For many other automotive publications and sites, pickups are a sideshow. They're often grudgingly acknowledged for their sales volume dominance in North America, and reviews are often full of patronizing urban cowboy or redneck stereotypes. Of course, when it comes time for those editors to tow their Miata or E36 M3 to track day, or move them out of their apartments, it's not the keys to the 911 GT3 they reach for.
To those who haven't followed the pickup segment closely, it's easy to think not much has changed in the past two decades. By and large, pickups follow the same basic formula of body-on-frame, with a separate cargo box and rear leaf springs. Ram continues to deviate from the norm with rear coils on the Ram 1500 and now 2500, with optional air springs. Ram was also first to the market with an eight-speed transmission, as well as the first in more than two decades to bring a diesel back to the 1/2-ton segment. For these reasons and more, the Ram 1500 took our Truck of the Year honors for the second consecutive year, the first time in the competition's 35-year history.
But Ram is not the only innovator in the segment. General Motors is set to shake up the stale midsize segment with the upcoming introduction of the 2015 Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon. Both of these trucks promise to bring a new level of refinement, technology, and fuel economy to the segment, including the class' only available diesel in the U.S. market, even though diesels are the dominant engine type for midsize trucks globally. GM representatives aren't saying anything publicly (yet), but it's believed the fuel economy target for the diesel is an ambitious, but achievable, 30 mpg highway.
Finally, although not really new, nearly eight years after its debut, the Honda Ridgeline is worth mentioning. With miniscule sales volumes relative to the rest of the segment, and pretty mediocre fuel economy compared with even full-size pickups, it's easy to dismiss the Ridgeline as a misfit oddball. Not long ago, we thought Honda's pickup would be a one-and-done proposition. But Honda has said an all-new model is coming after the current model takes a two-year hiatus and has even released a silhouette sketch of the new model showing a much more traditional pickup profile than the current model. We believe the future Ridgeline will continue to have a unibody, transverse powertrain, independent-suspension configuration. But its lackluster fuel economy will be addressed as a top priority. And whether you see the Ridgeline's in-bed trunk and two-mode tailgate as gimmicky or clever, they've both been cited by current owners as among their favorite features, and will almost certainly carry over.
Having just driven a 2014 Ridgeline, the truck's packaging, allowing for a low, flat floor and the aforementioned in-bed trunk, remain unique in its class, and its independent suspension and unibody chassis make for a much more carlike and comfortable ride than that offered by its more conventional pickup competitors. Unimpressive fuel economy, and perhaps less than class-leading NVH characteristics are the only two glaring shortcomings. You can bet these two items will be addressed with the Ridgeline's redesign.
Even nearly a decade after its debut, the packaging and conceptual form of the Ridgeline are unique and futuristic. Although it remains an outlier in the current midsize segment, I have a feeling in another 6-10 years' time, the unibody pickup segment could be more than a party of one.