The first quarter of the 21st Century has been pretty awesome for US buyers and fans of pickup trucks. In fact, the segment has recently seen an increasing development of the third-party accessories market, a broadening of major manufacturer offerings, and a fairly steady stream of new makers stepping into the competition for the first time.
There have also been several new wrinkles developed in terms of products within the segment during that same time period. For example, the 2000s have witnessed the introduction of several high-performance models and several other high-profile off-road packages. All of that attesting to the apparently infinite strength of the segment, at least on our continent.
One of the areas where things have really gone hog wild in the new century, however, can't really be seen just driving down the street. You have to actually get inside the trucks to know what's been going with the interiors. Back in the day pickup trucks were farm to market vehicles used mainly by folks who lived on farms to "go to town." They used to have a bench seat, a huge steering wheel, and, if you were lucky, a radio that received AM and FM.
Nowadays people expect a good deal more from a pickup. That's mainly because trucks are no longer limited to getting people from the family farm into the city, but they are one of the most popular forms of motorized vehicle on the road – even city streets – full stop.
That means the interior of the truck has benefited from the advancements in auto interiors in general and, sometimes, has also suffered from the short-comings of those as well.
In that vein, HotCars.com herein presents our list of great modern pickup interiors and another far less inviting bunch. Buckle up...
17 (Comfortable) 1999 Ford SVT Lighting
"Comfort," of course is in the eye (and the backside) of the beholder.
The Ford F-150 SVT Lightning was originally just a juiced up "work truck" with a very large engine dropped into it. It was, in that sense, arguably the grandaddy of all of the latest "off-road-and-peformance-package" hybrids that the US market is currently flush with.
The second generation Lightning, including the 1999, stepped up the game by incorporating a supercharger. Car and Driver magazine reported the then-new Lightning's numbers as 13.8 sec/104 mph in the standing quarter mile. In short, not only could it haul, but it could haul.
The main reason this particular truck's interior makes the list is the kind of "comfort" only gear heads would appreciate: the A-pillar racing gauges. Now that's luxury!
16 (Uncomfortable) Nissan Titan
Back in the 1990s Nissan was kind of noted for only offering one engine in most of its passenger cars: a 3.5L V6. For some of us that seemed actually kind of a good thing. The engine was pretty darn powerful and it was one of the first to switch from standard timing belts to a timing chain.
These days, however, with the extreme popularity of pickups as a market segment, particularly in here, just one engine is kind of a bad thing. That's one of the things that brings the Titan down; it only has one engine option and, while it's a pretty powerful one, it's not fuel efficient at all. That means anyone shopping in the segment who doesn't have a lot of hauling on their list of "must-haves" is likely to go somewhere else.
Stepping down to the Frontier – the company's midsize offering – is even less attractive (see below). Also like the Frontier, the Titan has kind of hit a years-long design dry spell. Not much has changed inside or out for that matter, for quite some time. It's not so much that it is uncomfortable strictly speaking, as much as it is not as comfortable as it really ought to be at this point.
15 (Comfortable) Ram Power Wagon
The Power Wagon was born in World War II as a go anywhere all-purpose hauler with a powerful winch. The original military spec vehicle quickly gained a reputation for being unstoppable over any terrain and under all weather conditions.
After the war, the Power Wagon was converted to a civilian version and helped to bring 4x4 functionality home to the USA. The civilian spec truck – a Dodge back then – was discontinued around 1980. Chrysler revived the Power Wagon badge in the 21st Century under the Ram brand.
The interior of the Power Wagon qualifies as comfortable because its base, the 1500, is one of the best in the industry. According to ConsumerReports.org in fact, it's one of the model's best selling points.
14 (Comfortable) Ford Raptor
The Raptor is a real media heart-throb right now. It is the direct descendant of the truck at the top of this list: the SVT Lightning. But where the Lightning was a 2WD basic model with a very enhanced performance package (including supercharger) the Raptor's roots are off-road.
The standard of "comfort" has really jumped in the intervening two decades or so. And Ford has been especially forward-looking in terms of what it puts into its trucks. That's mainly because, as the new century has worn on, the company has trimmed down in terms of product offerings. Pickups is one area that Ford now counts on more than ever to make up its sales figures.
A highlight in the Raptor package is the extra bolstering to the front buckets; that was missing from the original Lightning, but is an important addition for comfortable off-roading.
13 (Comfortable) Ford F-250 Super Duty King Ranch Edition
The King Ranch edition was born in 1999 along with the SVT Lightning package; the KRE was introduced as the highest trim level on the F-150. Ford has since added yet another, higher level of luxury it calls, "Platinum."
Half-ton pickups are considered "light-duty trucks." Though the weight of the vehicle and how much it could haul are important, really anything that is a truck that is configured for 6 wheels or less-, and or with two axels is going to be designated light duty. In most places in the USA, for example, that'll mean that the average person could drive one with just a regular operator's ("driver's") license and not need additional certification or training for a commercial operator's license. The Super Duty line is designed to be a medium-rated fill in between half-ton and anything that might be flirting with the lower end of being a semi-trailer.
Two highlights of Ford's higher-end interiors include adaptive steering (makes the thing more maneuverable at low speeds) and rapid supplemental heating in the cabin (an electric system that warms you up before the "coolant"-heated heater core is up to temperature).
12 (Comfortable) Chevy Silverado LTZ
LTZ is the top of the line as far as Chevrolet interior finish goes. For 2018 if you choose that level you will get the general array of technology and interior convenience features available in most passenger vehicles today; i.e. Bluetooth, safety camera, color LCD, etc.
The Silverado 1500 LTZ can be configured in several different cabin-, and payload box combinations. If you go with the crew cab (4 doors and two rows of seats) and a standard box you will get one of the best trucks on the market, with enough room for a family and a lot of leather everywhere.
And the kids can watch Harry Potter DVDs – or whatever it is that kids watch these days – in the back, while you warm your hands on the heated steering wheel in the front.
Plus, you can choose up to the 6.2L EcoTec V8 so you can tow pretty much the entire state of Rhode Island if need be. Of course all of that will set you back US$60K+, so... comfortable yet?
11 (Uncomfortable) 2007 Cadillac Escalade EXT
Funny story. Ford came up with a crazy idea: a pickup truck badged by its corporate luxury marque. Then they made one: the Blackwood. It lasted less than one MY.
Unfortunately, GM decided the concept was good and jumped in before the Blackwood died. The result was the Cadillac Escalade EXT which was around from 2002 to 2013.
One of the reasons it eventually died was the uncomfortable interior. It's hard not to understand that because the Escalade – a luxury version of Chevrolet's Suburban – started out as a truck, then moved on to become a truck-based SUV and then... well, now we're back to the beginning of this story.
10 (Comfortable) Toyota Tundra
If there is one word that you could use to characterize Toyotas in general it might be "spacious."
The Tundra is no different. Whereas a lot of truck chassis force designers to cramp the passenger cabin in a lot of ways, somehow Toyota always finds a way to squeeze out ever more room.
Despite interior comfort, however, the US News and World Report rankings placed the latest Tundra last on their list of full-size pickups. Here's what they said: "The 2018 Toyota Tundra finishes in the bottom of our truck rankings because its engines aren't that powerful and its towing and hauling capacities are lower than rivals'. Most classmates have also undergone recent redesigns, which gives them a more upscale, modern feel than the Tundra."
9 (Uncomfortable) 2013 Chevrolet Avalanche
The Chevrolet Avalanche was discontinued by GM after MY 2013. While I personally welcomed this news, I also think it came about a decade too late. That's because in that time, "SUTs" like the Avalanche have become far too common and have done a lot to dilute the market segment and even the meaning of the term, "pickup truck."
The photo above depicts the "multi-use" feature of the Avalanche and all related vehicles: it could be converted from "pickup" to SUV by deploying a few panels of sheet metal and reinstalling the back seats.
You could probably already imagine how comfortable those back seats were, but, as if that weren't enough the pillaring around them made visibility – regardless of configuration – next to impossible.
It's been 5 years now since GM made any of these things, but be careful 'cause they're still out there.
8 (Comfortable) Chevrolet Colorado
Sure, the Tacoma is a great product, but GM's volume of sales of pickups – at least where we are – means that Colorado can be priced a lot lower than any import. Colorado has also benefited from the absence of a strong contender in this segment from either of the other two big Detroit brands.
All that being said, the other thing that helps the Colorado stand out from the pack is the high level of interior room – once again, for this segment – and the very updated technology and convenience it offers at its price point.
Personally, I will never love a truck smaller than full-size, but if you've got to go smaller, for the money, the Colorado is hard to beat.
7 (Uncomfortable) 2008 Hummer H3
The brand started out as street-legalized versions of the AMC-produced US military vehicles known as "Humvees." The original Humvees were intended to replace Jeeps and armored cars. In situations where the purest of those "breeds" was not an exact fit the Humvee rose to the occasion as it had some of the characteristics of each.
The brand was reconfigured by GM to be a rebadging of existing company products, mostly mid-size pickups like the Colorado. That means the worst of the Colorado's less than full-size cabin plus a lot of unnecessarily over-sized controls designed to give the illusion of battle-ready ruggedness.
6 (Uncomfortable) Chevy SSR
The SSR is-, and always was, a polarizing product. For the most part, people either love it or hate it.
Me, I hate it when people call it a "hot rod" and I absolutely cringe when they try to call it a pickup (as GM's original marketing for the SSR did). Chevy tried to create a production hot rod, but, with the SSR, failed. The car was a response to Chrysler's equally perplexing PT Cruiser and eventually gave way to the equally short-lived, Chevrolet HHR.
Based on a Dodge Neon the most uncomfortable thing about the SSR interior is that it is supposed to evoke the hot rod style but is composed of obviously manufactured parts. So, it's up to you: love it or hate it.
5 (Comfortable) VW Amarok
To be honest I have never sat inside a VW Amarok. So why would you take my word for it's being comfortable?
Mainly because I have sat behind the wheel of a VW Golf Mk1 and did so for many years. These cars were often converted to what was called a "VW Caddy." The converted vehicle was something like a VW version of the Chevrolet El Camino. Thanks to an extremely lively Mk1 aftermarket you can probably see one driving the street of your hometown even today.
The interior of my Mk1 and most of the ones I've ever been in are second to none. VW and Audi are very good at keeping their drivers and passengers sitting in comfort.
The Amarok unfortunately is not available in here at home. There are some strong indications that it might cross that threshold very soon, however, as VW has registered the name as a trademark. That's great news if for no other reason than that the Amarok would be an affordable pickup with an available diesel and manual combination.
I'm feeling more comfortable already.
4 (Comfortable) Honda Ridgeline
Let's get one thing straight right off the bat: I have a hard time thinking of "SUTs" as pickups. Sure they can be configured by their owners to offer something of a payload, or with a full-length seating cabin to become a more traditional SUV, but that doesn't really necessarily entitle them to that "T," does it?
On the other hand, I have to say that if you feel the need to buy one of these things the Honda is probably the best choice. At least they are so in terms of interior comfort.
Let me also get it out there ASAP that I do not mean that the Ridgeline – or really any Honda in my experience – is luxurious. Toyotas and even Subarus have much more in the way of creature comforts for passengers and drivers. But I have to give credit and say that Hondas are at least "sufficiently appointed" inside. If you feel like you've got to be driving a "sport-utility truck," then get a Ridgeline; you won't love it in there, but at least you won't hate it either.
3 (Uncomfortable) Nissan Frontier
You're probably looking at the photo right now and thinking, "Hey, looks kinda comfortable to me, what the heck is that guy talking about?"
In fact, the Frontier is known for having a fairly roomy pair of buckets for the driver and the "shotgun" passenger. After that, however, things get kind of cramped.
The discomfort continues with the 2018 Frontier as it has been sporting the same chassis for 15 years now. Long-term is good in the world of personal relationships, but not in the world of automotive design.
Add to its aging character the fact that the Frontier is one of the "small trucks" that kind of rub purists like myself the wrong way and you have a recipe for discomfiture for sure.
2 (Comfortable) 2019 Ford Ranger Lariat
About one year before the new Ford Bronco is reintroduced in 2020, the new Ranger – the truck that the Bronco will be based on – is due.
If Ford's King Ranch Edition is fit for it's Super Duty pickups then the Lariat package is probably about right for the new Ranger.
Here's what Edmunds.com has to say about it: "Th[e new Ford Ranger] is powered by a 2.3 liter EcoBoost engine and it's got a 10 speed automatic transmission... Th[e]... FX 4 four-wheel drive Lariat [Ranger has] got everything. The off-road package runs on 31 inch Hankook all-terrain tires and they're mounted to 18-inch wheels with 6 lug nuts. The bed is pretty simple.... We don't know anything about the approach angle yet but there's a really big skid plate underneath and it looks like it's really got a lot of clearance up here. Inside there is a terrain management system and trail control which are very similar to systems you'll see on the TRD off-road package. The new Ranger could very well give the Tacoma a run for its money off-road."
So only Toyota might be uncomfortable with this one.
1 (Uncomfortable) Dodge Dakota Early 2000s
The Ram Dakota was withdrawn from production in 2011 by Fiat-Chrysler. I like to think that was a good decision for a couple of reasons.
First, the original Dodge Dakota was positioned to compete with Chevy's S-10 (GMC Sonoma) and Ford's Ranger. But it was also designed to be the largest and most powerful of its class. So it was small, but it was also big... seriously, there's nothing worse than a product that tries to be all things to all consumers all at once.
The second reason Fiat's decision was the right one is that by the time it was withdrawn, the Dakota platform was being shared with the Durango and it is a much better product. Intentionally or not Durango takes the place of the defunct Magnum which was great execution of an even better idea.
The Dakota's cab was cramped by the need for the (almost useless) payload. That "gesture" is replaced in Durango by another row of seats and an accompanying larger cabin. It just feels better.
Sources: caranddriver.com, nydailynews.com, chicagotribune.com, edmunds.com