Drives Like a Truck
Back in the day, an unlicensed teenager commanding a Ford F-250 farm truck—2-wheel drive, 4-speed manual transmission, zero amenities—along a gravel road, trying to perfect the fine art of fishtailing, required the pickup to push itself to the limits.
Today, the introduction of a brand-new Ford F-150 is still big news in the heartland. Last year, nearly 1 million examples of the perennial segment leader were retailed across America. For the Ford Motor Company, this is the good news; the not-so-good news is that each new version is saddled with a serious “don’t mess with success” level of pressure.
The 14th-generation F-150 responds with the choice of six different powertrains, including a new full-hybrid version that links a twin-turbocharged, 3.5-liter V6 gas engine with a 47-hp electric motor. The combined output here, 430 hp and 570 lb-ft of torque, gives this F-150 brisk acceleration, a 4-mpg gain in overall fuel efficiency, and a respectable 12,700-pound towing capacity. The hybrid version also boasts a 700-mile driving range and a standard onboard generator, in case the power grid takes a nose dive.
For the new model year, all versions of the F-150 feature a revised chassis and suspension system engineered to bring new levels of refinement. As always, there are a variety of body styles and bed lengths, as well as the option of 2- or 4-wheel drive configurations. Although the F-150 is engineered from the ground up for rugged performance, it’s also surprisingly comfortable to drive, even over the long haul.
The big-ticket trim level is the Limited with all the features you might encounter in an executive sedan, plus an optional work surface that pops out of the center console and another work surface integrated into the tailgate. For those who want added performance and the ability to catapult over sand dunes, the new 2021 Ford F-150 Raptor is on the horizon. ford.com
Of all the trucks featured here, the Jeep Gladiator delivers the most authentic driving experience. While all blend sheer capability with next-level luxury and/or performance, the Jeep has its roots firmly in the past—and that’s a good thing. The first Jeep pickup in nearly three decades, this midsize rig splashed onto the scene last year and carted off the award for North American Truck of the Year.
For 2021, the Gladiator line gains a new engine option, a 3.0-liter V6 diesel that generates 260 hp and 442 lb-ft of torque. When properly equipped, the Gladiator delivers a towing capacity of 7,650 pounds, the clear leader in the midsize segment. This capability, combined with the trail-ready, 4-wheel drive system for which the Jeep brand has become an unabashed legend, gives the Gladiator a weekend warrior vibe that puts all others in the shade.
The Gladiator has the same upright seating position as the Wrangler and enough comfort features to bring long-distance drives into sharp focus. Of course, the Gladiator also features a 5-foot bed, large enough to haul an ATV. The doors and roof panels are removable and the windshield can be folded down, providing an extra degree of flexibility.
There are four different trim levels to choose from, plus a handful of special editions. For maximum cool factor, the Gladiator Willys, perhaps decked out in Sarge Green paint, is tough to beat. But you could make the same argument for the 80th Anniversary Edition, the desert-rated Mojave, or the flashy High Altitude. Regardless of which model you choose, you’re guaranteed to be driving an envy-inducing new truck with an iconic heritage. jeep.com
Ram 1500 TRX
Just when you thought the mad scientists at the Street & Racing Technology (SRT) division might be resting on their laurels, along comes the Ram 1500 TRX. The in-house tuners at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles responsible for such absolute legends as the Dodge Viper, Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk, and Dodge Demon have taken the mighty Hellcat engine and given it new purpose in this Baja-worthy behemoth.
The supercharged 6.2-liter V8 develops a mammoth 702 hp and 650 lb-ft of torque, making the TRX the most powerful production half-ton pickup truck in history. But this truck was engineered not for towing or hauling; it’s for flying. Armed with a sport mode and launch control system, the TRX can rocket from a dead-stop to 60 mph in just 4.5 seconds, its supercharger whistling ferociously the entire time.
Rapid acceleration is not the only trick in the TRX book. Switch the drive selector to “rock mode” and TRX shifts to an extra low gear ratio and uses a 50/50 torque split. Meanwhile the 11.8 inches of ground clearance provides enough space to clear obstacles, including smaller trucks. The other seven drive modes allow you to customize the driving experience in, over, and through everything from deep snow to deep mud and high sand dunes.
Other enhancements made to this extreme offshoot of the Ram 1500 include a strengthened frame, a sophisticated adaptive suspension system, 35-inch Goodyear Wrangler all-terrain tires, and a menacing exterior shape that’s gained 8 inches in width.
Inside the cabin, there’s an inspired mix of sheer comfort and high-performance gadgetry. The flat-bottom steering wheel and oversize paddle shifters have their roots in motorsports. The instrument panel, center console, and optional head-up display offer a range of information, including acceleration times from your latest launch. And, at the highest end of the order form, materials such as carbon fiber and microsuede make an appearance, giving the TRX the aura of a supercar. ramtrucks.com