Most of the time, manufacturers have a pretty good handle on the kinds of options pickup buyers want in their trucks. The key words here are “most of the time.” There are, actually, quite a few that leave us with a big fat case of “What were they thinking?” Here are some of the worst we’ve seen.
10. Wake Up!
Several vehicles are now equipped with sensors that can tell if the driver is drowsy or otherwise inattentive behind the wheel. If the vehicle wanders too far outside the lane, an audible warning goes off to snap the driver back to focus. Figuring a pickup driver also needed more than just a gentle nudge, one manufacturer is offering a similar alert system, but with a little more kick — the equivalent of a household 120-volt current zaps the steering-wheel rim, certain to wake up even the sleepiest driver — and restart his heart, too.
9. Urgent Solutions
You’ve probably heard of the “trucker’s helper,” or using a plastic bottle that functions as an, um, portable relief station for those long hauls. Given recent statistics from the U.S. Department of Transportation about average commuting times and traffic flow being in crisis mode, we’re not entirely surprised to learn that doctors and scientists recently released their own related stats about a rise in kidney stones and other ailments. That’s why we think one pickup has, buried deep on the options list, a more forward-thinking version of the helper. It uses the center console and a space-age polymer container that’s dishwasher safe. The console is self-cleaning.
8. Food Holder
There’s an option that costs less than $80, and it could be as lifesaving as the texting-while-driving ban. So what makes our eyes roll? Even though advanced safety technologies are drawing all the attention, a couple of automakers are offering simple ways to keep your eyes on the road and hands on the wheel by holding “dangerous” foods — like tacos and barbecue sandwiches — in a plastic vice while you’re driving. One automaker calls it the Food Assist Replacement Tray. Worse, we don’t know how they missed that acronym.
7. Special-Edition Trucks
We sort of hit on this with the appearance packages, but what we’re totally not digging are the movie-inspired trucks. When the Chevy Camaro went all “Transformers,” it caught buyers’ eyes, but we think mainly because customers thought there was a chance for some Bumblebee action. But what we’re wondering is if we really need that “Hunger Games” trim level supposedly in production for the sequels. We have to admit, though, we are a bit curious about what exactly the Katniss Edition’s postapocalyptic badging will look like.
We might stir up some controversy here, but all new vehicles are “clean” these days, so that’s not really a good argument for why you should be in a hybrid pickup. Truth be told, fuel economy of hybrid trucks isn’t all that impressive compared with their counterparts, and the MSRP can start close to $40,000. Plus, has anyone told you you’ll lose thousands of pounds of towing capacity to boot?
5. Interior Camera
What makes us cringe more than an off-road camera? A steering-wheel-mounted camera. Due in 2013 from an import automaker is a special camera that can zoom in to focus just on you, or zoom out to capture the entire cab so that you can instantly update your Facebook or Twitter status with pics of you driving, or of your passengers passengering. It’s said to be hands-free and voice-activated, of course. Safety first.
4. Front-View Camera
We kick it old school and do what we learned in driver’s ed: Use windows and mirrors to see what we’re doing and what’s happening around us when we drive forward and backward. But we know the age of backup cameras is upon us, and if the government has anything to say, the cameras will be mandated by 2014 in all vehicles. But what we really have trouble getting behind — or in front of, technically — is the Ford F-150 SVT Raptor’s front camera, designed to outsource the work of spotters or your own eyes, by giving drivers a view what’s directly in front of the truck, then displaying it on the navigation screen.
3. Calling All Diesel Engines
Along the same lines as no stick shifts for full-size trucks, how come full-size pickups get diesel engines but compact trucks don’t? We came close — real close — with the pickup from Mahindra, but that whole situation seems to be dead in the water, so who knows when — or if — we’ll see an oil burner in a compact anytime soon.
2. Aesthetic Packages
Why cough up money for all form and no function? We’re pointing at you, Ford, and your King Ranch and opulent Platinum editions. Sure, if upscale is your thing, you’ll likely be in hog heaven sitting in a truck swathed in saddle-tooled leather. But do we really need all those logos on the seatbacks, floormats, center console and other body parts? Of course, Ford’s not alone in this. The pricey Ram Laramie Longhorn and Limited editions have an equally leathery Southwestern and excess theme. Then there’s the Texas-only Ram Lone Star, with its Texas state emblem on the doors and tailgate. Wouldn’t that money be better spent on equipment that actually does something instead of just looking pretty?
1. What, No Manual Transmissions?
Where are the stick-shift trucks? True, compact pickups like the Chevy Colorado and Nissan Frontier get a manual in small numbers, but what about their full-size brethren, the Silverado and Titan, or any of the other full-size trucks, beyond the Cummins Ram HD? We’d prefer the option of a manual transmission across the board, not multiple choices in automatic gearboxes. Not only do they typically offer better fuel economy numbers but you're likely to get better/stronger gearing ratios.