Introduction
  • Image Credit: Ford

Introduction

Trucks used to be for the man in hard hats and steel toes. Those iron horses worked hard all week, then sat parked in the driveway for the weekend. But over the last 20 years that's changed.

The gentrification of the roughshod has gestated for more than a generation. There's a new contingent of drivers that use a pickup in place of a Corolla, but that's just a small slice of what's gone on in truckdom. The last decade, in particular, has seen an explosion of innovation in trucks.

Here are the top 10 and why they matter to you.
1. Secret Storage
  • Image Credit: Chrysler

1. Secret Storage

The Dodge Ram Pickup has quite the bedside manner when equipped with RamBox. Space that was once just a void has been pressed into service as fairly roomy storage. The idea is clever and elegantly simple; this is the kind of innovation that makes everyone else smack their forehead and ask why they didn't think of it first.

While it's just Ram pickups you'll see right now rocking flip-top lids down the sides of the bed, it's a fair bet that everyone else is going to come up with their own copy. A nice touch with the RamBox option is that there's less need for a typical truck box, which cuts into the bed space. Sounds like a win-win.

Why This Matters: Security in an open truck bed has always been a problem; this solves it.
2. Composites
  • Image Credit: Toyota

2. Composites

It may seem a small detail, rather minute, perhaps, but when the bedliner becomes the pickup bed itself, it can be a boon to hard-working truckers. Toyota's Tacoma uses a fully composite bed, making it impervious to door dings and the inevitable rust-bait of scratches from cargo.

GM offered a composite bed called "ProTec," though that's been discontinued. One downside to the newer-tech truck beds is cost, apparently, and making it an option reduced the take rate because buyers preferred to spend that money on other goodies. Still, the idea itself is great: What's not to love about a pickup truck bed that won't corrode into oblivion after seven years of plow-truck duty? The use of alternative materials is also likely to increase as automakers chase the new CAFE brass ring.

Why This Matters: Light, strong and durable. The sight of an old rusty truck bed might be a thing of the past when more trucks go composite.
3. The Tow-Rating War
  • Image Credit: GM

3. The Tow-Rating War

Look at tow rating and payload specs for the current crop of half-ton pickup trucks. They all flirt with 10,000-plus pounds and the marketing leaves buyers with the impression that their new pick-em-up could yank continental plates around with authority.

It all started boiling a few years ago when the Toyota Tundra took direct aim at Ford, GM, and Chrysler trucks. The Tundra may have kicked it off, but the battle keeps on going. If the half-ton 1500s, F150s, and 5.7-liter iForce yankers aren't enough for you, there's always the trek up-market to the heavy-duty side of the tracks. The HD towing wars are just like the half-ton battlefield, just amplified to "11". In any case, if you have to tow something, today's trucks can do it without breaking a sweat.

Why This Matters: As automakers chase tow ratings, they'll ultimately have to build stronger trucks to handle the load. This is evolution at work.
4. Hybrid Powertrains
  • Image Credit: GM

4. Hybrid Powertrains

Less popular than plastic truck beds or even four-wheel-steering, a hybrid pickup truck is a logical use of the technology. General Motors debuted a two-mode hybrid pickup truck to much fanfare, using the system currently employed by the Cadillac Escalade Hybrid, but it doesn't seem to have taken hold.

The idea is good, but it drives the cost of the truck up pretty high without bringing the resulting gain in ability. What you get when you buy a two-mode hybrid pickup is a vehicle priced like an HD that's really not capable of towing and a mileage benefit that will take decades to repay itself. This is an awesome idea that turns out to be less great in reality.

Why This Matters: The most popular vehicle in the U.S. isn't a car - it's a truck. By focusing on making them more efficient - even if hybrid isn't the answer - automakers are doing the right thing.
5. Crew Cabs
  • Image Credit: Ford

5. Crew Cabs

Four-door pickups have been around for ages, it's true. Lately, though, instead of being the brawny base-model with a mining company insignia on the door, crew cabs have taken hold as a common choice for civilian truck buyers. If you want both utility and family-hauling ability, there's really no other way to go. Crew cab trucks often have interior volume equivalent to midsize sedans, so you can tow the boat and drag the kids along, too.

Be it clamshell-style doors or conventional-opening points of entry, buyers can't help but be enticed by cabs with useful space for more than just a foreman and first mate. Slightly extended "King Cabs" started everyone thinking back in the day, but occasional-use jumpseats just aren't going to get it done. These days, a truck that fills the family-sedan role and wears four doors is a common sight, and it makes more sense for a lot of buyers.

Why This Matters: For those who need a truck for work but can't afford a second vehicle to cart around their family, this is the perfect solution.
6. Performance off-roaders
  • Image Credit: Ford

6. Performance off-roaders

High-performance trucks are old news. There was the Dodge Lil' Red Express in the late '70s, and the 1980s gave us the Ford Lightning, Chevrolet 454 SS, and GMC Syclone/Typhoon. For the 21st century, there's a new breed of high-performance truck to salivate over. Packed with big horsepower, vigorous acceleration isn't alien to trucks like the Ford Raptor, but it's certainly not for drag racing. A shockingly pure off-roader to find nestled between a Focus and an Edge at the local Ford showroom, the Raptor has heavy-duty everything, in case you want to run the Baja 1000. The suspension is designed to bounce off dry lakebeds all day at excessive speed, with over eleven inches of travel and cast aluminum control arms to stand up to the pounding. Styled about a hair's width short of punching you in the face, the Raptor certainly looks capable of carrying out its design brief with verve, as well.

Other super-trucks are likely to come down the pike and join the Raptor. The Ram Power Wagon is a little more of the traditionalist in terms of off-roading, but that doesn't make it any less fierce.

Why This Matters: Off-road truck racing actually provides a rich source of engineering lessons for carmakers. Vehicles like the Raptor are perhaps a bit much for the road, but they represent another thread in the pursuit of the better truck.
7. Luxury Pickups
  • Image Credit: GM

7. Luxury Pickups

The highest-spiff versions of regular pickups are pretty nice, especially now. A Laramie Ram or King Ranch F-Series is outfitted like Jack Palance's dressing room. There's another subset of pickups, though -- one that hasn't managed to gain any kind of real foothold -- though it's not for lack of trying. Lincoln tried to sell the Blackwood, a sinister looking and highly finished (but not exactly practical) truck. A carpeted bed, rear-drive only configuration, and $52,000 price tag meant most people ignored it.

Cadillac also jumped into the deep end of the pool with the Escalade EXT, a highly polished version of the Chevrolet Avalanche.

Why This Matters: In reality, expensive trucks and SUVs fuel profits for many car companies (yes, even Toyota). For buyers who want their trucks to do everything and look the part, consider those vehicles as investments in fueling development elsewhere in the company – from small cars to electrics to beyond.
8. Never Lose Your Tool Again
  • Image Credit: Ford

8. Never Lose Your Tool Again

Anyone who's ever forgotten a really nice tool at a job site will appreciate what Ford's got going on for the tradesmen. Ford Work Solutions is a comprehensive system that's got lots of contractor-friendly tricks up its sleeve. An in-dash computer can hop on a cellular data connection and talk to the office computer, as well as working directly with documents and spreadsheets. The computer can even print to a Bluetooth-equipped printer, and there's navigation built in as well, so you won't get lost on your way to your next paycheck.

The computer uses an RFID system developed with DeWalt and ThinkMagic called Tool Link to wirelessly scan the inventory of tools. If your left-handed circular saw is sitting on the deck you spent all day building, instead of in its place in the back, the computer will alert you before you even leave the driveway. A more analog feature of Ford Work Solutions is Cable Lock, a way of securing your big stuff so that it doesn't sprout legs. For now, Ford's got the lock on locking up, inventorying, and mobile office functionality, though it's certain we'll be seeing Rams, Sierras, and even Titans and Tundras with similar systems in the near future.

Why This Matters: Electronic inventory systems are coming to trucks first, but expect them elsewhere - "never lose Jimmy's pacifier again!" in the coming years.
9. "Anti-Truck" Trucks
  • Image Credit: Honda

9. "Anti-Truck" Trucks

The Honda Ridgeline is not a pickup truck, and yet, it is. Riding on a car-derived unitized body, the Ridgeline is not a pickup truck in the classic body-on-frame idiom. It's shaped like a pickup, has a bed like a pickup, and can even shoulder some towing. There's all wheel drive for playing in the mud, too, though if you're buying a truck for towing and off-road slogging, the body-on-framers are more capable.

Regardless of its shortcomings in brawn, unibody trucks show a lot of promise for many users. There's plenty of clever touches for buyers, like a trunk in the cargo bed and a crew-cab interior that's carlike in its serenity. Fuel economy is better than heavier traditional trucks, too. It's not the replacement for the F150, for sure, but car-based trucks have a lot of practical applications where efficiency gains would be welcome. Don't believe us? Ford thinks so, that's why the next Explorer is swearing off its frame, and the Kia Sorento just did the same thing for its second generation. If you didn't need some extra bulk to survive winter in the Donner Pass, wouldn't it make sense to lose some excess weight?

Why This Matters: When Honda enters the truck game, either the entire segment has "jumped the shark" or there really is a need for a truck you drive with gardening gloves. The definition of utility means different things as we define our suburban DIY lives in new ways.
10. Boxy "Trucks"
  • Image Credit: Nissan

10. Boxy "Trucks"

We've always had Silverados, F-Series, and Rams around to perform hard, dirty tasks. While it's hard to have anything but admiration for those vehicles, they're not always perfectly matched to the job.

Other regions of the world have different species of truck, usually on more compact platforms that are just right for many users who previously had to settle for the old-school choices. Ford's Transit Connect is one example, a respite from the full-frame one-ton overkill that used to be the only game in town. Its square shape offers plenty of space, while its chassis is based on first-generation Focus instead of F150, meaning real efficiency for your small concern.

Soon to be available for purchase is Nissan's NV hard worker, and the Mahindra Pickup will also be on sale soon, direct from India. Just ask your FedEx guy what he thinks of his Sprinter.

Why This Matters: In reality a truck has a lot of shortcomings other than dismal fuel economy and drivability. In many cases, vans and one-box-shaped vehicles make more sense.


  List

From Our Partners

2017 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 2500
MSRP: $32,495 - $54,390
2015 Honda Civic
MSRP: $18,290 - $26,740
2015 Chevrolet Camaro
MSRP: $23,705 - $72,305
2017 Bentley Bentayga
MSRP: $229,100 - $297,400
2015 Nissan Altima
MSRP: $22,300 - $32,350