Pickups that blur the line between car and truck
Honda took a rather different approach with the Ridgeline. Read our First Drive review of the 2017 Ridgeline here. Where its rivals – including those from Toyota and Nissan – went with traditional body-on-frame trucks (like the Tundra and Titan), the Ridgeline is built on the same car-based platform as the Pilot crossover. That sets it apart from the decidedly more rugged (but arguably less refined) competition. But as rare a combination as it may seem, the Honda Ridgeline isn't the first vehicle in America that blurs the line between car and truck.
Thin though they are on the American road these days, there's a long and proud tradition of car-based pickups from automakers both foreign and domestic. Join us for a pictorial tour through the automotive equivalent of the mullet: that rare combination of the car up front and the pickup in the back.
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The Legend: Chevy El CaminoArguably the most iconic of car-based pickups is the Chevy El Camino. Originally launched in 1959, the most legendary of pickup coupes remained in production through 1987, going through five generations in the process. They were built at locations across the United States as well as in Canada, Mexico, and far away as Iran. It even bred a GMC-badged version (initially called the Sprint and then the Caballero), further blurring the line between car and truck. But while others have come and gone, it's the El Camino that we'll always think of whenever the unlikely crossover of the car-based pickup comes to mind.
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The Original: Ford RancheroLegendary as the El Camino may remain to this day, it wasn't the first car-based pickup that came to market. Ford beat Chevy to the punch with the Ranchero. Dearborn's take on the format first emerged in 1957 and lasted through '79, seeing over half a million made along the way. Versions of the Fairlane and Falcon wore the Ranchero name as well in markets around the world, and it was even marketed under the Meteor brand in Canada.
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The Flash in the Pan: Dodge RampageChrysler didn't get into the pickup-car game until 1983 with the launch of the Rampage, a vehicle that shared much with the '80s-era Charger (as well as the Omni and several Plymouth models). It was a smaller affair than the Chevy and Ford models that were dying off at that time, evidenced by its use of a four-cylinder engine instead of a six or eight. The Dodge Rampage was short-lived, lasting just three model years over the course of which Auburn Hills sold less than 40,000 of them.
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The Revival: Chevy SSRWith the legend of the El Camino still looming large, Chevy returned to the segment – albeit in a very different way – with the SSR in 2003. Combining attributes (if not necessarily the best of them) from a convertible with those of a pickup truck, the SSR was actually based on a truck platform – the same that underpinned the TrailBlazer and its siblings – but was closer in style to the Plymouth Prowler that had just met its demise the year before. Retro hot-rod design mixed it up with a retractable hardtop, a covered pickup bed, and V8 power – some displacing 5.3 liters and others 6.0, some equipped with six-speed manuals and others with four-speed automatics. Fewer than 25,000 examples were made over the course of four model years, making it even rarer than the Dodge Rampage.
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The Oddball: Subaru Baja2003 was a good year for obscure car-like pickups, seeing as well the debut of the Subaru Baja. Built in Indiana, the Baja took its name from the famous rally, though the end result was far more sedate, sharing its underpinnings with the Legacy and Outback. Boxer fours drove through all four wheels in typical Subaru style, but with a pickup bed in the back instead of a trunk or wagon. The Baja was actually the second time Subaru waded into these particular waters, following the two-door Brat also produced principally for the North American market between 1977 and '87, and continuing elsewhere through 1994.
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The Aussie: Holden Commodore UteLong after America's romance with the pickup car had petered out, the passion burned on in other parts of the world – nowhere more prominently than in Australia, where GM's Holden division continues building two-door Utes – though not for much longer. Competing with the Ford Falcon, Holden's Ute packs V8 and rear-wheel drive in classic style... just like other versions of the Commodore, but with two doors and a pickup bed. Affectionately known by locals Down Under as the Maloo, the Aussie Ute offered as much as 577 horsepower. Unfortunately with automobile manufacturing in Australia coming to an end, the Commodore is expected to be replaced by a front-drive sedan imported from Asia, and the prospect of a pickup variant seems slim.
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The Latin: Fiat StradaThe Aussies aren't the only ones to demonstrate their love for the car-based pickup: so have their compatriots on the other side of the Southern Hemisphere in South America. There you'll find models like the Fiat Strada and Volkswagen Saveiro – both based on miniscule hatchbacks with four-cylinder engines and dedicated to the Latin market. FCA even ships the Strada northwards as the Ram 700, but only as far as Mexico. That's enough, though, to whet our appetites for a US version to pick up the mantle of the Dodge Rampage or join the Ram lineup alongside rebadged versions of the Fiat Ducato (aka Ram ProMaster) and Fiat Doblo (ProMaster City).
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The Euro: Skoda FeliciaThough far less common, the Europeans have made their own fair share of pickup cars – especially in the former Soviet Bloc. Volkswagen's Czech subsidiary Skoda made two pickup versions of the Polo/Fiesta-sized Felicia hatchback that preceded the Fabia – including the pictured Felicia Pickup and the adaptable Felicia Fun. Renault's Romanian budget brand Dacia did a pickup version of the Logan that's also been offered as a sedan, wagon, and panel van. Unfortunately these show even less promise of ever being offered in North America than its Australian or South American counterparts.
The One-Off: BMW M3 PickupEvery once in a while, a one-of-a-kind pickup conversion comes along. We've seen everything from a Volvo 850 to a Ferrari 412 chopped down with a bed in the back, but few have left us scooping our jaws off the floor quite like this one-off BMW M3. It surfaced as something of an April Fool's joke five years back, but the thing is that BMW actually built one – “one” sadly being the operative word. Billed as “the world's fastest pickup,” the ute was based on an M3 convertible, but packed a diamond-plated pickup bed where the trunk and rear seats would be, and a removable roof panel to shield it from the elements or let the sun shine in according to the conditions. It was the most outlandish of M3 bodystyles that BMW made, alongside the coupe, cabrio, and sedan – but shared their 4.0-liter V8 engine... all 420 horsepower of it. Unfortunately it stood even less of a chance of being put into production than the prospect of a new M3 Touring wagon.
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The Concept: Hyundai Santa Cruz
With so many models now come and gone (or restricted to markets abroad), the Honda Ridgeline has the niche confluence of car and pickup pretty much to itself at the moment – but it may not for much longer. Hyundai unveiled the Santa Cruz concept at the 2015 Detroit Auto Show, taking the form of a crossover but with a pickup bed instead of a wagon roofline out back.
Of course Hyundai isn't the only one to have toyed with the idea in recent years. Dodge revived the Rampage name for a concept in 2006, and GM has done up more pickup show cars than we could count over the past couple of decades. The Pontiac G8 ST came within spitting distance of reaching production, but ultimately was shelved.
Hyundai's Santa Cruz actually stands to get built, and though it's closer to the Ridgeline end of the spectrum than the El Camino, those looking for the capacity of a pickup with the refinement of a crossover may soon have another option to choose from.