On Autos: Today’s big expensive pickups blend capability and luxury

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The 2017 Ford F-150 Raptor is the off-road-performance version of Ford's best-selling pickup truck. (Brady Holt/The Current)

With its tight parking options, narrow alleys and shortage of unpaved roads, the District has been largely immune to the appeal of full-size pickup trucks. But outside of crowded cities, these vehicles command significant appeal — and, for many buyers, can be the equivalent of a luxury sedan or high-end sports car.

Consider two recently tested trucks: the Ram 2500 Big Horn and the Ford F-150 Raptor. As tested, both were laden with modern luxury and technology features: leather-upholstered seats with heating and cooling; in-dash touch-screen infotainment systems; and high-end stereos. The Ford even throws in radar-based cruise control and a lane-departure warning.

The 2017 Ram 2500 combines a spacious and amenity-laden interior with enormous towing capabilities. (Brady Holt/The Current)

Both vehicles, as tested, exceeded $60,000. That figure can be shocking to someone who pays little attention to pickup trucks. But to people who buy them, you get much more for your money than with, say, a $60,000 Mercedes-Benz sedan.

In these trucks, the driver sits atop a leather-appointed throne, surveying the roofs even of many SUVs from this comfortable perch. The cabin offers ample room for passengers to spread out, and they’re kept segregated from the dirty cargo they’ve tossed into the bed. And it’s difficult to imagine a convenience or luxury feature that today’s big pickup trucks don’t offer.

These tested trucks go the extra mile for capability, even beyond the norms for full-size pickups. The tested Ram includes a diesel engine with 370 horsepower and a whopping 800 pound-feet of torque. For context, that’s nearly twice the torque of a Lamborghini Huracán. The Ram doesn’t use this torque for high-speed sprints but for heavy-duty hauling: up to 3,160 pounds inside the vehicle (more than the weight of a typical compact car), or up to 18,000 pounds in a trailer.

The red line on the steering wheel helps drivers ensure the wheels are pointing straight while the truck sails through the air. (Brady Holt/The Current)

Meanwhile, the Raptor version of the best-selling F-150 is built for off-roading. Ford’s publicity photos show the Raptor jumping in the air and landing safely during high-speed desert runs. Drivers are reminded of this capability via a red line at the top of the steering wheel rim — used to line up the wheels to be pointed forward when the truck lands. This truck’s suspension upgrades, wide stance and variety of four-wheel-drive settings also promise tremendous capability in mud or snow.

Of course, driving such large vehicles around Northwest D.C. proved ponderous at times — though it’s not impossible, as the local drivers of countless commercial vehicles can attest. These trucks also ably shrugged off potholes, and the F-150 included a 360-degree camera system that helps the driver pull snugly up against the curb while parking.

The 2017 Ram 2500 full-size pickup truck towers over the minivan parked in front of it. (Brady Holt/The Current)

These big intimidating vehicles are thriftier with fuel than one might expect. The massive Ram runs on a diesel six-cylinder engine, returning nearly 19 mpg in mixed driving during a weeklong test. (The EPA doesn’t test vehicles as large as the Ram 2500.) The tested F-150 also came with six cylinders and is rated for 16 mpg in mixed driving; driving around the D.C. area, it also averaged just under 19 mpg.

It’s still hard to argue that a big pickup truck is well-suited for the District. But various models are steadily increasing their comfort, luxury and fuel economy while still providing the heavy-duty ability that’s part of their work-oriented heritage.