Pickup trucks in all classes have become increasingly civilized while maintaining their workmanlike capabilities. While the number of models offered is relatively small, there's an astounding amount of flexibility in how shoppers can configure a new truck. You can keep it simple with a bare-bones, two-seat, two-wheel drive truck that's light on amenities, or go as far as four-door, extra-long bed models with immense towing capacity and a luxury interior.
Full-size, half-ton (1500 series) pickups are the largest size class we cover in this report. We do not cover heavy-duty 3/4-ton (2500 series) and 1-ton (3500-series) trucks, which are even more specialized variations of manufacturers' full-size pickup families.
Full-size pickups generally come with standard V6 engines and can be optioned with more powerful V8 engines that are better suited for tougher tasks like hauling big loads and towing large trailers. Compact pickups are smaller and usually more fuel efficient while still offering a degree of toughness. A small contingency of midsize pickups straddles the line between compact and full-size pickups in terms of size, features and capabilities.
Ford overhauled the engine lineup offered in its F-150 pickup, but otherwise, there are no big shakeups in the pickup category to report for the 2011 model year. One point of note is that the former Dodge Ram lineup has gone through a rebranding. Parent company Chrysler pulled the trucks from its Dodge division and created a new one for them: Ram. So, trucks that were formerly known as Dodge vehicles, now carry the Ram moniker. For instance, the Dodge Ram 1500 is now the Ram 1500.
As of Aug. 23, 2011, production of the midsized 2011 Ram Dakota pickup has ceased for good as a result of poor sales. Ram parent Chrysler plans to eventually replace the now-discontinued Dakota with a so-called "lifestyle truck" that will compete with the likes of the Honda Ridgeline.
Pickup-truck comparison tests are usually very thorough, testing towing capability, acceleration, ride quality under loaded conditions, off-road capability and general practicality. The best of these come from truck-specific sources such as Truck Trend and PickupTrucks.com. A recent comparison test performed jointly by Cars.com and USA Today specifically tests full-size V6 work trucks, which represent the less flashy base.
Popular Mechanics, Edmunds Inside Line and ConsumerReports.org test a number of the major players, but detailed off-road evaluations are lacking. If off-road testing is important, consider sources like FourWheeler.com, which specializes in it.
"Small pickups have the highest driver death rates of all vehicles," ConsumerReports.org points out in a 2008 news item that's available to all. Pickups are more likely to roll over than cars or vans, and rollovers are the deadliest kind of crash. The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety sees lackluster crash-test results for a few compact pickup models, including the Ram (née Dodge) Dakota and the Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon crew cab models. For the Chevy and GMC, side impact protection is rated Poor. During the side impact, IIHS says that "the side curtain airbag did not deploy properly, and the dummy's head was hit by the window frame of the rear passenger door and the pillar behind the door." These models also get a Marginal rating for protection in a rollover accident.
Two pickups, both full-size models, earn IIHS's Top Safety Pick designation after earning the best score of Good in all test scenarios: the 2011 Ford F-150 and the 2011 Toyota Tundra.