Trucks are the new cash cow for automakers. The American Big Three especially. The Ford F-150 is the best-selling vehicle in America umpteen-years running (I don't remember the number, but watch one Ford commercial and they'll be sure to tell you). It's not the best selling truck, it's the best-selling VEHICLE in America. Fiat-Chrysler is banking everything they have on their two utility vehicle brands right now: Jeep and Ram. General Motors, too, is putting all their eggs in the 4WD basket. They've developed an entirely new engine specifically for "efficiency-conscious" Silverados and Sierras.
Bit of an oxymoron, isn't it? Efficient trucks? Trucks were not designed for efficiency until well after passenger cars were. Or comfort for that matter. But now, trucks are becoming passenger cars. People want a truck that will do everything their car would do, plus more because "it's a truck".
In droves, people are lining up to spend $50k on a pickup. Premium leather, 187 speaker sound system, heated steering wheel, the works. Hell, the new Ram can be optioned with a 12 inch touchscreen- that's as big as the laptop I'm writing on right now! In the dashboard of your pickup truck!
But why? There isn't enough "truck stuff" to do in the entire world for all these pickups. And it doesn't matter, because these kind of people aren't taking them off-road or towing anything. A frightening majority of truck purchasers are just using them like a car: shuttle the kids to school, put the groceries in the back seat, get stuck in the bank's drive-through because you just had to have the 20 foot long mega cab truck.
Here's the entire list of people who should be buying pickup trucks: contractors and construction workers, farmers, off-road enthusiasts (real ones), people who regularly (more than once a year) tow anything large (medium to large campers, boats over ~17 feet, car trailers), and anyone named Randy. Those who go by Randall may submit an appeal to the committee for review.
"But I need a truck because (I might renovate, I like the ride height, etc.)"
Buy an SUV.
It has ground clearance, towing capacity, 4WD, high ride height, etc. If you come against a task where you end up needing to rent a pickup truck from U-Haul for like $30, rest assured that you would have been too scared to use your $50k pickup for that job anyway. You wouldn't want to risk scratching it because you're going to owe $67k and your firstborn by the time you get around to actually needing it as a pickup truck.
If you really, really need that idealized pickup truck lifestyle- a small truck like the Chevy Colorado or Toyota Tacoma is the wise choice. The 1500-series trucks are more than the average person needs.
Let's assume you need a vehicle that can tow a decent amount, get the kids to school, and handle the odd snow storm. So you're going to need ample torque, 4WD/AWD, accommodations for a trailer, and at least 4 seats. Plus some creature comforts, of course. We're not barbarians. The following are have medium-level options and trim levels (leather seats, middle infotainment options, little to no safety equipment options). Let's also operate under the assumption that you're absolutely set on the idea of buying new, rather than buying used or leasing.
Here's how much this hypothetical vehicle will run you:
$51,975- 2019 Chevrolet Silverado Crew Cab 1500 LT 4x4 Crew Cab 2.7L Turbo I4
$47,980- Dodge Durango Citadel AWD 5.7L Hemi V8
$47,455- 2019 Ford F-150 XLT SuperCrew Cab 4x4 2.7L EcoBoost Turbo V6
$46,130- 2019 Ram 1500 Big Horn Crew Cab 4x4 5.7L Hemi V8 w/ E-torque
$43,555- 2019 Ford Explorer Limited 4x4 2.3L EcoBoost Turbo I4
$43,385- 2019 Jeep Grand Cherokee Trailhawk 4x4 5.7L Hemi
$43,060- Chevrolet Colorado LT 4x4 Crew Cab 2.8L Duramax Turbo Diesel I4
$36,465- Toyota Tacoma TRD Sport 4x4 Double Cab 3.5L V6
The pickup trucks can get very expensive very fast. In fact, 3 out of the top 4 most expensive options here are the 1500/150 series trucks. SUVs, on the other hand are much cheaper- but typically the manufacturer will keep the most powerful engine locked behind a premium trim, with a premium price tag to match. Despite this, there's a few high-quality choices in SUV that will do everything a truck would, minus the bed at a lower price point. And, you'll actually be able to navigate a parking lot in a Grand Cherokee or Explorer, unlike the looming menace of a SuperCrew F-150.
The Tacoma looks like a steal here, but keep in mind it's the only naturally aspirated engine here aside from the pair of 5.7L Hemis. The Hemis have a surplus of torque, but the little 3.5 liter V6 may struggle with towing heavier loads since it's the only option here under 300 ft-lbs of torque. Still not a bad choice. It's also worth noting that it's the only vehicle here with an available manual transmission.
If you're thinking about trying to cheat my system here, and fancy yourself a Chevrolet Suburban- good luck. Unless you strike oil in your back yard or get run over in a crosswalk by a Rockefeller, a Suburban is not in the budget. A barebones Suburban is still going to run you $50,000. Even the slightest whiff of options will have you at $60,000 before you can say "premium leather".
My recommendation? Buy the Grand Cherokee. Compared to the other options here, it's the cheapest way to have nearly 400 ft-lbs of torque for towing. The Jeep combines this with an unmatched off-road pedigree and handsome styling. My runner-up would be the Colorado; diesel engines always seem to get overlooked in light duty vehicles, but really they're a fantastic option in any scenario.
The point here is you shouldn't buy a full-size truck if you aren't going to do full-sized truck things with it. It's a nuisance in traffic and parking lots, and it's as cost-effective as making scratch-off tickets your primary source of income. They're enormous, and getting bigger with every generation to accommodate people who are just going to use them like an SUV. Let go of the idealized "tough guy" version of yourself that drives the snarling quad-cab, and buy something practical, damn it. The SUV or light truck will work just fine for Sunday family trips to church, Carl's Jr., and the liquor store. In that order.
And if you do have the disposable income to buy a loaded Ram, Silverado, or F-series: I'll let you in on a secret. The $60k you'd spend on that truck will get you 50% more horsepower and 50% less weight if you throw your money at some modern muscle. That kind of money will have you into around 500 hp in a Camaro, Mustang, Challenger, or Charger. Hell, if you're willing to go pre-owned, you could get a used Hellcat. 707 horses? Hell yeah.
So, if you take one thing away from this: car buying is about compromise. You can't get a vehicle that will do everything well, no matter how much money you spend. Forgo the monster pickup, and get yourself something reasonable like a Grand Cherokee or Colorado. Something that won't attract dirty looks in the parking lot before the PTA meeting.
If you can make a convincing argument for why you need a pickup truck, I'm listening. Preference given to all Randys.