How compact trucks could reintroduce performance utes to America
"All it takes is some black magic, some fairy dust, and this COBB Accessport."
Remember the days of deafening Aussie V8s roaring as they blitzed down the pavement, tires choking on their smoke as they struggled to translate all the power those mutated sport sedans had to offer into forward motion? Yeah, me neither. But my neighbor's SVT Lightning was pretty cool, and so were those HHRs I'd see floating around town once every blue moon.
Sport utes have long been dead in the United States, and every new high-performance truck seems to be purpose-built for Baja instead of Bathurst. Fortunately, the new crop of cutesy crossovers masquerading as trucks could prove to be the antithesis to these prerunners for those who need to shuttle their car parts across town but faster. The secret is in their step-up turbocharged engines and the ever-busy aftermarket.
Each one of these new compact trucks comes with advantages over the other.
The Ford Maverick can be had with all-wheel drive and a 2.0L EcoBoost four-cylinder which outputs a healthy 250 horsepower and 277 lb-ft. of twist which is very much near the upper echelon of the hot hatch hierarchy. For reference, that's in the ballpark of the now-deceased (in the States) Focus ST and on a plane above of the Fiesta ST. If instrumented magazine tests of the Bronco Sport Badlands is anything to go off of, the 2.0L Maverick will be needlessly fast out of the box.
The Santa Cruz ups the ante with a 2.5L mill outputting 281 horses and 311 lb-ft. of BRZ-shaming grunt. Even more interesting is that the upgraded Hyundai powertrain also calls that the eight-speed auto be replaced with an eight-speed dual-clutch likely similar to that shared with the Veloster N. Here's to hoping it'll scoot like a high-riding, larger-displacement Kona N with a bed.
Their inherent crossover-ness will likely mean these things will drive more carlike than traditional trucks and will likely outmaneuver them in every regard... Not that this is why you're buying these things, but it's nice to know you can.
Now imagine these things 'roided up with power bulging at the seams. Many modern turbo engines these days are bottled up in the name of efficiency only making use of their power for easier passing or to better climb steep gradients. It wouldn't even take much to make them come alive. A cat-back exhaust, an intake, and an off-the-shelf tune could squeeze another few dozen horses and a million pound-feet more out these engines, easy. Look at any turbo sport sedan or hot hatch on basic bolt-ons and how dramatically their performance can elevate.
Throw in some sticky tires and better brakes and you have a recipe for one hell of a canyon-carving shop truck, or at least until Ford and Hyundai feel the incentive to build a real Santa Cruz N or Maverick ST because let's be real. The city-dwellers who'll snatch these up by the half-ton truckload were never gonna overland these things anyway.