Workhorse or show pony? New pickups can be both.

Charles Gabus Ford sales associate Miles Hall will be happy to show you a new F-150 Lariat. (Photo: Steve Dinnen)

By Steve Dinnen

The best selling car in America? It’s a pickup truck.

Year in and year out, Ford sells more than 700,000 of its F-150 Series pickups. The second-best seller is a pickup truck, too: the Chevrolet Silverado. And the third best seller is, yep, a Dodge Ram. Altogether, five of the 10 best sellers nationwide are pickup trucks.

So why not check out what’s new? During a recent browsing trip to the lot at Charles Gabus Ford in Des Moines, I was drawn to shiny gray F-150 Lariat. Salesman Miles Hall opened its doors (four, not two, to accommodate two rows of full-sized seats in the “crew cab”) and ushered us into a vehicle that bears not the slightest resemblance to the rust buckets I remember bumping around in years ago during hay-baling season in Missouri.

Those pickups had sticky vinyl bench seats, manual transmission, no air-conditioning, and windows you cranked up or down by hand. The sole “luxury” was a push-button radio.

In the new F-150, you can ease onto leather seats — heated, no less — and make use of power everything, including foot pedals that can adjust to accommodate the driver’s height. Some models even have power running boards, to help you step in and out.

On a recent trip to California to visit my business partner, I purposefully rented a pickup truck, to get a feel for how they handle. It had the two-row crew cab and was plenty roomy for four of us, plus my partner’s ever-present standard poodle. It rode quietly and smoothly, without the typical truck bounce, and had a great radio, cruise control, power everything and ample oomph to keep up with the rest of the freeway traffic. I didn’t pop the hood but assumed it had the smaller 2.7-liter engine. Ford offers two larger engines.

Here at the local dealership, Hall said those bigger horsepower units come in handy since a lot of people use their pickups to haul stuff. “That’s the first question I ask” of shoppers, Hall said. “How much are you towing?”

The biggest engine, a V-8 5.0-liter monster, can haul up to 14,000 pounds. That’s twice as heavy as a 20-foot speed boat and trailer, or a 20-foot tow-behind trailer. Ford, GM and Chrysler sell heavier duty trucks that will tote bigger loads, but that’s drifting into commercial-vehicle territory and away from the better-selling models of suburbia.

Hall said most shoppers come to him specifically looking for a pickup. They’re not just ambling around the showroom looking for a Mustang and are suddenly drawn to pickups.

The base price of an F-150 is around $38,765, according to the Kelley Blue Book. The model we viewed was $68,720. A Silverado starts around $37,445 and can shoot to $64,695, depending on the level of trim. For comparison, Tesla’s Model Y, the world’s best-selling car,  starts at $43,990 and runs up to $133,000.

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