From the automobile’s very beginnings it has been heralded as an escape mechanism. And there is nothing in today’s automotive mosaic more escapist than trucks. Even if 90% of your F-Series driving is back and forth to work, you know deep down that if you want to head off the road with little more than a tank of gas and pocket knife the truck won’t disappoint. Having taken a sabbatical during the last recession, truck builders are up and running, with redesigns announced almost annually and upgrades to equipment and options coming almost daily. And unlike cars and SUVs, the pickup market remains a domestic stronghold, with Ford, GM and Ram holding down the fortress that is the full-size truck market. With that, interest in midsize pickups is ‘picking up’, led by the reintroduction of GM’s Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon, and a significant refresh of Toyota’s Tacoma. And technology is trickling down, with turbocharging (Ford) and diesel (Ram) under the hood, and lots of connectivity inside the cabs.

Exterior – It’s a truck, and the format is virtually the same across all brands. Full-size trucks occupy an increasingly large footprint regardless of configuration, although Ford’s F-150 with regular cab and short bed looks and feels modest when compared to a Super Duty crew cab. And while your pickup will happily live its life looking non-descript, it doesn’t have to be that way, as any number of upgrades are available from your OEM or the aftermarket. In selecting your truck an ideal recommendation is to buy what you need, so that 10,000 pounds of capability isn’t expended on towing your kid’s Jet Ski.

Interior – The death of the basic pickup has long been anticipated, and beyond fleet lots and fleet spec it might as well be dead. The average transaction price of a new vehicle in the U.S. is around $30K, and we didn’t arrive at that figure while buying a lot of $15K Chevy Sparks. Instead, we opted for the convenience of crew cab, the entertainment value of upgraded audio and – often – the increased comfort and durability of leather. Ford builds ‘King Ranch’ F-150s trimmed in saddle-like leather, while Ram has spec’d its upscale 1500 with details recalling a 19th-century parlor.

Powertrains – In this, trucks are about to get very interesting. What had once been a segment offering little more than low-output – albeit torque-laden – V6s and pushrod V8s, we now have Ram providing customers with a high-output V6, EcoDiesel V6 and, of course, its signature Hemi V8. And all this is in addition to their venerable Cummins diesel, optional on Ram’s heavy duty lineup. With improved fuel efficiency mandated by the federal government, Ford is aggressively moving away from its V8 powertrains and adopting the EcoBoost V6, a turbocharged six offering V8-like power and torque in combination with V6 efficiency. And Ford is now offering an EcoBoost in both 2.7 liter and 3.5 liter versions. GM and Toyota remain relatively static in their powertrain portfolio, while Nissan – with an all-new Titan – is offering both a refreshed V8 and an all-new light duty diesel from Cummins. In short, even at a time with notoriously cheap fuel, the innovation engine keeps on running.

Safety - ‘Large’ invariably feels safer than ‘small’, and if you’re driving or riding in a truck designed in this century and not the last, you could reasonably consider it safe. With that, know that pickup trucks invariably suffer dynamically because of their body-on-frame construction, increased curb weight and typically higher – when compared to sedans or SUVs – center of gravity.  The good news: sales of new pickups have never been better, and given that sales volume most manufacturers incorporate an expanded menu of safety items above and beyond the front and side curtain airbags. These include but are not limited to traction control, electronic roll mitigation, blind spot information and lane keeping assist.  If you’re currently piloting a ’71 F-Series with a rubber floor and vinyl bench, it might be time to trade up.

Technology – Led by their commercial clients, light and heavy duty pickups are increasingly incorporating the needs of a home office into their home-on-wheels platforms. From behind the wheel, Chevy Silverado prospects can enjoy rear park assist, low speed forward automatic braking, forward collision alert and side blind zone alert. From a tech standpoint truck platforms are essentially on par with their SUV and crossover counterparts. Consider, however, how long you intend to own that truck – and remember that once out of warranty broken tech will be relatively expensive to repair or replace.