Kings of the load: Lifestyle trucks

The Australians call them ‘utes’, the Americans ‘pickups’ and we couldn’t imagine life in Mzansi without our beloved ‘bakkies’. DIETER LOSSKARN had loads of fun with six of the light lifestyle trucks on our (dirt) roads.

Less load-carrying, more fun

In many other markets, double-cab bakkies are a niche product. In South Africa the situation is different; here they are among the most desirable vehicles available. About 25% of all cars sold locally are pickup trucks. And if the choice comes down to buying either an SUV or a 4×4 double-cab bakkie, the latter is often favoured. The top-of-the-range ones lost their utilitarian character a long time ago and they now match most SUVs in terms of interior, comfort and performance. There is one exception, but we’ll come to that later.

All these vehicles have one thing in common: it’s less about load-carrying and more about fun. Bakkies don’t like narrow European roads and tiny, barely accessible parking spots. They love the wide-open spaces that are found in Africa, Australia and parts of the US of A. Here’s a selection of the six most exciting load warriors currently available in South Africa.

Toyota Hilux Legend

TOYOTA HILUX LEGEND 2.8 GD-6 RS AT ENGINE: 2.8l. 4-cylinder turbo diesel, paired with 6-speed auto POWER: 150kW & 500Nm TOP SPEED: 175km/h GROUND CLEARANCE: 222mm WADING DEPTH: 700mm WHEELBASE: 3 085mm
PRICE: from R917 900 www.toyota.co.za

Let’s start with the one that has been a bestseller for years. Based on the Fortuner, Toyota’s most popular SUV, the top-of-the-range Hilux truly deserves its ‘Legend’ name. The suspension of all work- horse bakkies, including Toyota’s, is designed for maximum load capacity, so they ride best with a full load. As this happens very rarely in the career of a lifestyle bakkie with top specs, Toyota and most other manufacturers decided to sacrifice some of the load capacity for additional comfort. In the case of the Hilux Legend, the payload has been reduced by about 225kg, resulting in a significantly more comfortable driving feel when the cargo area is empty.

Isuzu D-Max

ISUZU D-MAX 3.0 DDI V-CROSS AT ENGINE: 3.0l. 4-cylinder turbo diesel, paired with 6-speed auto POWER: 140kW & 450Nm TOP  SPEED:  180km/h GROUND CLEARANCE: 220mm WADING DEPTH: 800mm WHEELBASE: 3 125mm PRICE: from R814 700 www.isuzu.co.za

One of the Legend’s recently introduced challengers is the locally assembled sixth-generation Isuzu D-Max. Also based on the in-house SUV, the MU-X, the D-Max shares the same platform and the same comfortable, upmarket cabin. Comprising 23 models, Isuzu’s bakkie line-up is crowned by the V-Cross, which features a bold look with ‘dragon eye’ LED headlights, a large grille, a 5mm higher bonnet and a 10mm lower roof line – all visibly increasing this bakkie’s presence.

Peugeot Landtrek

PEUGEOT LANDTREK 4ACTION ENGINE: Engine: 1.9l. 4-cylinder turbo diesel, paired with 6-speed auto POWER: 110kW & 350Nm TOP SPEED: 171km/h GROUND CLEARANCE: 235mm WADING DEPTH: 600mm WHEELBASE: 3 180mm
PRICE: from R689 900 www.peugeot.co.za

Another competitor is French. The Peugeot Landtrek is only available with a six-speed auto and in two variants: two- and four-wheel drive. Peugeot is no stranger to building pickups, and South Africa is one of its key markets. In fact, the 202, 403, 404 and 504 have gained a remarkable reputation all over Africa. Yet, although the 4×4 version is impressive off road, the not-so-powerful diesel engine lacks performance on road. But then, you shouldn’t race bakkies anyway, should you?

Mahindra Karoo Dusk

MAHINDRA KAROO DUSK PIK UP ENGINE: 2.2l. 4-cylinder turbo diesel, paired with 6-speed manual or auto POWER: 103kW & 320Nm TOP SPEED: 160km/h GROUND CLEARANCE: 210mm WADING DEPTH: 700mm WHEELBASE: 3 040mm
PRICE: from R549 999 www.mahindra.co.za

From France we head to India. Imagine an insurance broker in middle management with an uninspiring, rather grey and boring wardrobe. Out of the blue, he suddenly turns into a snappy dresser who turns heads. That’s the Mahindra Karoo Dusk. The previously boring Mahindra Karoo bakkie recently received a total makeover in the shape of three special, fully equipped models: Dawn, Dusk and Storm. With overland driving in mind, they feature lots of extras, like impressive machined steel off-road bumpers with heavy-duty recovery loops, and 17in machined off-road alloy wheels complemented by a unique off-road suspension.

Whereas previously the Indian manufacturer borrowed heavily from the famous Jeep design of the past, the Karoo Dusk, especially in the typical Toyota sand-beige colour scheme, is strongly reminiscent of the Toyota Land Cruiser LC79. But it costs R430 000 less.

Toyota Land Cruiser

TOYOTA LAND CRUISER LC79 ENGINE: 4.5l. V8 diesel, paired with 5-speed manual POWER: 151kW & 430Nm TOP SPEED: 160km/h GROUND CLEARANCE: 235mm WADING DEPTH: 700mm WHEELBASE: 3 180mm PRICE: from R981 100

The very first Land Cruiser also looked at the granddaddy of all 4x4s for design inspiration when it was introduced in 1951, first as the BJ, then from 1954 as the Land Cruiser. The newest LC79 70th anniversary model looks like any of the old ones – a trip back in time to a non-digital world. It feels much more like a restored classic than a new car, but still looks eager for adventure, with everything you need for it: all mechanical front and rear diff locks, raised air intake and massive front bumper. The driver is only assisted by ABS, nothing else. Like any LC79, this is a collector’s item with a devoted fan base.

Jeep Gladiator

JEEP GLADIATOR ENGINE: 3.6l. V6 petrol, paired with 8-speed auto POWER: 209kW & 347Nm TOP SPEED: 170km/h 0 TO 100KM/H: 9.2 seconds GROUND CLEARANCE: 250mm WADING DEPTH: 800mm WHEELBASE: 3 488mm
PRICE: from R1 259 900 www.jeep.co.za

Last but not least, the coolest – and most expensive – bakkie currently available in the country is one that turns even raptors into mere poultry. Jeep finally brought their iconic truck back to market, almost three decades after the previous Gladiator. The guaranteed head-turner is South Africa’s only convertible bakkie – even the windshield folds down – and the most striking one.

Despite the old-school rugged looks it is very digital, with all kinds of USB ports, and push buttons for everything. There’s even a sharp-imaging rear cross view assist camera, which is very helpful when you consider that the Gladiator is 20cm longer than the regular Jeep Wrangler, which it is based on.

We are only getting one version of it, the one with an un- fortunately thirsty 3.6l V6 petrol engine and – on a positive note – the fully equipped, top-of-the-range Rubicon ver- sion that has all the available off-road features, like Dana 44 axles, rear and front diff locks, low-range gears and sway bar disconnect for insane wheel articulations. And they’re all easily initiated by push buttons on the dash. The longer wheelbase requires a different, slightly more pro-active off-road driving style, but don’t worry about those sounds coming from below; the underbelly is very well protected by various steel plates and rock sliders. Thanks to a ground clearance of 250mm and a wading depth of 800mm, the Gladiator fords deep waterholes quite casually, while in low range even steep inclines are just annihilated.

But even better than its off-road capabilities are the new Jeep’s rugged looks. In fact, when you look into the face of the new Gladiator, you can still see the old one. The heritage, which goes all the way back to 1941, lives on. The Willys MB was the first proper 4×4 ever made and it significantly helped win the Second World War for the Allies. It was succeeded in 1946 by the first civilian Jeep ever, the CJ2A. No other pickup comes close to its enormous street (and dirt-road) cred. If you live by the motto ‘reason is boring’, the fun, rough and tough Jeep is a bakkie to con- sider buying.