Best Trucks 2009
Few topics will inspire as much spirited discussion among men as the apparently innocent question, “What do you think is the best truck?”
Men become brand-loyal, fiercely partisan you could say. Chevy loyalists detest Fords and their owners; Ford partisans return the favor. Guys loyal to American brands above all others cannot for the life of them figure out why anyone would waste good American dollars on a Toyota or Nissan. Apparently, Europe has no trucks, because no one even can name a European truck except for the British and French guys who drive them—and most of them prefer Toyotas.
The question, “What do you think is the best truck?” also begets more questions: Best for what? Best how? Most power and towing capacity? Best looks? Best off-road performance? Most reliable? Best for work? Do you count SUV’s and mini-vans in the discussions? No way can you count mini-vans; they’re just for chicks. Truck talk brings out the masculine in a man, but it still inspires more questions: You talkin’ dollar for dollar? You count fuel efficiency in that? What about diesels; you got a place for them? What’s my budget? You give me seventy-five grand, and I can show you a truck; know what I mean?
Truck-friendly websites have learned to categorize their “best-of…” analyses, and even with all that diplomacy, they still inspire controversy. At last count, the most objective, fair-minded truck site had its list broken into eleven separate categories, each one with a “best” and some honorable mentions.
For the sake of this discussion, then, we will lay down a few rules. First, we will rule-out mini-vans and SUV’s—not on grounds of gender sensitivity, but for the sake of practicality. People who shop for family haulers have different criteria from those hard-core truck buyers apply. We will stipulate the discussion focuses on trucks that work, drive, and perform like trucks, meaning that they haul “stuff” in the back, and they carry a few people in the front.
Four-wheel drive opens a whole new can of worms, and most four-wheel drive owners cannot even remember the last time they moved the little lever just to the right of the gear shift. Although four-wheel drive helps a truck hold its resale value, it does not do much for everyday life in the real world. Challenge anyone to define “shift on the fly,” and you will collect prize-winning gibberish. Bottom line: not worth discussing because not worth the extra money.
Similarly, we will not discriminate between two-door and extended cab models, because no one can find a two-door model any more. We will, however, discriminate among transmissions, insisting that any red-blooded truck-driving man or woman must insist on a manual transmission both for low-end performance and for fuel economy. We are not interested in custom rims or bed treatments; we have no interest in anything after-market or dealer-installed. Of course, we want some creature comforts, but we do not need a truck that rivals a Lexus for luxury.
In other words, we seek the best of, well, trucks. And we strongly recommend two…
Some among the trucknoscenti claim, “Every truck would be an F-150 if it could.” And sales suggest they have a point: F-150 has dominated the truck market almost since the Joads hit the road. F-150 resale values remain higher than market averages, because even seriously used F-150’s still run reliably, are easy to repair, and are reasonably fuel efficient…at least, by truck standards.
A quick scan of any construction site readily reveals that F-150 leads the league among building tradesmen, because it hauls all their gear and several of their apprentices with no muss, no fuss, and no bother. On a jobsite, F-150’s show their off-road capability even without four-wheel drive; they have enough torque and enough ground clearance to avoid getting stuck. In the last couple of years, Ford very thoughtfully has added builder-friendly features that make F-150 almost irresistible: on-board computer terminals and “tool management” programs empower contractors to manage data and deliver estimates without calling-in or returning to the office. Of course, every Ford F-150 comes fully equipped with plenty of power ports, MP3 links, and cupholders.
A similarly quick scan of Texas drive-in movie theaters demonstrates how much a Ford lover can invest in customizing his beloved F-150. Factory add-ons alone can take the modest $28,000 entry-level price well over $60,000. Bigger engines and better transmissions come with Texas-sized price tags; and chrome shocks to even-out the suspension with the lift-kit cost a few pennies extra. After-market accessories can add another $10,000 or $15,000 in the blink of a leather-bucket-seat babe’s eyelash. “It’s an investment, “ F-150 devotees maintain. “Zero to classic,” they insist; and, because body styles and truck fans’ tastes never change, they may have a point.
One word! Just one word: Indestructible.
Toyota trucks dominate worldwide sales like F-150’s dominate the American market, because they easily negotiate impossible terrain in unbearable climates as if all those impediments were just little speed bumps along a perfectly smooth four-lane. Building on their success with four-cylinder engines that routinely toted-up more miles than the odometer could count, Toyota engineers designed an equally intrepid six-cylinder beauty that accelerates like a sports car, top ends like a touring machine, and must be equipped with a governor in the United States so that drivers cannot exceed 120 mph. How many trucks can match that claim to fame?
Extended cabs have become considerably more popular than simple two-door models, because Toyota designers had the good sense to put some serious cubic footage behind the front seats. Two adults can sit on the rear bench seat without gross discomfort; two or three teen-aged girls can fit back there and love every minute. Working men can fit all of their tools in the truck’s interior with no sweat, and weekend warriors can cram-in bats, balls, gloves, and beer for the whole team. Although most truck buyers probably will not consider Tacoma’s infant-friendliness, the extended cab comes fully equipped for infant and toddler seats, and its safety ratings compare well with crash test scores for more traditional family vehicles.
Most of all, though, Toyota Tacoma handles more like a fine European coupe than a working man’s everyday truck. One reliable truck analyst reported, “Before my work demanded I invest in a truck, I owned a BMW 3-series, driving it a quarter-million miles before I retired it. I thought it was the greatest machine ever put on the road. Now, driving my Tacoma, a truck rides, steers, takes the curves, and offers all the creature comforts of the old Beemer. Who would have expected that?”
As with an F-150, a Tacoma willingly accepts all kinds of modifications, improvements, and custom touches. Although a base model may roll off the lot for approximately $10,000(US), a nicely appointed “TRD” Tacoma with all the coolest gadgets and amenities will cost four times the bargain basement price. In fact, a tricked-out Tacoma with the best of everything will put most 4Runners and Lexus SUV’s to shame.