Luxury Pickup Trucks

2004 GMC Sierra Denali
GMC’s luxury truck offering is the Sierra Denali, which features a unique 6.0-liter V-8 engine and permanent all-wheel drive.

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Once upon a time, pickup trucks were used strictly as workhorses. Most people who bought pickups preferred the most basic version: a regular-cab model with roll-up windows, a mildly powered engine and a manual gearbox. Beyond a radio and heater, those hard-toiling pickups tended to be devoid of accessories.

During the 1990s, the notion of luxury pickups began to form and grow. Plenty of practical-minded buyers still purchased those down-to-basics pickups, but a rising number of people wanted their trucks to be loaded with accessories and gadgets. Essentially, they were looking for a near-luxury vehicle, packed with plush creature comforts, that happened to have a cargo bed at the rear — whether they actually intended to carry anything back there or not.

Today, as the number of abundantly equipped pickups continues to increase, we see a curious irony: Those who load their trucks with the greatest number of comfort and convenience features are often the least likely to make use of their truck’s qualities. For many, pickups have become a fashion statement rather than a versatile cargo-hauler. Many trucks are fitted with neat covers over their cargo beds, suggesting that they’re meant more for show than for nasty chores.

2004 Ford F-150 Lariat
The interior of Ford’s F-150 Lariat (pictured) rivals that of many luxury cars.

Young men, in particular, have gravitated toward compact pickups, which fill a niche that used to be occupied by sports cars. Spending thousands of dollars to customize a compact pickup isn’t uncommon. Older buyers might instead be tempted by the top-end models in the full-size segment — pickups like the GMC Sierra Denali and the Lariat edition of Ford’s F-150.

Luxury Lineup
With the Sierra Denali, you get a 325-horsepower V-8 engine, all-wheel drive and Quadrasteer four-wheel steering, along with such features as heated seats and chrome side steps. Ford includes extras like unique interior trim, a leather 40/20/40-split bench seat, bright aluminum 18-inch wheels and power-adjustable pedals in its F-150 Lariat. In Ford’s F-250 Super Duty series, Crew Cab models are offered in King Ranch trim with two-tone paint that includes wheel lip moldings, grille and bumpers in an Arizona Beige color. King Ranch captain’s chairs are trimmed in Castaño leather.

Topping the list for luxury is the approximately $52,000 Cadillac Escalade EXT, a posh SUV/pickup “crossover” that includes all the comfort and convenience features found in the Escalade sport utility vehicle, along with all-wheel drive and a stowable cargo cover. More luxury pickup trucks are waiting in the wings. Lincoln recently introduced the Mark LT — a version of the Ford F-150 SuperCrew — at the 2004 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The 2006 Mark LT goes on sale in February 2005.

Naturally, you should do what pleases you. If a $35,000 or $45,000 pickup does the trick, and you can afford it, the choice is yours alone. Still, if posh comforts are high on your desirability scale, they may be even better achieved in a different type of vehicle.

2006 Lincoln Mark LT
Lincoln adds a luxury pickup truck to its lineup in the 2006 model year with the Mark LT, which is based on the Ford F-150 SuperCrew.

After all, no pickup — regardless of its price or model — rides like a passenger car or handles like anything other than, well, a truck. Though luxury models are typically softer sprung than work-oriented trucks, they can’t match the road-going demeanor of a luxury sedan.

Pickups are likely to use substantially more fuel than a comparable car, though shoppers in the luxury league don’t ordinarily put fuel economy at the top of their desired-features list. You can ease into a sedan a lot easier than climbing aboard a pickup, especially if the pickup in question is a full-size model with four-wheel drive, which contributes to a high floor.

Premium Truck Performance
Do you get more performance in a premium pickup? Not necessarily, though GMC’s Sierra Denali is one exception because its 325-hp, 6.0-liter V-8 engine is available in no other Sierra model.

Even when a top-end model isn’t purchased, many buyers check off a long list of accessories on the options list. Yes, you can load up a pickup with almost every extra that’s on the market. By the time you’re through, you can be paying a luxury-car price.

If that’s what satisfies you, full speed ahead. But if you really aren’t all that fond of trucks for trailer-towing or other practical considerations, think twice before signing up for a posh pickup.

By Jim Flammang for cars.com

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Posted on 1/28/04