted out in the office during a boisterous brainstorm.

****

Ford Ranger

A vehicle that last featured in full review format on this column two general elections and some change ago.

Seriously, we last reviewed a Ford Ranger comprehensively when? Was it 2010 or 2011? Since then, our experience with this vehicle has been limited to very brief bursts in privately owned non-demonstrator vehicles.

Price: unknown as of the time of publication, but word on the street is the Wildtrak spec costs a whopping Sh7.2 million. Note that this is subject to clarification.

The good: handsome. Rugged. Fast with the 3.2 litre, economical with the 2.2 litre.

The bad: chats with owners and other end users reveal perhaps “Built Ford Tough” may be a bit of an overstatement.

Reliability issues are starting to crop up and of the owners I have engaged, one has grounded his at the moment, while the other, a prominent farmer, got fed up with his and moved back to Toyota.

The ugly: that price, if accurate, is insane, to be honest. Sure, the Wildtrak looks like what The Terminator would drive if he ever took Rambo on a date and wanted to impress him, but the gap between it and the Hilux and Amarok is sizeable.

Is the Wildtrak that much more superior than the GD6 and the Canyon? I hardly think so (this too can be disproven if only Ford would hand over a pickup).

Keep in mind now there is a Ranger Raptor, so if that one ever made it here, how much would it retail for?

(The Raptor name should be familiar to off-road enthusiasts as the thunderstorm in a Ford cup. It is an F150 derivative designed to cross deserts very fast while looking as intimidating as possible. Power outputs match those of Ferraris and Lamborghinis from the recent past, that’s the kind of thing that defines the Raptor: “overmuscled”)

****

Nissan Navara D23

This too, like the Ranger, has been a long time coming, but the difference is, it actually did.

Interestingly enough, the last Ford Ranger review was heavily influenced by the previous generation of this truck after the entry level Ranger XLT lost the battle to a full-spec Navara LE in a skirmish witnessed by us in Olepolos just outside the city.

Well, there is a new Navara now, a vehicle I was meant to test in Morocco until my passport disappeared into a bureaucrat’s desk and reappeared when it was too late to follow up the visa application process, so it took another two years before we finally had an encounter with one.

Well, here it is now. It shares a lot with the Mercedes-Benz X Class, which should sound like quite the credential, but in the metal things are less impressive. Price: Sh6.5 million

The good: generic exterior, with a passing resemblance to the DMAX.

This is a good thing because the L200 Triton showed us what the results of experimenting with a design pen look like when the ink is refilled from the pot marked “Fail”.

DOWNSIDE

Sometimes it is important to play it safe. Piano finish and chrome embellishments make the interior very car-like and ensconcing.

The seats in this are more comfortable than the ones in the Y62 Nissan Patrol, if you can believe it. The vehicle is very well specced for a pickup and for its price.

The bad: generic exterior with a passing resemblance to the DMAX. This is not good for a segment where brand identity weighs heavy and marques are supposed to be established at first glance.

Nothing hurts your brand as much as your target market wrongly identifying it as something else.

Sometimes it is important to push the edges a little. Piano finish and chrome embellishments make the interior very susceptible to fingerprint collection, so keep a microfiber cloth handy with you.

High boost threshold in the turbo and a bit of lag turn this car into a bit of a slug especially when facing off the highly boosted Amarok.

BLUETOOTH

The ugly: the lack of power is a huge disappointment for something that: 1. looks so tough and 2. is first cousins with a Mercedes-Benz.

The infotainment is laggy to the point of being irritating and then there is the Bluetooth: it is best left untouched. It started off by being stubbornly reluctant to pair with any phone, then the moment it did, it automatically downloaded all the phone’s contacts onto the vehicle’s hard drive.

This is a shared demonstrator, I don’t want my phonebook to be accessible to the next motoring journalist that is given the vehicle for test.

What if, God forbid, it downloaded my messages as well? Or worse yet, my media library with incriminating photography? Stay very far from that Bluetooth, is our advice.



Toyota Hilux
Toyota Hilux

TOYOTA HILUX

Well, there may be a formula to this after all. First, the Hilux showed up at our doorstep this past weekend in 50th Anniversary AN130 facelifted form, sporting a paint job that I suspect would be called “Anthracite” if sold with a more snobbish logo in its grille. So we just call it dark grey.

Price: Sh6.7 million

The good: there is plenty good with this new truck. Start with the Tundra face. Then move on into the interior, which has finally attained premium status. Then there is the power: the Hilux now gets the 1GD engine we previously wrangled in the Fortuner, a tower of refinement and torque that could easily shame the finest of European diesels.

Automation of some functionalities is also a welcome reprieve from the days of manually operated everything, and there are thoughtful little details all over that include one-touch windows on all four doors.

Expect a full video review on a YouTube channel near you soon.

The bad: the cruise control knob kept rubbing against my right knee any time I braked and turned the steering wheel at the same time. This is curable by moving the driver’s seat further back. The fuel economy at first seemed a bit … umm … un-diesel-like until I discovered I had covered exactly 500 (okay, 499) kilometres on a little more than half a tank. This entry should go into the list above.

The ugly: Toyota were so keen on getting things right with this car, they kind of overdid it. The instrument cluster is clear and easy to read but they didn’t want it to be boring, so they introduced a few curves into the inner fairing of the cluster, curves that then partially obscure the graphics indicating whether you have your high beams on or your low beams.

The panel gaps on the tailgate are also quite sizeable. A cat won’t necessarily escape through them, but you don’t have to look very hard to notice. This is largely irrelevant for a vehicle designed to carry large objects, but Toyota worked so hard on the rest of the car (and it shows) one can’t help but wonder why they gave up so close to the finish line.

MITSUBISHI L200 TRITON

We may not want to go into too many details about this one. The price is unknown, the “good” column indicates that there are a few people out there who like how it looks (we also don’t understand what they are on about) and the vehicle is probably cheap given what it is. What it is a disappointment. I don’t want to call it awful but it’s hard not to.

The ride is excessively bouncy, the steering has been loaned from a low-end 18-wheeler, there are huge blind spots, the cluster is not very pleasant to look at, the manual versions have vague gear-shift actions and very odd ratios between first and third such that there seems to be more noise than motion and it is shockingly, shockingly slow, more so when we have trucks like the Ranger 3.2, the Amarok and the Hilux GD6 roaming the landscape. Unless it is almost a free giveaway, there lacks a rational reason one would buy this truck.

VOLKSWAGEN AMAROK

The youngest upstart in this melee as far as heritage goes. Tech guys talk of disruption, well, this is disruption right here.

Nobody in their right mind would saddle a giant truck with a 2.0 litre engine, yet Volkswagen did and blew the competition out of the water, forcing former fuehrers of ferrying fiefdoms back to their drawing boards to rethink what exactly should go into a pickup.

Price: about Sh6.8 million for the cooking, bejewelled, top-rung Canyon.

The good: fuel economy is outstanding. Performance beggars belief. The 8-speed gearbox is a fuzzy-logic marvel. The simple boxy design is unmistakably German. It is fun to drive for such a large car.

The bad: can be a bit gruff. The interior, while very much like that of a saloon car, is very much like that of an entry-level saloon car. While this was a revelation many years ago when the Amarok first appeared, the other marques have caught up and since leapfrogged it. Time for an upgrade. The electronics can be a bit overwhelming and hard to fathom, parking such a huge vehicle is sometimes a challenge and the elephant-ear mirrors sometimes get in their own way.

The ugly: who pays close to Sh7 millions for a Volkswagen with a 2.0 litre engine? Speaking of the engine, there is a price to pay for squeezing that kind of torque from such small capacity. Members of the aftermarket tuning crowd should be familiar with it, and that price is engine life. When they said there is no replacement for displacement, they knew what they were on about.

 ISUZU D-MAX

The truck more famously known for newspaper deliveries would actually be more at home on a farm. This is the vehicle that introduced turbocharging to the local pickup segment and gained notoriety for being in urgent need of stability control. Well, it has that stability control now.

Price: something just shy of Sh6 million, give or take a few browns.

The good: the price: as of the time of review, we were told the truck would undercut the competition by close to a million shillings, which is a massive difference. That alone should get you into one if nothing else. We also like the new-not-so-new look. Not everyone is excited for the swoopy lights, but at least it is a step forward from General Motors’ traditionally conservative approach. The interior is well specced and has passable room front and back, and the vehicle is actually comfortable, which is surprising given how agricultural it actually is.

The bad: it is agricultural. Refinement, while improved, is still not a strong point, more so if you stray north of 3,000rpm in that 4-cylinder diesel turbo.

The ugly: a ropy gear change in the manual transmission reveals the D-MAX to be a miniature lorry dressed like a double-cab. Bluetooth is a bitch, USB ports are hard to find and you need to slam the rear doors really hard for them to actually shut. These are very strange problems to have.

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