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Dear automakers: bring back the sports trucks!

Ross Ballot May 10, 2017 All Things Hoon, Featured 34 Comments

Source: BestRide

SVT Lightning. Syclone. 454SS. Ram SRT-10. X-Runner. Xtreme.

The street-oriented “sports truck,” a factory-modified pickup that could simultaneously pull off practicality and pleasure, is a sorely missed niche vehicle that would be a fun territory for automakers to explore today. Sports trucks were the antithesis to the supercar: they could put a big ‘ol smile on your face while still hauling a load of lumber, get around a corner better than their normal counterparts while packed with a bed full of mulch, and rip endless burnouts while carrying the furniture you’re moving. There’s a reason Utes are so popular in Australia and why people still talk about the Ranchero and El Camino, and that’s because the sports truck remains a great combination for those who want something with utility but don’t want to give up sportiness in the process.

2017 is severely lacking when it comes to sporty street-focused pickups, and now is the perfect time for the manufacturers to bring back them back. Hit the jump and prepare to wish the auto manufacturers were selling these outlandishly desirable vehicles today.

Source: AutoEvolution

There was a time when you could buy a vehicle off the showroom floor that would do both work and play, and do both reasonably well. Before then you had to have separate vehicles, a dedicated workhorse and a supplemental play-toy, if you wanted to “do it all.” But no longer; owning a sports truck meant you could “have your cake and eat it too,” even if you compromised a bit of each. And yet the honest, fun, reliable do-it-alls of yore are no longer available for sale, and it’s for the worse. Let’s bring them back, shall we?

Source: NetCarShow

A different kind of sport-truck altogether graces our presence in 2017, a segment basking in irony considering how few actually use them to their full off-road potential. Somehow over the past few years appearing to be an off-roader has become more important than actually off-roading. Perhaps the explosion in popularity of the JK Wrangler Unlimited, the ultimate in “look at how outdoorsy I am!” faux appearance is to blame, but the other culprit is Ford’s SVT Raptor, a wildly capable rig in stock form that far too few owners properly abuse. Of course there will be a few people who read this and say, “I wheel my Raptor every weekend!” but let’s face it, the majority of these trucks will see more time with their tires on the grassy patches between the parking spaces their owners missed than they will any actual time in the woods, on the trails, or running through the dunes.

Source: ConsumerMedia

That’s not to say the out-of-the-box off-roader pickups are anything to scoff at (they’re actually really great), but there’s a plethora: SVT Raptor, Chevy ZR2 and Z71 and Trail Boss, Ram Rebel and Power Wagon, Frontier and Titan Pro-4X, and of course the slew of TRD and TRD Pro Toyotas. Some more capable than the others, but as a whole very strong and capable rigs straight out of the box. Realistically though very few of these will be used as they should, and many will never see use of 4WD Low, which leads us to the root of the problem: off-road pickups are the wrong solution to the needs of the common user. We don’t need more climbing and mudding capability but rather some focus on the street-oriented fun-factor, where pickups spend most of their time.

Source: Road & Track

What we need is more honest sports trucks rather than the high-dollar pre-runners and rock-crawlers which likely won’t be used in the ways their builders intended. We need vehicles that are enjoyable to drive every day, to work and to the lumber yard, to the canyons and to car shows, rather than those that so few will actually ever use to their potential.

Source: Fourtitude

Once upon a time we had the likes of the SVT Lightning, 454SS, Silverado SS, X-Runner, and most insanely, the Viper-powered SRT-10 Ram. Today’s world of sporty options craves the addition of more attainable vehicles that are fun all the time. Turn the wheel, lay on the gas coming out of a corner to get the back end sideways, carve a mountain road at speeds your passenger would think impossible; there should be options for those who want to drive hard on pavement, not just off. The recipe is simple: take a small, simple cab/bed configuration (or offer a multitude of configurations if the manufacturer so desires), lower it, add suspension capable of moderate handling, tighten the chassis, throw on some beefier sway bars, give the rear end an LSD, put some half-decent tires on, take the company’s strongest motor (or option of motors, like in the case of Ford with the twin-turbo EcoBoost and the 5.0 V8), and cram it into a an unsuspecting pickup that is otherwise likely destined to boredom. Voila, sport-truck! It doesn’t have to be anything too crazy, just a more sporting alternative for those interested in how their vehicle drives in the situations it’ll be driven most.

GMC’s legendary Syclone —– Source: Autoweek

It’s not to say the automakers haven’t tried but as of late it’s been a poor showing for sporty pickups. The F-150 Tremor was little more than an appearance package on top of an EcoBoost F-150. Toyota’s TRD-supercharged Tundra was bolt-on power for the full-sizer with little else to show other than burnouts and a much hyped-up warranty. And while Ram’s 1500 R/T was a good effort in theory, ultimately the 5,000+ pound single-cab didn’t boast any more go than show. Aside from these, there aren’t many new options for sporty, muscular street-focused pickups, if any at all. It’s time for that to change.

Source: TruckTrend

It’s not like a new wave of sports trucks would be difficult to build, as the engines and platforms already exist. Some engineering on the handling and suspension tuning side of things and you’re nearly done. GM could easily be produce an LT1-powered Canyon/Colorado to follow the lineage of the Xtreme trucks (and the 5.3 GMT355), and if there’s a chassis engineering team out there to do it there’s no question GM is up to the task. Even a new Silverado SS would be great, except this time it should truly live up to the badge unlike the 2002-2006 truck bearing the same name that had a hard time claiming the sporty descriptor. Then there’s Ford, which could very easily take its single-cab, short-bed F-150, lower it a few inches, give it the twin-turbo EcoBoost motor out of the Raptor (450 hp / 510 lb-ft.!) and some nice wheels and worthy suspension and call it Lightning. How great would it be to have a modern Lightning and 454SS running around on the streets?

The Lightning revival that could have been —– Source: TheMustangSource

Likewise, Toyota could do great things with a lowered version of the Tacoma a la X-Runner, or even go full-beans and throw in the big 5.7L V8 and make everyone giggle until their faces hurt. Nissan too could get in on the game by putting their corporate V8 into the Frontier, or by doing a no-frills 2WD, two-door short-bed version of the Titan with the big engine.

Source: Car and Driver

And how about Dodge? If any manufacturer could do a sports truck it’s Dodge, especially with the existence of the SRT-10 in its history book and the wonky little motor nobody’s ever heard of called Hellcat. You can already get the 6.4 Hemi in the 2500, but who wants a sporty 6000-plus pound Heavy Duty pickup? Not me. It’s probably already being discussed internally, but Dodge could so easily take the smallest Ram and give it not just one powerplant option, but two in the 6.4L and ever-infamous supercharged 6.2L Hellcat motor. Nothing says sports truck like 707 horsepower to relatively weightless rear end, and it would be the proper way to do a successor to the previous decade’s insane Viper-powered lunacy. Or, shit, just put the Viper V10 in it; wouldn’t be the first time.

Source: SeriousWheels

While the sporting SUVs are a different topic altogether, sporty pickup trucks were once a surprisingly exciting niche that never quite caught the response that did the current crop of off-roaders led by the Raptor. It’s time for a resurgence; sports trucks can be used to their fullest more so than their woods-weapon counterparts and they offer a sense of practicality you can’t get from buying a sporty car. Sports trucks will never sell in huge volumes but they do combine an enthusiast’s chariot with a handyman’s tool in a way that few other vehicles can claim to. For that, it’s almost the perfect single-tool vehicle for those who can only swing one horse in their stable. That the automakers could so easily revive this sub-genre with a simple combination of platforms, powerplants, and relatively simple modifications means that it’s reasonably realistic to imagine them doing so. It’s time for the sports truck to return, to put shit-eating-grins on the faces of those who still need a pickup bed. Now, if the automakers will so oblige…

Source: IMCDB

  • neight428
    • Hillman_Hunter

      This. Last year a stock-looking and quiet GMC truck passed me like I was standing still, except I was already going 130mph+

    • Ross Ballot

      Fair, but you can’t get a factory warranty like that or build the performance aspect into your monthly payments. Some people also don’t want to have to spend the time/money modifying the vehicle themselves…

      • E34Less

        You actually can with the F-150. Just buy it from a Roush dealer to get the Roush warranty (matches factory powertrain warranty) and they can roll the modification costs into the financing plan.

      • neight428

        Good points, I didn’t really think about it that way. The Dave Ramsey in me shudders at financing one’s performance itch, but we all have our priorities. I drive a Coyote engined F150 (in 4wd SuperCrew dad hauler edition and acceleration is still on the positive side of adequate), I would guess that one not carrying the extra 3 feet of cab and a transfer case/front diff would be a gear swap and high stall converter away from running mid-13’s in the quarter. The market for going any faster than that in a truck is going to be mighty small.

        • Ross Ballot

          I’d love to see that.

  • Kiefmo

    Shopping the big three, you can configure the next-to-biggest engine in regular cab, short-bed, 2WD truck that’s one level above work truck for mid-30s. All of them let you select a shorter axle ratio with limited slip as well. With Ford, you can take your pick between the 5.0L V8, which would make the right sounds, or the 2.7LTT, which has the potential to be quicker (possibly).

    Toyota doesn’t want to play this game, or else it’s configurator is messed up. You cannot choose a standard cab/short bed without 4WD.

  • JayP

    Ford missed the best farewell offering when they didn’t drop the 3.7l from the Mustang into the Ranger.
    2wd, 5 speed, LSD and 300hp would have made it nuts.

    One “truck” that was missed – Adrenalin. The concept was supercharged but in the end it was a mostly cosmetic. Good ones are still mid-$20k.

    http://st.motortrend.com/uploads/sites/5/2007/10/112_0710_01z-2008_ford_sport_trac_adrenalin-front_view.jpg

    • Ross Ballot

      All show, no go. I wanted to like the Adrenalin but couldn’t, probably because the bed was tiny and the looks gave an impression of aggression and speed the drivetrain couldn’t match.

  • Fred Talmadge

    Guess I’m just old fashion but a sport truck is a lousy sports car and a lousy truck.

  • Alan Cesar
    • Ross Ballot

      100000% yes. I probably would have bought one.

  • Alff

    I’d be more enthusiastic about a return of true minitrucks.

    • JayP
    • Ross Ballot

      Something smaller than the Colorado/Canyon would be great. I’m not holding my breath.

      • Ol’ Shel’

        I held my breath for a Mahindra. Now I’m a ghost internet troll.

  • Rover 1

    They’re just ceasing production of this sports truck. The fastest of all. 8 min 20 sec at The Nurburgring and it can carry as much as a mini-pickup.
    http://roa.h-cdn.co/assets/cm/14/49/980×551/546b0f4c7eaf7_-_hss6-lg.jpg
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QRQEBmgcDnw

  • Maymar

    http://www.automobilesreview.com/gallery/2011-fiat-strada-sporting/2011-fiat-strada-sporting-02.jpg
    Fiat still offers a minitruck globally, FCA is comfortable doing weird stuff, and probably still owns the Rampage name. I’m just hoping the publicity would make a stronger business case than the actual sales would.

    Or they could just cut the rear off a Fiat 500L – that’s a lost cause anyhow.

  • ptschett

    That Ram 1500 R/T has the optional fold-out trailer tow mirrors despite having a J2807 trailer tow rating of only about 5,000 lbs (apparently tire- or GCWR-limited). Weird!
    It’s still in the 2017 brochure, by the way – the R/T group is standard on a Sport trim level 4×2 regular cab. And you can apparently get the same ginormous wheels with rubber band tires on a crew cab Sport 4×2 if you must.

    • neight428

      Not sure what precisely the R/T trim gets you, but Ram still happily sells among their dozens of trim permutations for their truck an “Express” version RCSB with the 5.7 V8 that you can actually find on dealer lots. The Ford version I described above is available, but you rarely find anything other than Crew Cabs around here on their lots.

  • Krautwursten

    At least call them muscle trucks. There’s one thing these battlecruisers will never be, and that’s sporty.

  • outback_ute

    GM must have a pretty easy parts bin solution with the Suburban RST being announced.

    • neight428

      That’s the thing that would seem to make this so easy, but apparently it does something odd to the OEM’s math. The Ford F150 Tremor was a one year aberration and they priced it around $40k, IIRC. All of them put their large engines in jillions of high trim level crew cab 1/2 ton 4×4’s and commercial/fleet trucks that ride on the same chassis. Seems like they could slap one together without thinking about it, but apparently they had to add $10k to the price tag to justify the decision.

      • outback_ute

        CAFE issues?

        • Vairship

          Or just greed 😉

          • outback_ute

            The two are not mutually exclusive! ie, if you really want the big engine, it will be worth our while.

        • neight428

          Maybe, but volume wise it would be a drop in the bucket compared to the King High Laramie™ edition models they sell with the same drivetrain.

          • outback_ute

            Which would probably cost the same?

            • neight428

              Could be less if you leave off the high end options, but high end options = profit, so there’s your answer.