Seven contenders. One winner. Where do the new Nissan Navara and Mitsubishi Triton fit into the leisure double-cab pecking order in 2017? After rigorous testing and days on the road, we crown a lifestyle bakkie king...  

It’s been a long wait but, finally, the gang's all here (watch the video here). Representatives from all the major players in the ever-popular leisure-oriented double-cab bakkie market gathered to stake their claim as the best lifestyle pickup. If most of the contenders seem familiar, it’s because, well, this isn’t a segment in which significant change happens too often. And yet, now, four years since our last big bakkie test, the competition includes two new entrants, a number of recently revised players and, of course, two seasoned competitors who continue to tussle for bragging rights at the top of the monthly sales charts.

Each featuring a turbodiesel, all-wheel drivetrain and automatic transmission, the competition here includes the new Nissan Navara and Mitsubishi Triton, the evergreen Isuzu KB, the Mazda BT-50 and Ford Ranger "twins", the legendary Toyota Hilux and, of course, the winner of our 2013 shootout, the Volkswagen Amarok.

The go-to bakkie guy

Even if it were not for his invaluable off-roading experience and expertise, we’d still welcome Hannes Grobler back to any one of our shootouts just to hear more of his captivating stories of adventures both on and off the official route guides of past South African and Dakar rally stages. Always approachable, Hannes is a legend on both the national rallying and off-road racing scene, and now lends his expert opinion to 4x4 Mega World Zambezi in Pretoria.

Packaging

Nissan Navara 2,3 dCi LE 4x4 AT - Newest first. The D23-generation Navara arrives in South Africa on the back of positive international reviews and notable awards. Forty-one millimetres shorter than the outgoing D40 that did duty here from 2005, the new Navara is well proportioned to take on the oversized bakkies, its 3 150 mm-long wheelbase beaten only by those of the Ranger and recently facelifted BT-50 (they, of course, share underpinnings). Keen to lend its newest double-cab every advantage in the leisure-bakkie driving stakes, Nissan has introduced coil-sprung dampers to the rear suspension, where all the others here remain supported by a traditional leaf-sprung arrangement.

To further enhance overall comfort, much of the Navara’s interior mimics the layouts found in other Nissan products, including the popular X-Trail, already found in our market. That said, while all the plastics remain firm to the touch, there’s a neat SUV-like familiarity to the switches and functions. While rake-and-reach adjustment has been included on the steering column, we would have appreciated an even greater range of movement, some taller testers remaining slightly compromised in terms of their driving positions. Among the neat touches included at the rear of the new Navara are climate-control-linked air vents, as well as a small, electrically operated back window.


Power (kW/r/min): 140/3 750
Torque (N.m/r/min): 450/1 500-2 500

What Hannes said: “I like the looks, refinement and drivetrain on the new Navara; it’s just that the suspension seems a little on the firm side over gravel. It rode as though its tyre pressures were sitting at 3,5 bar which, of course, they weren’t.”

Mitsubishi Triton 2,4 Di-D 4x4 Auto - Where the previous-generation Triton was the first vehicle in this segment to offer an electric window aft, the new, fifth-generation offering does away with this function. Indeed, while Mitsubishi has successfully bulked up the new Triton compared with the somewhat softer outgoing model, it retains many of the first model’s distinct styling cues, including the sweeping rear door line which, in turn, compromises comfort in these rear seats.

Thankfully, despite being the smallest offering here in terms of exterior dimensions, overall levels of comfort up front are among the best, and are aided significantly by a wide array of adjustments offered on both the seats and steering column. Adding further appeal to the cabin is a generous weave of carpeting, as well as soft-touch plastics on areas likely to make contact with skin. A surprising oversight on the Triton is the absence of a locking function on the tailgate, as well as side and curtain airbags.


Power (kW/r/min): 133/3 500
Torque (N.m/r/min): 430/2 500

What Hannes said: “The Triton, particularly in terms of its refined engine and axle articulation, pleasantly surprised me.”

Ford Ranger 3,2 TDCi XLT 4x4 Auto and Mazda BT-50 3,2 SLE 4x4 Auto - One of the surprises this group test threw up was the marked difference in both character and perceived quality between vehicles that, by all accounts, should be very similar: the Ranger and BT-50. Despite making better use of the shared exterior dimensions to offer more interior space, particularly at the rear, it’s the more recently revised Mazda that feels a generation older than the Ranger when comparing their levels of standard equipment and the sense of solidity from the driver’s seat.

While much of this feeling can be credited to the superior plastics and finishes in the Ford, as well as the inclusion of the company’s impressive Sync3 infotainment system (which now includes satellite navigation), you would be hard-pressed to say that the Ranger and the BT-50 share so much DNA. As one tester noted, it’s as though the Ford was developed for South Africa, where the Mazda is more generic.


Ranger:
Power (kW/r/min): 147/3 000
Torque (N.m/r/min): 470/1 500-2 750


BT-50:
Power (kW/r/min): 147/3 000
Torque (N.m/r/min): 470/1  750-2 500

What Hannes said: “Perhaps it’s as a result of the tyres or the steering, but the BT-50 felt looser than the Ranger while driving on the gravel section. It’s a nice engine, although it can lack a little torque low down.”

READ PART TWO OF THE SHOOTOUT HERE...