Bakkie shootout 2021 – the on-road test

By: CAR magazine

With a liberal smattering of dust and mud on their bodywork, we ventured out onto the blacktop for some back-to-back driving. Over the last decade, the demand for SUV-like dynamics and on-road performance has almost become a prerequisite in the bakkie sector.

The exception to the double-cab rule used to be a handful of bakkies that could produce the goods on the bitumen, but now the rule is that a leisure lifestyler must deliver on-road first, with generous off-road proficiency a bonus. There were no real surprises dished up by the Isuzu, Mahindra and JAC, then, with their workhorse leanings. The close margins and tight grouping of votes from there on show just where the emphasis of modern double cabs has shifted to.

Yet, still heading up the list for on-road excellence – just as it did in our last Shootout back in 2017, and the one before it in 2013 – is the Volkswagen Amarok. With the V6 TDI’s immense power and torque, smooth eight-speed auto and uncanny ability to soak up mile after mile at high speed, it once again reminded our testers just how accomplished it is. You really can think of it as Touareg with a load bay.

Noteworthy is the work Ford has carried out in making the cabin of the Ranger one of the most impressively insulated in the business. And while not as mighty at crossing provinces as the V6 Vee Dub, the 2,0-litre SiT and 10-speed automatic drivetrain settled into a wonderful rhythm on-road.

Others that impressed with their substance on road were the Triton and Hilux, although the heaviness of their controls was in slight juxtaposition to a few of the newer entrants. Like the BT-50, for example, which clawed back some of the ground lost in the off-road challenges, although many testers did note that even for road use, the Mazda’s suspension could be softened slightly. The 140 kW/450 N.m 3,0-litre TD delivers in spades though.

There was little to choose between the GWM and Nissan on-road … both with notably refined engines. A few of the team noted the Nissan’s 2,5 DDTI didn’t feel quite as potent as its 140 kW/450 N.m outputs suggest (low mileage withstanding), and the GWM ran out of puff in the higher speed range. Both transmissions – seven-speed automatic in the Nissan and eight-speed in the GWM – showed a proclivity to hunt for gears (in a similar vein to their performance in the drag test) proving less decisive than the Ford, Mitsubishi, Toyota and Mazda cog swappers.

After the road loop, an engine service light came up on the digital display of the GWM, which revealed the vehicle needed a DPF and exhaust self-clean … perhaps explaining its lethargy on the day. After a thorough Google search, it dished up a video detailing how to do it, we pressed all the correct buttons and initiated the self-clean. The bakkie sat for 20 minutes idling at 2 000 r/min. Afterwards, the GWM’s top-end performance had returned but the engine service light would not turn off for another two trips.

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