The very idea of a sport pickup is a bit of an anomaly. Some would say oxymoron. But for those with only one parking spot at their place, and more than one set of vehicular needs, they can and do make sense. Originally built purely as utility vehicles, pickup trucks, like many other specialized machines before them, became cultural icons. This, combined with their ruggedness and usefulness, began to make them more than just working men’s tools.
As pickups became increasingly capable work machines, they also became more luxurious at the high end of their vast model ranges. And eventually, in a complement to luxury, they also started getting fast. Not just for off road either, but for the street and strip. Some were even brave enough to take their trucks to the track. Over the past few decades there have been a large number of sports-branded pickups, enough to create a clear delineation between those which are serious and those that only exist for street cred.
The worst of these poser pickups are almost literally just a coat of paint, while others at least have different springs to complement the stickers and ornamental bodywork that adorns them. A step up from these are the trucks that are parts bin specials. The original sports pickups were this, similar in vein to the old Pontiac GTO. Parts already made by the company, just applied to a very different platform than what they were intended for. These trucks are very purposeful anomalies.
20 Outrun A Sports Car: GMC Syclone
At the summit of the many sport trucks are those factory-modified to slaughter even the supercars of their time. Few and far between, these trucks show that despite their blue collar origins, a big engine bay and study chassis makes for an excellent performance canvas. Enter the GMC Syclone.
A turbocharged V6 pumped power through a four wheel drive system that allowed the lowly pickup to launch as hard as any concurrent Ferrari.
This includes the Ferrari 348, which the Syclone could famously outrun outright at the drag strip. The Syclone and its SUV sister Typhoon are now rare and fondly remembered classics whose owners still put the hammer down.
19 Too Slow: Honda Ridgeline Sport
Built for people who didn’t buy trucks, it's easy to see why the Ridgeline failed. Try as it might, it was still a truck, and since it was built for people who didn’t buy trucks, those who did didn’t think much of it. Soft and pliable where the Big Three’s trucks were rugged and powerful, the Ridgeline had practicality, but lacked capability to give it a “real truck’s” image. Lower towing capacity, lower power, and less beefy construction than equally priced rivals failed to win anyone over. A flashy Sport model could have partially alleviated this, but unfortunately this model continued the Ridgeline range’s mediocrity.
18 Outrun A Sports Car: Ford SVT Raptor (First Generation)
Introducing a generation of automotive journalists to the concept of Baja, the original SVT Raptor almost instantly became a media darling. Capable of things no sports car could, like driving without road at a hundred miles an hour, yet still having some capability on the street thanks to a 6.2 liter V8 power plant providing plenty of forward thrust. The truck had so much performance on all different types of terrain that it was included as a playable vehicle in a bevy of driving games that formerly had only featured on-road sports cars and muscle cars. The original Raptor stands apart.
17 Too Slow: Ford Ranger Raptor
Not all Raptors are created equal, however. Despite angry looks and awesome suspension, it is powered by the same general layout of engine that would come in a Japanese sport compact hatchback. Or, to be precise, it uses the exact same engine from Ford’s Focus RS compact hatchback.
In a small car, 350 horsepower is way more than enough.
But for a truck with large tires, off road suspension, and generally much higher weight, it is only adequate at best. Turbo lag doesn’t help, meaning what was an international hype bomb turned into something shrug-generating when details were released recently.
16 Outrun A Sports Car: Dodge Ram Power Wagon
Seeing Ford’s success with the original Raptor, Dodge moved to capitalize on the newfound market with their own entry. This was the Power Wagon, a performance pickup with an engine even larger than that in the original Raptor and even more grunt. A 6.4 liter hemi is enough to shatter expectations and hurtle you and your practically three ton truck far into the distance without a whimper. The rest of the truck is what you would expect a 70 thousand dollar range-topping performance vehicle to be, with high performance multi-mode suspension for on or off road performance, uprated locking differentials, and massive towing ability for a non-diesel truck. The Power Wagon can perform like a Raptor and pull better than a work truck.
15 Too Slow: Chevy Silverado SS
In the early 2000’s, Chevy was willing to slap SS on just about anything. Whatever happened to be the highest performance variant of that line of vehicles, got the badge. Including vehicles like the contemporary Malibu, whose particular trim level just didn’t deserve the badge. Enter the LQ9 powered Silverado SS, a parts bin special branded as a true ground-up performance truck.
While power was almost adequate, suspension and brakes were left alone, leading to a truck that was far more bark than bite.
To add insult to injury, when Dale Earnhardt passed, they used his nickname as a limited edition sub brand, slapping some stickers and badges on the trucks to cash in.
14 Outrun A Sports Car: Ford Raptor (Second Generation)
One of, if not the primary, problem with the original Ford F-150 Raptor was the people who originally reviewed it. Wide-eyed car journalists, many of whom had never gone airborne in a road vehicle before, were shocked and amazed at a factory vehicle that required no road to surpass a freeway speed limit, or a factory truck that the manufacturer encouraged the reviewers to jump. Ford was puzzled when owners started coming to dealerships with bent frames after they had no doubt sent their trucks over jumps the size of buildings. Ford saw this, acknowledged it, and dramatically beefed up the next generation Raptor’s skeleton. No more bent frames.
13 Too Slow: Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport (Second Generation)
Ford understood their audience. When people expected the impossible, they just did it, so their expectations would be met. Toyota wasn’t quite there. Actually, they weren’t there at all. The features list of the “Sport” trim of the second generation Tacoma is primarily dominated by things that are colour matched, not upgraded. But if one reads past the colour matched bumpers and side mirrors, they will discover Bilstein suspension. This is really the only true upgrade on what is supposed to be a Sport truck, making it something of a poser machine. Sport in name only, and perhaps a significant missed opportunity.
12 Outrun A Sports Car: Ford SVT Lightning (Second Generation)
Like the Raptor that followed it, the Lightning was something of a media darling, and featured in a few video games alongside full on sports and supercars. Equipped with an earlier iron block variant of the engine that would go in the Ford GT supercar, it is easy to see why.
Nearly five and half liters of domestic oomph, supercharged for extra tire smoking potential.
Lowered and intercooled, this engine was very easy to upgrade further into something monstrous on the drag strip, and some would even be brave enough to take their Lightnings trackside. These were not trucks to mess with.
11 Too Slow: Ford SVT Lightning (First Generation)
Unlike most first entries, the original Lightning wasn’t the definitive model. Despite a storied 351 Windsor under the hood with more displacement than its newer counterpart, old technology and emissions controls choked it down to over a hundred horsepower less than its later sister. While a parts bin sport truck in the purest sense of the word, it was done with some purpose, it's just that Ford didn’t have the parts to make something as heavy as an F-150 fast back in the early 90’s. The same engine in a roughly three thousand pound Foxbody Mustang would be more than enough, but in a roughly five thousand pound truck it just doesn’t stack up.
10 Outrun A Sports Car: Dodge Ram SRT-10
With a long lineage of hotrodding in their ranks, it is easy to see where Dodge got their penchant for overpowered vehicles from. Cars so overpowered as to at times be made intentionally pointless, all for the sake of awesomeness factor. These days this mentality is best exemplified by the Hellcat Charger and Challenger muscle cars, but a decade ago the best example was when they put the Viper’s engine in a truck. Over eight liters of raw, straight, strong Detroit torque. In the decidedly front heavy Ram SRT-10, it provided an experience for only those truly skilled in handling the massively overpowered.
9 Too Slow: Toyota Tacoma X-Runner
Created in the waning years of the tuner craze, when Japanese manufacturers realized the body kits and upgrades people were putting on their cars could be offered from the factory at a markup, the X-Runner is hard to take seriously, and for good reason.
Upgraded chassis bracing, higher performance shocks, better tires, and more has been added to make the truck much better in the corners.
For JDM enthusiasts in States, this was enough to match the chuckle-inducing body kit, but compared to other Sport pickups the 1GR V6 engine just doesn’t have the power to keep up. While an impressive in agility for a pickup, the X-Runner just doesn't have the power.
8 Outrun A Sports Car: 2018 Ford F-150 RTR
Ready To Rock, Vaughn Gittin’s tuning brand, makes vehicles in the spirit of it’s spokesman. Cars and trucks fully ready to throw down, as soon as they roll out of the shop. Mostly focused on making Mustangs into warranty-backed drift machines, the brand has recently built a truck that can do all this and haul the mail too. Designed to be the perfect all around daily, the F-150 RTR is a Coyote V8 powered jack of all trades. A 600hp truck that will power forward in a straight line, corner with things it is not supposed to, take jumps like a champ, and even take the kids to school with surprisingly good gas mileage.
7 Too Slow: Chevy 454SS
Sport pickups didn’t necessarily start off with a bang. One of the first of the breed, and perhaps the prototypical sports truck, the 454SS didn’t really have the tech behind it to be called fast in the modern day. Despite a massive 7.4 liter big block Chevy V8, horsepower was quite low at 230 thanks to emissions gear and old school manufacturing techniques. While the horsepower rating was very easy to increase dramatically in the aftermarket, the stock torque rating of over 400 pound feet does do the massive hunk of iron in the engine bay justice. Just not enough to be fast by modern standards.
6 Outrun A Sports Car: 1978 Dodge Lil' Red Express
One of original factory muscle trucks, the Li’l Red Express does not look it came from a factory. But despite it’s purposefully comical looks, the truck’s performance is quite serious for its era. Created by Mopar employees disgruntled with the emissions regs slapped on them, the team found a loophole in that many of the regs didn’t yet apply to trucks.
So when their country told them they couldn’t build muscle cars anymore, they just built a muscle truck instead.
Powered by a Dodge 360 V8, producing over 200 horsepower, this was a truck that could stay with and possibly outrun any of the false muscle cars of the late seventies.
5 Too Slow: Ford F-150 Nite
The original SVT Lightning was an admirable effort, and for the time, wasn’t too bad. Not as shockingly torquey as the 454SS or as outright fast as the Syclone, but a decent contender nonetheless, especially considering the parts bin nature of the Lightning’s construction. The Nite is not the Lightning though. A trim package based around a paint colour, but marketed as somewhat sporty, it doesn’t hold a candle to its stablemate in any way, shape, or form. While these days they are understood to not be a sports truck, back in the day there were some who somehow saw these as fast, despite being less than the Lightning, which at the time was the slowest of the sports trucks already.
4 Outrun A Sports Car: 2018 Ford F-150 Shelby Super Snake
Ford is not as crazy as Dodge, and nowhere near as insane as Dodge’s SRT tuning arm. But, thank heavens, Shelby is. In a similar vein to the ludicrously overpowered Ram SRT-10, Shelby has applied the sanityless formula it applies to its Super Snake Mustangs to an F150 pickup. From the body kit up, this truck is crazy with a capital C on four wheels. A supercharged Coyote 5 liter V8 hurls over seven hundred and fifty horsepower toward an optional four wheel drive system, capable of launching this modern, large, and heavy pickup harder than even the original GMC Syclone of yore.
3 Too Slow: Toyota Tacoma TRD Extreme
Calling something “Extreme!” that just isn’t has got to be a cardinal sin in the automotive world. And despite upgraded suspension, the TRD Extreme just isn’t extreme. Equipped with the same meh-inducing 1GR V6 as every other Tacoma of the generation, the Extreme’s other feature highlights tend to show just how gutless the poor truck really is.
A custom stainless steel exhaust is a really good part, but not something that will add performance.
The bead lock wheels are fake, and only there for looks, but at least are less pathetic looking on the options list than a special shift knob.
2 Outrun A Sports Car: Toyota Tundra Ironman Edition Supercharged
Not all Toyota sport trucks don’t live up to the name, however. When paying homage to one of their very successful pro drivers, Toyota quietly produced the craziest, most powerful, and highest performance pickup they have ever made. The Ironman edition of the Tundra has a Supercharger option that bumps power on the nondescript looking pickup up to around five hundred horses, enough to cook tire at virtually any time and in any condition. While not really able to use the extra power to truly fast, this was a truck that looked boring, but could leave a near-permanent smile on your face.
1 Too Slow: Dodge Ram SST
The worst sport trucks tend to be gimmicks. While Toyota seemingly made only gimmicky trucks, with one or two proving to actually be gems despite being gimmicks, Dodge for the most part was more serious with what they advertise as performance offerings. But the SST, for Super Sport Truck, is not serious, legit, or proper. It is a paltry 15 horsepower upgrade over the basic old dodge Ram, with larger wheels and tires. A pace car truck, essentially. Included in the gimmick were special colours, but not special performance. A let down from a company with a long history of amazing overpowered street machines.
Sources: CarAndDriver.com, MotorTrend.com, TruckTrend.com