Just testing: how to pick up a tax break on your next company car

Is the Ford Ranger double cab pick-up a BiK-beating superhero or vehicular red herring? Tim Gibson finds out

By Tim Gibson

Pick-ups. You either love them or you hate them.

In our household, the split is pretty much 50/50. Mrs Gibson can’t stand the things. She regards them as brash, unacceptably utilitarian and unnecessarily large.

These are exactly the reasons why I love of them. Mild-mannered Englishman I may seem, but the thought of driving an oversized truck that can tow a house and looks like it’s come straight from the Deep South? Blimey. That’s the stuff of fantasies.

    When you first clamber aboard, you feel as if you’re king (or queen) of the road.  

Except it needn’t be, because pick-ups actually make a lot of sense for company car drivers – even those, like me, who would be more sensibly accommodated in a fuel-sipping hatchback like the Volvo V40 I actually drive.

It’s all about the tax you pay if you’re lucky enough to have a company car. For conventional cars, Benefit in Kind (BiK), as it’s called, is calculated on the basis of CO2 emissions. There’s a sliding scale, with the least polluting cars at the bottom and the most polluting cars at the top. This generates a percentage of the car’s value on which the driver pays income tax at their prevailing rate, either 20pc or 40pc if they’re doing all right.

To give an example, a Ford Focus 1.5TDCI Zetec Edition, generating 99g/km of CO2 and with an official list price (it’s actually called the P11D value, but we’ll cover that another time) of £20,840 falls into the 23pc BiK bracket. That means it costs a basic-rate taxpayer just less than £1,000 per year, or around £80 per month, and a higher-rate taxpayer double that.

Compare that to the Ford Ranger Limited I had on test recently. In the spec I tested, this has a list price of £30,566 and its CO2 emissions are 207g/km. Quite a lot pricier than the economical Focus, then, yes?

But then you look at the BiK rules governing pick-ups and realise that, as a company car, this hulking great truck will cost its owner a lot less. That’s because pick-ups are classed as Light Commercial Vehicles (LCV) and attract a flat BiK rate. In the 2018-19 tax year, that value is set at £3,430. So a 20pc taxpayer will be charged £686 per year, or £57 a month.

When you consider that the Ranger is capable of towing 3,500kg and is adorned with luxuries such as leather trim, dual-zone climate control, electric and heated front seats and a truly awesome 160PS 2.2 turbo diesel engine, these calculations look too good to be true.

All of which begs the question that led me to secure one as a test car: what’s the Ranger like to live with?

    It is hard to believe that Ford has created a driving dynamic of this quality on a vehicle of such extraordinary proportions.  

The answer is mixed. When you first clamber aboard, you feel as if you’re king (or queen) of the road. The driving position is insanely commanding, better than any SUV I’ve driven thanks to the truck’s huge dimensions and vast bonnet. Trouble is, when you try to manoeuvre it off your drive, or park it outside Tesco, that bulk becomes problematic. It’s like trying to moor a super tanker in Dartmouth marina, or thread a needle with a climbing rope. It’s all just a bit cumbersome.

No matter, because once you get the Ranger on an open road, all thoughts of its unwieldiness disappear. It is hard to believe that Ford has created a driving dynamic of this quality on a vehicle of such extraordinary proportions.

The torquey engine revs beautifully and works in concert with a six-speed auto box to create a smooth and rewarding drive. I was amazed at how nimble the Ranger felt around tight country lanes. Sure, it’s never going to rival a sports car. But adjust your driving style to suit its loping gait and you’ll be in for a rewarding experience behind the wheel.

That is not to say the Ranger oozes refinement. There are better pick-ups on the market if you want car-like levels of comfort, including the luxurious Mercedes Benz X-Class. Like most trucks, the Ranger bobs around over uneven surfaces, especially unladen, and can be tiring on a long journey. I noticed a lot of sway on windy motorways which made it feel as if I was constantly adjusting the steering to stay in a straight line.

Such an experience is not unfamiliar if you’re accustomed to driving SUVs, and the Ranger certainly rivals a lot of conventional off-roaders for comfort and credibility. A Range Rover it ain’t, but it’s a more than credible contender to something like the Ssangyong Rexton or Mitsubishi Shogun. And whether you’re buying privately or running it as a company car (especially in the latter case) it makes a whole lot more sense financially.

Even so, I wouldn’t choose the Ranger for myself. There is something about its image that just doesn’t quite hit the mark. Maybe it’s because I have no obvious need for a pick-up. I tow a caravan, but Mrs G’s Subaru is more than up to that task. And apart from the occasional trip to the tip (ditto), I don’t have much need for a utility wagon.

Here, then, is the rub. When I do the sums, I can see that there’s a strong case for taking on a vehicle like the Ranger as a company car. But then I drive one and realise it simply isn’t for me. I’m not a cowboy from the Deep South but a middle-class writer from Somerset. And as much as it pains me to admit it, a blingy pick-up that’s the size of a barn just doesn’t suit my persona, low BiK rating or not. Turns out Mrs Gibson was right all along.

On test

  • Ford Ranger Limited 2.2TDCI Auto
  • 160PS
  • 36.2mpg on the combined cycle (official figures)
  • 0-62mph in 11.8 seconds (but who cares in a vehicle this size?)
  • 207g/km CO2 emissions
  • Price: £30,566 (but check out the BiK rating)

Tim Gibson has written about cars for 25 years. His work regularly appears in The Daily Telegraph and other national media.

Published: 26 July 2019

© 2019 Just Recruitment Group Ltd

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