Should I buy a pick-up?

Toying with getting a pick-up? We weigh up the pros and cons to help you decide whether a pick-up is right for you and which model to go for

John Evans
Nov 5, 2019

In case you hadn't noticed, pick-ups aren't what they used to be. The noisy, ugly, industrial models of old have been replaced by a new generation that can rival many SUVs for interior features, ambience and passenger space, not to mention their chunky styling. Pick wisely and even the driving experience is comparable to an SUV with some pick-up models.

On top of these attributes, most pick-ups can lug a tonne of people, luggage and whatever other gear you care to chuck in the back, not to mention tow 3,500kg depending on the model, with the prospect of a wide load bed and serious off-road and wading capability in most cases. Don't believe us? Check out the pick-ups appearing high up our list of the cars that can wade through the deepest water.

Of course, money is never far from people’s minds when weighing up their choice of vehicle and for business users in particular there are three compelling financial reasons for picking a pick-up over an SUV: pick-ups attract a lower, flat-rate benefit-in-kind tax and lower road tax, and the VAT charged on the vehicle’s price is reclaimable. Private users, too, can benefit from a pick-up’s lower road tax.

All things considered, in a market filled with sophisticated, stylish and car-like SUVs to suit all tastes and pockets, it’s no surprise that modern pick-ups have had to cover more bases than ever before to compete. This means pick-ups are an increasingly attractive alternative for those who need to lug bulky kit around, have several mucky dogs they want to put in the back or tradespeople who need their vehicle to work for a living.

 

But is a pick-up the right type of vehicle for you? For all their benefits and advantages, pick-ups also have their limitations. Below, we outline the pros and cons of pick-up versus SUVs. Keep reading to discover which option works best for you.

Pick-ups: Choice and range

Not long ago, pick-ups were the preserve of mainstream brands including Toyota and Nissan but in 2017, Mercedes entered the market with its X-Class range of pick-ups. This squares up to fellow German brand Volkswagen with its Amarok models.

Certainly in their image and feeling of quality, these two are arguably a cut above a field that also includes the Ford Ranger, Fiat Fullback (no longer available new but BuyaCar has used ones), Isuzu D-Max, Mitsubishi L200, Nissan Navara and Toyota Hilux. If you want your pick-up to drive nicely, be well put together with a stylish interior and still be a sturdy workhorse, the VW is by far the most upmarket option and a truly impressive piece of kit, with the Mercedes feeling very much like style over substance in comparison, despite very high prices. Representing the budget end of the spectrum, meanwhile, is SsangYong with its Musso models.

The point is, there’s a good spread of brands and pick-ups to choose from, although in truth, the vehicles are all designed to do pretty much the same thing. On the other hand, the SUV market is larger still with most brands represented and all types of model from compact to luxury available.

As a result, there are many more used SUVs to choose from at all price points. However, used pick-ups are hardly in short supply with almost 1,000 of them to choose from on BuyaCar, with prices starting at around £10,000 for a four-year old model.

Pros

Upmarket and mainstream models on offer
Good choice of strong value used pick-ups

Cons

Choice of pick-up types more limited than SUVs
No petrol, hybrid or electric models on offer yet

Pick-ups: practicality, payload and towing

Thanks to their flat load bed (the part of the vehicle behind the cabin) and heavy-duty suspension, most pick-ups have a maximum 1,000kg payload capacity, meaning they can lug far more weight than pretty much any SUV. Their flat bed allows them to carry tall or awkward-shaped loads, too.

However, the size of the load area is governed by the size of the cab - the bigger the cab and the more passenger space there is, the smaller the load bed. There are three ranging from the two-door single cab, through the four-door king cab (the rearmost doors and the back seats are small) to the double cab models with four full-size doors and seats. This last type is so popular that VW and Mercedes don't bother offering their pick-ups with any other type.

An SUV doesn't offer this choice but at least larger models can accommodate seven people and if you need to carry loads, the back seats can be folded away. Not only that, your precious load will be covered and secure, rather than open to the elements. That said, it is possible to buy a cover to fit over the flat bed or a metal box cover that may have side windows and an opening hatch at the back, which makes a pick-up like an SUV but with a separate load area.

Pick-ups typically have a braked towing limit of at least 3,000kg and up to 3,500kg but so also do many larger SUVs. These are normally the largest, most expensive SUVs, however, so if you want the cheapest towing machine, you're likely to be better off with a pick-up. To compare this with mainstream cars that make good towing vehicles, check out our roundup of the best value cars for towing.

Pros

Load bed caters for various loads, up to 1,000kg
Double cabs can accommodate four in comfort
Most pick-ups can tow at least 3,000kg

Cons

None can take seven people, unlike larger SUVs
Double cab format means shorter load bed
Flat bed is less secure than an SUV boot (although optional covers are available)

Pick-ups: all-round usefulness

If you run a small business or are a sole trader looking for a working vehicle for the week and a family vehicle for weekends, then little comes close to a double-cab pick-up with its four full-size doors and seats, and capacity for hard work.

The best models such as the VW Amarok, project a strong business image, too, meaning that one machine can do heavy duty work, look good to potential customers and impress SUV-driving neighbours.

Even you just need a working tool for carrying building materials or towing plant machinery, pick-ups can do that, too, and over rough ground if needbe, with most models including four-wheel drive and high ground clearance.

In comparison, a typical SUV is so much less useful, with greater passenger comforts in some cases and boot space that can more easily be extended by folding seats, but less ability to lug heavy or dirty loads. However, SUVs are often more refined and a little better to drive. The point is, if the business case for a pick-up is hard for you to make, you might find that after a while you grow tired of one.

Pros

A great double-act: workhorse and family car

Cons

 Car alternatives more refined and better to drive

Pick-ups: on the road

Pick-ups have come a long way, with models such as the Nissan Navara having more sophisticated suspension that dials out much of the bounciness that afflicted earlier models. 

However, no matter how you cut it, pick-ups are functional vehicles first and foremost. To be able to lug so much weight they need tough suspension, which can mean a firm ride when you don't have a load in the back. Meanwhile, their strong, truck-style construction makes them less manouevrable.

They’re not the most aerodynamic vehicles either, so you can expect them to be noisy at motorway speeds. Meanwhile, having four-wheel drive and being heavy, as well as geared for towing and carrying, they can feel quite slow and have poor fuel consumption. There are quicker, more powerful ones but they’re far from cheap to run.

Of all the pick-ups on the market, the Volkswagen Amarok comes closest to aping the ride comfort of SUVs. However, there’s no masking the vehicle’s weight, with the basic diesel engine taking 13.5 seconds to do 0-62mph. At the other extreme the most powerful version requires ‘just’ 7.4 seconds.

Contrast these figures with the Volkswagen Touareg SUV which, in its slowest form, takes 7.5 seconds, and fastest, 6.1 seconds. At the same time, thanks to its more sophisticated construction and smoother shape, the Touareg is much more refined, more comfortable and better to drive on twisty roads than the Amarok.

Pros

Refinement and comfort levels improving rapidly
Most powerful pick-ups are impressively quick
Combination of performance and carrying ability

Cons

SUVs are typically more refined and comfortable
Fuel economy often worse than SUV alternatives
 Toughness means pick-ups less sharp to drive

Pick-ups: off-road

Not surprisingly, what’s good for the building site is also good for the field with pick-ups' long-travel, heavy-duty suspension and four-wheel drive systems (most models have '4WD' as standard) being perfectly suited to going off-road. Their tough ladder-frame chassis permits greater wheel articulation - meaning greater grip over rough terrain - and high ground clearance helps to keep them out of harm’s way.

Also, versions such as the VW Amarok have technology that can boost their off-road ability by, for example, automatically braking the vehicle on descents. However, some SUVs such as the Range Rover have much more. They are also typically far pricier, too.

Some vehicles such as the Toyota Hilux, Isuzu D-Max and Mitsubishi L200 (which has a dedicated low-range gearbox for serious off-roading) are produced by manufacturers with a long and distinguished track record in designing and producing hardy off-roaders.

The only thing that prevents most pick-ups from achieving off-road greatness is their long body overhangs, especially at the rear. The best off-roaders have short overhangs so they don't ground out when going up and down steep slopes or crossing undulating ground. Not all pick-ups are so blessed.

Pros

Excellent off-roading ability with four-wheel drive
Most built by brands with off-road track record

Cons

Long body overhangs can drag on the ground
Lack off-road assistance technology of best SUVs

Pick-ups: interior

This is another area where pick-ups have raised their game. The VW Amarok is a prime example. A car-like dashboard with an integrated touchscreen media system, soft-touch plastics, heated seats, a fully adjustable steering wheel, climate control and driver assistance features are all familiar features from SUVs. Even the humble - and affordable - SsangYong Musso makes a decent fist of feeling like a passenger car inside.

All that said, there are still areas of cheap plastics on pick-ups from most brands - with the Mercedes X-Class feeling surprisingly cheap inside, despite its steep pricing. In short, don't expect pick-ups' interiors to display SUV-levels of plushness or to offer the same level of refinement. However, in most cases pick-ups are dramatically cheaper than similarly sized SUVs, so this seems like a fair exchange.

SUVs have more versatile seating, including the possibility of a third row, plus more luxury features for passengers. Finally, there’s the issue of cab size to consider. The largest pick-ups, called double cabs, are popular because these are as roomy as a car interior, but choose a king cab and your rear-seat passengers will be cramped while a single cab has space only for two or three people in the front. All but the most luxurious SUVs, which may have four individual seats, are five seaters, with scope for seven seats.

Pros

Car-like cabins packed with features for the price
Interiors built to withstand everyday life

Cons

Rear seats can be upright, due to vertical screen
SUVs quieter, more refined and better equipped
 Pick-up interiors not as versatile as SUV rivals

Pick-ups: tax

For all their increased sophistication, pick-ups are essentially business tools, a fact recognised by HMRC, which taxes them more favourably than SUVs and other cars.

For example, instead of its benefit-in-kind tax rate being a sliding scale based on emissions, a pick-up attracts a flat 'BIK' rate, in the 2019-20 tax year, of £3,430. For a 20% tax payer, that equates to a charge of £686 and a 40% payer, £1,372 – both much less than would be charged on the equivalent SUV.

Meanwhile, for all its creature comforts, a pick-up is classed as a commercial vehicle on which VAT can be reclaimed, assuming the business is VAT-registered. In contrast, VAT cannot be reclaimed on an SUV unless it has been converted for commercial use.

Finally, a pick-up attracts a lower, flat rate of road tax than an SUV. Currently, it’s just £260 and that’s even on vehicles costing more than £40,000. An SUV registered from 1 April 2017 on the other hand, is charged according to a sliding scale of emissions. In addition, on vehicles costing over £40,000, a £320 surcharge is applied for five years from the second year of registration.

Pros

 Pick-ups attract much less benefit-in-kind tax
 Commercial vehicles are liable for low road tax
Businesses can reclaim VAT on the purchase price

Cons

 Business buyers benefit more from tax savings
No low-tax electric or plug-in models available

Pick-ups: running costs

Heavier, less aerodynamic, gearing set for lugging substantial loads and featuring larger engines, a pick-up is never going to be the last word in fuel economy, and that’s before you consider the performance, which is generally less impressive than SUVs with similar muscle.

As an example, the most economical VW Amarok, the 3.0 V6 TDI 204hp 4Motion automatic, returns a claimed 34.9mpg. In comparison, the VW Touareg 3.0 V6 TDI 231hp 4Motion automatic returns 42.8mpg. For a business user, the Amarok’s economy is probably acceptable but a normal driver may want to think twice - especially if you cover high mileages.

Some pick-ups such as the Amarok have variable service intervals which can see visits to the garage reduced to as little as two years or 25,000 miles. This should cut your maintenance costs at least.

Pros

Makes a strong business case with tax savings
Variable servicing can help to reduce costs

Cons

Equivalent SUVs are more economical

Pick-ups: prices

At one extreme of the pick-up price range is the Mercedes X-Class 350d 4Matic Power. New it costs around £46,500 including VAT compared with £60,380 for the equivalent Mercedes GLE, on which VAT cannot be reclaimed. Despite the X-Class being a very pricey pick-up, this is still a substantial saving. Consider better value alternatives, such as the VW Amarok, and you get even more machine for your money.

However, given the differences between the two types of vehicle, it’s hard to draw any real conclusions from a general price comparison like this other than to say that a modern, well-equipped pick-up is possibly better value than you might have thought. Not only that, it’s cheaper to tax and business users can reclaim VAT on the new purchase price.

Pros

Prices lower for pick-ups than comparable SUVs
Even cheaper once VAT has been reclaimed

Cons

SUVs more rounded if you don't benefit from pick-up tax savings, load lugging or towing ability

 

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