The off-road scene in Britain is dominated by just a few makes and models of vehicle. Go to a typical 4×4 playday and almost everything you see will be Land Rovers, Jeeps and Suzukis – while on a construction site, it’ll be a few select brands of pick-up. But there’s a whole world of alternatives out there, too – some of them a common sight, others rare and hard to get, but all of them with lots to offer if you’re willing to think outside the box.

Whether it’s for work or play, here’s a selection of 20 off-road heroes worth thinking about for your next project. Some are very well known, but there are others that you’re unlikely ever to have thought about. As always, finding a good, solid truck on which to base your build is critical – but so long as you get that nailed, any of these vehicles here could be turned into an off-road machine to be truly proud of…

Jeep Wrangler

Jeep says the new model is the best Wrangler yet, but they’ve all been pretty good. The original YJ, with unpopular square headlights, only came to Britain in small numbers, but its combination of leaf springs and a cheerfully boorish 4.0-litre straight six engine made it pretty hilarious to drive.

It was in 1998, though, that Jeep hit the off-roading mainstream in the UK with the arrival of the coil-sprung TJ. This sold in much higher numbers, and plenty of people modified them – usually to a high standard, too. The good thing about all Wranglers is that with the combined output of America’s aftermarket on your side, there’s almost no limit to what an imaginative (and rich) owner can do with one.

Another advantage the Wrangler has over the Land Rover Defender is that it commonly comes with kit like cruise, leather and air-con, and in some cases you can hear the stereo. But the real step forward came with the introduction of the JK model in 2007. As well as being far more refined than the TJ it replaced, this was the first Wrangler available in either diesel or five-door form, and as a result it out-sold all previous models several times over.

The JK was also available in Rubicon form, with a set of off-road enhancements making it probably the best factory-standard off-roader in the world. You could only get this with a petrol engine, but the new JL model has righted that wrong (if a wrong is what it was).

Every Wrangler has been cool, and people like them for that alone, but more than that there’s no other 4×4 that’s so well set-up for modifying. Their values have gone up strongly since the Defender went out of production, but the number of them you see being used off-road has spiralled upwards in recent years – whether you’re looking to buy new, old or really old, the Wrangler is a very good bet indeed.

Daihatsu Fourtrak

The Fourtrak was ugly, rough and boring, and any that are left now are likely now to be rusted half to death. But you could drive a stake through its heart and you still wouldn’t be able to kill it – its doughty unbreakability means you’ll still see ancient examples chuntering around playday sites and hill farms as reliably as the day they were born. There are almost none left for sale now, and those you do see are mainly the later Independent model whose front wishbones and low-slung gearbox meant it wasn’t a patch on the old leafer off-road, but anything with Daihatsu’s absolutely legendary 2.8 TD engine is going to have traction to spare. You almost never see a modified Fourtrak – just beaten-up ones, on no more than a set of mud tyres, still showing the rest of the world how it’s done.

Toyota Land Cruiser

Where do you even start with the Land Cruiser? It’s an entire family of different vehicles with many major differences – but with strength, mighty build quality and serious off-road skills common to all of them.
The Land Cruiser range can be divided roughly in two. Up top, there are the big ones – as exemplified by the 80-Series from back in the 1990s, which many people will tell you is the best car ever made. It had proper beam axles at both ends, each of them with a locking diff, as well as long-travel suspension that made it stunningly agile, and its built-in strength was such that you still see them for sale today with a quarter of a million miles or more under their belts.
The later 100 and 200-Series Cruisers are less popular with off-roaders due to their greater complexity and independent front ends, but both are still massively capable both on and off-road. There’s a rare 105-Series model, too, which wasn’t made for the UK but whose no-no-sense spec and front beam axle made it ideal for real work, and also in the realms of the grey import you might be tempted by the hefty 70-Series trucks which, again, don’t come here officially.
Smaller Land Cruisers, which have been sold under the Prado name elsewhere around the world, offer a more manageably sized option whose off-road abilities are scarcely less epic. Anything from before the 90-Series Colorado is now very rare indeed, but the 120-Series from 2002-on is a fantastic vehicle – and the current 150-Series, which has just become available in basic Utility form, is now one of the most attractively priced off-road vehicles you can buy new.
As with all Japanese vehicles, the supply of parts for modding Land Cruisers is limited. But the best specialists are exceptionally good – and with just a minimum of mods, any of these mighty Toyotas will tackle most terrain at a stroll.

Range Rover

The original Range Rover was the truck that launched a thousand jokes about panel gaps that were visible from space. It’s incredible off-road, though, and there’s no end of ways in which people have modified them – including taking the body off and replacing it with
something else altogether. The only problem is that there aren’t many Rangeys around now, and those that are still in one piece have normally either already been modded or restored.

Buying someone else’s old project is a massive leap of faith, but if you enjoy your workshop time it can yield a huge amount of truck for your money. Find an original one, meanwhile, and you’re far better treating it as a classic car.

Even the second-generation P38 model is lurching into classic territory now – though between its shocking build quality and a degree of complexity that more or less guarantees pain for people who own one in later life, you’ll soon come to understand why they cost so little to buy. For this reason, the P38 has never caught on among off-roaders, and nor have subsequent models – whose luxury levels, and running costs, have continued to climb almost exponentially.

Use one of these later Rangeys as a daily driver or towcar, and it will be imperious. But for a vehicle with soul, whether or not you’re going to off-road it, only the Classic will do.

Mercedes G-Wagen

The original G-Wagen was a fantastic off-roader, with proper axles, diff-locks every- where and the build quality of a tank. It also had the weight of a tank, and in recent times came to cost pretty much the same too, but with a set of the right tyres on board it would drive absolutely anywhere.

A new model with an independent front end was announced at the start of this year, but for anything close to modern you’ll need to be properly rich to own a G-Wagen, let alone off-road it. Find an early one, however, with one of Merc’s slow but unstoppable diesel engines, and aside from those tyres the only mod you’ll need to make is to strip out as much weight as possible.

Land Rover Defender

The Defender has been a dominant presence throughout the UK scene more or less forever, though the sky-high prices they command means more and more people are thinking twice before using them off-road. Values have kept on climbing since production ended just under three years ago, and most owners now think in terms of prettying them up and keeping them nice. rather than modding them into the mud-bashing warriors they’re meant to be.

Either way, there’s a vast aftermarket in place to help you maintain, rebuild, restore, customise or modify a Defender into whatever sort of machine you want it to be. Even a reliable one… though one problem with them is that by now, the vast majority have been worked hard, abused, neglected, modified and/or hit with spanners by persons unknown. Buying a proper shed and using its identity to basically build yourself a new vehicle from scratch is a common approach, though even this will probably mean shelling out several grand on the donor vehicle.

Prior to its demise, Land Rover liked to say the Defender had been in continuous production since 1948. Taking it at its word, that means we need to include the old leaf-sprung Series models here; they’re completely different in character and these days fall squarely into the classic car category, though they’re incredibly willing off-road whether in standard or modded form.

For day-to-day use, though, it’s got to be a Defender. Many people go for the later ones from 2007 onwards, with the 2.4 or 2.2-litre Puma engine, but many others would sooner chew their own arm off. If DIY maintenance is your thing, the 200 or 300Tdi will suit you best, but the Td5 from 1998-2007 is very popular – even if later ones cost an eye-watering £535 a year in road tax. Whichever Defender you own, you need to expect it to require regular work, but the good news is that when you come to sell it, you’ll probably get your money back – and, if you’ve tidied it up, even turn a profit. This fact alone means the Defender is potentially the cheapest vehicle to own in the entire used car market.

Jeep Cherokee

There have been four iterations of the Cherokee, but for serious off-roading there might as well only ever have been the first. The XJ model, which came here from 1993 to 2002, was amazingly capable even in standard form. It only took a small lift and slightly bigger tyres to turn it into a proper boss off-roader, but with the colossal American aftermarket behind you there’s almost no limit to what can be done to one if you want to go the extra mile. Finding a Cherokee from this era will be your biggest challenge now – they sold in enormous numbers back in the nineties, but most of those vehicles have long since breathed their last – and of the ones that are still running, the majority have already been modified into off- road weapons.

Suzuki Jimny

Replacing the brilliant and vastly popular SJ wasn’t going to be easy, but somehow the Jimny managed it. Small but strong, agile but affordable, it retains all the virtues that have made Suzuki into one of the world’s favourite 4×4 makers. It wants a bit for ground clearance in standard form, but the breadth and depth of accessories and modifications available mean that whatever you want to do to one, from mild to wild, the only limits are your imagination and, of course, wallet.

There’s a new Jimny on the way, but the original was manufactured for two whole decades – and for a budget off-road project (as opposed to a cheap shed you’re going to wreck), there’s precious little that can touch it.

Toyota Hilux

It’s been around for more than half a century, and in that time the Hilux has sold more than 16 million units, carving itself a rock-solid reputation for hard-working indestructibility on the way. Early ones were leaf-sprung front and rear, which did nothing for their ride quality, but since 1997 they’ve gained an independent front end which transformed their refinement on the road without wrecking their abilities in the rough.

The most modern Hilux was designed to be more SUV-like inside, but it’s still a world-class truck whether for work or play. And the previous model was probably the best off-road one-tonner of its generation. In each case, there’s plenty of kit available for modifying a Hilux into something really special – but it says a great deal that when you go looking to buy one, there’s a notable dearth of cheap examples around.

Isuzu Trooper

For some reason, the Trooper hasn’t ever entered the mainstream for off-road modding. But there are some excellent examples out there which prove how much you can do with what is a stout, long-lasting truck with bags of potential. Whether you go short or long-wheel- base, you can get more height and flex from a Trooper with relative ease, and so long as you avoid the infamous 3.0 TD engine from the last few years of production its drivetrain is bomb-proof. There are still plenty around to choose from – and if you can’t find the Trooper you want, the little-known Vauxhall Monterey is basically exactly the same vehicle underneath.

Nissan Patrol

It’s not quite as famous as the Toyota Land Cruiser, but the Patrol has a similar history of popping up wherever there’s a war to be fought, a desert to be crossed or a natural disaster to be mopped up. It’s a rarity in Britain, which can make for some fairly excruciating parts prices, but if you want a truck that was built to last you can’t do much better.

As with the Land Cruiser, you can modify a Patrol – but the kit for doing so is rare and therefore expensive in the UK, and anyway it’s already so stout and capable that you don’t really need to bother. Unlike the Land Cruiser, on the other hand, the Patrol doesn’t hold its money nearly as strongly – meaning it could be an appealing alternative if you’re on a budget. It remained beam-axled all-round throughout the whole of its time in the UK, too, so if you do want to lift its suspension you’ll find it easy to work with.

Ford Ranger

Once a bit of an also-ran in the pick-up market, let alone the 4×4 market overall, the Ranger turned that on its head when the T6 model arrived in 2012. Big, imposing and roomy inside, this is also extremely capable both on and off-road – and you can get it with a 3.2-litre diesel engine that thumps out 200bhp and can easily be tuned for more.

All this and an attractive purchase price has helped the Ranger muscle its way to the top of the one-tonne market. But its time truly came when Land Rover stopped making the Defender. Suddenly, well-heeled vehicle builders needed something else to invest in – and with very limited supplies of the Jeep Wrangler being available in the UK, they turned en masse to the Ranger.

Now, there’s a wealth of equipment available for them, and more and more specialists are turning them into street machines, off-roaders and everything else in between. Older models are worth some thought if you’re on a tighter budget, as they’re plentiful and a lot better than they tend to be given credit for – but rarely has there been a more dramatic example of a vehicle muscling in on a market where once it hardly even registered.

Suzuki Vitara

Photo: Steve Taylor/Total Off-Road.
Suzuki Vitara. (3″ suspension lift, 3″ Body lift)
Dave Sturmey (Blitz Midlands)

The original Vitara was a giant-killer par excellence – and a good laugh on the road, too. Amazingly capable off-road, cheap, more robust than it looked… and you could get it in pink. Stick with a three-door model, though, as the long-wheelbase version needs a lot of lift to overcome its low belly.

That’s if you can find one that hasn’t already been modded to within an inch of its life. Straight Vitaras are very rare now, but rather oddly no-one has ever done much with the Grand Vitara that replaced it, even though it was basically the same vehicle in a lot of ways.

A welcome bonus is that towards the end of the vehicle’s run, Suzuki fitted the SWB Grand Vitara with a diesel engine; find one of these, and you could have the makings of a left-field project par excellence. Just don’t go buying the later Mk2 Grand Vitara from 2005-onwards by accident, though, because it’s as much use off-road as a piece of cheese.

Land Rover Discovery

The Discovery has long since replaced the Range Rover as the thing you turn to if you want a Land Rover but can’t afford, or abide, the Defender. The original model, which was the purest in the traditional 4×4 sense, was basically a 100” Defender with some posher kit and a smarter set of clothes, and it was fantastically capable off-road.

It was also hilariously unreliable, but parts and know-how are in plentiful supply and neither costs too much so long as you shop around. There’s almost no end to what you can do with them in the workshop if you want to build a modified off-road machine, too.

The Discovery 2, which came along in 1999, is bigger and more complex than the D1, and it’s hilariously unreliable too. One difference is that while the original was infamous for body rust, particularly in the boot, floors, sills and footwells, the Disco 2 is more likely to suffer from a rotten back chassis.

In each case, the diesel engine is the one to go for. The Tdi in the D1 is best for DIY maintenance, while the Td5 in the D2 is one of the most reliable things Land Rover has ever made. Elsewhere, common sources of irritation on the Disco 2 include the rear air suspension, ‘active’ anti-roll bars and sunroofs (a vehicle without them is worth more if you can find one), while with the D1 your biggest problem will simply be finding one worth having.

In each case, whether it’s maintenance or full-house modding the aftermarket has come up with an answer to every question the Discovery asks. That’s the case with the later Discovery 3, too – though while this was a great leap forward as an all-rounder, its monumental complexity means it’s a risky one to take on, and it’s nothing like as naturally capable off-road and far less easy to modify compared to the earlier models.

Mitsubishi Shogun

The Shogun was once derided as a glam wagon – in fact, it still is by some. But while it was once at the soft end of the spectrum, it’s stayed true to its roots and is now one of the most truck-like 4x4s on the market. For off-roading, the 1990s’ Mk2 model is the one to go for as it still had a live rear axle and proper chassis, and the 2.8 TD engine is as strong as an ox. They’re all very capable in rough terrain – and in long-wheelbase form they’re brilliant tow barges.

The Shogun is much more moddable than you’d expect, too, even if the amount of stuff available for them is limited. And because they last well but don’t often tend to get used and abused off-road, there’s plenty around for you to choose from.

Volkswagen Amarok

The Amarok has always been positioned as a premium vehicle among pick-ups, and not all models have low range. Those that do, however, are astonishingly agile for their size in rough terrain, making this a seriously attractive alternative to the traditional Far Eastern double-cabs.

The Amarok’s timeline is a little odd in that the engine choice changed completely when it was facelifted. Initially, it came to the UK with a 2.0 TDI unit which was at the time the smallest in the market; now, it has a 3.0 TDI which is one of the biggest.

The engine is extremely strong and currently comes with a choice of four power outputs. If you want to use an Amarok for off-roading, however, you need to stick with one of the lower ones, as a dual-range transfer case is only fitted to models with a manual gearbox. Even the old 2.0 TDI didn’t always come with the right stuff for off-roading – but either way, there’s a good, if not normally cheap, choice of equipment available for modding the Amarok into an even better machine than it was in the first place.

Nissan Terrano

When it came out in 1993, nobody thought the Terrano would ever be seen as a serious proposition for off-roading. But after almost 15 years on the market, it was one of the few trucks left with a proper chassis, low box and live rear axle. Better still, while there’s next to no off-the-shelf modding kit available for it, the Terrano can easily be turned into an even more capable performer than it already was as standard. They’re not as cheap to buy as you might expect, but a good one is a real investment. The 3.0 TD engine from towards the end of production is the most attention-grabbing engine option, but it’s been known to suffer oil pressure problems; at the other end of the scale, the very earliest 2.7 TD is as simple, and therefore reliable, as it’s possible for a diesel engine to be.

Mitsubishi L200

The L200 was at the forefront of the double-cab revolution in the UK. It’s been overtaken by the Ford Ranger now, but the sales success it achieved during the noughties means there’s loads of choice on the used market. Most of these are higher-spec models, as this was the original lifestyle truck, but that’s no bad thing as it means you get the option of full-time four-wheel drive – even if you need to stay at the bottom end of the range if you want a locking back axle.

As with the rest of the pick-ups on the market, there’s a good range of equipment available for the L200. If you want to build a one-off project, on the other hand, the wide availability and low prices of older trucks means you can cut one up without spending big bucks in the process.

Vauxhall Frontera

Early Fronteras had shocking build quality, and late ones rode like a giraffe on a trampoline, but you can modify a Frontera into a very willing off-roader. There’s not a lot available in the way of off-the-shelf mods, but people have done effective suspension lifts for next to no money – and for a few quid more, there are some exceptionally tidy ones out there. There’s not exactly a lot of choice on the used market these days, as so many have been broken, but if you can find one a SWB 2.8TD Sport from just after the arrival of coil springs is the ideal base for an off-road project.

Jeep Grand Cherokee

As with the smaller Cherokee, the Grand has come to the UK in various forms but there’s only one worth thinking about in terms of modding. The 1999-2005 WJ is strong, plentiful and ideal for modifying, with beam axles front and rear and no end of kit available. The 2.7 CRD diesel is the one to get, and if you choose an Overland model Jeep will already have done some of the modding work for you – but whatever you start with, and wherever you take it, there’ll be no end of American specialists ready to help you.

For a daily driver that’s still very able off-road in standard form, the more modern WK from 2005-2012 is extremely good value too. Its independent front end means it’s not so appealing to modify, but unless you want to go really hardcore there’s no such thing as a bad Grand Cherokee.

 

Are there any vehicles that you’d put on the list instead? Let us know!

 

 

Article first featured in 4×4 Magazine, November 2018.

Volkswagen’s Amarok is a stellar pick-up truck, one with which there have been a few lavish special editions – and now there’s another on sale.

The Black Edition is available on Highline Amaroks – including the Aventura flag bearer. The 204 and 258bhp versions of the 3.0-litre V6 will be on offer under the bonnet in conjunction with the eight-speed automatic transmission.

Black Edition models add the Lights and Vision pack (which includes rain-sensing windscreen wipers) and the Discover Media Navigation system, meaning it has European map data plus the off-road information display. All Black Editions also come with front and rear parking sensors, Trailer Stabilisation and Automatic Post-Collision Braking System.

Styling additions include 20-inch Talca alloy wheels – black of course. There are also black bumpers front and rear, black sidebars, black fog light frames, a black polish trim on the grille (which itself is black), then a sports bar in black, plus a black headliner for the interior and decorative black inserts on the dashboard.

Aventura Black Editions also come with a Nappa leather interior, upgraded Ergo Comfort seats in the front and a leather multifunction steering wheel with transmission paddles. On the outside it has power folding side mirrors, the front fog lamps have a cornering feature, there’s a front underbody guard, the underbody cladding has been styled and the truck bed has a protective lining.

Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles are also offering matt paint at a discounted price of £2,420, along side Mountain Top roll covers at a fitted price of £1,665.

Pricing for the Black Edition starts at £34,835 for the 204bhp V6 powered truck before tax – meaning that civilian trucks will cost £42,885 once they’re on the road. For the more powerful version those figures will rise to £38,465 and £47,241 respectively, with the Aventura Black Edition topping the scales with price tags reading £40,995 and £50,277.

Volkswagen’s latest addition to the R family is now on sale in the UK.

The T-Roc R packs 296bhp and 295lbf.ft, which means it will top out at 155mph and hit the 62mph mark in 4.9-seconds.

Customers on these shores will get a set of 19-inch alloys – a whole 2.54cm bigger than other markets – whilst you can add adaptive dampers to the party for £695. This enables access to multiple driving modes which offers drivers more adjustability in their performance focussed SUV. Plus, it is sold exclusively with the combination of 4MOTION and a seven-speed DSG transmission.

The T-Roc R has the most vibrant palette of any past R vehicles, with orange, yellow, and red all available. Obviously, being the 21st century, you can get it in black, grey, silver and white, too, along with the signature R Lapiz Blue hue. All colours are available in conjunction with a black roof, A-pillar and mirror housings, too.

On sale now, the T-Roc R’s pricing starts at £38,450 on the road.

The iconic Volkswagen California has been updated, with the home-from-home benefitting from newly digitised controls, a subtle facelift, an updated interior and new electro-mechanical power steering.

With these updates, the 6.1 California now has access to driver assistance in the form of Lane Assist, Park Assist and Trailer Assist. Also helping modernise the van is the optionally digital instruments, with the introduction of the VW Digital Cockpit now on the cards. Up to a 9.2-inch touchscreen is available for the infotainment system, which in cases includes Apple Music and Tidal streaming services.

It is still an option to upgrade to all-wheel drive, but the 2.0-litre TDi engines will all meet Euro 6d Temp Evap emissions standards.

Inside, the beds have been made more comfortable, as the high bed is now equipped with a sprung base, whilst the grey canvas sides of the pop-up roof have been darkened to let less light in. A new sunrise feature utilises selectable LEDs in the roof and living space to dim the lights to a set level over a chosen period of time, to ease occupants into the day ahead.

Details of the compact kitchen have been re-thought, with an additional double-USB socket, aluminium handles on every door have been installed, whilst the kitchen space is now opened with a simple push button.

The updated California will debut at the Caravan Salon in Düsseldorf later in August.

Volkswagen and Ford have announced their Global Alliance, which will help them offer more competitive products as they collaborate on EVs, autonomous vehicles and mobility services.

The two brands will also work together to in developing commercial vans and medium-sized pick-ups as soon as 2022. As early as 2022, the two automakers say that this will power significant scale and efficiency that will enable them both to share investments in vehicle platforms.

Ford’s CEO Jim Hackett has said that the alliance will ‘help both companies create value and meet the needs of our customers’. He added ‘it will not only drive significant efficiencies and help both companies improve their fitness, but also gives us the opportunity to collaborate on shaping the next era of mobility.’

His VW counterpart Herbert Diess echoed much the same, hammering home that both brands see this as a key to remaining competitive and pushing the market forward.

Volkswagen have launched the Tarok concept in Sao Paulo, an all-new pick-up truck set to hit the Brazilian market sooner rather than later. Allegedly with minimal changes to be made in becoming a production vehicle.

Set to match the tech content in their current SUV-offensive, the Tarok concept possesses a predominantly digital design. The interior also features a colour-keyed crossbar across the dashboard, surrounding the glass covered infotainment set-up with a digital cockpit.

The Tarok concept runs on a 1.4-litre 148bhp four-cylinder TSI unit that can be driven in Brazil as a TotalFlex Fuel Unit – running on either pure ethanol or a gasoline-ethanol mixture, utilising permanent four-wheel drive. This differs from the unit that will be used in the series version of the Tarok – a 2.0-litre turbo diesel TDI with the same power output that would be more appropriate for other global markets.

Real interest in the Tarok, though, comes around the back, with a variable load space. The design allows the load space to be extended by both opening the tailgate and then into the cabin. A system is in place so that it is possible to fold the lower rear section of the cabin, and the three rear seats, thusly extended the load space. In its smallest, most standard form, the bed measures 1206mm from back to front. Then extend it into the cabin and you’re looking at a figure of 1861mm and with the truck bed down it rises to 2775mm.

This could be of interest to those wondering about the lineage of the next-generation Amarok, as it itself grew from a concept before Volkswagen set it into production in 2010. One thing is for sure, the Tarok has potential to become a very versatile pick-up.

The VW one-tonner is already one of the more luxurious offerings within the current pick-up market, but with the new Aventura special edition, it just got a bit fancier.

Powered by the most powerful 254bhp V6 in the range, the Aventura runs with the eight-speed DSG gearbox, permanent all-wheel drive and features an overboost function which temporarily ups power to 268bhp.

The interior features the Discover Media Navigation system, and the Aventura is fitted with other extra gadgets to make the driver’s life easier. The Lights and Vision package installs automatic headlights and separate daytime running lights that feature a coming home function along with automatic windscreen wipers.

Seating comes in the form of Volkswagen’s ErgoComfort seats. These come wrapped in Nappa leather and are 14-way adjustable. The same leather also adorns the steering wheel which boasts controls for the multimedia system and houses paddle shifts to manually control the transmission.

Paint options are either Ravenna Blue or Indium Grey – both of which can be specified in a matte finish. If you do choose to go matte, the Aventura comes with a 24% saving on the usual price for the procedure, at £2,335 pre VAT. The wheels are 20″ Talca alloys and the exterior is fitted with a body-coloured sports bar, chrome plated side bars, under-body cladding, power folding mirrors and a protective coating for the truck bed – to which you can add Mountain top roll covers for £1387.50 plus VAT.

The Aventura Amarok is on sale now, with pre tax prices starting at £39,960 at your nearest VW CV centre.

To celebrate three decades of the California nomenclature, Volkswagen have released released the most exclusive special edition to date.

The creatively named California 30 Years will see a production run of 999 examples – just 30 of which will be coming to the UK. Based on the range-topping California Ocean model, all models will come with LED headlights, removable tow bar and contrasting roof and wing mirrors. In addition to this, the 30 Years will have an exclusive body colour option – Tumeric Yellow – along with a numbered plaque on the B-pillar.

Inside, the special edition has VW’s Discover multimedia system, heated front seats, front and rear parking sensors plus side scan and cruise control. All 30 Years models can make the most of the VW app, to control various vehicle features, too, such as the music, navigation and other apps in the Discover setup.

Three powertrains are available – all 2.0-litre TDI units. The options include 148bhp or 192bhp, with the third option being the more powerful unit equipped with all-wheel drive – all of which use a seven-speed DSG gearbox.

Pricing kicks off at £64,307 OTR for the least powerful variant, £67,097 for more power and rise to £70,629 for the range-topper.

It’s an exclusive model, so if you’re looking to get in on the act it’s best to act fast.

Volkswagen’s first small SUV, the T-Cross, has been launched around the world at ceremonies in Amsterdam, Shanghai and Sao Paolo.

The urban crossover aims to merge style, practicality and versatile functionality in a city-centric package. Front to back the T-Cross only measure 4.11-metres, and the wheelbase of 2.56-metres aids an interior than can reasonably seat five. Depending on the position of the rear seating, the boot will hold between 385 and 455-litres of cargo and 1,281-litres when the rear seats are dropped.

The power will come from a trio of petrol units and a singular diesel option – all turbocharged. Of the petrols, there are two sizes. The two 1.0-litre options offer up 95 or 115bhp, with the 1.5-litre gasoline option kicks out a full 150 horses. The solitary diesel option is a 1.4-litre TDI worth 95bhp.

The Polo-sized SUv will house a decent amount of standard tech, with a list that includes a host of driver aids. Front collision assist, pedestrian monitoring, city emergency braking, lane keep and hill start assist, blind spot detection and rear traffic alert all come as standard. Additionally, a driver alert system, park assist and adaptive cruise can be optioned.

At the time of launch there was no word on pricing or official release date for the T-Cross.

There was a lot of hype surrounding the arrival of the new Amarok at the start of this year. VW’s double-cab had already gained a lot of admirers despite having the smallest engine on the market (a 2.0 TDI), but now here it was being reinvented with a 3.0 V6 TDI that was one of the biggest.

The engine was always going to be the biggest talking point with the revised Amarok. It’s available with three different power outputs… or at least it will be once the launch process is fully complete.

That’s because you can currently get it in 224 and 204bhp form, in each case with an eight-speed auto box as standard. Later this year, VW   says, the 204bhp unit will gain a manual gearbox as standard. 

At the same time, there’ll also be a 163bhp version of the engine; this too will be manual as standard. The range will also be expanded to include a Startline model specced with fleet and business customers in mind.

 

For now, however, we have a range of three. The Trendline is comfortably specced, while the Highline adds some bling and luxury. You might also still get one of the Aventura launch models, but the 224 Highline tested here is the range-topper going forward.

Our test vehicle had optional brown leather, but even without this the feeling of quality in its cabin is obvious from the word go. The dash is all hard plastic, but the standard of build is very good and the centre console is rock solid.

The seats don’t have lumbar adjustment, however. We found ourselves shuffling around in them after an hour behind the wheel when we first drove the Amarok last winter; this time, long journeys on the motorway proved that it’s a comfortable enough place to sit, but we still found ourselves reaching in vain for a lumbar lever after a while on board.

The Amarok is not alone in lacking this apparently obvious feature, but a more surprising black mark is the lack of decently proportioned stowage space up front. The cubby, glovebox and door pockets are all small and awkward to get into, so you’re likely to end up leaving things like your shades, keys and wallet in the bin and cup holders in the centre console.

Most seriously, however, we were disappointed by the lack of knee room in the back seats. We commented last time that you’d struggle to get four tall adults on board without at least one or two of them having something to grumble about; this time, we found that a five-year-old couldn’t get into his car seat without the driver (who stands at 6’1”) having to slide forward and hunch up.

The back of the rear bench does at least drop forward to create a flat platform. Whether this is really better in practice than just putting things on the seats is open to question, but it’s there.

Also there are hidden stowage bins under the front seats, which might help save you from having to take small items with you when you leave the vehicle parked up. But when it comes to practicality, obviously in a pick-up it’s all about the rear bed, and this has a tough plastic liner with four lashing rings proud of it, as well as a 12-volt socket in the side of the bed.

Thus provisioned, the Amarok is well equipped for a duty of work, and our test vehicle also had a rigid flat deck to keep things secure. The tailgate locks, too (using a key, rather than as part of the central locking circuit), and you can spec the vehicle without a rear bumper to let it drop fully down and sit vertically, allowing you to reverse right up to loading bays.

As is often the case with pick-ups, there are areas in which the Amarok frustrates us. Its dash looks outstanding, and it’s as well made as it is thought out – but if you have any sort of need for proper rear seat space, you’ll come up against a serious obstacle.

A car would need to be pretty heavy to have 224bhp and not feel at least reasonably fast. The Amarok is indeed pretty heavy, but it does still feel usefully brisk by pick-up standards – even if the gearbox takes a fair bit of winding up when left in auto mode.

It does change gear smartly when you start working the paddles behind the steering wheel, however. All the same, with so many ratios to deal with it’s a lot more relaxing to leave it in auto and just live with the rise and fall of the revs.

While the auto unit is genuinely sophisticated, we do find ourselves looking forward to the day when the Amarok gains a manual. Even though it will be limited to less powerful versions of the same engine, we have little doubt that they’ll be more enjoyable to drive and quicker from A to B in the hands of a typical pick-up driver.

Talking of A-to-B pace, the Amarok’s steering takes a lot of getting used to before you can handle it with confidence. It’s nice and light around town, but gains more weight than is necessary at speed – so much so that at first, you might find yourself thinking something is jamming it. We really did find it that unnatural. The extra weight seems to be trying to make up for a lack of feel, too.

Our previous experience with the Amarok was in a version with 19” alloys and 255/55 tyres, so we were hoping the 225/60R18s on this model would allow a gentler ride. Not that we found it harsh previously, but there were some jitters from the suspension which upset its poise at times.

Happily, there was no sign of that this time. The Amarok still feels heavy over speed bumps and so on, but while the impacts certainly come through they do so without upsetting its composure, and its suspension settles straight back down – even when running unladen.

We also noticed a complete lack of vibration through the vehicle’s drivetrain and pedal box. That’s a particular boost to its refinement, which is generally as high (by pick-up standards) as its cabin quality would have you expect.

All the same, the entry-level Amarok will come on 16” rims – and we can’t help thinking about how much fun it would be with a manual box and a set of 265/75R16s. That’s a reference to the tarmac, but it also rings every bit as true off-road – not least because manual models have low box, but autos do not.

For many (and we’d be among them), this would be an absolute deal-breaker on the Amarok tested here. While you can’t yet get one with the correct equipment for proper all-round use, however, models with the auto box do have an Off-Road button which brings hill descent control into play and modifies the behaviour of the ABS to suit loose ground.

This is certainly necessary with no low range, but to be fair on the Amarok it’s almost unbelievably agile, and tractable, in really tight conditions. The auto box works well enough when used manually, and at these speeds the steering is lovely and light, so the physical effort required to drive it is low, but we found it quite mentally tiring to be constantly working the paddles on terrain where we’d being leaving a manual in low first or second and letting it find its way.

Once again, then, we think the arrival of the manual box will be the making of this Amarok. It does great things with big alloys, low-profile road tyres and a gearbox we wouldn’t choose – so with proper tyres and a manual with low box behind it, we expect the vehicle to demonstrate just how good this engine is capable of making it.

Volkswagen’s options list includes a locking rear diff, too, as well as heavy-duty underbody protection. And of course the aftermarket is right across the sort of accessories it takes to bring out the best in a good truck. Wait a little longer, then, and the Amarok has the potential to become the best off-roader in the one-tonne market. For now, while it’s very good, that’s despite itself – this is a tale of massive potential waiting to be realised.

The Amarok tested here lists at £30,495 – that’s £37,627 on the road if you pay your VAT, and the options on this truck would kick the latter figure up to £39,805. We were critical of the vehicle’s high price when we drove the Aventura model at launch; to be fair, VW is not alone in flirting with the £40k barrier for its top trucks, but it still concerns us that at that sort of money, flaws like the lack of rear knee room become harder to forgive.

You do of course get plenty of kit for your money. And the Amarok has a level of build quality that instils great confidence in it as a product – though we’d expect it to have a warranty which at least matches the best on the market, and 36 months or 60,000 miles is trounced by the 60 months and 100,000 miles for which Nissan will look after you if you buy a Navara.

The good news is that once the Amarok range is complete, you’ll be able to buy one for a lot less than this. And, in our view, it will be the right one. Combine a manual box with a more modest spec level and, having worked the discount game, you should be in the best model for less than £30k. At which point, we think the pick-up market may well have its first five-star truck.

First featured in 4×4, December 2017 issue.