Edmunds classifies pickups into compact, midsize, full-size light-duty, and full-size heavy-duty sizes. Knowing what you need and want in a truck is important if you expect to get the right equipment for the job and not pay for more capacity than you’ll use.
cab and bed design
Truck manufacturers often have different names for them, but the three main cab designs are regular cab, extended cab, and crew cab. Regular-cab trucks have two doors, seat two or three people, and offer a small amount of in-cab storage.
Extended-cab trucks also have two doors but a larger cab that can seat six people. Rear seating can be tight for passengers, so the primary advantage of an extended cab is the ability to hold more cargo in a locked, weatherproof interior.
Crew-cab trucks have four doors and seat six people. They also have more generous rear passenger space than extended cabs. Some automakers also offer two sizes of crew-cab designs for their trucks.
Trucks are usually sold with either a short bed or a long bed. There’s no standardized measurement tied to each, so it mostly comes down to what a particular truck is offering. Short beds typically keep the overall length of the truck short, which helps with maneuverability, while long beds increase cargo space at the expense of cab space or maneuverability.
One cool thing about pickup trucks is that you can custom-tailor most of them with optional equipment. That way, they’ll do what you need during the week, handle your adventures on the weekend, and reflect your personality at all times. So, while base prices can range from around $21,000 for a basic compact truck to over $40,000 for a bare-bones heavy-duty Crew Cab, you can easily beat those figures for a fully loaded model equipped with all the extra features. Can cost twice as much.
performance and mpg
Modern trucks come with gas, diesel and hybrid powertrains, and fully electric trucks may soon be on the market. Engines range from four-cylinder to V8 designs and are usually either turbocharged or naturally aspirated (aka non-turbocharged). Most trucks usually come with at least two engine options, so you can choose the one that best suits your needs. For example, you can choose a four-cylinder engine to get the best fuel economy, or choose a powerful V8 or turbocharged V6 for strong acceleration and towing capability. Heavy-duty trucks feature optional diesel engines specifically designed for towing performance.
If you prefer to change your own gears, a handful of trucks offer manual transmissions. But most come out of the factory automatically. Nearly all trucks have standard two-wheel drive (2WD), with four-wheel drive (4WD) available as an option. Typically, a 2WD truck will tow more and carry more payload. But if you plan to go off-road, you need 4WD.
Some 4WD trucks have a manual two-speed transfer case, while others offer shift-on-the-fly electronic 4WD. The low-range gearing available from the two-speed transfer case can be helpful when off-roading. Automatic 4WD is also available, engaging whenever less traction is needed. Limited-slip and locking differentials are also available to maximize traction when off-road.
Choosing a crew cab gives you the most space for people and items you don’t want to store in the cargo bed. At minimum, a regular-cab pickup seats two people, or three if you choose with bench-style front seats. Extended cabs have rear jump seats or sometimes a small rear bench seat designed to accommodate passengers. Crew cabs offer spacious rear seating, with the largest trucks supplying ample room for tall passengers to stretch their legs and relax.
towing and payload
The two main reasons to buy a pickup truck are for towing and hauling capabilities. In all truck classes, however, the numbers vary, and dramatically. Broadly speaking, compact trucks top out at about 5,000 pounds of maximum towing capacity, depending on the model. Going with a mid-size truck will give you a slightly higher towing capacity, around 5,000 to 7,000 pounds. Light-duty full-size trucks max out at around 12,000 to 13,000 pounds, depending on model and configuration. Heavy-duty trucks, thanks to their more robust construction and available diesel engines, can pull upwards of 35,000 pounds, depending on model and configuration.
Payload capabilities (the maximum weight of goods carried in the bed) are also highly variable, even within the confines of a single pickup’s configuration. With towing capacity, heavy duty trucks can handle most payloads. Knowing what you hope to do with a truck directs you to the right one to meet your needs.
When it comes to safety, trucks are more sophisticated than ever, with the latest advanced driver assistance systems and connected services technologies available that can provide immediate assistance when needed. The many trailer-towing features also make modern trucks safer to drive, and the latest designs also perform well in crash tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Always be sure to compare safety ratings if this factor is important to you.
The more capable a truck is, the more expensive it is likely to be. Larger and more powerful engines typically consume more fuel, and while diesel engine options are efficient, they are also more expensive to buy. 4WD systems and special off-road versions also add cost. More expensive trucks are usually more expensive to insure.
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