Trucks: where would we be without them? No move-in would be complete, no special delivery could happen, and no proper tailgate party could throw down without a pickup truck. Trucks enable us to do more by carrying more of whatever there is to haul — whether that’s pizza, pet supplies, or a pool table.
In many ways, trucks and American culture are closely intertwined. Both possess an air of capability, bravado, and rugged adventurousness. The USA is a do-it-all, be-it-all nation, and for whichever aspect of that culture there is to celebrate, there’s a truck to showcase it. With modern trucks’ diversity there’s almost no need for luxurious sedans or sleek sports cars — trucks offer everything those can, plus a bed in the back.
For example, look at the luxury focus of the GMC Sierra Denali. It has many of the same features premium sedans do. A massive chrome grille, huge wheels, and LED running lights all add eye-catching bling. Technology is among the best too: the latest Sierra Denali 1500 has an available carbon fiber bed, three-by-seven inch heads-up display, and HD side-view cameras to make parking the beast a breeze.
Ford’s King Ranch trim level, available on the F-150 and F-350, provides what must be the most luxurious interior in any American vehicle. Supple embossed and stitched leather abounds, with acres of wood grain veneers around the cabin. All this plus the massive cabin mean occupants will never be uncomfortable.
Looking for something with more oomph? The Dodge Ram SRT-10 set the benchmark for sporty trucks, packing a 500 horsepower V10 pulled straight from the Viper — not to mention an available six-speed manual transmission. It’s far from lightweight, but as long as the steering wheel is pointed straight, it’ll haul a lot more than cargo.
But the most impressive sport truck today is the mighty Ford SVT Raptor. This is a machine bred from desert racing and built to dominate on any surface. Advanced Fox suspension, a locking differential, underbody skid plates, and beefy tires make it ready for hard trails, but it’s known to be a hoot on pavement too. The Raptor has serious presence — it rides several inches wider and higher than the F-150 it’s based on, making it so large that it needs government-mandated running lights in the grille, like a semi. Wherever it’s rolling, the V8 in the first-gen Raptor and twin-turbo V6 in the current-gen make it speedy despite its heft.
Now, if there’s one thing American trucks have in common, it’s that they’re big — really big. That’s good for cargo-carrying potential, but less so for drivers who want to haul some stuff and still have a vehicle that’s decent on city streets. Small trucks are common in the rest of the world, so why not in the United States? The answer is in the Chicken Tax.
Yes, the Chicken Tax. A leftover from a 1960s-era trade war imposed by President Lyndon Johnson, the Chicken Tax applies a 25% tariff on imported light-duty trucks. This makes it prohibitively expensive for foreign automakers to bring smaller trucks to the U.S., where they’d essentially offer less capacity at the same or greater price than larger, American made pickups.
Some OEMs have found creative ways to circumvent the tariff. Mercedes was known to manufacture their Sprinter van (technically classified as a light truck) in a ready-to-build parts kit in Germany, then ship it to South Carolina for American workers to assemble, thereby skirting the Chicken Tax. It goes to show the inane ramifications of automotive trade tariffs, and how they ultimately limit consumers’ freedom of choice.
Still, there are solid options for trucks that aren’t gargantuan in size. The Toyota Tacoma is a classic, and the Chevy Colorado is a relative newcomer. They’re compact enough for cities, but each is available with multiple bed lengths, and in Raptor-esque off road trim with the Tacoma TRD Pro and Colorado ZR2. The segment is growing, too: Ford has announced they’re bringing back the Ranger, and even Hyundai is rumored to be working on something to compete.
Sports cars are fun, and luxury whips are nice, but when it comes down to it a vehicle’s top functions are practicality, capability, and durability. With the increasing range of trucks on the market, there’s an option to suit any driver’s needs. Ask yourself: if you could only have one vehicle to drive every day for the rest of your life, would it be anything less than a truck?