Pickup trucks have been used as workhorses ever since their humble beginnings over a century ago. However, they have evolved to become a crucial part of the automotive industry, particularly in the United States. Automakers quickly began attempting to outperform each other by releasing innovative pickups. In effect, there have been plenty of pickup trucks released within the last decades.
Some of the greatest pickups are simply renowned for their reliability and practicality, while others have gone down in history for the jaw-dropping performance and insanely quick 0-60 sprints. Check out the best pickup truck of every year since 1979, both domestic as well as the ones built overseas.
1979- Dodge Lil’ Red Express
The iconic Lil’ Red Express is undoubtedly one of the most unique pickup trucks to ever leave the Warren Truck Assembly. Apart from the astonishing hot rod-like design, the Lil’ Red Express was immensely fast for its time. In fact, the truck used to be the fastest American-made vehicle to reach 100 mph back when it debuted in 1978.
Under the hood, this precious pickup truck packed an upgraded 360-cubic inch Chrysler small-block V8 motor. Dodge only sold the Lil’ Red Express for two years, the production line was shut down after selling merely 7,000 units.
1980- Toyota Hilux
The Hilux is often considered to be one of the best Japanese pickup trucks of all time. The truck is renowned for its durability and reliability, making the Hilux one of the best work trucks on the market. The first-ever Toyota Hilux hit the market back in the late 60s, though the iconic third generation debuted for the 1979 model year.
The redesigned Hilux featured slightly wider front and rear tracks, as well as a revised suspension system that used torsion bars rather than coil springs. The truck debuted only with a rear-wheel-drive drivetrain, though a 4WD variant was unveiled just a few months later.
1981- Dodge Ram
The first generation of the Dodge Ram hit the market for the 1981 model year. One of the most distinctive features of the first-gen Ram pickup truck is its Ram hood ornament. The decorative touch paid homage to Dodge vehicles built between the early 30s through the 1950s, which were fitted with the same piece.
Dodge offered a wide array of different trim levels of the Ram. Buyers could choose between three cab types and rear-wheel or all-wheel drivetrains. In addition, Dodge offered either a slant-six, V6, and two different V8 motors beneath the hood.
1982- Jeep Scrambler (CJ8)
Jeep unveiled the Scrambler in 1981 for the following model year. It’s easy to notice that the truck deeply resembles the CJ-7. In fact, the Scrambler is actually a long-wheelbase version of the Jeep CJ-7. Other than that, it shared most of its part with its short-wheelbase counterpart. Available powerplants ranged from an economical flat-four through to a powerful V8.
To this day, many Jeep enthusiasts remain unaware that the Scrambler was not the official name of the pickup truck. In reality, the Scrambler was an optional appearance package that the majority of CJ-8s came equipped with. The name has definitely stuck.
1983- Jeep Pickup
The American automaker first introduced the legendary Gladiator nameplate in the early 1960s. Jeep developed a full-size pickup truck based on the Jeep Wagoneer that first hit the market for the ’63 model year. In the early 70s, the manufacturer dropped the Gladiator moniker and the series was known simply as the Jeep Pickup.
The Jeep Pickup had already been in production for a few years by 1983, though Jeep did introduce an all-new full-time four-wheel-drive system known as the Selec-Tac that year. It replaced the outdated Quadra-Tac drivetrain that can be found on units built before ’83.
1984- Ford Ranger
The Ranger was the first compact pickup truck built from the ground up by Ford Motor Company. Before the debut of the Ranger, the automaker would offer the Ford Courier as its flagship compact pickup truck. The Courier, however, was actually produced by Mazda. The American manufacturer recognized the growing demand for small trucks and developed the very first Ranger for the 1983 model year.
The truck went on to become one of the best-selling compact trucks of all time. Its production run spanned nearly 3 decades! The original, first-gen Ranger was eventually replaced by the all-new 2-gen in the early 1990s.
1985- Jeep Comanche
The Comanche is probably one of the best-looking pickup trucks of the 1980s. This pickup version of the Jeep Cherokee was in production between 1985 and 1992. The Comanche paved the way for upcoming midsize trucks, such as the Dodge Dakota. Unlike the Dakota, the Jeep Comanche is classified as a compact pickup truck.
Jeep offered different variants of the Comanche. The base model came fitted with a 2.5L flat-four and a rear-wheel-drive drivetrain, though buyers could upgrade to V6 or I6 engines as well as all-wheel-drive. A diesel version was available too, powered by a 2.1L four-cyl sourced from Renault.
1986- Datsun 720
Nissan’s series of Datsun trucks have been popular ever since the initial debut back in 1955. One of the greatest generations of these Japanese compact pickup trucks has got to be the Datsun 720, sold in the United States between 1980 and 1986.
Unlike American pickup trucks, Datsun pickups were small and fuel-efficient. They were nowhere near as large, either. In fact, the total length of the 720 is between 63 and 66 inches, depending on whether it’s the 2WD or the 4WD version.
1987- Dodge Dakota
Dodge’s all-new pickup truck, the Dakota, caused quite a stir back in 1987. The truck was too small to be considered a full-size pickup, yet it was slightly larger than the S10 or the Ford Ranger. In addition, the Dakota was available with a V8 beneath the hood, unlike any of its competitors.
Chrysler went rather crazy with the special versions of the Dakota, to say the least. Throughout its production run, the Dakota saw a drop-top convertible variant and even a limited Shelby Dakota developed by Carroll Shelby.
1988- Chevrolet C/K1500
The fourth generation of the Chevrolet C/K pickup truck series debuted for the 1988 model year. Internally referred to as the GMT400 platform, the fourth-gen became one of the best trucks made by General Motors to date.
The fourth-gen C/K featured refreshed design both inside and out. Rounded edges found on the predecessors were gone, in favor of a boxier and more aggressive look. Under the hood, the truck was fitted with a 4.3L V6 as standard. Buyers had the option to upgrade to a V8 powerplant, both the 305-cubic inch and the 350 were available.
1989- Dodge Ram 5.9
1989 has gone down in history for fans of diesel-powered Mopar trucks. For the first time ever, Dodge offered the flagship Ram with the iconic 5.9L Cummins beneath the hood. In effect, the automaker saw a boost in sales for the first time since the debut of the truck. Unsurprisingly, everyone wanted to get their hands on a Cummins-powered Ram truck.
The Cummins-powered version of the Ram was only offered on the 250 and 350 chassis. Buyers could choose between a heavy-duty version of the standard Ram’s automatic gearbox and a 5-speed stick shift.
1990- Chevrolet 454 SS
You cannot go wrong with a pickup truck powered by a monstrous big-block engine. General Motors certainly hit the mark in 1990, with the release of a souped-up Chevy C1500. For the first time ever, the pickup truck was fitted with the legendary 454 cubic-inch big-block V8.
The 454 SS was America’s first high-performance pickup truck since the iconic Lil’ Red Express from the late 70s. Apart from a 255-horsepower motor under the hood, the 454 SS received a revised suspension system that dramatically improved handling, as well as an array of cosmetic changes.
1991- GMC Syclone
Today, the Syclone is one of the most sought-after performance-oriented American pickup trucks on the market. Back in the early 1990s, however, nobody seemed to want to own one. In fact, General Motors only sold around 3000 units of this jaw-dropping truck before shutting down the assembly line a year after its initial debut.
Contrary to popular belief, the Syclone is not powered by a V8 engine. Instead, this small pickup truck is fitted with a turbocharged 4.3L V6 mated with a 4-speed automatic and a four-wheel-drive drivetrain. At the time of its release, the Syclone was the quickest production pickup truck of all time.
1992- Hummer H1
The story behind the Hummer is as cool as it gets. Arnold Schwarzenegger reportedly saw a convoy of military Humvees while shooting one of his films, and somehow managed to convince GM to create a street-legal version of the military machine. In 1992, the first-ever Hummer hit the market.
The original Hummer H1 is essentially a Humvee modified to be street-legal. The truck is spartan, V8-powered as standard, and extremely large. It quickly became infamous for its notorious fuel efficiency, or lack thereof.
1993- Ford SVT Lightning
Ford decided to follow in the footsteps of General Motors and release a performance-oriented variant of their pickup truck, too. In 1993, the American manufacturer unveiled the Ford SVT Lightning, a souped-up version of the Ford F-150. Like the previously mentioned GMC Syclone, the SVT Lightning seems to have gone under the radar at first.
The Lightning came powered by an enhanced version of Ford’s 5.8L V8 motor, rated at 240 horsepower. Throughout the truck’s three-year-long production run, Ford only managed to sell around 11,000 units of the SVT.
1994- Dodge Ram
As iconic as the first-gen Ram was, the truck was rather outdated by the early 1990s. Chrysler saw sales plummet each year and eventually decided to release the all-new second-gen Ram in 1994.
The redesigned Ram was indeed an enormous success. In fact, it was named the Truck Of The Year by Motor Trend directly after its debut. The base model was powered by a 3.9L V6, though 5.2L and 5.9L V8 motors were available as well. On top of that, the automaker also offered a Cummins-powered variant, as well as a version powered by the 300-horsepower Magnum V10. Dodge continued producing the second-gen Ram pickup truck all the way until 2002.
1995- Ford F-150
Ford F-150, America’s best-selling and arguably favorite pickup truck of all time, doubles as one of the best American vehicles of the 90s. The ninth-gen F-150, sold between 1992 and 1997, certainly does not get the recognition it deserves.
Many die-hard Ford fans would argue whether the ninth-gen was a true redesign or just a stylistic facelift, as the truck was still based on the design from 1980. Available engines varied from a flat-six through to a big-block V8, as well as a powerful turbocharged diesel motor.
1996- Mitsubishi Triton
The refreshed third generation of the Triton, a compact pickup truck built by Mitsubishi since the late 70s, hit the market for the 1996 model year. The new Triton featured more powerful engine options and revised styling. Both 2 and 4-door cabs were available. The base model was fitted with a fuel-efficient 2.5L turbocharged diesel that peaked at around 100 horsepower.
The debut and success of the Triton caused the Japanese automaker to release an SUV version of the pickup, called the Mitsubishi Challenger, shortly after the launch of the truck.
1997- Dodge Dakota
Dodge recognized the growing demand for midsize trucks and released the all-new second-gen Dakota for the 1997 model year. The truck featured various technical improvements, more powerful engine options, as well as a new big-rig style. The most exciting addition had to be the high-performance R/T variant of this midsize pickup.
The Dakota 5.9 R/T was only available with the 360-cubic inch V8 under the hood. The motor peaks at just below 250 horsepower. In effect, the R/T can accelerate to 60 miles per hour in just 7 seconds. At the time of its 1997 release, the Dakota R/T was the quickest production pickup truck of all time.
1998- Nissan Navara
The first ever Nissan Navara hit the market back in 1997. This versatile compact pickup truck replaced the iconic Nissan D21 Hardbody. The all-new Navara was bigger, more practical, and more powerful than its outdated predecessor.
The Japanese automaker offered 3 different body styles and a choice between a flat-four or a V6 motor beneath the hood. The base model’s economical 2.0L engine only produces 100 horsepower, though the more powerful V6 variant makes more than twice the power. A flat-four diesel variant was available, too.
1999- Chevrolet Silverado
The first-gen Silverado shares a similar past with the previously mentioned ninth-gen Ford F-150. At first, many buyers weren’t too fond of the newer design, hence this generation of the Chevy pickup quickly lost its initial popularity. In effect, the original Silverado became massively underrated in the next years.
The Silverado was launched as a successor to the C/K Series. General Motors offered a selection of different Vortec powerplants. The base model was fitted with a somewhat economical 4.3L V6, while all other available engines were V8s. The largest engine mounted in this generation of the Silverado was an enormous 8.1L V8, found only in the heavy-duty variant of the truck.
2000- Toyota Tacoma S-Runner
2000 saw an all-new trim level of the Tacoma compact pickup truck. The newly-unveiled variant featured the most powerful engine ever mounted under the hood of a Tacoma at the time. The compact truck was rated at 190 horsepower, all thanks to its 4.3L V6. The S-Runner was only available with a 5-speed stick shift.
Toyota limited the production of the S-Runner variant to just 800 examples every month, starting September 2000 through to August 2004. The Tacoma saw a rapid growth in popularity. Its sales surpassed those of the Dodge Dakota, as well as the Nissan Frontier by 2004.
2001- Ford Explorer Sport Trac
Ford unveiled a pickup truck version of the Explorer SUV for the 2001 model year. The Sport Trac was released to compete with the successful Dodge Dakota, as well as the Toyota Tacoma. It was the first midsize pickup ever built by Ford, as the previous Rangers were classified as compact trucks.
The Explorer Sport Trac was only available in a 4-door body configuration. Buyers were not spoilt for choice when picking powerplants either, as the 4.0L V6 was the only engine fitted in the truck. Buyers did have the freedom to pick between an automatic or a stick-shift, at least.
2002- Dodge Ram 3
The beloved second-gen Ram was replaced by its successor starting from the 2002 model year. The all-new Ram featured a brand new frame, as well as updated engines and modernized suspension systems among other changes. The base model is powered by a Magnum 3.7L V6, though buyers could choose to upgrade to various Magnum V8 and V10 engines. What’s more, Dodge even offered a Hemi-powered variant of the truck, rated at up to 388 horsepower depending on the trim level.
Despite a rather radical change in the design language, buyers flocked to get their hands on the refreshed Ram. In fact, sales figures reached an all-time high, reaching 950,000 units within the first two years of production.
2003- Chevrolet Silverado SS
General Motors does not play around with the SS moniker, it’s reserved for the most powerful variants of their production vehicles. The SS only appeared on one pickup truck fitted with a big block under the hood. Until Chevrolet released the Silverado SS in 2003, that is.
The Silverado SS was an exciting addition to the high-performance pickup truck market. It was only available with a 6.0L Vortec V8 that produces 345 horsepower, mated with a four-speed automatic and a four-wheel-drive drivetrain. Sales were lower than expected, hence GM decided to offer a rear-wheel-drive version of the Silverado SS from 2005.
2004- Dodge Ram SRT-10
Dodge returned to the high-performance pickup game in 2004 with the release of the Dodge Ram SRT-10. At the time of its release, the SRT-10 was the fastest pickup in the world. What’s more, this souped-up Dodge remains one of the craziest trucks of all time.
The Ram SRT-10 is powered by a screaming 8.3L V10, the same motor that can be found in the Viper. In effect, this insane pickup truck can reach 60 miles per hour in just 4.9 seconds! The top speed is equally as impressive, the Ram SRT-10 can drive up to 154 miles per hour.
2005- Dodge Power Wagon
Dodge revived the legendary Power Wagon nameplate in 2005, following an absence that lasted 2 and a half decades. This time, however, the Power Wagon was a special version based on the Ram 2500.
The 2005 Power Wagon is all about exceptional off-road performance. It packs a 345-horsepower 5.7L Hemi V8 under the hood as standard, locking differentials, and a lift kit fitted in the factory. Some other extra goodies include enormous 33″ tires and an electric winch that can pull up to 12 000 pounds. What more could an off-roading fan possibly ask for?
2006- Toyota Tacoma
Toyota presented the all-new second generation of the Tacoma pickup truck in 2004 for the following model year. The revised pickup was larger and more powerful than its predecessor. Sadly, the Japanese automaker dropped the S-Runner variant from the lineup due to low sales.
Buyers could choose from nearly 20 different configurations of the second-gen Tacoma. The base model was powered by a 2.7L four-cylinder rated at a little less than 160 horsepower, though the engine could be upgraded to a more powerful V6 that generates 236 horses.
2007- Chevrolet Silverado 1500
General Motors unveiled the redesigned second generation of the flagship Silverado for the 2007 model year. The pickup was built on the all-new GMT900 platform and featured a brand new design, as well as improved suspension and an updated frame. Some of the offered powerplants were more powerful than before, too.
The V6-powered base model is rated at 195 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. The most powerful variant fitted with a 6.2L V8 was only sold between 2009 and 2013. Silverados from those model years produce over 400 horsepower!
2008- Hummer H3T
General Motors unveiled the all-new Hummer H2 and H3 shortly after purchasing rights to the Hummer brand. Unlike the previous Hummer models, the H3 was built by General Motors and not AM General. The H3 served as the smaller cousin of the H2 and was a lot more suitable for daily driving than the original Hummer.
GM unveiled a pickup-truck version of the H3 in 2008 for the following model year. Despite its exceptional off-road performance, many owners complained that the H3T was still too large and uncomfortable for the daily commute. The truck was eventually discontinued just a year after its debut.
2009- Dodge Ram
The fourth-gen Dodge Ram hit the market for the 2009 model year. The new generation featured more powerful engine options, a coil spring suspension rather than leaf springs, as well as a major stylistic redesign among other changes.
At first, the V6 base model Ram 1500 was fitted with a 215-horsepower 3.7L motor. It received Chrysler’s 3.6L V6 Pentastar in 2013, bumping the power output up to 305 horses. The most powerful variant of the Ram 1500 has a 395-horsepower 5.7L Hemi V8 under the hood! A Cummins-powered version debuted in 2010.
2010- Ford SVT Raptor
Ford has not released any high-performance pickup truck since the iconic SVT Lightning from the early 1990s. Nearly two decades passed until the American automaker decided to release the SVT Raptor, a spiritual successor of the Lightning.
The SVT Raptor is a souped-up off-roading truck based on the Ford F-150. It initially came with a 5.4L V8 as standard, pushing out 310 horsepower. Buyers could also opt for the more powerful 6.2L Boss V8, sourced from Ford’s Heavy Duty trucks. The more powerful configuration peaks at 411 horsepower. A year after the truck’s debut, Ford dropped the 5.4L variant from the lineup.
2013- Mercedes-AMG G63 6×6
The recent Mercedes-Benz X-Class is likely the first truck that comes to mind when thinking of German pickups. Back in 2013, Mercedes released what is probably the craziest pickup truck to ever come out of Europe. Very few vehicles can match the intimidating and aggressive road presence of this truly insane creation by Mercedes-Benz.
As if the regular twin-turbo G63 AMG SUV wasn’t crazy enough, the German automaker decided to extend its wheelbase, convert the body into a pickup, slap 2 more wheels on it, and equip the final product with a lift kit and enormous wheels. Oh, and its engine produces over 500 horsepower.
2015- Chevrolet Colorado
You may be surprised to hear that this GM pickup truck did not debut for the North American market. In fact, it only became available in the United States and Canada 4 years after its initial debut in Thailand! This midsize was developed as a successor to the Chevy S10, and it can still be purchased in GM dealerships today.
Buyers in the United States can choose either one of 5 different trim levels. The entry-level Colorado is powered by a 2.5L flat-four. Off-road enthusiasts can opt for the ZR2 trim, fitted with a factory 2″ lift kit as well as enormous 31″ offroad tires among other upgrades.
2016- Ford F-150
The thirteenth generation of the beloved F-150 was launched for the 2015 model year. It features an array of innovative features and modern updates. Moreover, this generation of the F-150 takes the podium as America’s first mass-produced aluminum-intensive production vehicle.
The 2016 F-150 comes equipped with all kinds of modern safety and comfort features. This includes anything from a 360-degree camera all the way through to lane-keep assist systems, or adaptive cruise control. The base model comes powered by a V6, though a V8 version was available as well. The thirteenth-gen F-150 remained on the market until the 2020 model year.
2017- Ford Raptor
The SVT Raptor proved to be a success among buyers, despite being one of the most expensive variants of the F-150 in Ford’s lineup. The SVT Raptor started at a little over $45,000 before options back in 2013. With the release of the 13th-gen F-Series truck in 2014, it was time to update the Raptor as well.
This time, the automaker decided to drop the SVT nameplate and simply called the truck the Ford Raptor. The souped-up truck is powered by a twin-turbocharged 3.5L V6 derived from the Ford GT.
2018- Honda Ridgeline
The latest, second generation of the Ridgeline first went on sale for the 2017 model year. The unibody construction was redesigned, and the pickup saw many new features both inside and out. The latest Ridgeline received a minor power bump too, making 30 horsepower more than its predecessor.
The Japanese automaker only offers one engine option for the latest Ridgeline, all units come powered by a 3.5L V6 mated with either a 6-speed or a 9-speed transmission. Both of them are automatic.
2019- Tesla Cybertruck
Without a doubt, Elon Musk’s Cybertruck was the most talked-about pickup truck in all of 2019. This innovative pickup truck made headlines for all kinds of reasons, including a fail during the first presentation of the Cybertruck.
The Tesla Cybertruck is unlike any other pickup on the market. Like all Tesla vehicles, it features a fully electric drivetrain. In its most powerful configuration, the Tri-Motor powerplant is promised to be able to send the truck to 60mph in just 2.9 seconds. The Cybertruck is scheduled to hit the market for the 2022 model year.
2020- GMC Hummer EV
GM has revived the legendary Hummer brand in 2020. The latest Hummer will be nothing like any of its older cousins, though. The GMC Hummer EV is a revolutionary pickup truck that’s powered by a fully electric drivetrain. The truck is set to enter production sometime later this year.
The electric motors found in the GMC Hummer EV certainly pack a punch. In fact, GM confirmed the power output to be a whopping 1000 horsepower. In effect, the electric truck will be able to reach 60 miles per hour in as little as 3 seconds. Despite the impressive acceleration, GM’s focus remained on off-roading performance.
2021- Ram Rebel TRX
The hardcore Ram Rebel TRX is going to appear on the market starting from the 2021 model year. What’s more, the initial pre-production version was unveiled back in 2016. 2018, however, saw the official announcement confirming that the Rebel TRX will indeed make it into production by 2021.
The Rebel TRX was developed by Ram to be an alternative to the Ford Raptor. It packs a gigantic supercharged 6.2L V8 beneath the hood, rated at over 700 horsepower! Naturally, the truck is loaded with aggressive cosmetic touches, massive off-road tires, and a factory-fitted lift kit.