This was the car that dragged the Discovery from its cheekily chic origins into the world of true luxury SUVs. It was bigger, bolder and packed with new technology – and it was also more reliable

 TARGET RANGE:  £5,000 – £18,000 

The Range Stormer concept car that wowed visitors to the North American International Auto Show in 2004 was a clear indication of the way Land Rover was planning to distance their premium products from the company’s agricultural roots. That concept was eventually developed into the Range Rover Sport, but many of the design cues were used to hoist the already popular and stylish Discovery to new heights of elegance and road presence, with sharper styling and new technologies aimed at reasserting its 4×4 pre-eminence among the new generation of luxury 4x4s from other premium car-makers such as BMW, Lexus and Porsche.

The crisper frontal design of the new Discovery 3, with its designer headlamps, inset foglamps and the clamshell bonnet came straight from the Range Stormer, along with the newly patented Terrain Response system; so did the body-on-frame construction resulting in a stronger all-in-one bodyshell. The Discovery 3 was designed from the start as a seven-seater, the stepped-roof design allowing the three rows of seats to get progressively higher towards the rear, which combined with the large rear glass area makes for a light and airy atmosphere for all seven passengers, the seats being quite comfortable enough to accommodate seven adults.

Observers might find it amusing that Land Rover, which traditionally used aluminium panels for its vehicles, dropped aluminium for the all-steel Discovery 3, only to revert to the lightweight metal for the entire body-frame construction of the new Range Rover. In consequence the Discovery is a relatively heavy vehicle, but performance isn’t disappointing because the engine line-up was taken from the Jaguar range, in the form of a 2.7-litre turbodiesel developing 187bhp – significantly more than the 3.5-litre petrol V8 of the original Discovery – and a lusty 4.4-litre V8 with 296bhp on tap. The V8 drives through an adaptive six-speed automatic, the turbodiesel was offered with a six-speed manual as standard but the six-speed automatic was optional.

Also new for the Discovery 3 was all-independent suspension, coil-sprung on the base model but using height-adjustable air springs on higher-specification vehicles, which also allows the Terrain Response system to apply. A technology now adopted by many other premium off-roaders, the Terrain Response was a startlingly effective innovation at the time, the five separate settings altering the accelerator, transmission and suspension response to suit conditions varying from snow to rock crawling and sand driving. While electronic traction control ought to take care of most slippery off-road conditions, the Discovery 3 could also be specified with a locking rear axle differential, a feature worth looking for in any second-hand car you’re thinking of buying with some serious off-roading in mind. Naturally the Discovery 3 retains low range gearing, though selectable by switch rather than gearstick, leaving the driver with little more to do than watch the moving graphics on the touch-screen display showing which way the wheels are pointing and what the suspension is doing.

The perceived quality of the interior also took a leap forwards from the original Discovery, with less cheap plastic and more of a Range Rover look, along with a more comfortable driving position and wider doors making access easier for back-seat passengers.

 Our verdicts 

Our first hands-on experience of the Discovery 3 was with a range-topping Td V6 HSE, and our first impression was the vastly improved driving experience over the earlier 2.5 Td5-powered model. We wrote: “The ‘Sport’ button on the Td5 was clearly just Land Rover showing its sense of humour, but at least in the new car things do actually happen when you kick it down.”  Not that we were all that impressed with the ‘adaptive’ six-speed automatic when allied to the turbodiesel: “Just when we were thinking that Land Rover has perfected the diesel-auto marriage a trip round a twisting single track road reveals a flaw. On an empty sweeping road that ducked and dived around hairpins and sweeping curves the transmission that’s supposed to adapt to suit driving style didn’t adapt; exit a bend and put your foot down and you wait patiently for something to happen. If you fancy the auto, make sure you ‘try before you buy’.”

Our June 2005 issue featured a comparison test in which we pitted the Discovery 3 against a Volkswagen Touareg and a Volvo X90, both notably more expensive than the Land Rover. The Td V6 HSE was priced at the time at £41,995, the VW – admittedly in stonking V10 TDi form – cost a heady £53,635 and the Volvo D5 SE had a £43,966 price tag. Of the Discovery 3 we said: “This V6 is still a relatively small capacity engine, but it makes light work of shifting the Discovery’s 2.7-tonne bulk. Much fuss has been made of the Discovery’s weight problem, but it is a lot of fuss about nothing. The extra weight means the Discovery drives great, and on our 1000-mile round trip to Scotland we managed to return a very creditable 27mpg.” In the end the Discovery 3 outclassed the VW and the Volvo in its style and practicality as well as its impressive off-road agility, so while the more powerful Touareg had better on-road manners the Land Rover was still the easy winner. Our verdict explained: “The Touareg doesn’t have enough going for it to make it a convincing alternative – it may have all the off-road switches and buttons but it makes such hard work of it, highlighting the fact that it is happiest with empty tarmac in front of it. The XC90 with its quality fittings and fixtures and variable seat layout is tailored to create the ultimate family mini-bus, but with its extra size, more luggage room and second and third row seats capable of providing comfortable accommodation for adults, the Discovery 3 has upstaged the Volvo’s party piece. Not only will the Discovery 3 carry seven in comfort, it will take them places the Volvo daren’t even look at.”

With all this going for it the Discovery 3 had every chance of winning our 4×4 Of The Year comparison for 2006 – but for the hard fact that it had to share the Luxury class with the Range Rover in 4.2 Supercharged form and the stunning new Range Rover Sport, also with the supercharged V8. The Discovery shared second place with the Range Rover, just three points behind the also-new Range Rover Sport, which not only took class honours but won the overall 4×4 Of The Year accolade as well. We said of the Discovery 3: “Call it a gimmick, but the Terrain Response feature is a key element in positioning the Discovery so far ahead of its non-Land Rover rivals, for the simple reason that it emphasises its unbeatable off-road capability.” Others may have adopted this feature, but few have since managed to outclass the Discovery in its blend of off-road capability, on-road competence and elegant SUV styling.

 Which one to buy 

All versions of the Discovery have an opulent look about their interiors, though many will have been specified with optional extras, so you’ll find mid-range versions with satnav and leather upholstery while some top models may lack the items you’d expect in a premium car, such as high-end stereo or mobile phone integration. The base version has electric windows front and rear, electronic stability and traction controls including the hill descent control, and a six-speaker stereo with CD player but air conditioning was optional, along with the extra row of seats, air suspension and the terrain response system. There aren’t many base models around, most buyers having opted for the mid-range GS or top-end HSE versions, but you could expect to pay £5000 to £7000 for an early example in reasonable condition, though most will have well more than 100,000 miles on them. Most used examples of Discovery 3 have the 2.7-litre turbodiesel engine, most with the 4.4-litre petrol V8 are range-topping HSE variants.

The GS has automatic climate control as standard plus the air suspension with terrain response, pay anything from £8000 for a high-mileage early example to £13,000 for a well-maintained late model, for instance the immaculate metallic silver ’08 Td V6 with 80,000 miles going for £12,495 at Leicester Auto Sales (07718 077915) complete with a six-month warranty; New Barn Cars of Cheltenham (01242 228197) were offering a higher-mileage one but with full service history and grey full leather interior for £11,000.

The S gets cruise control, parking sensors and bi-xenon headlamps, the enhancements for the XS are mainly cosmetic along with a choice of ICE systems and a convenience pack, but the SE also has front and rear parking sensors and a chiller box. On these look out for worthy extras such as satnav, sunroof, rear DVD system (over £2000 when new), adaptive lighting, phone integration and heated steering wheel. Pay £11,000 for an early SE with under 100,000 miles, closer to £15,000 for a lower-mileage late example.

On the range-topping HSE look out for examples with privacy glass, hybrid TV and, especially if you are planning to take it off-road, the active locking rear differential. There are lots of these around, with prices for the Td V6 ranging from £12,000 to £18,000 depending on condition and mileage. Rylee James Specialist Autos of Nazeing, Essex (07795 111111) had a smart metallic blue example with cream leather, full service history and convenience pack. If you prefer the power of the V8 and can live with the heavy fuel consumption an early 4.4 V8 HSE with under 100,000 miles could be yours for around £8000.

ENGINE DRIVETRAIN CHASSIS BODY AND INTERIOR
The V8 is rare and thirsty but generally trouble-free so should need only general checks such as ensuring that the exhaust doesn’t blow grey smoke under hard acceleration, making sure that it idles smoothly and accelerates without hesitation. The turbodiesel isn’t particularly prone to failures of any sort, but there have been odd cases of seized water pumps and breaking or slackening of drive belt tensioner pulleys causing major breakdowns, so it’s worth listening out for unexpected squeaks, screeches or grinding noises from under the bonnet. Otherwise problems are typical of any turbodiesel engine, such as erratic running caused by clogged exhaust gas recirculation valves and failed turbocharger seals. On a test drive ensure that the engine revs smoothly, pulls strongly and progressively without hesitation and doesn’t blow grey or excessive black smoke from the exhaust.
The manual gearbox is a reliable item, but clutch problems have been known, such as the failure of the dual-mass flywheel, so ensure that gear changes are smooth and the clutch engages without shudder. Reject a car that crunches its gear change, suggesting worn synchromesh, a problem that could affect a car that’s been used extensively for towing a heavy trailer. The automatic is potentially more troublesome, with several users complaining about a tendency to shudder under acceleration. One source of trouble is the transmission lubricant heat exchanger, which shares space with the engine coolant radiator so that leakages or corrosion can lead to corruption of the fluid. Check that the transmission changes smoothly, kicks down responsively – it will take a little while in the Td V6 but it should still be shudder-free and smoothly executed. Also reject any car where the automatic allows the engine to rev excessively before taking up drive. Make sure low range engages when you expect it to, because it’s done remotely at the flick of a switch there’s no reassuring crunch of gears to inform you that low has, indeed, been selected.
Here’s a case where the base car is the least likely to cause trouble because it’s sat on good old-fashioned coil springs. The air suspension on higher-specification models is great while it works, and while it doesn’t have a reputation for going wrong, as with any air suspension system the individual suspension units can fail leaving the car with a list, but also making a nonsense of the height adjustment feature. Compressors are also known to fail, so when considering an air-suspended car make sure it sits square and adjusts its various heights as it should – not only in its easy-access and highway cruising modes, but in response to the requirements of the Terrain Response system.
Vagueness in the steering or clonking noises from the front could point to failure of the sophisticated hydraulic suspension bushes, possibly as the result of driving aggressively over traffic-calming humps; some cars will have had equally effective but longer-lasting aftermarket polyurethane bushes installed. Check that the electric parking brake works properly. This applies the brakes remotely at the flick of a switch, but accumulated dirt and corrosion can reduce its effectiveness, and component failure can also render it useless. It’s expensive to repair, so reject any car where the mechanism screeches as it engages or doesn’t hold the car on a slope.
Build quality isn’t a major problem with this generation of Discovery, but it’s worth checking that all the doors and windows open and close properly, and that the tailgate doesn’t sag – it shouldn’t because it was designed as a load-bearing platform. Early versions suffered from excessive creasing of the front seat upholstery, but a potentially more troublesome feature is the sunroof, which in some cases has been known to leak – check for signs that seat covers and carpets have been scrubbed or covered to disguise water stains. Fiddly electronic problems aren’t unknown, check that the touch-screen display illuminates properly and responds as it should, and check that the satnav is still functional. Naturally look out for examples with the high-end Harmon Kardon concert-quality stereo system, but also makes sure it works properly without distortion at high volumes because speakers can wear out.

 OR YOU COULD CONSIDER… 

Volkswagen TouaregToyota Land CruiserVolvo X90


That road test back in 2005 said it all – the Touareg is happiest with an expanse of tarmac ahead of it. Yes, it has all the off-road facilities but the plain truth is the Volkswagen isn’t as smooth and refined off-road as the Discovery, and in spite of its traction controls and height-adjustable suspension it can’t cope with the same off-road extremes that the Discovery can tackle with consummate ease. The VW doesn’t offer seven seats, which is no inconvenience if you don’t need the extra accommodation because it’s a superbly crafted five-seater highway-gobbling estate. As for its style and image, all we have to say on the subject is that we can’t see the sense of owning anything other than the 5.0-litre V10 with its 300-plus horsepower, because at least you have the driving excitement to counter the visual blandness of a car that we’ve more than once described as looking like a swollen Passat – beautifully built, luxurious inside, laudably efficient in its 2.5 and 3.0-litre TD form, but not exciting.

In a sense the Land Cruiser from 2003 upstages the Land Rover in providing seating for up to eight people, so it does well as a mini-bus for the big family. It also rivals the Land Rover as an off-road vehicle, even if only because it’s of a slightly more old-tech design with a separate chassis and rigid back axle – some enthusiasts might even prefer it since it also retains a proper driver-operated gear lever to select low range. It also has electronic traction aids that can’t quite match the levels boasted by the Land Rover, but it’s a combination that gives it excellent off-road agility, at the expense of on-road refinement, which isn’t quite up to the levels of competence displayed by the all-independent Land Rover. It’s also an SUV that’s held on to its off-road styling heritage, so it has a more adventurous appearance than other premium rivals. Good choice of punchy 3.0-litre turbodiesel or V6 petrol engines rivals the Discovery for pace and economy, with high levels of equipment.

As you might expect it’s family values rather than off-road capability that feature most strongly in this sound, solid, safety-conscious Swede, so there’s little in the styling to hint at an adventurous lifestyle. It even has a built-in gyro system that can predict the possibility that the car might roll over and activates stability and traction controls. Not only is it a seven-seater, but the centre seat of the rear bench can be quickly transformed into a booster seat for a younger passenger. The environment is also catered for, with the 2.5-litre petrol engine being turbocharged not for power but for efficient combustion and clean exhaust. The interior in the high-specification SE is as luxurious as you can get, with stitched leather upholstery and dual-zone air conditioning; items like satnav and Bluetooth are options worth looking out for in second-hand examples.

Think of the styling as unique, original, innovative (rather than just plain ugly) and you’ll see the finer sides of the Skoda Yeti, such as the dynamic road behaviour, excellent practicality, off-road capability – and it’s exellent value for money as a second-hand purchase. It could be worth a much closer look

 TARGET RANGE:  £7,000 – £25,000 

There are some who consider the styling of the Skoda Yeti to be as abominable as the apocryphal creature after which it’s named, but you have to admit that it’s a good name for a 4×4 with off-road pretensions, and it didn’t take long even for doubters to appreciate the Skoda crossover’s true values of economy, practicality and good-value pricing, backed by the perceived appeal of the reliability of Volkswagen Group products. The car’s instant popularity is clearly good news for second-hand buyers, because five years after its UK launch there are already hundreds of well-maintained examples available, their numbers spurred last year by owners trading up into the facelifted range for 2014.

Family car practicality is the Yeti’s strong point. It’s a compact but roomy five-seater five-door estate, one of the key interior features being the way the rear passenger accommodation can be adjusted to give 20 different configurations including the removal of all the rear seats to give van-like carrying capacity.

With all this emphasis on the requirements of a busy suburban family, it’s hardly surprising to discover that not all Yetis have four-wheel drive, and where four-wheel drive is installed it’s not a ‘true’ yeti-like go-anywhere mechanism, it’s the same auto-engaging Haldex type as fitted to a whole variety of other crossovers. How it works is that the front wheels are driven most of the time, the Haldex clutch adding drive to the rear wheels in a fraction of a second if either or both of the front wheels lose traction. It’s a very good system for maintaining steady progress on roads or trails with a light or occasional covering of mud or snow.  Higher-specification versions have an ‘off-road’ button that allows more adventurous progress off-road by switching in hill descent control, off-road traction control and hill start assist, but the low ground clearance and lack of low range gearing ultimately limit the level of off-road excitement the Yeti is able to impart.  The “off-road” button was a £95 option on S and SE versions, and it’s also worth looking out for examples fitted with the dealer-option ‘rough road’ pack which includes a thermoplastic tray to protect the engine and transmission, a plastic cover for the fuel and brake lines and a reinforced parking brake cable.

Four-wheel drive versions of the Yeti come with a choice of 1.8-litre turbocharged petrol engine, developing a lively 157bhp or a 2.0-litre turbodiesel, it’s important to check which version since these come in 110, 140 or 170bhp form. Often when faced with a choice of engine power output it’s a case of balancing fuel economy against performance, but interestingly the easier power of the 170bhp turbodiesel makes it more economical than the less powerful engines. The transmission is a six-speed manual or, on higher-specification versions, an optional seven-speed DSG automatic transmission.

It’s quite common for anyone driving a Yeti to compare it to a Volkswagen Golf – it has a similar taut feel, the same crispness to the steering, the same reassuring roadholding, not to mention a Golf-like feel to the driving position – hardly surprising since the Yeti is a Volkswagen at heart. Many also compare the performance of the higher-power turbodiesel to that of a Golf GTi – the 167bhp engine not only has the strong low-rev torque to pull the car away from a standing start in almost sports car fashion, but also has broad mid-range flexibility for easy overtaking and relaxed motorway cruising. The Yeti manages an excellent balance between ride comfort and sure-footed handling, and all-round visibility is excellent – the good view afforded the upright rear makes parking easy, though top-specification versions have a useful Park Assist system – also optional on other trim levels, so look out for examples fitted with it; this isn’t just a matter of reversing cameras, it’s a fully automatic system that identifies a suitable gap among parked cars whereupon the Yeti parks itself with minimal input from the driver. For the 2014 model year a facelift saw a more appealing frontal treatment with revised grille and headlamps, the bug-eye fog lamps shrinking and taking a more logical position in the lower bumper. At the same time the range was split into Yeti and Yeti Outdoor, the Yeti with two-wheel drive and aimed at urban users, the Outdoor boasting a more rugged front bumper treatment and offering a choice of two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. One key technological improvement is that the Yeti Outdoor 4×4 has the newer fifth-generation Haldex system, which engages even more quickly than the fourth generation system in the earlier model, so that  (just as with the fourth-generation system) the driver is completely unaware of the transition between two- and four-wheel drive.

 Our verdicts 

The combination of keen pricing, the promise of legendary reliability, impressive practicality and unconventional styling makes the Skoda Yeti hard to resist, a situation backed up by its maker’s boast that it’s become one of the most successful vehicles in its class worldwide, and one of the best-selling compact SUVs in Europe. It seems odd that we were hardly aware of its existence for several years before its first appearance in our magazine as a contender in our 4×4 Of The Year comparison for 2012, but this was almost certainly because of its rather oddball appearance. It boils down to what styling cues define an off-roader? Once upon a time it was bull bars, rugged-looking underbody protection panels, extended wheel arches and bodyside cladding, but as manufacturers aim their SUVs more and more towards urban users rather than off-road enthusiasts these features have largely fallen away, leaving, certainly in the case of the Yeti, a design exercise that exhibits a total lack of any of the 4×4 or off-road visuals that would more immediately have brought it to our attention. However, when we did sample the car we couldn’t have been more impressed, awarding it the winner’s spot in the mid-range class with the comment: “Looks, and slightly odd names, can be deceptive; the Yeti seems to have passed us by, which it is now obvious is our loss.” That was the petrol-engined turbocharged 1.8 TSI; we commented that from a practicality point of view the Yeti scores in being a more estate-like design than most other crossovers, which gives it a significant advantage not only in luggage carrying capacity but also the extra headroom and, thanks to its wrap-around rear window design, better visibility for rear seat passengers.

A year later we had the pleasure of a high-specification Elegance with the 170bhp engine, and we appreciated its performance: “The smooth-revving and responsive engine scorches the Yeti from a standing start to 60mph in just over eight seconds and pulls on to an easy 125mph autobahn cruise.” Even so, our main reason for making it the winner of our mid-range section in the 2013 4×4 Of The Year contest was the value-for-money pricing – the Elegance, trimmed in neatly-stitched leather, with bi-xenon headlamps and dual-zone air conditioning, heated front seats and a six-disc autochanger, was a whole £12,000 cheaper than the Land Rover Freelander HSE.

By 2014 there were enough other unusual SUV designs around for us to describe the Yeti as ‘almost mainstream.’ We featured the new range-topping Laurin & Klement edition, which reached even greater heights of luxury, including some £4000 worth of additional features for just £2000 more than the Elegance it’s based on.

All this added opulence didn’t spoil the understated elegance of the interior, nor did it reduce the excellent practicality. We wrote: “The rear seats have a very simple fold-down action, the backrests simply flop on to the cushions to provide an extended load bay, flat-floored if the boot shelf with underfloor storage is fitted. The rear seats have fore-aft and backrest rake adjustment, the centre section can be folded to provide a table for two rear passengers or removed to increase luggage capacity.”

The Skoda lost out on the 2014 4×4 Of The Year comparison to the more conventionally styled Subaru Forester XT, which was quicker, more dynamic on the road and better off-road (and also more expensive), but we still liked the Yeti package enough to award it the Highly Recommended accolade.

 Which one to buy 

The base E version was only available with two-wheel drive, so for a 4×4 the S will be the entry level, an impressive specification that includes electric windows front and rear, electrically adjustable and heated door mirrors, stereo with CD changer, air conditioning, driver, passenger and curtain airbags, remote central locking and 16inch alloys. Look out for examples with the optional rear parking sensors, a £300 extra. Expect to pay at least £10,000 for a tidy low-mileage early S, one of the keener deals we spotted was the white 2011 (61) 2.0 TDI CR S with 48,000 miles at  Park’s Motor Group of Hamilton (01753 903994) going for £9995. Higher mileage does dent the price, we saw several 2010 and 2011 examples on sale for around £7000 with over 125,000 miles on them, for instance GP Car Sales of Halifax (01422 298872) had a 2010 (60) 2.0 TDI S with 137,000 miles, but with a recently changed cam belt, three-month warranty and a new MOT going for £7000.

The SE adds tinted and privacy glass, traction control, cruise control, headlamp washers, dual zone air conditioning with a cool box in the glove compartment and 17inch alloys, while options include heated windscreen (originally a £215 extra), park assist system including front and rear cameras (£495) satnav (worth £1510) and the panoramic sunroof (£870). This extra equipment doesn’t necessarily command a high premium second-hand – you could be asked to pay as much as £13,000 for a low mileage SE in immaculate condition, but Motorsave Trade of Stockport (01614 833303) had marked down a 95,000mile SE 140 to £8895 with a new MOT and full service history, while Bayer Car Sales of Fareham (01329 800088) had a pristine 2011 (11) one-owner 2.0 TDI SE with 97,000 miles going for £8985.

During 2011 a new SE Plus trim level was introduced, with touch-screen satnav, electric adjustment for the front seats and folding tables on the backs of the front seats. Expect to pay £10,000 for a clean high-mileage early example; Trust Skoda of Stourbridge (01384 592810) were offering a 140PS 2011 (11) example with 71,000 miles for £11,349, Arnold Clark in Aberdeen (01224 426082) had a blue ’13-plated SE Plus with the rough road pack and just 22,000 miles for £15,000. Look out also for the Adventure special editions of 2013, based on the SE trim level but with more than £2000 worth of additional equipment.

Step up to the Elegance to get Bluetooth preparation, the off-road button, auto-dimming rear view mirror and rain sensor, bi-xenon headlamps, front fog lamps and full leather upholstery; an optional extra worth looking for is the 12-speaker hi-fi system. Four-wheel drive versions seem to be quite rare, the shark blue metallic 2011 (11) 2.0 TDI CR on sale at Ashridge Vehicles of Little Gaddesden, Hertfordshire (01442 843884), 84,000 miles but in very well-maintained and offered with a six-month warranty, and long MOT, seemed an attractive proposition at £10,495, but the metallic silver 2010 (60) Elegance with black leather upholstery with just 33,000 miles, also with six months’ warranty. long MOT and pristine condition to go with it, might just be worth the £14,999 being asked by Davies Group in South Wales (01834 860362).

For this kind of money you’re approaching low-mileage nearly new territory, particularly as dealers hurry to shift pre-facelifted cars taken in part exchange. However, there are good deals around on newer cars – Volkswagen West Midlands (01384 592810) were selling a 2014 (14) Outdoor TDI SE in cool Black Magic Pearl Metallic with just over 3000 miles for £15,676.

Cut-price deals on new cars are rarer, but worth shopping around for. Simpsons of  Preston (01282 344823), for instance, were offering a new Outdoor 2.0 TDI Elegance  with 4 miles on it for £21,925, around £3000 off the normal list price, while Mitchell Skoda of Chester (0843 320 1439) had a Laurin & Klement with the DSG transmission, high-end Columbus satnav and panoramic sunroof, with just 50 miles on it, on offer at a fiver under £25,000, a good £1500 under list price.

ENGINE DRIVETRAIN CHASSIS BODY AND INTERIOR
The VW engines used in the Skoda are generally reliable, though the petrol unit is not only thirsty in its fuel consumption but also tends to need frequent oil top-ups. The main problem affecting diesels is a tendency for the exhaust gas recirculation system to clog up, particularly in cars that aren’t regularly used on long drives, so do make sure it runs sweetly on a test drive, and doesn’t blow excessive black smoke under hard acceleration. This may be caused by a failing turbocharger or a performance upgrade; if the latter make sure you’re aware of it as it could affect your insurance. The 2.0-litre turbodiesel has a belt-driven camshaft, so on any car with 80,000 to 100,000 miles on it make sure the belt has been changed before you buy it.
The manual transmission is generally sound, but do make sure the changes are slick and positive, and make sure that the hill start assist function works. Excessive clutch wear might affect a car that has been used for towing, especially on the lower-power turbodiesels, so check for excessive pedal movement and make sure the clutch takes up smoothly and progressively. The automatic gearbox is a seriously high-tech seven-speed shifter which, when it works properly, is a dream to drive with, however some reservations over its reliability lead us to suggest sticking to a manual, or at least making sure your secondhand purchase has warranty cover that includes transmission failure. Before you buy an automatic make sure it changes smoothly and look out for shuddering, suggesting that it’s trying to pull in too high a gear, or any unusual clonks or clatters during gearshifts.
Steering, suspension or brake components should not have suffered serious wear even on older Yetis, so reject any car exhibiting clonks, groans, rattles or squeaks. Check the state of the brake discs, if they’re badly scored it might indicate that the car’s been used off-road, in which case also check the state of the sills and the lower edges of the front and rear bumpers for signs of scoring or dents that might have been hidden under filler and paint. A look under the bonnet might reveal mud splash residue trapped in awkward corners; if the car’s been driven exuberantly through muddy puddles the wheel bearings might be at risk of excess wear.
Check that the air conditioning works, since the condensers are vulnerable to stone damage, some fail because they were part of a faulty batch and should have been changed under warranty. Also make sure central locking, electric door mirrors and electric windows work as they should, as there have been cases of the wiring leading into the doors coming adrift. On older models check for signs of paint cracking around the side protection strip, where corrosion might have taken a hold around the mounting holes.

 OR YOU COULD CONSIDER… 

Honda CR-VKia SportageNissan Qashqai


The original CR-V did have some off-road appeal and good estate practicality with it, so some might consider it a shame that with successive generations it’s been transformed into a purely road-going family car with hatchback styling that robs it of the sort of headroom and luggage space boasted by the Yeti. Even so, the CR-V is a roomy five-seater and if the rear seating arrangements aren’t as varied at those in the Yeti, they’re also less complicated. What the CR-V does have to offer is refined and comfortable road manners with smooth-revving and refined engines, along with an auto-engaging 4×4 system that’s every bit as functional as that of the Yeti. The new model from 2012 is bigger and more refined but also more expensive, however early examples with less than 80,000 miles are available for as little as £12,000 with the 2.2-i DTEC engine.

Originally something of a rough-edged budget plaything, the Sportage has grown into a serious modern SUV competitor with its smooth and powerful petrol and diesel engines, all-independent suspension and good-value equipment specifications. Even the rather dumpy-looking 2005 model is worth considering as a reliable low-cost family runabout, since the interior is well-appointed, comfortable and practical, and excellent value since a high-specification run-out 2010 XE shouldn’t cost more than £8500. The latest version launched in 2010 is a much smarter proposition all round, with striking modern looks and refined 2.0-litre common-rail turbodiesel, pay around £12,000 for a KX-2 of 2012 with part leather and a panoramic roof to £26,000 for a nearly-new 2014 top-specification KX-4 with delivery mileage.

The Qashqai may well be an SUV in name only, shifting the off-road on-road crossover compromise almost entirely on to tarmac, but that’s unlikely to be a concern for anyone considering a Yeti either, so we can only point to the remarkable popularity of the Nissan as a reason to consider it. The styling, like the interior, is a bit on the bland side, and again it lacks the kinky versatility of the Yeti’s seating arrangements, but equipment is good through the range and the 2.0-litre engines are smooth and responsive whether mated to manual or CVT automatic transmissions. The All-Mode four-wheel drive system works as seamlessly as that on the Skoda. Note that from 2011 the 1.6dCi turbodiesel was made available with stop-start technology. Pay around £10,000 for a four-year old Visia or five-year old Tekna.

The humble working five-seater pick-up continues to reinvent itself as an alternative to a mainstream SUV, with plush new models meaning prices rising in line with their luxurious trimmings – but what about the second-hand versions, is now the time to buy?

 TARGET RANGE: £18,000 

The pick-up war is getting fiercer. The recently released all-new Mitsubishi L200 and eagerly-awaited new Nissan Navara and Toyota Hilux promise to bring ever-greater levels of performance and refinement to these pretentious working trucks as, particularly in double cab form, they seek to join the ranks of mainstream luxury SUVs. Even the budget-priced Great Wall Steed and SsangYong Korando Sports attempt to pile on the charm with leather-lush interiors that are quite at odds with their very workmanlike mechanical underpinnings, with good-value claims centred more on the convenience comforts than on long-term maintenance costs and good fuel economy. It’s interesting to note that used car dealers now commonly describe double cab pick-ups as SUVs, and quote prices that include VAT, rather than the pre-tax price normally applied to commercial vehicles. It’s easy to understand the appeal of these alternative crossovers for the non-commercial user, since pick-ups have traditionally been surrounded by an aura of macho muscularity, enhanced no end by the increasingly aggressive styling, not to mention emotive model names like Barbarian, Warrior and Outlaw, and there’s no question that the modern double-cab 4×4, especially when decorated by the essential chrome side steps, gleaming multispoke alloys and elegantly-styled truck tops, has every bit as much road presence as any boldly-styled SUV.

Does a pick-up really make a suitable alternative to a more conventional family 4×4 estate? The marketing men certainly seem to think so, to judge by the increasingly car-like styling of pick-up interiors (further underlined at the recent launch of the new Navara), not to mention the number of model variants available in some of the more popular ranges, with trim and equipment options based on the amount of comfort and convenience items involved rather than more commercially-oriented features like power take offs or winch mounts. There is certainly an argument that a pick-up is ideal for a family with outdoors interests, since muddy boots, wet diving equipment or damp camping gear can be safely stowed in the load bay leaving the interior clean and dry. One of the key attractions has traditionally been the more accessible pricing, though even this is now a questionable aspect since the list price of some of the range-topping modern pick-ups is right up there with the entry-level Discovery Sport, never mind premium versions of the very refined, comfortable and practical Nissan Qashqai. Glitzy trim and enhanced equipment aside, there are still practical aspects that potential purchasers need to check when considering a double cab truck. A commercial user, for instance, may need to check whether there’s enough space between the wheelarches to take a full-sized pallet, that the load bed is long enough for their purposes, and that the vehicle has an adequate towing capability. Recreational users must make sure that the seating really is comfortable enough to carry the intended complement of passengers, since pick-ups with conveniently long load beds might leave rear passengers squeezed into a poorly-padded bench with little room to stretch their legs. With upwards of £30,000 to spend the ideal purchase would be a 3.0-litre Ford Ranger Wildtrak or a Volkswagen Amarok in emotive Dark Label specification, but with little more than half that to spend the choice becomes a little wider. Here’s our take on the key double-cab contenders at a price that would allow a private buyer to step into a brand spanking new Great Wall Steed or SsangYong Korando Sports – or to bask in the high-image appeal of an older L200 Trojan, or the invincible reliability of a Toyota Hilux…

 FORD RANGER 

 

Ranger-Intrior

The Ranger proved good enough to win our 2015 Pick-up Of The Year contest, and although that was the high-spec Wildtrak with the lusty 3.2-litre turbodiesel engine we did also recognise the Ranger’s excellent practicality, with its well-proportioned load bay that has little wheelarch intrusion, as well as the spacious comfort of the five-seater interior. The latest generation of Ranger was launched in 2011 and not readily available in the UK until last year, but some well maintained, reasonable-mileage examples are appearing on second-hand forecourts, with even well specified Limiteds sneaking in under our £18,000 budget. The all-new Ranger is a significant improvement over the previous model, not only does it have more modern styling, it has more power from the 2.2-litre or 3.2-litre Duratorq engines, six-speed manual or automatic transmissions and enhanced towing capacity. The Ranger was also the first pick-up to gain a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating. The latest update puts modern driver assistance technologies into top versions, including lane change warning, adaptive cruise control with forward alert, rollover mitigation and trailer sway control, though these will be out of range on our budget. Equipment is still good, since even the base XL, though fitted with steel wheels, has the electronic stability control, electric front windows, stereo with CD player, ISOFIX rear seats, front, side and curtain airbags and alloy wheels. Air conditioning is optional, unfortunately not fitted to the otherwise pristine 2012 metallic silver example priced at £15,594 at Cross Country 4×4 of Market Lavington (01380 818311), just 34,000 miles and with a new MOT. The XLT has alloy wheels, cruise control and smarter velour upholstery, but more common second-hand are the higher-specification Limiteds, which have leather upholstery and rear parking sensors, as well as automatic climate control. For a keen deal on one of these look no further than Hollybrook Car Centre in Southampton (02380 702090) who had a one-owner 50,000-mile 2012  automatic in moondust metallic silver with grey leather “baseball stitch” upholstery, multifunction audio system with Bluetooth and voice recognition, reversing camera, roller shutter for the load bay, exterior chrome pack and 17-inch alloys, tow bar, winter pack of heated seats and door mirrors, convenience pack of auto headlamps and wipers, everything you could ask for in a modern SUV at just £17,988. The Limiteds can also be specified with the 3.2-litre engine, perhaps a better choice for recreational users is the 2.2, although by no means a dull engine, doesn’t really give the SUV-emulating Ranger true SUV-style performance. The 2.2 does promise better than 33mpg, the 3.2 returns a still reasonable 29mpg considering its   extra performance benefits and easier towing power.

The top-specification Wildtrak has satnav as standard, plus a reversing camera and side parking sensors, but at over £30,000 new these are naturally still thin on the second-hand ground within our budget, but the high image and higher power could still be enjoyed by opting for one of the earlier Wildtrak or Thunder variants. The Australian-designed post-2009 facelifted models still boast an interior that offers car-like comfort with ergonomically shaped seats, climate control and MP3-compatible audio, with a body stiffened and bushed to isolate road noise. Like the current model it has a comfortably natural driving position and relaxed performance, is one of the best compromises between passenger comfort and cargo capacity, and has a 3350kg towing capacity. The Wildtrak has the 3.0-litre TDCi engine giving it the power to match its street presence, enhanced by the sports bar and roof rails, Alcantara leather and 18-inch alloys. Select Cars of Sheffield had a selection of Wildtraks dating from 2008, but including a smart 2010 model priced at £9989, a high-miler but still in top condition.

Do insist on a test drive, because some Rangers are known to suffer misfires, juddering automatic transmissions and prematurely worn CV joints, also check that the stereo and satnav work properly.

 GREAT WALL STEED 

 

If a new Steed looks like a bargain with a starting price of under £18,000, you do need to recognise why it’s so cheap. Built in China to serve the needs of that country’s industrial and agricultural workforces, it’s made to be tough and practical above all, with occupant comfort and driving refinement very much secondary considerations, so even in double cab form it’s a workhorse rather than a serious alternative to a luxury SUV. Certainly in an attempt to appeal to European tastes even the base S model has been equipped with electric windows, air conditioning, leather upholstery and an Alpine stereo with MP3 and Bluetooth connectivity, giving it a rather undeserved air of sophistication. In fact there’s little of the mechanical refinement that you’ll find in any of the more established pick-ups; the ride quality is harsh and the steering is vague and lifeless. And while the interiors may at first appear smart and well-appointed, a closer look reveals cheap plastic and fittings of doubtful quality – none of which makes the Steed an unworthy vehicle, just one that’s excessively pretentious. With its leaf-sprung rear end and torsion-bar independent front, it emulates a traditional set-up long shunned by its premium competitors, more effective as a rugged suspension for a hard working commercial and hardly conducive to the levels of ride comfort expected from a modern SUV. Business users might nevertheless appreciate the high levels of convenience equipment, and may not mind the mild performance from the 2.0-litre turbodiesel which produces a not unreasonable 140bhp, but it does get noisy when pushed to its limits, which happens a lot when the truck’s fully loaded; the six-speed manual has a long, rather vague throw but the transmission does at least give a good selection of ratios to cope with the mild power output. Take with a pinch of salt Great Wall’s claims that the Steed is the most economical pick-up – there’s nothing particularly exciting about 34mpg fuel consumption.

While there’s no reason to question the Steed’s long-term reliability, even business users need to consider the relatively low towing capacity of 2000kg and the relatively short 10,000-mile service interval. Access to the cargo area is by means of a solid-feeling drop-down tailgate, though it can’t be lowered completely because of the bulky rear bumper, which can make it awkward to load large objects. The bumper incorporates a step with a non-slip rubber tread. The load bay has four tie-down points, but there is no ladder rack behind the cab, something that really ought to be standard in a vehicle that’s so obviously meant to be a working truck.

A new Steed S is listed at £17,941 including VAT, but check for good deals – Edward Johnson of Otley in West Yorkshire (01943 463007) put the price at £16,797 including a colour-coded leisure canopy worth £1500. Second-hand you can expect to pay around £10,000 for a 2012 S with 40,000 miles; Autovillage of Cheltenham priced a metallic silver 30,000-miler at £10,788 including load liner, aluminium load cover and tow pack. Better bet is the higher-specification SE which includes the body-coloured hard-top, along with rear parking sensors, chrome side bars, hard-top roof rails and daytime running lights, the metallic black 24,000-miler at Autorama of Tring (01442 493848) had the same £10,788 price tag. Look out for an extra-shiny Chrome special edition, Woodleigh of Chesterfield (01246 494792) had an immaculate black one-owner truck with under 18,000 miles, tinted windows and chrome side steps, for £13,194.

 ISUZU D-MAX 

 

dmax-interior

We can’t help thinking that Isuzu missed the boat in one sense when they launched the D-Max in 2012, since the truck, in spite of its inherent big, laid-back American appeal is still very much a working vehicle rather than the SUV its rivals aim to emulate. While it’s true that the high-specification Blade and the Fury special edition have since tried to close that gap, they still lack some of the high-tech gadgetry and driving refinement being introduced by its newer rivals – not that any of this has affected the popularity of the D-Max among working users, with soaring sales figures continuing to suggest that not everyone needs those luxury playthings in their trucks. There is, of course, one other advantage in having just that little less in the way of non-essential luxuries – the D-Max is also just that little bit cheaper than its mainstream rivals.

Not that the D-Max is totally raw, it’s just that the interiors appear a little bland considering the bold exterior styling. Basic luxuries and safety features are included even in the entry-level model, such as air conditioning and electric windows, central locking, front and side airbags and stability control, but the stereo is an AM/FM set and the wheels are steel. The Eiger gets electrically adjustable door mirrors, a CD player and alloys, and the mid-range Yukon specification adds cruise control, 17-inch alloy wheels, chrome grille and rear bumper, heavy-duty side steps, a six-speaker surround-sound audio system with roof-mounted ‘Exciter’ speaker, as well as high-visibility projector headlamps and LED rear light clusters. The Utah is the original range-topper, with leather upholstery and rear parking sensors, while the Vision pack adds a rear view camera.

The Blade special edition of last year has become the current top-of-the-range model, but at over £30,000 is out of our reach; the newer Fury special edition is an upgrade to the Eiger and is almost within reach of commercial buyers with a commercial vehicle price just over £19,000 – possibly worth stretching the budget for except that most of the upgrades – metallic red paint, grey alloy wheels, Pirelli tyres – are more cosmetic than practical.

dmax

Mechanical refinement isn’t the strongest D-Max feature, since the 2.5-litre turbodiesel, powerful enough with 161bhp on tap, has an agricultural rattle to it that sets it apart from its rivals, but it does at least feel strong enough to handle the heavy loads it’s rated to haul and carry. Transmission is either a six-speed manual or a five-speed automatic.

Meanwhile the fact that the Isuzu makes good sense as a working vehicle is reflected in the decision  in 2013 to increase the truck’s towing limit from 3000kg to 3500kg; a point to consider when buying a car of this age for towing purposes is that, although there was no actual alteration to the truck’s specifications, the increased tow feature only applies to cars registered in the UK after July 1 of that year.

Since the D-Max is a relatively new model there aren’t that many available second-hand within our budget price, one of the best deals we saw was at Eaglesham Garage in Glasgow (01355 385958) where a metallic silver 2012 Utah automatic with brown leather interior and 85,000 miles on it was priced at £16,000. Meanwhile anyone interested in the purely base model, Derek Slack of Middlesborough (01642 966716) were offering a new 2015 one in white with black cloth upholstery and the six-speed manual, with just five miles on it for £16,995. Riverside Eastern of Scarborough (01723 645043) had a 2014 Eiger, a one-owner 33,000 miler with full service history, at £17,399 and John Kemp of Hethersett (01603 508333) were selling a 26,000-mile Yukon manual from 2012, metallic black cloth interior, full service history and chrome sports bar for £16,995.

 MITSUBISHI L200 

 

mitsu-engine

Symptomatic of the continuing rise of the double cab pick-up is the lack of a theoretically harder-core 4Work version of the latest L200, the base model being the 4Life which at nearly £24,000 is out of reach of a private buyer within our budget. It’s a pity, because the new L200 would appear to have a lot going for it – a claimed 42mpg which allows 700 miles between refuelling stops, best-in class safety features with seven airbags, best total load (payload plus trailer) in the class and the versatile Super Select 4WD system, not to mention modern electronic aids such as electronic speed limiter and lane change warnings, along with trailer stability and hill start assist. The new 2.4-litre engine is smoother, more economical and significantly more powerful than the older 2.5. However, the arrival of the new model will see an influx of older models on second-hand forecourts and a consequent easing of prices making run-out examples of the previous generation more affordable – for instance £18,000 would be enough to secure the immaculate red 2014 Trojan, complete with rear canopy, side steps and tow pack, and with only 10,000 miles, from Portland Autos of Bawtry (01302 457728).

The L200 double cab was designed to favour occupant comfort over load capacity, so the passenger compartment will comfortably seat five adults, with a compact load bay seemingly shaped to hold nothing more than camping gear, mountain bikes and the like. In reality the standard load bed is only some 18cm shorter than the class average and still quite capacious for most purposes, but Mitsubishi later introduced a long-bed version – at 1510mm it’s well up to class standard – so it is important when buying an older used L200 to check which load bed you’re getting.

mitsubishi

The passenger compartment has well-shaped rear seats with more comfortably reclined backrests than in key rivals, marking the L200 as a clear favourite for an outgoing family, with the reservation that the driving position isn’t as comfortable as some, so check that you’re happy behind the wheel before buying. Look out for Trojan and Warrior models with leather upholstery, originally a £1350 option, and some will have the automatic transmission that would have been a £1400 option. Standard equipment in these top models includes air conditioning, electric windows and a CD player.  Also be aware that the base 4Work and 4Life have the lower-power 134bhp version of the 2.5-litre turbodiesel, which in premium models is tuned to produce a more user-friendly 175bhp. The 4Work and 4Life versions lack the refinements of central locking, air conditioning and satellite navigation.

Look out for good deals from suppliers eager to clear low-mileage nearly-new stock, Luscombe’s of Leeds (01134 279238) had a ‘last one like this’ cool silver Challenger with the ‘black’ pack of matt black alloys, roof, mirrors, bonnet protector, sports bars and load liner, a new 2015 model with just 16 miles, priced at £16,999, while SMC Hillingdon (01895 540615) were offering Challenger models with under 500 miles with the standard five-year warranty and a year’s road tax for £17,994.

If image is as important to you as a comfortable and luxurious cabin, seek out an older range-topping Walkinshaw special edition with power boost and equipment to match, including 20-inch alloys, leather sports seats, DVD satnav and upgraded sound system; Motor Seeker of Chesterfield (01246 269013) had a blue-grey 2010 example with spoilered trucktop and black leather interior going for £13,995 with a three-month warranty.

The L200 is generally considered to be very reliable. While there have been reports of engines overheating and water leaking into the cab, these appear to be isolated instances, but it’s worth checking for water stains on the headlining and carpets, and make sure the engine stays cool on a test drive.

 NISSAN NAVARA 

 

Nissan-interior

Nissan boldly describe their all-new Navara as a ‘crossover’, and not only because more than ever it crosses over the boundary between commercial and road car, it’s as much a suggestion that the pick-up now ranks alongside the Juke and Qashqai as a fully-fledged SUV. The new model, due here later in the year, boasts car-like refinement, more power and economy than the previous model and levels of technology more usually reserved for premium road cars, such as around-view cameras, LED headlamps and forward emergency braking. It’s no less practical, with a bigger payload and 3500kg towing rating as well as a load bed extended by 67mm to 1578mm, more than 100mm longer than the new L200 has to offer. Unfortunately, all this refinement and technology must come at a price, leaving those of us with tighter budgets to look for bargain-priced or ‘nearly new’ examples of the previous generation.

That’s not necessarily a great hardship since the Navara has always appealed to us as the quickest truck on the block and great to drive with it, not to mention the racy styling that adds image punch to its sharp road behaviour. That is very much the case with the range-topping Outlaw with the 229bhp 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel, the neatest of these highway dominators we’ve seen is the gleaming black one-owner example dating from 2012 and with 77,000 miles asking £14,650 at Select Cars of Sheffield (01442 552255), it has pristine grey leather upholstery, touch-screen satnav and electric sunroof.

Most Navaras have the 2.5-litre engine, uprated for the 2010 model year to 188bhp, though the older engine still produces a meaningful 165bhp. Driving is particularly pleasurable with the six-speed manual, though some will have the optional five-speed automatic.

The Nissan has a pleasingly spacious passenger compartment, so with its pace, refinement and good road manners it would make an excellent practical recreational family carrier, and the rear seats can also be folded away to provide extra in-cab storage. In giving more space to the passengers the carrying capacity of the load bay is compromised, enough to edge it out of the running as the best choice as a working vehicle, but it does have the advantage of the clever C-Channel load-locking system in the load bed, providing a whole range of points for securing straps to hold cargo of all shapes and sizes.

nissan

For £18,000 you could be looking at a high-specification Tekna of 2012 or 2013 vintage with reasonable mileage, one of the keenest offers we saw at that price was the metallic grey one-owner manual from 2012 with just 30,000 miles, the specification including alloys, heated seats with leather upholstery, air conditioning, CD player, electric windows and door mirrors and a sunroof at Watford Vans (01923 908954). Meanwhile Dartford Car and 4×4 Centre (01322 225480) were advertising a 2011 Tekna for £17,154, an immaculate one-owner 42,500 miler with full service history, including a snugtop, full leather interior, dual zone climate control and Bluetooth connectivity plus side steps and a load liner, sold with a new MOT.

Settle for a lower-spec Visia and you’ll still enjoy the comforts of air-conditioning, antilock brakes, central locking with keyless entry, CD player, electric door mirrors, electric front windows and Bluetooth connectivity, and at a good price – HQ Auto and Leisure Centre of  Penrith (01768 862376) for instance, were offering a run-out 2015 model with just 100 miles for £14,995 – originally listed new at over £22,000.

Reliability is better than earlier Navaras, but listen for excess rattling from the front end to ensure the chain tensioner isn’t slacking. Rear wheel bearings can wear prematurely so listen for a groaning noise on a test drive, or jack the rear of the truck up and feel for any slackness in the wheels. While examining the underside look for signs of oil leaks from the transfer gearbox and differential, some Navaras may have had poorly installed seals. Make sure the four-wheel drive system engages and disengages properly, a malfunction could mean the truck won’t come out of four-wheel drive when returning to tarmac, resulting in possible transmission damage.

 SSANGYONG KORANDO SPORTS 

 

SsangYong-Korando-Sports

Spurred by the burgeoning demand for luxury SUV-emulating double cab pick-ups, SsangYong hurried on to the scene with this modern-looking vehicle that, especially in its high-specification EXT form fitted with the neatly styled-in rear canopy as standard, looks more like a smart family estate than a working vehicle – not really surprising as it is a development from the Korando SUV. The car was patently aimed mainly at private owners since, with a payload well under the 1000kg threshold it couldn’t qualify as a commercial. It hasn’t taken them long to recognise that many double cab users have been claiming them as commercials – even if only in name – so for 2015 the Korando Sports gained heavier-duty rear suspension and the elusive 1000kg payload along with a more useful 2.7-tonne tow rating. The keen pricing and luxurious specification of the Korando Sports makes it look like a particularly good-value buy, with the entry-level SX at £17,938 on the road,  sneaking under our budget limit, and choosing the base model won’t be a particular problem since equipment is excellent through the range, with the SX boasting air conditioning, central locking, electrically adjustable door mirrors, electric windows, a stereo with Bluetooth connectivity and headlamp levelling.

The EX also features leather upholstery and electric adjustment for the driver’s seat, with cruise control if you pick the automatic, but is priced accordingly, at £16,715 excluding VAT attainable within our budget by commercial users, but not private buyers. The top-specification EXT appears to have been dropped from the range, so the fitted canopy is no longer a standard perk on the top model, and now stars in the options list as a £1995 extra; for £1655 you can choose a hinged flip-up load cover instead. That full canopy is such a desirable feature with its heated rear window, sliding front glass, interior light, pop-out side windows and roof rails that it’s much more sensible to look for a low-mileage EXT rather than buy new – and while you’re about it look for examples that have had the £999 Kenwood touch-screen satnav integrated with the DAB radio and Bluetooth, and perhaps also the £198 rear-view camera and £460 dealer-fitted towbar. As it happens there aren’t many of these range-toppers available second-hand, and one we saw didn’t have the canopy. Wolverhampton SsangYong (01902 351153) had an appealing offer on a nearly new 5000-miler (with the 1-tonne payload) including the canopy and with the T-Tronic automatic transmission, £1643 off the normal retail price and at £22,995 accessible within our budget by a commercial user. Older cars can still be excellent value for private buyers looking for a keenly-priced highly-practical family car, Said Motors of New Malden (07930 308101) had a one-owner 2013 automatic with only 13,000 miles, full service history and still pristine in its gleaming black paintwork, at £14,000. If you’d be happy with a base SX County of Bicester (01869 600600) had effectively cut £1000 off the list price of an unsold metallic silver 2014 model with just 11 miles on it on offer at £16,788, while T.I.M. UK Motors of Ilkeston (01159 440300) were selling ‘the cheapest Korando Sports in the UK’, a metallic silver EX with just 5 miles on it priced at £18,070.

Is there a downside to this entry-level double cab? The steering of the earlier models is rather vague and the ride unrefined, but the 153bhp output from the 2.0-litre engine is impressive and endows the car with quite nippy acceleration and overtaking ability, performance and to some extent driver enjoyment being aided by the six-speed manual transmission.

 TOYOTA HILUX 

 

hilux-interior

Those who can afford to wait for the all-new Hilux probably should do so, because it promises more power and better fuel economy as well as more comfort, technical gadgetry and driving refinement than ever before. However, for anyone who needs a good truck now, the run-out Hilux is still a good bet. The vehicle’s reputation for invincibility is generally reflected in the second-hand prices, but £18,000 could still get you into a 2012 Invincible, for instance the  pristine dark blue metallic truck complete with colour-matched canopy on offer at that price at Chandlers of Grantham (01476 218904). The current Hilux dates from 2005, and compared with some of its newer rivals the styling is rather conservative while engine power output, apart from the lusty 3.0-litre unit in the Invincible, has lagged behind the opposition. From a practicality point of view the main weak point of the Hilux is the relatively low towing capacity of earlier examples, though this was upgraded for 2012 to allow trailers up to 2800kg, still not competitive but the upside is that engines and transmissions won’t have been strained by seriously heavyweight towing.

Otherwise the Hilux has a good payload allowance, though the load bed is little more than average in size – not particularly wide and others offer more space between the wheelarches. The cabin is spacious, and the rear seats, which fold-up to allow extra in-cab stowage, are more comfortable than most others. Standard transmission is a five-speed manual, though Invincibles may have the optional auto box, and the four-wheel drive system is refreshingly old-style in that it is a straightforward selectable type engaged by means of a second gear lever. Invincible models also have a limited slip rear differential.

Hilux

Although there are many cheaper examples of the earlier HL2 and HL3 available, it’s worth looking for trucks dating from after the 2010 model year, because the 2.5 turbodiesel was uprated to 142bhp from the previously mild 118bhp, while for the 2012 model year the Hilux was restyled from the windscreen pillar forwards, with a new bonnet, radiator grille, headlamps and bumper, plus new wheel designs and new side bars and steps for the Invincible. There was also a new upper dashboard design featuring a touchscreen multimedia unit for HL3 and Invincible models that includes Bluetooth and a USB port; these will be rare at the price though accessible for commercial buyers who can reclaim the VAT. The engines were also upgraded with particulate filters to comply with Euro 5 emissions. The current Hilux range has the Active as the entry-level model, air conditioned with electric windows and door mirrors, central locking, vehicle stability system and a locking rear differential, steel wheels are standard, but these are rare second-hand, as is even the midrange alternative Icon which adds 17-inch alloys, touch-screen multimedia system and a reversing camera, headlamp washers and fog lamps. Unsurprisingly it’s the range-topping Invincible with automatic air conditioning, cruise control and optional leather upholstery that has proved most popular and therefore feature more commonly on used car forecourts – look out for versions that have the optional satellite navigation and Bluetooth connectivity installed. There’s also an ‘urban pack’ worth looking out for – it includes scuff plates and parking sensors front and rear.

One of the keenest deals we spotted was the £17,500 being asked for a white 2011 model with just 33,000 miles, with full leather upholstery, touchscreen satnav, sports bar, roll and lock tonneau cover and front and rear parking sensors, at Portland Autos of Doncaster, (01302 457728). Meanwhile Platinum Group of Bath (01225 288672) were offering a similar-age metallic graphite grey 52,000-miler with full grey leather interior and satnav, load liner and sports top for £17,394. Hilux reliability is legendary and there should not be any problems with a truck three or four-years old, but listen for a noisy rear differential or groaning rear wheel bearings, and squeaking from the front of the engine hinting at a failing water pump.

 VOLKSWAGEN AMAROK 

 

amarok-interior

You won’t find any nearly-new bargains here, certainly not within our budget, most examples priced at under £18,000 date from 2011, though we did see a one-owner 2012 Trendline in metallic blue with just 40,000 miles priced at £17,488 at Used Car 123 of York (01904 215123). It’s worth noting when looking at a 2011 model that these first examples into the country had disappointingly dull engines, the base Startline delivering only 120bhp, the 160-horse biturbo being reserved for the higher specification variants, with a 2800kg towing limit to match. Tuning company Revo released a tuning upgrade that boosted power of the biturbo engine to 200 horsepower; this is a switchable system so you can flick back to the normal power level, though why you’d want to is questionable – the high-performance package also reduces fuel consumption because the engine requires fewer downshifts and cruises more easily in top gear. It’s obviously worth looking out for examples with this fitted, not an easy task since some dealers might not flag it as a desirable feature.

The Amarok may not have lane-change warning or collision mitigation technology, but it is well-equipped with anti-skid and trailer stability systems, along with hill hold and hill descent control. Volkswagen also claim the Amarok is the only pick-up that can take a standard euro pallet sideways between the load bay wheelarches.

Unfortunately the super-efficient Bluemotion technology, which includes engine stop-start, didn’t appear until the 2013 model year, when engine power was also addressed with power rising to 138bhp for the Startline and a more useful 178bhp from the biturbo. Early models came with a six-speed manual transmission, with a gear change indicator to help improve fuel economy, but later models could be specified with an eight-speed automatic. The manual gearshift might feel a little notchy in action, but should feel precise and positive in engagement; make sure the clutch disengages and takes up smoothly, any vibration could hint at a potential problem with the dual mass flywheel.

amarok

The Amarok’s styling is conservative compared with its brasher Eastern rivals, but the interior has a more European car-like feel to it and if it seems like an expensive choice at least the build quality is good and the equipment is excellent through the range with even the Startline boasting climate control air conditioning, electric windows, 16-inch alloys and electronic aids such as traction control and trailer stabilisation, not that we’ve seen any of these being sold second-hand. The Trendline gets a stereo upgrade with a six-speaker system, cruise control, trip computer, under-seat storage trays, extra 12V sockets and 17-inch alloys, you could get into one of these for under £15,000 but it would be a high-miler – Lancashire Commercials of Morecambe (07956 268338) were asking £16,995 for a 114,000-miler with roof rack, tow bar and upgraded alloys.

The Highline has proved the most popular choice with its leather upholstery with heated front seats, parking sensors, stainless steel side bars and 18-inch alloys, but these are also the highest priced and you’ll be lucky to find a second-hand dealer offering a well-maintained low-mileage example for under £18,000 – two 2012 models we saw that came close were a 41,000 miler in candy white with chrome sports bars outside and grey Vienna leather inside, a one-owner truck asking £19,949 at Platinum Marques of Reading (07957 253022) and a 25,000 miler at Gregory Garage 4×4, white with black leather and including a hard top canopy, full service history and new MOT, priced at £18,995.

Things to watch for are which four-wheel drive system is fitted, the Highline has permanent four-wheel drive with a Torsen centre differential, other versions have selectable 4×4. Also the payload varies depending on the suspension – trucks fitted with the ‘comfort’ springs may not qualify as commercials, so won’t have reclaimable VAT or commercial BIK benefits.

 


WHICH ONE WOULD WE CHOOSE?

Brand values count for much in this sector, you’ll hear nothing but praise for their vehicles from owners of L200s and Hiluxes even though the Ford Ranger offers better comfort than either, the Isuzu D-Max is by far the better load-lugger and the Nissan Navara a more involving car to drive. Take into account the inexorable transformation of the double cab from working vehicle to luxury SUV and the choice becomes more difficult, because now we’re pretty much ignoring practical factors and looking for which car offers the best in the quality of upholstery, the coolest air conditioning, the most functions in the multifunction ICE and the best electronic driver assist package. If it’s the refinement and performance of a modern mainstream SUV that we’re after, we can instantly eliminate the Great Wall and SsangYong – a three-year old well maintained Hilux or L200 will be more refined, economical and practical, and will probably hold their value better after two or three years of use. Our own choice as a great all-round practical, comfortable easy-driving car would be a new Ranger Wildtrak, if we could afford one – but with just £18,000 to spend we’re left to play our own brand value game and pick a car that’s well made, packed with useful rather than frivolous technology and likely to hold its value well – the Volkswagen Amarok.

632x400_mondo_panza

The original and still the best! 4×4 magazine is the market leader in automotive off-roading. Still with its heart and soul invested in the seasoned off-road enthusiast, 4×4 Magazine aims to cover the latest models, bring you the hot news from around the world, essential buying and practical information on the most popular 4x4s, saving owners time and money in the process, while also inspiring and informing readers about the joys of off-roading.

632x400_mondo_panza

The original and still the best! 4×4 magazine is the market leader in automotive off-roading. Still with its heart and soul invested in the seasoned off-road enthusiast, 4×4 Magazine aims to cover the latest models, bring you the hot news from around the world, essential buying and practical information on the most popular 4x4s, saving owners time and money in the process, while also inspiring and informing readers about the joys of off-roading.

632x400_mondo_panza

The original and still the best! 4×4 magazine is the market leader in automotive off-roading. Still with its heart and soul invested in the seasoned off-road enthusiast, 4×4 Magazine aims to cover the latest models, bring you the hot news from around the world, essential buying and practical information on the most popular 4x4s, saving owners time and money in the process, while also inspiring and informing readers about the joys of off-roading.

632x400_mondo_panza

The original and still the best! 4×4 magazine is the market leader in automotive off-roading. Still with its heart and soul invested in the seasoned off-road enthusiast, 4×4 Magazine aims to cover the latest models, bring you the hot news from around the world, essential buying and practical information on the most popular 4x4s, saving owners time and money in the process, while also inspiring and informing readers about the joys of off-roading.