From the days when a top-spec double cab was only a few decals and a set of Smiths rims more than its lesser siblings, we have accepted that a double cab bakkie is as much a workhorse as it is, in the words of one Karoo farmer I met, ‘perfectly appropriate for church’.
But in recent years a couple of brands have pushed the boundaries of what a bakkie can be. Correction, it started more than a few years ago with bakkies such as the Nissan Navara V9X – with its turbodiesel V6 and in-built satellite navigation – and it has picked up momentum with bakkies from Volkswagen, Ford and Mercedes-Benz. Think of the new X-Class in 350d guise or the V6 Amarok, especially now in standout Extreme Edition trim. Or more recently, the Ford Ranger Raptor – an uber bakkie in a very different sense with its trick Fox suspension and wide-bodied Baja design.
All three these bakkies command a price tag of more than R800 000 and, in the case of the X350d, you can push the price to north of R1 million if you tick too many boxes on the option list. One could argue that these bakkies with their high entry prices, more power and performance and posh cabins, have changed the buyer’s view of what a bakkie can be. One might even argue further that they have changed the market for leisure bakkies in general, with cosmetically enhanced bakkies from Toyota (Hilux GR-Sport, upwards of R720 000) and Ford (Ranger Wildtrak, just over R645 000) now in price territory previously reserved for more luxurious SUVs and luxury vehicles.
Then one could even argue that these bakkies has helped fuel the recent trend of customising your bakkie. Wide fenders, custom branded grilles, light bars and faux bonnet scoops are more commonplace now than ever before and vehicle performance ECU and chip installers say that they upgrade more bakkies than any other vehicle. This trend of uber bakkies has also seen companies such as US Trucks – a left-to-right hand drive bakkie converter in Richards Bay – become more well known.
US Trucks have been converting the large and very imposing Dodge RAM to right hand drive since 2005 and it reports significant growth in recent years. The company sources its vehicles from the Euro-spec export range made available by RAM and it imports them to South Africa for conversion at their facility in KwaZulu-Natal. The company says that the RAM 1500 is currently the most popular model, thanks to the fact that you can (just barely) drive it with a normal passenger vehicle license. In true US fashion, it measures in at over 5,8 metres long and over 2,1 metres wide. Under the hood, this RAM is fitted with a 5.7-litre HEMI V8, which we know from the Jeep Grand Cherokee. In the RAM, this engine delivers close to 300kW to the rear or all four wheels and it is mated to an eight-speed automatic gearbox. A V6 petrol is also available on order.
For those who have the means and appetite, US Trucks can also import a 2500 RAM, which is slightly wider, higher and longer than the 1500 and comes with a 6,7 litre (yes, nearly 7-litre) Cummins turbodiesel engine. This engine delivers nearly the same power as the HEMI V8, but it has over 1 100Nm of torque! And the price? Since each unit is imported when a buyer places an order, the price is heavily dependent on the rand/dollar exchange rate. At current rates, you can expect to fork out north of R1,4 million, with a standard local warranty and optional service plan.
Rumour has it that more high-end bakkies and a few model upgrades are on their way, which surely means that the era of the uber bakkie is here to stay!