This year’s North American International Auto Show was an ode to the pickups that helped sow American automotive roots. General Motors and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles flexed their muscles with debuts of bigger, badder and more luxurious trucks. Ford brought a smaller truck with big intentions. Mercedes-Benz also showed off a lean, mean, rock-crawling machine.
Diesel engines, mixed metals and expanded interior space are now part of the regular rhetoric surrounding the pickup segment, which accounts for 16 percent of the auto market.
With temperatures near zero and snow on the ground, Trucks.com braved the Detroit auto show for a dramatic showdown rooted in U.S. history. Here are the finest trucks that crawled onto Motor City’s international stage.
1. 2019 Ram 1500
FCA is betting that its all-new, fully- transformed, full-size 2019 Ram 1500 can stand up against tough competitors in an unforgiving truck market — and we can’t wait to watch it go down. Or up, rather, in sales.
Its body is lighter, longer and wider, and it offers increased payload and towing capacity. For added fuel efficiency, Ram added eTorque, a mild-hybrid system that shuts down the engine when the truck coasts to a stop and then provides torque upon initial acceleration. The truck leverages other features to improve aerodynamics.
The pickup is also fully connected and has the most interior space, legroom and storage among half-ton pickups, making it fun and family feasible. Top trims are fashioned with a 12-inch touch screen and standard cameras provide a 360-degree view. It keeps classic big-rig styling cues as a throwback to its workhorse roots.
Though it faces stiff competition, the current Ram has stolen market share from industry leader Ford as well as stalwarts General Motors and Toyota. FCA will also build the truck at a completely refurbished and updated factory in Sterling Heights, Mich., that cost the company $1.5 billion to upgrade.
2. 2018 Mercedes-Benz G-Class
Mercedes-Benz brought its beloved, boxy G-Class SUV — known as the G-Wagen — to Detroit with a range of modern amenities, including new LED headlamps, advanced driver-assistance systems, a high-quality interior with leather seats and a new suspension. The G-Class also gets a new nine-speed automatic transmission and an increase in interior space. Mercedes preserved the classic boxy, which has not changed significantly since 1979.
The G-Wagen has a split personality. For many in Los Angeles, it’s nothing more than a showy but cramped SUV that carts the rich and famous around Beverly Hills. But to the off-roading industry, it has long had a reputation for being well built, tough and durable.
But now it stands 2.1 inches longer and 4.8 inches wider, providing the room it needs to be a comfortable daily driver as well as a formidable rock crawler.
3. 2019 Chevrolet Silverado
The fully-redesigned 2019 Silverado boasts new tech meant to accentuate its toughness and capability. Chevrolet shaved 450 pounds with a new bed made from a stronger, lighter-grade steel alloy; doors, hood and tailgate made of lightweight aluminum; and a frame made of 80 percent high-strength steel. The front suspension also features forged-aluminum upper control arms.
A new turbocharged 3.0-liter Duramax diesel six-cylinder engine will be available at launch. The other options — updated versions of the 5.3-liter V8 and 6.2-liter V8 engines — will use a new technology called Dynamic Fuel Management that shuts off between one and seven cylinders depending on speed and load, increasing efficiency.
Aside from the new engines, there’s more space. The bed floor is 6.75 inches wider, and the cargo volume will be a class-leading 63 cubic feet. The number of tie-downs increased to 21. An industry-first power tailgate makes it easy to load and unload cargo.
Silverado’s new physique comes in eight trims ranging from the spartan Silverado Work Truck and sporty RST to the off-road LT Trailboss and luxurious High Country. The full-size truck will undoubtedly appeal to many, which is why we love it.
4. 2019 Ford Ranger
Ford is pitting itself head-to-head in the midsize truck category by re-introducing its Ranger pickup. Ranger, meet Tacoma. And Canyon and Colorado. Oh, and Frontier and Ridgeline. Whew, this party is getting packed.
Is there room for growth? Ford’s move to capture sales from an already crowded segment, especially when midsize pickup sales look to be flatlining, is a bold move.
Ford also is positioning the new Ranger as a tool for those who blend city living with more off-the-grid adventures on weekends. Available trims will include the XL, XLT and Lariat, and it will only come in extended cab configurations. A sport package — the FX — comes with off-road shocks, all-terrain tires and an electronic-locking rear axle. It is available as an FX2 with two-wheel drive or an FX4 with four-wheel drive. The FX4 includes Trail Control, which is a new technology like cruise control for off-roading at low speeds. It takes over acceleration and braking to allow the driver to focus on steering over rugged terrain.
As a true adventure tool, the Ranger piques our interest. What remains to be seen is how it takes sales from the Tacoma, the segment’s sales leader.
5. Achates Opposed-Piston Engine Ford F-150
San Diego-based engine developer Achates Power outfitted a Ford F-150 with a 2.7-liter, opposed-piston, compression-ignition gasoline engine that promises to deliver 37-mpg fuel efficiency, 270 horsepower, 429 pound-feet of torque and a 50 percent emissions reduction. Achates plans to put the engine through its paces alongside Aramco, the U.S. arm of Saudi Arabian Oil Co.
If Achates can hit the 37-mpg target, the engine would be pickup truck gold, heavily improving upon the 21-mpg industry average. Truck makers are working hard to develop more efficient powertrains to adhere to tightening federal emissions standards. If Achates’ opposed-engine design can reframe the conversation around gasoline, it will be a game changer.