A truck can become the coolest on the road simply by outlasting the competition. But reliability is only one of the elements essential to the consummate "cool" truck. It should turn heads, or at least get a nod from the person in the other lane waiting for the light, but has to back up its looks with payload, towing capacity, or just the ability to take a beating. Above all, it has to be so beloved that people either miss it when it's gone, or buy a lot of it while it's around. We took a spin through truck history and found a few examples of the coolest, most reliable trucks of all time.
From 1983 to 2011, Ford made a tough little compact pickup that could take a beating. It eventually became the Bronco II SUV, which led to the iconic Ford Explorer, but it was discontinued when the market for small pickups shrank and was dominated by Toyota. It's making a comeback this year, and the just under 7 million sold during its initial run indicate there will be a market for it.
The Silverado has been the No. 2-selling vehicle in the country for several years, with pickups that can carry more than 7,000 pounds of payload and tow more than 23,000 pounds. Also, they last forever, with Kelley Blue Book giving it the top resale value among full-sized trucks and iSeeCars noting that owners hang onto them longer than the average car.
This has been the best-selling vehicle in the United States for nearly four decades. Since its launch in 1948, Ford has sold more than 40 million F-Series trucks to date and shows no sign of letting up. We like a pickup, but love the F-Series, and so do the critics. Auto blog iSeeCars puts the F-Series on its list of cars that owners keep forever (10 years or more, anyway), while Consumer Reports notes that it is one of the only pickups to consistently get to 200,000 miles and beyond.
This Toyota pickup debuted in 1968 and, despite getting dumped for the Tacoma in North America, is still sold around the world. With sales estimated at 18 million worldwide, the HiLux has gained a reputation for durability and versatility that's made it a favorite among rebel factions and other militant groups.
Don't cry too many tears for the Hilux. The Tacoma has been doing a fine job in this market serving as a durable work truck with numerous configurations or as an off-road beast that can carry dirt bikes in the bed. The folks at iSeeCars, Kelley Blue Book, and Edmunds all consider it one of the most durable, value-retaining trucks on the road.
volkswagen type 2 pickup
Most folks know this vehicle, sold here from 1950 to 1979, as the Volkswagen Bus. It was the hippie wagon built for the Summer of Love, but it was also an ambulance, work van, and camper. Oh, and it could be either a flatbed or single-cab pickup as well. But a trade war between European countries and the U.S. brought about the 1963 "Chicken Tax" that put a 25 percent tariff on light trucks, killing the Type 2 here and, to this day, making it difficult to import one to this country.
dodge power wagon
The Jeep Wrangler gets all the World War II credibility, but the Ram family of trucks has some relatives who served as well. When predecessors to the Dodge Power Wagon came home in 1945, they were introduced as the first civilian vehicle with four-wheel drive. Its 8-foot cargo bed, 3,000-pounds of payload capacity and flathead inline six-cylinder engine made it a workhorse from the start, and it still had a place in the Armed Forces as a cargo vehicle and, at times, an ambulance. Though the last traces of the original faded with the final Power Ram model in 1993, the Ram Power Wagon carries the banner.
This off-road package debuted in 2010 but just got a facelift. The F-150's new aluminum body sits on the Raptor's steel frame, but "torque-on-demand" locking differential, 3-inch Fox Racing Shox with variable dampening, a new 3.5-liter, 450-horsepower EcoBoost engine and a terrain selection system with rock, mud and sand, and "Baja" modes are all new additions. Perhaps the best feature? An available Torsen front differential that increases climbing grip by transferring torque to stable front wheels while pulling up steep slopes or over obstacles.
toyota trd pro
All of those Super Bowl ads featuring the Tacoma TRD Pro flying over dunes emphasize the fact that, for a long time, Toyota's made the only truck this size capable of doing such things. When Ford abandoned the Ranger and the Chevy Colorado briefly disappeared, the Tacoma got this segment all to itself. Newcomers are going to have to wrest the crown from the Tacoma if they want to unseat Toyota midsized pickups as perhaps the best utility vehicles on earth.
Even with Toyota's small percentage of the U.S. truck market compared with Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler, the Tundra has its fans. Kelley Blue Book notes that it ranks only behind the Chevy and GMC pickups for best resale value, while more than 20 percent of Tundra owners keep their vehicle for 10 years or more.
The former Dodge Ram has been completely redesigned for the 2019 model year, but buyers are still taken with the previous model — including its waterproof and drainable RamBoxes in the sidewalls of the bed. While the more recreational drivers like how they "fit up to 240 cans of your favorite beverage in a 5'7 bed or 280 cans in a 6'4 bed configuration," contractors tend to like the 74.7 cubic feet of cargo capacity, around 3,000 pounds of payload capacity, and nearly 14,000 pounds of towing for different reasons.
gmc canyon/chevrolet colorado
In its original incarnation, the Colorado/Canyon was an Isuzu in General Motors clothing. Designed jointly by the two automakers, the Canyon/Colorado is still sold as the Isuzu D-Max abroad and once sold in the hundreds of thousands in the U.S. But after Ford dropped its Ranger line of small pickups, General Motors began to rethink the little pickup and gave it a more fuel-efficient engine with a combined 21 miles per gallon and a look a bit more like the Silverado and Sierra for the sake of continuity. Assembled in Wentzville, Missouri, it's aimed at the U.S. truck buyer who long ago switched to smaller trucks from Japanese automakers, and comes second only to the Tacoma when it comes to retaining value.
The Ridgeline disappeared between 2015 and 2016, only to return with its its funky bed configuration sanded down to look like every other pickup on the market. The truck's payload and towing capacity isn't exactly heavy duty, but its 3.5-liter V6 and 280 horsepower give it just enough power to feel like it. With a four-seat cab that's like an SUV attached to a truck bed, this truck is far more suited to recreational users — built for a day at the stadium, but able to make hardware store runs and vacation treks when needed. Kelley Blue Book considers it the third-best small pickup in the country for resale values, and 22 percent of Ridgeline owners keep it for 10 years or more.
jeep gladiator and j-series trucks
From 1963 through 1987, these trucks replaced the Willys pickup and FC trucks and brought Jeep pickups from a World War II design into the modern age. While it never received a complete overhaul, its body evolved to include the disco-era "Honcho" package that included a version with a stepside bed. A new Jeep pickup is coming, but it has a lot to live up to.
Along with the Chevy Suburban, this was the basis for the modern SUV. It makes this list by using the same chassis as the Jeep Gladiator pickup and seeing very few changes from 1974 through the early '90s. Some people remember the Cherokee two-door, others remember the Super Wagoneer with the V8 engine, but everyone who loves this vehicle recalls the wood-grain paneling on the side.
By 1978, Volkswagen had started building this truck at its Westmoreland Assembly Plant in Pennsylvania. First known as the Rabbit pickup, it came with tiny 1.5- to 1.8-liter diesel or gas engines and managed scarcely 50 horsepower. But they were cool little grocery getters that still show up in the occasional parking lot or Craigslist ad.
chevrolet blazer chalet
The Chevy Blazer was an early predecessor to the modern 4X4 SUV, but this one looks even more like a modified pickup. There's a reason for that: The Chalet was a pop-up camper body made by Chinook that slid into the cargo area of a Blazer. You could rumble into rugged terrain and have a place to sleep two of you for the night, all for less than $10,000. Despite the Chalet debuting at the height of a camping craze, fewer than 2,000 were made during its run in 1976 and 1977.
napco chevy and gmc trucks
There was a time four-wheel drive wasn't just some option you checked off of an automaker's features list. From 1942 to 1959, if you wanted four-wheel drive in a Chevy or GMC truck, you had to order a conversion kit from Northwest Auto Parts, an engineering and fabrication firm in Minnesota. Today, Napco trucks are collectors' items, and known to sell at auction for more than $51,000.
1957-1965 jeep fc-150
It's absolutely adorable, but it also managed to turn a pure Jeep into a pickup truck. How? By putting the cab over the engine and eliminating the need for a longer chassis. That made this truck as maneuverable as the Jeep CJ-5 it was built on and gave it the same four-wheel drive capability. But that center of gravity and positioning of the cab made it a nightmare at high speeds, so it was limited to 70 horsepower and roughly 65 miles per hours. Besides, with a high-perched view like that, drivers should slow down and enjoy it.
From 2004 to 2008, commercial truck maker International opted to give the hardcore truck folks what they wanted: A semi rig with a Ford Super Duty pickup bed in the back. If truck owners are going to customize their vehicles with semi-style exhaust pipes and horns anyway, why not just give them a 14,500-pound medium-duty commercial truck, equip it with four-wheel drive and give it a whopping 12,000 pounds of payload capacity? If you were willing to pay the $93,000 to $115,000 to own it, you'd find a use for its 20 tons (!) of towing capability.
kaiser jeep m715
Anyone who doubted the muscle of a Jeep pickup was quieted by this one. From 1967 to 1969, the Kaiser M715 delivered 1.25 tons of payload capacity. Basically a Jeep Gladiator with brawnier axles, lower gears, and a sturdier transmission, these trucks saw action in Vietnam and along the Korean Demilitarized Zone, but became available for civilian use.
jeep cj-8 scrambler
Why are the gearheads so excited about a Wrangler-based pickup truck for 2019? Because they remember what it was like to have one from 1981 through 1985. Though fewer than 30,000 were made, the Scrambler simply stretched the wheelbase of the Wrangler-esque CJ-7 and put a longer pickup body on it (with wooden rails on the beds, no less. Considering that these more than 30-year-old Scramblers cost the same as a modern Wrangler, we can't blame people for looking forward to the update.
the 1967-1972 chevy and gmc pickups
Before this, General Motors pickups were built strictly for work: The cabs were high, the frames were bulky and the lack of coil-spring suspension made them a rough ride. From 1967 to 1972, however, the pickup transitioned into the form better known to drivers today. They still had big-block V8 engines, but they were also equipped with well-designed interiors, more padding and insulation, carpet, chrome trim, AM/FM radios, and disc brakes instead of drums for less wear. As a result, these trucks would serve as the foundation for the Blazer SUV.
Datsun introduced the U.S. to small trucks when it shipped its first one over in 1959. But the fourth-generation 620 it introduced in 1972 was stylish, had the first long bed of any compact truck and, by 1977, had a King Cab version popular among surfers. This truck would end its run in 1979, but it gave the U.S. its first idea of what a sports truck could look like.
nissan hardbody 4x4
Known officially as the D21 pickup, it launched halfway through the 1986 model year and rolled right through to the late '90s thanks to its double-wall bed and sporty styling. It was one of the earliest arguments that a truck could be sporty, and its sports-package 4X4s with their 31-inch tires, fender flares, and light bars pushed that narrative. Equipped with either a four-cylinder or V6 engine, the Hardbody lingered in other countries until the mid-2000s, but still has a spot in the hearts of truck owners here.
dodge shelby dakota
In 1989, Chrysler decided it wanted in on the high-performance pickup game. They were a big deal in the 1970s, but the 1980s focus on sports trucks put them in vogue again. Muscle-car icon Carroll Shelby was up for it, replacing a 3.9-liter V6 and with a 5.2-liter V8 with 175 horsepower. Granted, there are midsize sedans with that much horsepower now, but at the time that made this pickup an incredibly fast mover. It's now highly sought, with one selling at auction for nearly $40,000.
ford svt lightning
In 1993, just as Chevy was burying the 454 SS, Ford's Special Vehicles Team was modifying the F-series' 5.8-liter small-block V8 with better parts to produce 240 horsepower. They dropped the suspension 2.5 inches and added new shocks, springs, anti-roll bars, and 17-inch tires. Through the end of its first run in 1995, little more than 11,000 were produced. But a second run from 1999 to 2004 only enhanced the Lightning's reputation.
dodge ram srt-10
Built only from 2004 through 2006, this pickup was a beast by birthright. Built by the same Dodge Street & Racing Team assembled to build the Dodge Viper, the SRT-10 followed the Viper's lead by putting its V10 engine and 6-speed manual transmission into a standard-cab Ram 1500. That produced a 500-horsepower truck that topped out at 155 miles per hour, good enough for the Guinness record for pickup trucks at the time.
It looks like a four-wheel-drive SUV today, but in its earliest incarnations from the 1980s, it was basically a Hilux with a cap on the back. Considering the durability of those trucks and their solid axle and leaf spring suspensions, that's a great thing. The four-cylinder engine in the originals flat-out can't be killed, but even the newer versions live up to their lineage: It's one of the longest-lasting vehicles on the road.
ford super duty
The 1999 Ford Super Duty was the first heavy-duty pickup created as a separate model line instead of an upgrade of a lighter-duty vehicle. It lets the folks at Ford engineer the Ford F-150 for day-to-day tasks while catering the Super Duty to workers. Throwing in a 6.8-liter gasoline V10 engine, a 5.4-liter V8, or a 7.3-liter turbodiesel to go with manually telescoping side mirrors for towing only drove home the fact that these trucks aren't for amateurs.
nissan titan xd pro-4x diesel
For years, this was just a terrible pickup: Outdated, poor gas mileage, dreadful comparisons to competitors. In recent years, however, Nissan stepped up its game by dropping a 5-liter, 310-horsepower Cummins diesel engine into its more high-end models and tricking them out with information and entertainment systems, mobile apps, and heated and lighted tow mirrors. The Pro-4X builds on all that by adding Bilstein off-road shocks, a locking rear differential, skid plates and Hill Descent Control.