After a couple of years of running secondhand cars as a disciple of bangernomics, it became apparent that two factors were beginning to affect life negatively.
One, the impact on my bank account of frequently replacing parts and cars, and travelling to find the best deals, was as bad as just signing up for a lease car. Two, I was beginning to resemble the cars I drove: shabby, tired and a little disreputable.
So, when work demands suggested a new car would be more appropriate than renewing my fleet of old sheds, I began searching for a suitable long-term companion that could be had for a reasonable monthly amount.
No automatics for the people?
Preferring automatics really reduces the choice; competitive lease prices are generally only available on manual cars.
Yet the sea of silver and grey mid-size executive saloons just didn’t appeal, and when you really value rugged build and longevity, and have a fondness for four-wheel drive, the prices go sky high. Even a popular car like the Skoda Superb works out at almost £500/month if you want the 4×4 automatic version.
Pickups, however, have a lot of appeal. Not only are they advantageous for sole traders and businesses anyway, you get a robust chassis and suspension that laughs at potholes, a high driving position that suits a photographer’s eye for the landscape, and good resale value. Lifestyle models are generally well equipped, too.
Adding the demand of a family house in need of renovation, the lure of the tax-friendly, high-residual pickup truck became rather hard to ignore.
A buyers’ market for pickups?
Presently, the pickup market is fiercely competitive. Based on Parkers Vans reviews, feedback from family and friends, and of course my own tastes, the shortlist came down to the tough Toyota Hilux, the tastefully conservative VW Amarok, and the popular Mitsubishi L200.
All are readily available with automatic transmissions, and marketed by manufacturers and brokers alike with sub-£300/month leasing.
However, my 20,000 miles per year requirement rather ruined those figures, and the best deals involve a four-year commitment; this meant I’d end up spending a small fortune overall.
With those considerations, not even those models designed to specifically appeal to the budget-conscious buyers could help me. The SsangYong Musso and Great Wall Steed may have list prices way lower than the mainstream, but their lease rates still aren’t especially competitive.
Then, lurking among the searches, a relative mystery machine appeared from the brokers with strongly compelling figures: the Fiat Fullback.
Fullback comes in from the subs’ bench
Fiat’s Fullback is a rare sight on UK roads at the moment. Until recently it was only offered by Fiat Professional van dealers and the firm is not known for these kinds of vehicles at all.
As such, Fiat has made no secret of the Fullback’s origins as a badge-engineered double cab Mitsubishi L200. So it’s actually a truck from my shortlist – albeit one that’s slightly better value for money in range-topping LX form.
As always, the best deals are only available on cars taken from stock, limiting the colour choices, but as the LX has no factory options – only dealer fit accessories – this really isn’t a significant issue.
Test driving the manual
I wasn’t able to test drive an auto, but a spin in the six-speed manual revealed the Fullback’s 181hp diesel engine to be remarkably refined, and performance more than adequate. In fact, it goes 0-62mph in less than 10 seconds.
Comparison with a similarly-priced executive car is perhaps unfair, yet the Fullback LX features a touch-screen infotainment system with DAB radio and sat-nav, heated leather seats, automatic wipers and bi-xenon lights, plus a useful reversing camera.
Behind the wheel the traditional advantages of high driving position and a reasonably upright, close windscreen with moderately sized pillars inspired confidence, and large mirrors made lane changes relatively stress-free. Tailgaters can be difficult to spot, though.
If you’re coming to a pickup from a car the length of the rear bed can be a shock – my first set of safety checks on leaving the dealer carpark resulted in a double take to see what was so close behind me. If you’ve ever wondered how your dog feels when startled by their own tail, that’s the closest you’ll get.
Motorway refinement proved equal – even superior – to many family diesel cars, though ride quality expectations have to be adjusted for the type of vehicle…
Fulltime four-wheel drive seals the deal
One of the most important considerations for me was the ability to use all-wheel drive on the road. Britain is uniquely able to throw mild-but-unpleasant conditions at drivers, and an unladen pickup, no matter how good, can be a little tail happy when traction is lost.
The majority of pickups, including Fiat’s own 150hp Fullback SX, come with a part-time 4×4 system that will wind up if used on merely greasy roads, whereas full-time 4×4 allows extra security in all conditions. It is selectable, too, so two-wheel drive can be used for economy the majority of the time.
This is the system that comes on the LX. Called Super-Select in Mitsubishi world, it’s also one I’ve used before in a Delica and Shogun, and already trust on and off road. The rotary controller is a nice touch, though. It’s a shame there’s no inclinometer on that large media display!
The budgetary constraints that have lead me to the Fullback have been a factor, no doubt at all, but the test drive reinforced the consistent praise both the L200 and Fullback have received in reviews; the deposit paid, and order placed. Already limited in colours, the best deals were available on blue, grey or black models already in stock so black was selected.
True to their word, my Fullback arrived at Rockingham Cars in Kettering within three weeks of ordering. As this is my own vehicle, it naturally gets some appropriate graphics – diverse uses present a lot of options, including taking it seriously and promoting photography. Of course a fictional building firm wins out.
Pickup finance – really the best deal for sole traders?
Britain’s company car parks formed the spearhead for an invasion of lifestyle pickups in the mid-2000s, and after a brief period of adjustment, the tax benefits that ensured that proliferation – and a concerted effort from the manufacturers to redesign the trucks for a 1.0-tonne capacity even when a hardtop is fitted – have returned.
A double cab pickup with a capacity of 1,050Kg leaves headroom for the standard 45Kg HMRC allows for a hardtop back, and opting for a pickup ensures half the BIK liability and commercial allowances for fuel.
What’s more, sole traders and businesses can enjoy a variety of approaches including Annual Investment Allowance for plant, rather than the more complex capital allowances for passenger cars.
In the Fullback’s case, these areas were enhanced by low initial rentals, incredibly high specification and short contract terms from the brokers.
Yet these were still all bettered by a local Fiat dealer, resulting in a two year contract for just £1,081 initial rental and £364/month including VAT. Not bad when the inc-VAT on the road price for a Fullback LX automatic is £31,384.
A more normal 10,000-mile deal can be as little as £800 down and £260/month inclusive of VAT – and most customers for this class of vehicle will be able to claim the VAT back. You try finding a car with this level of capability for similar value.
By Richard Kilpatrick (courtesy of www.parkers.co.uk)
Fiat Fullback LX 180 auto long-term test review
List price: £25,245 (ex VAT)
Price as tested: £25,897 (ex VAT)
Engine: 2.4-litre turbodiesel four-cylinder, 181hp, 430Nm
Transmission: five-speed automatic gearbox, all-wheel drive
Claimed fuel economy: 37.7mpg
Actual fuel economy: 31.3mpg