Car-Like Pickup Trucks

Pickups that combine the convenience of truck beds and all-wheel drive with the handling and comfort of smaller autos.
By Jon Alain Guzik, Editor-in-Chief

2008 Toyota Tundra Double
Cab Sport

Flush with high-end safety and entertainment features, today's pickups are much more than simple work vehicles and have changed considerably since their humble beginnings as simple, utilitarian haulers.

2008 GMC Sierra Denali

2008 Honda Ridgeline RTL

Before the much-hyped truck wars of the early 2000s, when all the major manufactures began dressing up their pickup lines with improved interiors, higher-end entertainment systems and refined handling, the segment was clearly focused on traditional and somewhat conservative truck buyer. Most pickups back then offered a fairly bare bones interior, a somewhat smallish cab and a choice of a long or a short bed, fleetside or crewside. That was about it, somewhat along the way, the product planners at the major car companies picked up on the idea that people wanted utility and luxury.

"The last six to seven years the truck market has become a lot more competitive," says Toyota's Richard Bame. "Now you see innovation and improvement in the cabs, refinement to the interior and the drive. If you look back at a truck from 1999 and today's Tundra, it is much more refined."

Today's pickup trucks feature everything from high-end leather sport bucket seats, full front and rear entertainment systems and active safety systems - like ABS, numerous airbags and stability control. These features were unheard of as recently as a decade ago in the segment.

There is also a wide variety of engine choices - from powerful diesel powerplants to over-the-top and torquey gas engines. The advantages of diesel are many (more towing capability and better fuel economy), but they can run anywhere from two to three thousand more than traditional large-block engines.

For the green set, there are even a few hybrid options. The Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra can be equipped with a 5.3L V8 hybrid that boosts gas mileage to around 18 city and 21 highway, which isn't too shabby for a large truck. Like passenger cars, however, the addition of a hybrid powerplant will add a few thousand dollars to the sticker price.

Pickups also come in a variety of shapes and sizes, ranging from the compact Ford Ranger and Chevrolet Colorado to the mid-sized Mitsubishi Raider and Toyota Tacoma to the massive Nissan Titan, Toyota Tundra, Ford F-Series and Chevrolet Silverado.

There are also more cabin options than ever before, with each manufacturer calling it something else. There are crew cabs, king cabs, extended cabs, mega cabs and so on. Essentially, buyers can now choose between a standard two-door cab, a two-door with some extra space behind the front seats or a four-door version with full-sized rear seats.

To us, a larger mid or full-size model with a four-door cab is a good replacement for an SUV, giving you added space plus the utility of a truck bed. Another good option that straddles the line between town and country is the Honda Ridgeline. A cross between a truck and a passenger car, the Ridgeline offers the smooth ride of a Honda, a small bed in the back and a little more than eight inches of ground clearance.

Following the lead of the passenger car segments, the pickup truck market is trending larger and larger. Mid-size models like the Nissan Frontier, Toyota Tacoma and the newly refreshed for 2008 Dodge Dakota have come to represent the smaller side of the market. The compact market - so prevalent in the 1980s - has all but disappeared. What was once a compact truck has morphed into a mid-size model, leaving less choice for consumers.

"The market has changed a lot," says Lorraine Babiar, product manager for GMC. "With all of the new features, pickups are becoming more recreational. They may have started out for work but are now becoming an everyday vehicle. Especially with the new Denali, it is a different type of customer that wants this pickup."

The new 2008 GMC Sierra Denali is part of a new breed of truck. Loaded with features and options usually found on passenger vehicles and SUVs, the Denali comes across like a utility wrench for the luxury set. Other luxury-oriented trucks, like the Ford F-150 Harley Davidson and King Ranch editions, fill the same niche as the Denali, while also adding some extra fuel to the long-simmering Ford versus Chevy debate.

Look for the segment to heat up even more in 2008 as trucks get sleeker, feature more fuel-efficient engines and come equipped with even more passenger car-like features.

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