Ten bakkies were put through their paces in a series of tests to find SA's best. Picture: ANDREAS EISELEN
Ten bakkies were put through their paces in a series of tests to find SA's best. Picture: ANDREAS EISELEN

Much like picking a soccer or rugby team, one’s choice of bakkie tends to be along deeply loyalist lines, with vociferous braai-side discussions fought in the quest to defend one’s favourite brand.

But, in the quest to put those arguments to rest, Leisure Wheels magazine, in association with Motor News, assembled 10 of the country’s most popular diesel double cab 4x4s to determine, once and for all, which is SA’s best bakkie.

Last week the vehicles were put through their paces by the Gerotek vehicle testing facility near Pretoria to evaluate their performance, handling, braking, fuel consumption, loading ability and towing prowess, among other scientifically-tested parameters.

They were then evaluated by a panel of five jurors, comprising motoring journalists and driving instructors, who drove them back to back on a common route consisting of tar, gravel and a 4x4 course.

The scores will be tallied and the winner announced early next year.

The result is likely to be controversial whatever the outcome given the emotive brand loyalty, but the tests have been designed to be as exhaustive and objective as possible, says competition organiser Danie Botha.

“Repeatable tests of international standard were conducted at Gerotek, with a major focus on actual consumer requirements and usage. But it also goes as far as measuring ownership costs, dealership performance, and point of sale interaction — so a really comprehensive process,” he says.

“Still, the vehicle buying process remains an emotive one too, and not only about numbers and data. That’s why we included a small panel of expert judges that drove all 10 vehicles over the same routes, and allocated points. This segment counts 20% towards the overall score.”

I was one of the five jurors to drive the vehicles in last week’s test, which comprised a 45km loop of mixed tar and gravel in the Hartebeespoort area, followed by an offroad test.

I’d individually tested most of the bakkies before, but driving them all back to back yielded a deeper insight into their comparable abilities.

It was an eclectic mix, from the luxurious Mercedes-Benz X-Class to the more rough-and-ready Mahindra Pik Up and Toyota Land Cruiser.

As jurors we weren’t privy to the results of the scientifically-obtained Gerotek tests, such as how fast they could execute an emergency lane change.

Ours was more of a seat-of-the-pants evaluation on real-world roads, just as the average owner would experience, and it was quite an eye opener.

The route included some rough gravel which quickly exposed any chassis or suspension shortcomings, and here it was the Ford Raptor that, to nobody’s great surprise, performed the best with its special rally-bred suspension and high-profile tyres. It comfortably cruised over bumps that had some of the other contenders bucking around like rodeo horses. All ten bakkies made it without complaint through the 4x4 course, but it was the Raptor that did it with the most comfort and ground clearance.

More surprising was the smooth ride comfort of the Toyota Hilux on those same bumpy roads. Without fancy suspension, and still employing old-fashioned rear leaf springs instead of the car-like coil springs used by some of its rivals, SA’s best-selling bakkie wafted with great finesse over the rough stuff, and it’s why it made it into my top-three list.

There were flashes of great competence throughout the field: the opulent interior and gutsy performance of the Mercedes X-Class; the toughness of the Land Cruiser which felt like it could bash through walls; the great value for money of the Mahindra Pik Up.

But the bakkie that impressed me most with its all-round ability was the VW Amarok. It too had a great ride quality and solid feel, but combined it with burly power and a luxurious cabin. Ultimately it’s the one I would have chosen to drive home.

We will see if I’m right when the results are announced early next year.

THE BAKKIE OF THE YEAR CONTENDERS

Ford Ranger 2.0 Bi-Turbo AT 4x4 Wildtrak

Ford Ranger Raptor

Isuzu D-Max 3.0TD 4x4 LX (manual)

Mahindra Pik Up S10 2.2CRDe Karoo edition

Mercedes-Benz X350d 4Matic Power

Mitsubishi Triton 2.4Di-D 4x4 AT

Nissan Navara 2.3D 4x4 AT Stealth

Toyota Hilux 2.8GD-6 4x4 Legend 50 (manual)

Toyota Land Cruiser 79 4.5D4-D V8 Namib

VW Amarok 3.0TDI V6 4Motion Canyon