Hitchin' a ride in a luxury pickup
As SUV's get bigger, pickup trucks get better – but be prepared for compromises to be made, should you choose to make the move from one beast to the next
Admit it: You've thought about getting a truck. It crossed your mind, like how you periodically consider learning jiu-jitsu, or building a bench. It would feel good to be the person who did those things; it would feel useful, like being the person with a truck.
In the age of the large-and-in-charge SUV, it's not such a big stretch from one of those to a pickup truck. You'd just be trading in one mammoth 4x4 for another. If you can manoeuvre a full-size SUV in an underground parking garage, you're more than ready to drive a truck.
Meanwhile, pickup trucks are becoming more SUV-like. They're chasing the family market, adding luxury and safety features, as well as high-tech gadgets. Those quad-cab short-bed pickups with rear-seat TV screens aren't designed for work.
"Yes, the luxury truck segment has grown significantly," said Mike Szymkiewicz, head of product planning at FCA Canada. "Pickup trucks now deliver many of the features found in premium sedans and SUVs."
On Ford introduced its first truck, the 1917 Ford Model TT, forever changing the auto industry – and the very nature of work itself.
Demand at the top of the luxury-truck market is so strong, he said, that Ram introduced a new top-of-the-line model, the Limited Tungsten Edition, featuring a suede headliner and wood trim. Yippee ki-yay! If customers are happy to pony up for luxury features on trucks, car companies are going to oblige them. Bring on the Ranch King Longhorn Thunderclap Special BLT Limited Edition.
You don't have to give up the creature comforts of an SUV to get the extra utility of a pickup any more. So, should your next SUV be a pickup truck?
One hundred years ago, Ford put the 1917 Ford Model TT into the marketplace. A century later, its F-Series group has led pickup sales in Canada for 51 consecutive years, and outsold all other vehicles the last seven years. What's new? The company has introduced massaging seats in the F-150 to ease the pain of a hard day on-site (or at your desk).
Infotainment systems in pickups have more screen real estate than most laptops, with big configurable displays in the instrument cluster and dashboard. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connections are readily available.
A fully loaded truck now has as much cow-hide as a typical Mercedes-Benz.
The Ram 1500 can be ordered with air suspension ($1,695 extra on the basic ST trim) that automatically lowers the truck by two inches, making it easier to load and unload lumber, groceries, or children. You can raise or lower the truck's height from the key fob.
A rearview camera will add a few hundred dollars to the price of a new truck, but it makes manoeuvring in tight spaces so much easier. On the F-150, Ford offers a 360-degree surround view that uses four cameras to let you see if your behemoth truck is about to hit anything.
Semi-autonomous driver assistance features are starting to appear on pickups, too. The 2018 Toyota Tundra will be the first to come as standard with automatic emergency braking, technology which has shown to reduce accidents, according to Consumer Reports. If the truck's forward-looking camera and radar detect an obstacle ahead, the system will warn the driver and then slam on the brakes automatically if the driver does nothing.
Not surprisingly, people are paying more for pickups to get some of these features. The average transaction price on a new truck has risen 30 per cent over the past six years, going from $36,200 in 2012 to $46,500 in 2017, according to data from J.D. Power Canada. To put that in perspective, Audi's Q5 SUV starts at $45,000.
Before you commit to being the person with a truck, there are still some compromises you should be aware of.
Trucks are historically about as comfortable as a yellow school bus. Potholes used to send passengers bouncing off seats. Not the ideal environment for children prone to motion-sickness. New technology, such as air suspension and the widespread adoption of coil-springs, have dramatically improved the ride of new trucks, but they still aren't as plush or responsive as a good unibody SUV.
Fuel economy is improving, but when it comes powertrains, the truck market is hopelessly conservative. While there are plenty of options for hybrid and even plug-in hybrid SUVs, there isn't a single hybrid pickup truck, at least not yet. Ford has committed to selling a hybrid F-150 by 2020. Even with modern turbocharged engines, cylinder shutoff, and automatic start/stop, no truck is going to win a prize for eco-consciousness.
Last but not least, as big as a full-size SUV is, a full-size truck is even bigger. The F-150 is three-quarters of a metre longer than Mercedes' range-topping GLS, and that's with the short bed. The Ford is also wider and taller; it's barely less than two-metres high.
A third option
Is Honda's Ridgeline the logical conclusion to this story, a harbinger of SUV-pickup hybrids to come? It's shaped as a pickup truck with an open bed, but it's built as a car with unibody construction. The best of both worlds? It rides and handles like a crossover SUV while towing up to 5,000 pounds. That's plenty to make most people feel useful.
"Next to existing pickup owners, SUVs are the second-most-traded vehicle when purchasing a Ridgeline," said Ryan Desa, product planner for Honda trucks.
Such automotive cross-breeding has been done before – the oddball Subaru Baja springs to mind – but the new Ridgeline is the best example of the breed.
Trucks and SUVs seem to be slowly converging on an ideal, creating a Venn diagram of three overlapping circles: utility, luxury and big-ness.
Jumping from the cab of a crossover SUV and into a proper pickup truck isn't the culture shock it used to be. Provided you and your bank account are ready to tick enough option boxes, trucks don't give up much – if anything – in terms of luxury and tech. Buying a truck is also a lot easier than learning jiu-jitsu or building a bench.