Today’s pickup trucks are more than just workhorses, they’re also luxury vehicles, high-performance machines, and comfortable cruisers. Bare-bone pickups still exist, but these models are no longer the poster children of the typical truck. Credit (or blame) the fact that truck consumers expect these machines to do far more than just tow and haul heavy loads. Rather modern pickups also need to take on roles typically associated with family sedans and luxury cars. Why have two vehicles for different tasks when you can have one capable of completing both? Porque no los dos?
That said, not all trucks cater to the same buyer. Those looking to tow hefty loads will want to consider a half-ton pickup, if not an even mightier three-quarter or full-ton truck. City dwellers, meanwhile, may care for something a bit smaller, such as a mid-size or compact truck, the latter of which tend to trade hefty towing and payload capacities for car-like maneuverability and fuel efficiency.
Then there are the performance-oriented pickups such as the Ford F-150 Raptor and Ram 1500 TRX. These beasts feature off-road-ready suspension components, an abundance of power, and plenty of ground clearance in order to tackle the toughest trails and tallest parking lot curbs out there.
In many ways, trucks are like kitchen knives: choosing the right one for a given task makes finishing the job at hand a heck of a lot easier. That’s why we put these pickups through our exhaustive testing regimen. Because let’s face it, you don’t want to discover the utility knife you bought to trim the fat off a thick cut of tenderloin is actually little more than a bread knife. The trucks on our 2023 Editors' Choice list are the best of the bunch. They’re not all made for completing the same jobs, but these pickups are the top tools for taking on a multitude of tasks.
Compact: Ford Maverick
Although it might not look it, the 2023 Ford Maverick is a workhorse pickup that earns its place next to the Ranger and the F-150 with a novel design and surprising usefulness. The standard powertrain is a fuel-efficient hybrid system with front-wheel drive, but a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder and all-wheel drive are available. Payload capacity is more than enough for a weekend's worth of home improvement supplies, and the Maverick can be equipped to tow up to 4000 pounds. It shares its platform with the Bronco Sport SUV and has four doors and a fairly spacious interior with several clever storage solutions. However, unlike the diet Bronco, the Maverick pickup earned a spot on our list of 10Best Trucks and SUVs for 2023. The Maverick's only competition in the recently revived compact pickup truck class is the Hyundai Santa Cruz, and although that truck can tow more and offers more luxury features, it also costs more and has a smaller bed.
Compact: Hyundai Santa Cruz
Whether or not the 2023 Hyundai Santa Cruz qualifies as a true pickup truck is open to debate, but less debatable are its distinctive design and useful cargo box. Sure, there are mid-size trucks that can tow more—the Hyundai's max is 5000 pounds—and perform better in the mud and on rocky paths. But the Santa Cruz isn't trying to impersonate those angry-looking, trail-eating, worksite-mule pickups. Instead, think of it as a Hyundai Tucson compact SUV with a truck bed. After all, the two share a platform and powertrains. The engine lineup includes an underpowered 191-hp four-cylinder and an optional 281-hp turbo-four that invigorates the Santa Cruz's performance. While the weaker engine is available with front- or all-wheel drive, the burlier mill pairs only with all-wheel drive; it's reserved for the top two trim levels. The SEL Premium and Limited have the best tech and nicest interiors, but they trade fewer physical controls for less-convenient touchscreen buttons and are considerably pricier than the lesser models. Still, the 2023 Santa Cruz shines for its balance of functionality and pleasant driving persona.
Mid-Size: Honda Ridgeline
Honda's mid-size Ridgeline pickup is different. Unlike traditional body-on-frame pickup rivals like the Chevy Colorado or Toyota Tacoma, the Ridgeline is a unibody vehicle—meaning, it has no separate frame. It shares its underpinnings with the unibody three-row Honda Pilot SUV, which is obvious when you drive it. This nontraditional construction gives the Ridgeline the driving comfort of an SUV mixed with the towing and cargo bed of a smaller truck. While this diminishes its off-road capability compared to the most aggressive models from its competitors, the Ridgeline makes an excellent impression in the concrete jungle. Offered exclusively as a four-door crew cab with a five-foot bed, the Ridgeline is powered by a pleasant 280-horsepower V-6 with a nine-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive is standard. From behind the wheel, you'd never guess you're driving a pickup, which is exactly why it's a multi-time Editors' Choice winner.
Mid-Size Electric: Rivian R1T
Tech startup Rivian wasn't the first company to produce an electric pickup truck, but the 2023 R1T's clever design and impressive performance earned it a spot on our 10Best Trucks and SUVs list for 2023. Slightly larger than a Ford Ranger, the R1T is powered by two or four electric motors, depending upon the model, with the most powerful version making a robust 835 horsepower and enabling maximum towing of up to 11,000 pounds. Its more compact size makes it easier to maneuver in tight places than gargantuan full-size offerings such as the Ford F-150 Lightning and the GMC Hummer EV SUT. The Rivian's cabin is outfitted with luxury features and plenty of tech, including a large 16.0-inch infotainment system and a separate digital gauge display. We've enjoyed test-driving the R1T both on- and off-road, and the latter situation was aided by the truck's standard adjustable air suspension, available all-terrain tires, and an optional carbon-fiber underbody shield. There's a price for all this awesomeness, though, and no matter how you spec it, the R1T is an expensive rig—but so are its rivals.
Full-Size: Ford F-150
When you think “pickup truck” the one that probably comes to mind is the Ford F-150. The perennial best-seller has evolved in the modern era with an aluminum body, turbocharged powertrains, a hybrid option, an all-electric spinoff—reviewed separately—and all of Ford's best tech. If you want a work truck, the entry-level XL has everything you need and nothing you don't but move up the trim ladder and you’ll find a lengthening list of desirable features—and price tags to match, of course. For those who want to venture into the wilderness, there’s the spunky Tremor model while the upscale Platinum and Limited trims pamper occupants with Lincoln-level luxury. The F-150 does not ride as well as the Ram 1500 or handle as crisply as the Chevy Silverado, but it’s highly capable, multi-configurable, and thoroughly competitive. In other words, it’s accomplished enough to engender the kind of loyalty that has kept it atop the sales charts year after year.
Full-Size: Ford F-150 Raptor
The Ford F-150 Raptor is a SCORE off-road trophy truck living in an asphalt world. It wears extra-wide fenders, long-travel suspension, big tires, and the high-performance demeanor of a Baja-bashing race truck. It even earned a place on our 10Best Trucks and SUVs list for 2023. Most Raptors are powered by a twin-turbo 450-hp V-6 bolted to a 10-speed automatic transmission and will remain so in 2023. However, an even wilder, more powerful Raptor R is coming for 2023 using a version 700-hp version of the Mustang Shelby GT500's supercharged 5.2-liter V-8, which will finally give the 702-hp Ram TRX something intimidating to snort at. While the R comes standard with 37-inch BFGoodrich K02 tires, standard rubber for twin-turbo V-6 models measures at 35 inches, but 37s are optional. Despite the Raptor's enormity, it has one of the smoothest rides we've experienced in a full-size pickup. That long-travel suspension, which is specifically designed to absorb the bumps, dips, and jumps of high-speed off-roading, is wonderfully soft and forgiving over everyday potholes and lumpy pavement. Rocks and dunes aside, fitting this size-XXL F-150 down a narrow road or into a parking spot might well be the Raptor's biggest obstacle.
Full-Size: Ram 1500
The current-generation Ram 1500 debuted in 2019. (Its predecessor, however, continues on as the Ram 1500 Classic.) Since then, the full-size pickup truck segment has seen updated entries from Chevrolet, Ford, GMC, and Toyota. And yet, only the Ram celebrates a spot on our 10Best Trucks and SUVs for 2023. The Ram 1500 is the best driving and most comfortable pickup of the group. Three powertrain options fill its engine roster: a 260-hp diesel-drinking turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6, a 305-hp 3.6-liter V-6, and a 395-hp 5.7-liter V-8, all of which use an eight-speed automatic transmission. For even more firepower, seek the 702-hp Ram 1500 TRX, reviewed separately. Ram's split-folding tailgate and lockable bed cargo boxes are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this half-ton's cleverness. Ram also offers the 1500 with a giant 12.0-inch infotainment screen for those really looking to show off. With an impressive 12,750-pound max tow rating and a heavy bias for luxury, the Ram 1500 is our favorite full-size pickup available today.
Full-Size: Ram 1500 TRX
Dragons are popular beasts in folklore, but considering the 10Best award-winning Ram 1500 TRX breathes fire and has enough suspension travel to jump most castles, we'd argue that giant flying iguanas are, in fact, real. The TRX can slurp up off-road miles faster than most as it's the quickest gas-powered truck we've ever tested: The 702-hp monster flew to 60 mph in just 3.7 seconds. That means that despite its 6800-pound heft, it can beat a Porsche 718 Cayman GT4 to the next streetlight. Its days of being at the top of the food chain are numbered, though, as a 700-plus-hp natural predator from Ford is hatching this year, dubbed the Raptor R. Otherwise, the TRX's dominance is challenged only by city traffic, normal-sized parking spots, and gas station visits that empty wallets like it's a robbery. To feed its powerful supercharged 6.2-liter V-8, the TRX has what are essentially showerheads for fuel injectors, but, oh baby, is the water warm.
Full-Size Electric: Ford F-150 Lightning
Turn the volume up on the 2023 Ford F-150 Lightning's audio system and you might well miss that this pickup truck is powered by electricity. With the tunes pounding you wouldn't notice the absence of the gasoline engine's sound. But floor the accelerator and you'll know that the Lightning is not your standard gasoline-powered F-150; the electric motors' instant, massive torque slams you into the seat as if you got run into from behind by a Peterbilt. Otherwise, the Lightning delivers just about everything the regular F-150 does in a package that is close to a mirror image. Inside and out, the Lightning looks like other F-150s—though it's totally different underneath, of course. All models come with two electric motors juiced by either of two battery packs. With the larger Extended-Range battery, the powertrain makes a whopping 580 horsepower, and with it, the Lightning blasted to 60 mph in just 4.0 seconds at our test track. The EPA-estimated driving range varies between 230 miles with the base battery to 320 miles with the larger one, but towing a trailer quickly depletes the battery and requires frequent stops to charge. That drawback is common among EV pickup trucks, and rivals such as the GMC Hummer EV SUT and the Rivian R1T don't fare any better. But if you're a truck owner who tows infrequently or only for short distances, the F-150 Lightning will serve your needs well. It is an EV workhorse that can be equipped in a variety of ways, all of which require few compromises compared to the standard gas-powered F-150.
Heavy Duty: Ram HD
The gargantuan 2500 and 3500 HD pickups are the kings of the hill for the Ram brand when it comes to maximum towing capacity. When fitted with the high-output 400-hp Cummins diesel inline-six, the Ram 3500 can pull as much as 37,090 pounds, thanks to its powertrain's stunning 1075 pound-feet of available torque. When equipped with the standard 410-hp Hemi V-8 engine, the Ram HD still puts up big enough numbers to challenge rivals such as the Chevrolet Silverado HD and the Ford Super Duty trucks. While the heavy-duty Ram is abundantly beefy, life is a little less meat and potatoes from the driver's seat. Like the full-size Ram 1500 half-ton pickup, the 2500 and 3500 models offer a refined interior with comfort in mind. The off-road-minded Power Wagon and Rebel models are where work and adventure meet, as both offer skid plates, all-terrain suspensions, and mud-slinging off-road tires.
Frankie Cruz is a hands-on car guy with a wealth of experience modifying, repairing, buying, selling, and—most important—driving cars. He got his start as an automotive journalist in 2014 as an undergrad at Penn State, and he has owned a plethora of vehicles including a Saab 9-3 Turbo X, a Subaru STI S209, and a Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 1LE. His current daily driver is a Cadillac CT4-V Blackwing.
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