8 trucks that deserve another shot
A year ago, we looked at some vehicles that had ambitious goals and yet fell short in one way or another. We argued that those four vehicles deserved another chance. Now, let’s focus on pickups that also meet those criteria. Here are eight pickups that offered up cargo hauling with some blend of comfort, fuel economy, or off-road prowess, but which nevertheless fell by the wayside as the tried-and-true crew-cab pickup swallowed the market. Is there room in today’s market for any of these to stage a comeback?
Chevrolet Avalanche (2001–13)
When the Avalanche debuted, it offered a novel solution for those who needed both passenger- and cargo-carrying capacity. Chevrolet’s solution was the Mid-Gate, which enabled the partition between the cab and bed to fold down and the backlite to stow, allowing for the rear seats to give way to an 8-foot cargo bed. Admittedly it had its drawbacks; dropping the Mid-Gate opened the passenger cabin to the elements unless the multi-piece tonneau was left in place. On the other hand, with the tonneau off, it was the closest we’ve come to duplicating the K5 Blazer’s removable top.
The Avalanche also offered another benefit. Because it was built on the Suburban’s chassis, every Avalanche came with a coil-spring rear suspension. The Avalanche beat the Ram 1500 to the punch by about eight years and was the first full-size 4×4 pickup on the market to offer such a suspension setup. It was also the first 2WD pickup with coil springs from GM since they left production in Chevy and GMC pickups in 1972.
A new Avalanche, again built on the Suburban chassis, would benefit from an independent rear suspension and the low bed floor that would come with it. We’d wager that most drivers would sacrifice the payload capacity that can come with leaf springs for the improved ride quality of a multi-link suspension, just like they did before.
Avalanche critics have lambasted the unique truck-utility-vehicle as being essentially a Suburban with extra rattles. True, the lack of a rear roof section and the open midgate would both remove rigidity from the body and add a source of noise, but we think that GM’s pickups and utility vehicles have firmed up a lot since the second-generation Avalanche debuted in 2007.
Subaru Brat (1978–87)/Baja (2003–06)
As we mentioned in our April Fools’ headline story, we think the time is ripe for Subaru to relaunch the Brat and Baja. As much as we’d love to see a WRX-based two-door Brat, we know that the market for such vehicles would be minuscule. Instead, a sedan utility based on the Outback Wilderness could pick up where the Baja left off. Or, to better counter the upcoming Hyundai Santa Cruz, perhaps a slightly larger version based on the Ascent? Subaru already has a reputation for building scrappy all-wheel-drive wagons and snorting turbo rally cars, it’s a shame that they don’t have a spirited, turbocharged entry in what looks to be a competitive market in the near future.
Ram Dakota (1987–2001)/Rampage (1982–84)
We keep hearing that a new Ram mid-size pickup is just around the corner and then canceled, and then we hear it’s back on again. All we know is that Dodge gave us a convertible first-gen Dakota, an R/T second-gen with a 5.9-liter V-8, and the automaker currently has a propensity for shoving large V-8s into just about everything, so there we would definitely expect a version targeted at enthusiasts. We’re practically salivating over the thought of a baby TRX that competes with Colorado’s fantastic ZR2 while packing 395 hp worth of Hemi V-8.
Alternatively, Ram could resurrect its truly compact pickup, the Rampage, without much effort at all. Simply bring the Ram 700, which is currently sold in Mexico, to customers north of the border. This unibody ute is a rebadged Fiat Strada and is available in crew cab and regular cab variants. The regular cab looks a bit like a Rampage if you squint. A lot. Like a whole lot.
OK, it looks nothing like the Rampage. But it would still be a fitting successor, although it would need a new powertrain. The Mexican-market version is powered by a 1.3-liter gasoline engine that manages a meager 98 horsepower. Fiat’s 1.3-liter MultiAir3 Turbo engine, found in the Jeep Renegade 4xe, produces 188 horsepower and can be fitted electric motor for a total of 238 horsepower—enough to turn this mini ute into a pickup pocket rocket.
Ford Lightning (1993–95, 1999–2004)
As Ford plans for its electric future, the F-150 is clearly slated to play a big role. There’s no doubt that the bulk of electric pickups will be crew-cab models meant to take over the role that many pickups fill: all-around hauler of people and stuff. That model will likely get loads of power and a sizable range. There will also likely be a fleet model made for businesses. Perhaps a regular cab short-bed that we’re used to seeing for local auto parts deliveries.
With a sporty trim level and a potent electric motor or two, we’re sure that it wouldn’t be too difficult for Ford to bring back the Lightning using parts-bin goodies. In our dream scenario, whatever necessary batteries don’t fit under the floorboards will be packaged just behind the cab at the forward end of the bed, centralizing mass for far better weight distribution than your average pickup while leaving space under the hood for a frunk.
GMC Syclone (1991–92)
This one’s simple: Take the above recipe and apply it to GMC’s mid-size Canyon. Done! Of course, GM sounds like it’s bringing an all-electric Silverado to the market before a mid-size EV truck, although we certainly wouldn’t mind some full-size competition to our would-be Lightning, either.
The original Syclone set the performance world on its ear when it debuted. Featuring all-wheel drive and a 280-hp turbocharged 4.3-liter V-6, it was like a Buick Grand National with a bed. The Syclone was even available in a blacked-out, monochrome look. Special Vehicle Engineering has built limited numbers of the Syclone you see above using a supercharged 3.6-liter V-6 good for 455 horsepower. That’s a rather fitting successor until GMC sees fit to give us the goods straight from the factory, which doesn’t seem likely.
Ram R/T (2009–17)
The Viper V-10 is out of production, so there’s no way we’re gonna get a return of the Ram SRT-10. However, Ram’s more affordable sport truck used a 5.7-liter Hemi and a transmission with a slightly looser torque converter for some serious launches. A modern variant could be built using the potent, 470-hp 6.4-liter that’s found in the Wrangler Rubicon 392, but there’s also the Hellcat, of course.
In our humble opinion, Ram’s previous-generation regular-cab was among the best-looking two-door pickups ever built. Unfortunately, it seems that Ram is too busy selling crew cabs to be bothered by single cabs, although our quick rendering shows that the current generation might not look too shabby in that configuration.
Ford Bronco pickup (1966–71)
Ford is taking on the Jeep Wrangler head-on by building several compelling trims, with serious off-road hardware, in both two- and four-door variants. However, what’s missing is a half-cab pickup like the original. We’re sure that the aftermarket will offer up a solution to convert a four-door Bronco into a two-door pickup or a two-door Bronco into a “Sports Utility” like back in the day, but it would be nice to see Ford also take on Jeep’s Gladiator with a crew-cab off-road pickup of its own.
The extended wheelbase of these new-fangled off-roaders makes them better suited to carrying plenty of gear into more remote camping spots, compared to a more trail-friendly two-door. Thanks to the Bronco’s factory 35-inch tires, the Wrangler-fighting Ford does get a bit of help in breakover angle compared to the average pickup truck. There are certainly some tight trails where the added wheelbase of our dream Bronco would be a hindrance, but plenty of Gladiator owners have shown that they can tackle some rugged terrain.
Ford Ranchero (1957–79)/Ford Courier (1972–82)
A reborn Ranchero or Courier would bring a compact pickup back to Ford’s lineup to slot under the mid-sized Ranger. You may be thinking, “that’s exactly what the upcoming Maverick is for”, which is correct. Maybe we should stop caring about Ford butchering its heritage names after the Mustang Mach E, but here we are, like Abe Simpson shaking his fist at cumulonimbi.
We admit that Courier isn’t the most exciting name for a compact pickup, but as it’s a crossover-based ute, Ranchero would have fit nicely, no? Seriously, we’re still pretty excited that we’re getting the Maverick. At least one of these pickups is going to be available soon and we always celebrate a new tailgate.
Now it’s time to hear from you. Which pickups do you think deserve an encore? Now is your time to shine, El Camino fans.