Top 10 Pickup Trucks For New Grads


Graduation season is upon us, and whether you’re headed to college or starting a new job in the real world, a pickup truck is an excellent choice to help you schlep your stuff to your next destination. Here’s a look at the Top 10 trucks for new grads.

For recent models, we’ve added Kelley Blue Book pricing for a model in Good condition.

No. 10: 2001 Dodge Dakota R/T ($4,300)

There was a time when the midsize Dodge Dakota was a desirable, modern pickup, not today’s ignored and forgotten hauler. The 2001 Dodge Dakota R/T regular cab backed up its handsome street-truck looks with a 250-hp, 5.9-liter V-8, plus a ride-and-handling-optimized suspension and rolling stock. It was a low-cost alternative to high-performance trucks like the Ford F-150 SVT Lightning.

Lesson Learned: There are lots of spare parts and a fanatical group of followers for this capable midsize truck that can work hard and look good doing it.

No. 9: Volkswagen Caddy Diesel (Price Varies)

If you’re an ecologically sensitive Gen Y-er who wants to stick it to the man and buck conventional wisdom, a 1980-82 VW Caddy with a 1.5-liter or 1.6-liter diesel may be the truck for you. Price and quality will vary greatly depending on the condition of this compact, two-door oil-burner, but it will run on biodiesel or waste vegetable oil from the Chinese restaurant around the corner (properly filtered, of course) and return fuel economy better than 40 mpg.

Lesson Learned: Start contributing to society in a meaningful way, yet still have the room and flexibility to haul your stuff — and your friends’ stuff — around.

No. 8: 1987 Chevrolet El Camino (Price Varies)

There’s probably never been a better-known car-truck hybrid sold in the U.S. than the famous Chevrolet El Camino, and 1987 was the last model year the two-seat coupe utility was produced. It benefitted from GM’s 4.3-liter V-6 (added in 1985) and a new instrument panel (added in 1986).

Lesson Learned: Cool never goes out of style.

No. 7: 2004 Dodge Ram SRT10 ($22,355)

Why did the folks at Chrysler put a 500-hp, 10-cylinder engine and six-speed manual transmission from a Dodge Viper sports car into a pickup truck? Because they could, and that’s a good enough reason for us.

The 2004 Dodge Ram SRT10 was the most covetable sport truck of its time, with stock performance that almost no truck could touch. It could go from standing still to 60 mph in 5 seconds and turn a quarter-mile in the 14-second bracket. The suspension and big brakes worked together to stop the truck from 60 mph in less than 120 feet. Amazing.

Lesson Learned: The carefree days of school may be gone, but there’s still an opportunity for fun in the real world — and nothing says fun like a 500-hp pickup.

No. 6: 2001 Ford F-150 SVT Lightning ($13,970)

If you can’t afford the Dodge Ram SRT10, the Ford F-150 SVT Lightning is the next best thing at about half the price. The 380-hp Lightning could do zero to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds and finish the quarter-mile at 100 mph in 13.9 seconds.

Lesson Learned: See No. 7.

No. 5: 2006 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 HD Duramax ($24,065)

If you need a good heavy-duty pickup right out of school, it will probably be a long time before any HD hauler can match the 2006 Chevrolet Silverado 2500 HD and its 360-hp, 650-pounds-feet-of-torque Duramax diesel engine and six-speed Allison transmission. Why? Because this pickup has the last great diesel powertrain. It was produced before 2007 emissions regulations mandated new pollution-fighting hardware be added to heavy-duty pickups, which killed observed fuel economy in these workhorse pickups. In short, there’s no diesel particulate filter in the 2006 Duramax to dump fuel into to incinerate soot before it leaves the tailpipe.

Lesson Learned: Newer isn’t always better, and in this case we’d choose a used 2006 Duramax before any of the current-generation oil-burning pickups.

No. 4: 1996 Ford F-150 SuperCab ($5,165)

Depending on how you look at it, the 1987-96 Ford F-150 marked either the beginning of the modern pickup or the end of the old-school truck. Multi-port fuel injection and electronic engine controls were just starting to appear — paving the way for today’s advanced powertrains — but were still simple enough to work on in your driveway. The 1992-96 model benefitted from an aerodynamic front end, rather than today’s squared-off cornflakes box looks.

Lesson Learned: The 1996 Ford F-150 is cheap, decently safe (it has a driver’s side airbag) and durable, with a wide range of engine choices.

No. 3: 1985 Toyota Truck (Price Varies)

The 1984-88 Toyota Truck and its famed 100-ish-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder 22R and 22R-E engines gained untarnished reputations for reliability and durability at an inexpensive price. Some might say it’s the best truck Toyota’s ever made. The company still lives off the goodwill the Toyota Truck generated for the brand.

Lesson Learned: Whether you want a low-cost commuter truck, you’re starting up a contracting or landscaping business, or you want to do some hard-core rock crawling, a 1985 Toyota Truck is a terrific pickup to start with. There’s a rich catalog of replacement parts and aftermarket hardware to custom-fit a Toyota Truck to your lifestyle.

No. 2: 2005 Chevrolet Silverado SS ($19,725)

Bow-tie-brand sport truck enthusiasts were disappointed when the 2003 Chevrolet Silverado SS went on sale with lots of show but not much go. An all-wheel-drive system added cost and complexity to a high-performance pickup that lacked a high-performance engine. Its 345-horsepower, 6.0-liter V-8 didn’t differ at all from the rest of Chevy’s half-ton truck lineup. It was also only available with an extended cab, which added mass, two extra doors and a second row to what should have been a two-passenger hot rod.

The 2005 Silverado SS got some hi-po mojo back when a two-wheel-drive version arrived. It still couldn’t challenge the Dodge Ram SRT10 or Ford SVT Lightning at stoplights, but it cost less than the all-wheel-drive version, added more fun and let you smoke the tires.

Lesson Learned: If you’re looking for a solid half-ton pickup with room for five and a sporty exterior, you could spend time and money building your own, or you could roll in this SS-badged pickup. If you’re a student of history, you’ll also appreciate that it’s likely the last SS Chevy half-ton we’ll ever see.

No. 1: 2009 Ford Ranger FX4 ($24,535)

The only new truck we even considered adding to the list was the Ford Ranger FX4 SuperCab. It’s the only true compact pickup left. The 207-hp, 4.0-liter V-6 is reasonably efficient when it comes to getting you back and forth between work and home, while its off-road kit is rugged enough for serious four-wheel-drive fun on the weekends.

Lesson Learned: If there’s a picture of a 2010 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor hanging on the wall of your dorm room, the Ranger FX4 may be the closest you’ll get to it – at least until that second or third raise.


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