JOHANNESBURG - South Africa is bakkie country. We love them in all shapes and sizes and they’re always ready for whatever kind of work or play we throw at them.
Sadly, because we are one of the few countries that drive on the left, there are a lot of bakkies available abroad that simply can’t come to South Africa because they’re only built in left-hand drive format.
Yes, folks there is a lot of load-lugging forbidden fruit out there, and these are our favourites.
Read and weep.
RAM 1500 TRX
Described as “the apex predator of the truck world”, the Ram 1500 TRX is ready to go Raptor hunting, and to give it an edge over its F-150 badged foe, it has borrowed a 6.2-litre heart from its Dodge Challenger Hellcat cousin.
The TRX’s 6.2-litre supercharged Hemi V8 is rated at 523kW and 881Nm, which Ram says is sufficient to launch it from 0-96km/h in 4.5 seconds, and on to 160km/h in 10.5s, making it the world’s fastest series-production pick-up truck. Even the quartermile time is astounding (for something that’s not a ridiculously over-modified VW Caddy) at 12.9 seconds.
The chassis, of course, was also purpose designed for bundu bashing in a hurry, and as a result it has 40 percent more wheel travel than the regular Ram 1500 that it’s based on. Other highlights include Bilstein Black Hawk e2 adaptive performance shocks, five-link coil rear suspension, a Dana 60 solid rear axle and an electronic locking differential.
What about the tekkies? These come in the form of bespoke 18-by-9-inch alloy wheels shod with Goodyear Wrangler Territory All-Terrain tyres.
And yes, just like the Raptor, this one has a ‘Baja’ mode!
Gladiators are you ready???!!! While that somewhat cheesy chant is perhaps best left in the ‘90s, the word Gladiator took on a far cooler connotation when Jeep attached it to the back of its new double cab bakkie.
The Gladiator is essentially a Jeep Wrangler with a load bin, and what’s not to like about that? It’s essentially a Swiss Army knife on wheels.
Like its SUV cousin, the Gladiator can be ‘stripped’ in numerous ways, with owners able to fold down the windscreen, remove the doors and lower the soft top for a truly open-air experience.
Now imagine this on a game farm.
Local buyers would love the brawny 3-litre turbodiesel V6 engine option, which is good for 194kW and 600Nm.
The Gladiator also offers the very best 4x4 systems that Jeep has to offer, as well as Tru-Lock electrically operated front and rear axle lockers, a Trac-Lock limited slip differential and sway-bar disconnector.
Best of all, the workhorse aspect is not an afterthought in this vehicle, and hence it features an innovative ‘Trail Rail’ cargo management system as well as a bed lighting system and a 400W external power source for your tools.
GMC Sierra Denali
This has been described as a bakkie for the Kardashians, but wherever its appeal may lie you have to agree that the GMC Sierra Denali is simply dripping bling. In fact there’s enough chrome on this thing to make the sun flinch in agony.
GMC claims to have invented the premium pick-up segment almost 20 years ago, and the latest version continues its legacy of luxury, although it’s not without some innovative workhorse features.
These include the MultiPro Tailgate, which is said to be the most innovative ever, with six unique functions and positions offering enhanced second-tier loading. Buyers can also opt for a carbon fibre load bay, which is said to be the most durable in its segment.
Kim and her pals don’t have to worry too much about towing either, thanks to the ProGrade Trailering System with a Trailering App that removes much of the guesswork.
Cabin highlights include multi-colour head-up display, digital rear view mirror and open-pore wood trim. The adaptive suspension system is also quite unique in the bakkie world.
The Denali is no slouch either, with buyers getting three options in the form of a 3-litre turbodiesel as well as 5.3-litre and 6.2-litre V8 petrols.
There might not be a Raptor version as yet, but the new-generation Ford F-150 is still one of the tastiest pieces of forbidden fruit for South African bakkie buyers.
This is what the Ranger wants to be when it grows up.
There are plenty of different models and options to choose from - but what we really love about the F-150 is its wide array of innovative options aimed at making your work day easier.
These include onboard generators that can be used to power tools at remote work sites and the Tailgate Work Surface that includes integrated rulers and clamps for cutting wood, and spaces to stash your phone, tablets and even your coffee cup.
You can pretty much turn the cabin into an office with the Work Surface option, which has surfaces designed for laptop use and document signing, while the Max Recline front seats can fold to almost 180 degrees to allow customers to camp in the cabin.
The cockpit is cutting-edge too, thanks to Ford’s new Sync4 infotainment system, which allows for over-the-air system updates for downloading new tech features as they become available.
On the powertrain front, buyers get to choose from a wide range of V6 and V8 petrol engine options, enabling towing capacities of up to 5400kg.
Fiat Strada double cab
Brazil is one of the few countries that shares South Africa’s love affair with small half-tonne bakkies, and the South American country has some contenders in that market that would almost certainly do well in South Africa.
At first we were inclined to include the obvious choice, which is Volkswagen’s Saveiro. Yes, it would sell in droves if it came here, but it is looking a little dated now and it looks set to be upstaged by the all-new Fiat Strada that was revealed earlier this year.
This all-new Strada is a far cry from the one that was once assembled in Rosslyn and unlike its VW rival the Fiat is now available as a double cab, with a 650kg payload, while a 729kg single cab is also available for those with more demanding loads.
The Strada is available in three spec flavours - Endurance, Freedom and Volcano - and the cabin boasts modern touchscreen infotainment with a CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity.
Although it is still a compact bakkie, it could probably use a bit more power though, with the top option for now being a normally aspirated 1.3 petrol that’s worth just 74kW.
Now imagine a Ram or Dodge version of this with FCA’s 1.4 turbopetrol?
Another bakkie from Brazil that would probably do well in South Africa is the Renault Duster Oroch. Of course, Renault South Africa has already flirted with the idea of bringing this to South Africa, but that all hinges around right-hand drive variants becoming available, which hasn’t happened as yet.
While closely based on the previous-generation Renault Duster SUV that we’re all familiar with, the Oroch has been stretched to a length of 4.7 metres, so in size terms its slots between the traditional compact bakkies and the larger one-tonners.
It’s not-too-big, not-too-small footprint could make it very popular with local buyers on a budget, while its 680kg payload should meet most urban needs. Renault also offers an innovative tailgate extension system that allows owners to haul longer loads.
Unfortunately Renault’s 1.5 dCi diesel is not offered as an option, but buyers can still opt for a 2-litre normally aspirated petrol motor with 110kW, which should get the job done quite easily given that this is not a huge or heavy bakkie.