ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Pickup trucks have exploded in popularity over the past couple of decades.
As manufacturers gladly jumped on the profit bandwagon, the offerings of these once-lowly vehicles have exploded as well. These days, pickups can be fitted out with options and high-end appointments on par with the most luxurious of cars. Even Cadillac has a pickup.
Time was, though, when a pickup’s life was one of drudgery, hauling materials and necessities to and from farm and worksite. Leather interior? High-def radio? Auto climate control? Power windows? You’d be laughed out of the after-work tavern’s parking lot.
But now pick’em-ups are used more and more as daily transportation and might not ever carry a load heavier than a few bags of mulch from Home Depot.
With the economy slowly recovering from the depths of the Great Recession, pickup sales are booming again, in large part because as the construction industry improves, so do truck sales. Because, after all, pickups are designed to … work.
Our tester this week, a Ram 1500 ST Crew Cab 4×4, epitomizes the pickup’s original work ethic — this baby’s designed to haul and tow while carrying a crew of six full-size folk.
Nothing much fancy here. The interior is a blend of hard, dark plastics with some flashes of metallic trim, with surprisingly comfortable, deeply padded foam seats upholstered in a rugged-but-soft charcoal fabric.
The dash carries simple, well-organized controls with large buttons easily operated without removing your rawhide gloves. Storage space is voluminous, with cubbies and cupholders and drawers galore. The fold-down center armrest doubles as a business desk with plenty of room for a laptop.
The exterior is as elemental as the cabin. Rear-view mirrors, door handles, front and back bumpers and grille — all black. No alloys needed on the work site: The wheels are simple steel.
The Crew Cab may be all business, but it’s one of the better-driving trucks on the road. New this year is a terrific eight-speed automatic transmission that improves fuel economy while making the best use of the twin-cam Pentastar V-6’s 305 horsepower.
The Ram rides with soothing smoothness, thanks to its unique coil-spring rear suspension. On the highway the big truck is as quiet as a high-end sedan. Only in town does the truck’s size and weight make itself obvious. Some parking maneuvers virtually require a K-turn to complete.
Competition is fierce in the world of pickups, as they’re big money-makers. When even the most basic of work trucks is this gratifying, it’s solid evidence that competition improves the breed.