The famous pickup truck is one of the most Americana-singing automobiles. By creating a “pickup” version of the Model T in 1925 in response to farmers’ modifications of the car—replacing horse-power with, well, horsepower—to suit their specific needs, Henry Ford himself is credited with coining the term. Since then, vehicles have evolved into spaceships that can assist you in backing up a trailer, operate hands-free on the highway, and even provide your home with days’ worth of electricity.
We have driven these vehicles hundreds of kilometers throughout our testing. We’ve tested every one of them on a variety of routes close to our headquarters in eastern Pennsylvania, ranging from wide stretches of highway to much smaller, potholed roads. In cases where it was appropriate, we also assessed all-terrain capability at Rausch Creek Off-Road Park in Pine Grove, Pennsylvania. We now have these, the top trucks of 2022, and it’s a lot of fun.
HYUNDAI SANTA CRUZ
I’ll just use the word “quirky” to characterize the Hyundai Santa Cruz. but in the most advantageous method. It doesn’t like any other pickup truck I’ve ever driven in terms of both appearance and driving style. This little truck would be very knowledgeable at trivia night and only drink craft beer if it were a human. That doesn’t mean it isn’t, however, one of the top unibody pickup trucks I’ve examined.
In comparison to a more conventional body-on-frame truck, the Santa Cruz is far more composed on smooth asphalt because to its unibody design. The term “unibody” describes a vehicle whose chassis and body are one and the same thing. The Tacoma is one of many mid-size trucks that employ body-on-frame construction, which means that the cab is positioned on top of the chassis. Hyundai’s little pickup is far more at ease (and capable) on the pavement thanks to the choice to go unibody in the case of a road-biased vehicle like the Santa Cruz.
The majority of the miles I drove during my week behind the wheel were on the road, which is where the Santa Cruz excelled. This vehicle, as well as similar unibody versions, is focused on providing excellent on-road comfort with a little amount of off-road capability. The cabin remained unusually silent inside, with barely any tire or even wind noise to be heard. My main complaint, though, was that the touch-sensitive temperature controls occasionally needed telepathy to move them to the desired position. The cabin is otherwise about what you’d expect from a smaller truck with passable vision out the rear.
Fortunately, when you activate the matching turn signal, Hyundai’s blindspot monitoring system—available with the SEL and Premium trim levels—displays a clear image of each blindspot. Rear cross-traffic warning is likewise available on the same two trim levels. The lack of rear sight is completely irrelevant when both systems are functioning simultaneously.
Hyundai prefers to refer to the Santa Cruz as a Sport Activity Vehicle rather than a pickup truck, but it still boasts a 48.4-inch bed that can support up to 1,609 pounds. It may not be the largest, but there is still 2.8 cubic feet of lockable under-bed storage that may serve as a cooler and has a drain plug built in. It is, however, a full foot shallower than the under-bed storage in Honda‘s Ridgeline, if you’re keeping track.
The Honda Ridgeline is a hybrid of a mid-size truck and a crossover; as it shares a platform with the Pilot’s unibody construction, we had serious doubts about the Ridgeline’s suitability as a pickup. However, it handled brief off-road segments with ease when we drove it up Lockett Meadow Run in Flagstaff, Arizona.
The Ridgeline, which has an independent rear suspension, trades some off-road capability for better road compliance. The ride is much smoother with coil springs in the back rather than leaf springs. Last year, a portion of our trip to Overland Expo West included driving the most recent Ridgeline Sport from the airport to the convention center, which meant traveling on the highway for almost two hours. The Ridgeline was incredibly comfy while limiting body roll for a car with 7.6 inches of ground clearance.
The Ridgeline can really strut its thing very well when you take it off-road, despite the fact that these unibody trucks sometimes receive criticism for being crossovers with flatbeds. With Honda’s iVTM4 all-wheel-drive technology, the Ridgeline can distribute up to 100% of its power to either side while sending up to 70% of its torque to the rear wheels. Having said that, the all-season tires and standard 18-inch wheels won’t let you to go too wild.
The truck bed, which is the biggest in its class at 60 inches, is another showpiece. There is also an in-bed trunk at the tailgate that offers an additional 7.3 cubic feet of storage and doubles as a beverage chiller and has its own drain for simple cleaning. Innovative storage options extend beyond the truck bed. Back inside the cab, there is a flat floor and foldable 60/40 split rear seat bottoms for further storage.
THE FORD MAVERICK
Ford has produced a fun small vehicle that is both practical and capable with the Maverick. This is the car for those who desire a truck but may not actually need one, as we noted around the premiere. And we do not mean that negatively.
Consider my reaction when our test Maverick pulled up to the curb in front of my apartment. I said, “Wow, that’s… little.” It didn’t stand out for anything other than the paint job even at the curb among SUVs and sedans and easily occupied the parking space. (I also enjoy playing a game I call “Will it Fit?” while maneuvering large pickup trucks through our office’s relatively constrained garage door. The Maverick coasted, unlike other vehicles that made my heart race as I squeezed through with my mirrors tucked in.) Even though it feels like there is just enough room for a child to fit in the second row of seats, the vehicle’s tiny size makes it more maneuverable.
The Maverick’s calling card, though, in this—what we may refer to as the year of the hybrid pickup truck—is its powerplant. I received little less than 23 mpg over 120 miles from the 2.5-liter engine combined with an electric motor, and 26 mpg in Eco mode over the same distance on the way back. (Ford boasts EPA-estimated highway fuel economy of 33 mpg for the front-wheel-drive model.) That undoubtedly gains from the Maverick’s small profile.
This is not to suggest that the vehicle is unsuited to labor or adventure, though. Ford names the bed the Flexbed even though it is barely 4.5 feet long. The manufacturer incorporated holes into the sides so you could insert a variety of 2 x 4s for platforms or gear and bike transport, taking inspiration from the DIY community. Ford does, in fact, provide a pre-built cargo system for $200, but the appeal of this vehicle lies in your ability to customize it anyway you choose on your own.
Additionally, the beginning price of under $20,000 isn’t deterring anyone.
TAIWAN TOYOTA TACOMA SR5 TRAIL
The Tacoma, or “Taco,” as it is commonly known, is one of the most recognizable flat-bed trucks ever made by Toyota. The third-generation Tacoma has had very minor changes since it made its debut for the 2016 model year, despite the fact that it is presently the most popular mid-size pickup on the market. The most recent Trail Edition makes use of the past while improving the vehicle’s off-road capabilities and appearance.
The Trail Package puts on a sizable quantity of off-road accessories at a fee of $3,765. The front and rear lifts are 1.1 inches and.5 inches, respectively, and improve approach and departure angles. Additionally, it provides you with bronze 16-inch wheels so that a substantial set of Goodyear Wrangler all-terrain tires may fit. The locking rear differential, which can be engaged and disengaged to let the rear wheels to spin at the same pace, is included in addition to the dazzling rims and tires. This aids in getting you through tough areas when the track starts to become bumpy.
When I had the Tacoma on the pavement, there were a few minor problems with numb steering, but as soon as the tarmac ran out, these problems were insignificant. I brought it to Rausch Creek Off-Road Park, where the trails offered nearly every opportunity to push the Taco outside of its comfort zone: a fast off-road track, steep hill climbs that call for momentum to go through, uncomfortable rocky portions, and on. But for the Toyota with the Trail, each of these was a complete drag.
One of the most practical additions is without a doubt the suspension raise. I could see the front bumper well, and I knew it would become tangled in trail obstacles. I never had many problems, though it occasionally required some cunning placement to avoid scraping—often accomplished by arranging the tires to roll over an impediment before the undercarriage did. The ORP skid plate that guards the vehicle’s undercarriage did, however, come in handy more than a few times when I lost concentration.
I thought the Tacoma’s engine to be acceptable for off-roading despite it frequently receiving criticism for its lack of power. The 3.5-liter V6 has great throttle responsiveness for off-road conditions when you need to be careful with the loud pedal, while not having the most power in its class (278 horsepower). Additionally, it has the strength to tow up to 6,400 pounds. I was able to easily sneak around obstacles because to its smart design, and I could also lightly depress the throttle when the wheels started to spin. Your vehicle will have an easier time of crawling if you go slowly and carefully, and your passenger’s head and back will also appreciate it.
TOYOTA TUNDRA TRD PRO
The Tundra from this year is a great illustration of how well a hybrid engine handles towing and hauling. It’s true that the pickup’s downsizing to a V6 (as opposed to previous generations’ V8) and coupling with an electric motor result in increased fuel economy. But the performance advantage is apparent; notably, the electric motor’s quick torque at low rpm and the gas engine’s ramp-up to more power at higher speeds make towing a joy. Toyota prepared a pre-mapped route to show me how to do that on my test drive in California in January. I pulled a roughly 15-foot Airstream behind me, accelerating as if the Tundra were free of the trailer it was towing. I was also able to see out the sides and the back thanks to the outstanding camera system, which prevented me from missing the opportunity to quickly check my rearview mirror.
When I drove the truck without the Airstream, the low-end torque was more more noticeable. I actually drove 28 miles to a coffee shop before turning around; the Tundra was speedy off the line thanks to the electric powertrain.
I have indicated that the powertrain’s inherent increase in fuel economy is there here when going hybrid. However, given that this is a modest hybrid, it is not astonishing. On the aforementioned excursion to the coffee shop, I got an average of 15.8 mpg on the way there and 15.1 mpg on the way back. Considering my time behind the wheel was short, that is much less than the 24 mpg highway Toyota states.
But this truck’s capabilities more than makes up for it. During an off-road loop, the camera system was very useful in determining if I would have enough clearance for obstacles and how near I was to rocks or trees on each side via various angles on the middle screen. In addition, the crawl control slowly advanced the pickup, allowing me to maintain attention on my line while keeping my foot on the stop in case something went wrong.
The 2022 Tundra has a little bit for every truck owner.
The RAM 1500 TRX
Is the Ram TRX necessary? No.
Am I happy that it does? Absolutely.
Simply put, you feel better than other drivers when operating the TRX, which, let’s face it, important if you’re looking to purchase a truck like this. It is the most potent, the largest, the loudest, the tallest, and (in our instance) the reddest production truck in comparison to other trucks.
The meat and potatoes of what makes the TRX so distinctive is the 707-horsepower, supercharged V8 Hellcat engine, as enthusiasts will be aware. The TRX has the finest exhaust note of any vehicle I’ve ever driven, in my opinion, thanks to its power engine and exhaust system. Its exhaust noise almost has a savage quality to it, like a raging wild beast. When you press the loud pedal, the high-pitched whine of the supercharger and the resulting acoustic effect are rather impressive.
Despite having a monstrous V8 tucked away beneath the hood, the TRX is more than just a one-trick pony. Ram engineers decided to employ a custom set of Bilstein’s Black Hawk e2 adaptive shocks to increase the vehicle’s Baja capabilities. The technology analyzes variables including ride height, vehicle tilt (pitch and roll), and free fall status to guarantee that the shocks are set up to effectively smooth out the upcoming bumps, despite the front and rear suspensions having 13 and 14 inches of suspension travel, respectively. If you’re wondering, yes, this implies that the vehicle can adjust the suspension to handle when you’re going to make a big leap.
Having said that, Bilstein’s shocks from the future do more than merely increase the TRX’s off-road performance. I was genuinely impressed by how at ease and collected the monster truck was; engineers were equally intent on enhancing its on-road behavior. I put the truck out of Baja mode on the way back from wrecking the TRX at Rausch Creek Off-Road Park, shifted it back into fully automatic, and drove all the way home.
CHEVROLET SILVERADO ZR2
When it comes to off-roading, the Chevrolet Silverado ZR2 is like a scalpel, but the TRX is more of a hammer. It offers a totally different off-road experience and is 6.8 inches smaller than the Ram at just 81.2 inches wide. While this Silverado is more of a low-speed rock crawler, that vehicle was built to easily rip through high-speed desert areas.
The ZR2 is the only vehicle in its category equipped with front and rear locking differentials, which enhances its low-speed crawling capabilities. Only a few sections of the route required the use of both lockers, but it is always preferable to have these kinds of off-road accessories than to not have them. I could always rely on the rear locker as a rock-solid safety net when I wasn’t sure about slick sections of the path.
The Multimatic Dynamic Suspension Spool Valve (DSSV) shocks on the ZR2 are good at keeping the wheels in contact with the ground underneath, which increases traction in addition to locking differentials at both axles. Spool valves on the ZR2’s shocks allow them to continuously adjust to the conditions of the surface underneath, unlike conventional suspension systems that employ pistons and shims to give them just one fixed setting. As a result, although on calm roads the dampers can be soft and supple, under stress (on, example, a rough section of road or trail), the shocks will tighten up to cope. Each spool valve opens and shuts dependent on the speed of the damper shaft. Even though velocity-sensitive damping is nothing new, the Chevrolet Silverado ZR2 benefits greatly from it.
I was similarly impressed by how well-behaved the ZR2 was on Pennsylvania’s, shall we say, pockmarked ribbons of asphalt after having some fun off-road. Even though the vehicle had a normally aspirated 6.2-liter V8 under the hood—the same engine found in the standard Silverado 1500—the inside was very quiet. Although the ZR2 is advertised as a “super” truck, it really competes more with models like the Ford F-150, Toyota Tundra, GMC Sierra, and basic Ram 1500.
Ford F-150 Lightning
Since the F-Series truck, Ford’s F-150 Lightning is one of its most significant automobiles. The Rivian R1T and GMC’s Hummer EV are the only other electric pickups currently for sale; the Blue Oval’s product is far more cheap and almost as competent.
The F-150 isn’t built on a brand-new, untested architecture like those two cars. Instead, it shares many of the same foundational elements as the F-150, which is the most popular and best-selling pickup truck in America. Ford’s decision to stick with the internal-combustion model is not all that surprising given its more than 100 years of truck-building expertise. The Model TT, the company’s first attempt, was created in 1917, and the first F-Series appeared in 1948.
The F-150 is lightning quick. Naturally, it is. Ford equipped it with all-wheel drive, 426 horsepower (563 if you choose the extended-range battery), and 775 lb-ft of torque, giving it everything it needs to blow your mind when you put your foot down. Yes, the F-150 is quicker than the F-150 Raptor, which accelerates from 0 to 60 mph in 6 seconds thanks to this strong combination of statistics. The go pedal feels highly linear, meaning it becomes increasingly more responsive the further you push your foot down, even with such neck-snapping acceleration.
Because of this, the driving doesn’t always make you feel like you’re riding a bull at a rodeo. The electric F-150 can still gallop like a Mustang when you need to blast gaps in the city or merging onto the interstate, but it is much more like a Clydesdale while driving around town and has plenty of low-down oomph. The all-electric model behaves and keeps its composure much like its internal combustion predecessor. This is because the chassis’s center of gravity is lowered by the battery pack’s low mounting.
Power is always wonderful to have, whether you’re working from inside your vehicle, camped out at a construction site, or just taking the family camping. The battery pack in the F-150 Lightning may be utilized as a sizable power bank while not driving the vehicle. There are several three-prong plugs within the frunk, cab, and bed of both the standard-range (96-kWh battery) and extended-range (131-kWh battery) vehicles to power whatever tool, appliance, or gadget you choose. We conducted a thorough test to ensure that the charging capabilities weren’t simply marketing speak, and we’re delighted to say that they aren’t.
At their core, vehicles are enabling. The perfect automobile for you will enable you to accomplish that without placing an undue burden on you, whether you need to bring your kids and their pals to Little League games, want to get away for the weekend and experience #vanlife, or get your thrills from the occasional track day. Additionally, Rivian’s R1T pickup can help in a variety of ways. The firm has mostly established itself in the adventure and off-road markets, where it offers a variety of driving on dirt modes, optional extras like a camp kitchen, and collaborations with Yakima on products like a rooftop tent and bars. After spending a few days in and around Breckenridge, Colorado, getting to know the vehicle, that is the situation in which I would be most eager to utilize it if I were to get one. This truck, as befits an electric vehicle, serves as more than simply a mode of transportation; it is effectively a huge rolling battery.
According to the publicity leaflet, Rivian created the R1T with a “skateboard design.” The battery cells run down the bottom of the truck’s structure, between the axles, similar to how it is with other EVs. The four electric motors—one for each wheel, albeit they are connected in front and rear pairs—are powered by these batteries. While the rear axle produces 420 hp and 495 ft-lb of torque, the front axle produces 415 hp and 413 ft-lb. These motors’ ability to operate in this manner simulates a locking differential when necessary and enhances slip control by sending power to the tires with the best traction rather than the spinning ones.
As I was speeding up Highway 6 over Loveland Pass, I could feel the weight of the vehicle to some extent. It is easy to forget that this car weighs 6,700 pounds in the majority of situations. However, given that this is still an EV, there is a vertiginous amount of giddyup. Additionally, the R1ability T’s to send more power to the wheels with the highest grip is helpful while negotiating turns on paved surfaces. The four motors provide remarkable torque vectoring, which in certain situations behaves more like an open differential.
Max Koff, Director of Vehicle Dynamics, stated that Rivian took cues from a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon for off-roading and a Porsche Cayenne Turbo for the R1on-road T’s performance. With the distinctive freedoms and flexibility that EVs provide, automakers no longer have to make concessions when designing a vehicle if they want it to perform well in a variety of circumstances. And the R1T shines in that allowing balance. Even while it will obviously appeal more to the adventurous crowd, the normal driver shouldn’t find it daunting (or won’t after a few miles), even though the cost would. However, the EV tax credit will somewhat reduce that, and the vehicle and brand already enjoy a devoted following as a result of all the hard thought and preparation that went into its creation.
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