Even as gas prices and the economy fluctuate, automakers are not giving up just yet on what have been among their best-selling and most-profitable models -- full-size pickup trucks.
"Though there's a downturn in housing construction right now and other adverse economic factors, there's still a demand for full-size pickups," says Lonnie Miller, director of industry analysis for the automotive research company R.L. Polk & Co. in Southfield, Mich. "It's an incredibly loyal category, and pickup buyers are just die-hards."
The latest big trucks remain capable of tackling the toughest jobs while delivering an array of clever features designed for both business and pleasure. Some of the highlights for 2009:
The redesigned-for-2009 Ford F-150 pickup includes a center console large enough to hold two laptop computers. A stowable bed extender elongates the cargo bed to accommodate oversized items, and folds neatly away when not in use. A "Midbox" enclosed storage system on select versions provides 26.3 cubic feet of protective, lockable storage without sacrificing cargo-bed length.
As before, the F-150 comes in an assortment of cab styles, cargo-bed sizes and wheelbases, in trim levels that range from utilitarian to plush. Power comes from a choice of a 320-horsepower 5.3-liter V8 engine or two separate 4.6-liter V8s. Both rear- and four-wheel-drive versions are offered.
The F-150 also includes the Sirius Travel Link system, which provides weather and traffic information, sports scores, movie listings and local gasoline prices for a monthly $6.99 subscription charge.
Dodge Ram 1500
Also redesigned for 2009, the Dodge Ram 1500 is likewise offered in multiple configurations. A fuel-saving 215-horsepower 3.7-liter V6 engine powers rear-drive regular cab and four-door Quad Cab models. Other versions offer a choice of a 310-horsepower 4.7-liter V8 or a 390-horsepower 5.7-liter HEMI V8 version.
Clever new features include an optional "RamBox" cargo-management system that includes weatherproof, lockable, illuminated and drainable storage bins built into the cargo-bed rails. Four-door versions feature two "store in the floor" bins that are large enough for 10 12-ounce beverage cans and ice.
Family-friendly options include on-board hard-drive media storage for digital music and the Sirius Backseat satellite TV system, which delivers an array of stations including Disney and Nickelodeon. A dealer-installed "uconnect web" system turns the truck into a rolling Wi-Fi hot spot for mobile Internet surfing via notebook computers or other devices.
Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra
Truck buyers looking to maximize their fuel economy can now choose from hybrid versions of the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra full-size pickups. The Environmental Protection Agency rates both models at an estimated 21 mpg in the city and 22 mpg on the highway.
The Silverado Hybrid and Sierra Hybrid, available only in short-bed, four-door Crew Cab configurations, feature a two-mode hybrid system. A 332-horsepower 6.0-liter V8 engine (that can shut down half its cylinders when not needed in order to save fuel) is augmented by two compact electric motor/generators that are integrated into a four-speed automatic transmission.
The trucks can run on electricity, engine power or a combination of both, operating exclusively on electricity at speeds up to 30 mph. The gasoline engine automatically powers down at idle to further maximize its mileage.