Why pick-ups are so in vogue

CARS which go down well in America generally bomb over here. It's down to taste - or lack of it - on the part of our cousins across the pond, I guess.

But one type of States-side transport has unexpectedly caught on in quite a big way over here: the pick-up truck. Or what the Americans often call the ‘ute’, an Americanism for utility.

These were originally basic forms of transport for country-types with big flat-bed spaces for bales of hay, livestock or whatever.

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Suddenly, utility vehicles are big business over here, too. They’re fashionable with people who need them (forestry workers, those who toil on building sites, small-holdings and farms, and acrive types) and those who but them for the way they look (poseurs).

But they are no longer basic, functional vehicles. They are well-equipped and fun to drive. Toyota were pioneers in this area and the Hilux is one of the most popular in the world.

In fact, Toyota have sold 18m such vehicles in 50 years. They can be said to be kick of the utes.

The first thing you notice about the Hilux is that it is big: at 5.3 metres it’s longer than a Range Rover. But you quickly realise that while this is a vehicle designed for wandering over the Rockies, it is still pretty capable on roads and motorways.

Tested here is one of the better-equipped Invincible models which comes with one of Toyota’s Global Diesel engines which is stronger, more capable and better off-road than previous units.

It is a 3.0 litre engine which is smoother than you would ever expect and with plenty of power. This model can carry 3.5 tonnes, which is impressive. It will make light work of caravans, motorboats and trailers.

It has a locking differential which means it is a proper off-roader and it has trailer sway control which means it is easier to drive safely.

It is equipped with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, anti-lock brakes, stability control, traction control, downhill assist, hill-start assist, plus power steering, cruise control, heated rear window, locking and cooled glovebox, rear view camera, leather trim, 4.2in screen, air conditioning, powered windows and tip-up rear seats. And they call it utilitarian?

The test version also had alloy wheels, chrome side steps and powered and heated mirrors.

It seats four or five in comfort yet still has a huge load bay which can have a full-size cover attached or a fold-back metal attachment to keep valuables concealed.

This is the sixth-generation Hilux and it has plenty of heritage.

Renowned for its rugged go-anywhere performance, Hilux was the first car to be driven to both the South and Magnetic North Poles and has been tested in the world’s most extreme environments.

It is famed for its ultra-tough quality, but Toyota insist Hilux is much more than just a workhorse. Today’s pick-up combines traditional robustness and excellent load-carrying capacity with comfort, safety and equipment features to make it a vehicle that bridges the divide between work and everyday driving needs.

The latest version of Hilux is available in three bodystyles, single, extra and double cab, with a choice of 2.5 or 3.0-litre D-4D turbodiesel engines.

Toyota Hilux Invincible double-cab

PRICE: £31,145

ENGINE: A 2,393cc four cylinder diesel engine generating 148bhp via six-speed manual gearbox

PERFORMANCE: Top speed 106mph and 0 to 60mph in 13.2 seconds

COSTS: 40.4mpg on a combined run

EMISSIONS: 185g/km

INSURANCE: Five years’ 100,000 miles

Three rivals

Ford Ranger: From £20,395, the Ranger matches Toyota in terms of load carrying ability but falls short in style. Rivals are better equipped and have smarter cabins.

Mitsubishi L200: A very close call between the L200 and the Hilux. Similar in style, quality and equipment. They both tick all the boxes and are similarly priced.

Volkswagen Amarok: Expensive at £25,000-plus but more car-like than almost any of its rivals. Limited range but very smart and impressive.