10 Real Trucks That Can Take You Anywhere
Which of These Rugged Beasts is the Most Real Truck Out There?
Updated March 15, 2018
There may come a time in your life where you really just need a real truck. Perhaps you just like trucks and want one, you’ve found yourself in a position that requires one, or maybe you just want something tough you can take off-road and load up with gear. Whatever the case, there are plenty of real trucks out there just waiting to serve your needs, and they come from all walks of life, price ranges, and abilities.
So what constitutes a real truck? We’re looking for long-term reliability, general ruggedness, ground clearance, 4×4 systems, and everything in between. These are trucks that will never let you down and will always get you out of a tight spot, no matter how demanding.
Without further ado, join us as we count down ten of the best real trucks around!
Ford Ranger/Mazda B Series
So, maybe not how you expected this list to start, but here we go. The Ford Ranger and Mazda B Series can be found in plenty of commercial fleets around the US from exterminator and plumbing services to insurance contractors and construction crews. These trucks are not fast, terribly capable off-road, or even that great at hauling a ton of things and doing general truck stuff, but that doesn’t stop people from loading them up with work toolboxes, ladders, and everything in between. And it works.
I speak from experience when I say, though, that this is not a truck you actually want to drive with an empty bed. There’s virtually no weight in the back, which means that on rainy days, you’re all but guaranteed to lose the back end at every corner if you’re not on the throttle like a hawk in RWD versions.
There’s basically no real difference between the B-Series and Ranger, so don’t be particular when deciding on which way to lean; you’ll get the same result either way. The ideal range here is going to be the third generation, produced from 1998-2011. While earlier models came with an I4, later versions featured 3.0L and 4.0L V6 powerplants, which is probably where you’ll want to put your money.
There are quite a few different configurations this truck comes in, so if you’re more interested in off-road usage, you might spring for the Ranger Edge or even short-lived FX4. Aside from the occasional minor repairs, you can expect this truck to last a long time.
Ford F250 7.3L Power Stroke
If you know anything about diesel trucks, you’ve probably heard of the Ford 7.3L Power Stroke motor and its infamous 6.0L replacement. Which engine is the better one turned out to be a debate that rages on to this day. The 6.0L makes much better power and is faster and can tow more, but isn’t terribly reliable. The 7.3L has terrible emissions ratings, is slow and underpowered compared to other trucks, but is argued to be one of the most reliable Ford engines produced. Many owners report mileage exceeding 200k without breaking a sweat.
For this reason, our official vote for the Power Stroke king goes to the 7.3L, which you’ll want to look for especially in years 99.5 and 2000, as many claim this model-year-and-a-half to be the best. While automatic models see the turbocharged V8 offering 250 hp and 505 lb-ft of torque, manual examples actually gained an additional 25 hp and lb-ft; if you want just a bit more power, opt for the one with three pedals.
While 6.0L fanatics will say the 7.3L can’t tow as much as its replacement, you’ll probably find that the 7.3L can handle damn-near anything you throw at it. Expect to find one of these babies anywhere between $5,000 and $23,000 depending on mileage/wear, upgrades, and trim. If anything is wrong with yours, find solace in the fact that replacement parts are cheap and plentiful!
Second-Gen Dodge Ram 2500 Cummins
If you’re in the market for a real truck with glow plugs but the Power Stroke isn’t your cup of tea, you’ll probably be happier with an offering from Cummins instead. To be honest, both the first and second gen Dodge trucks are solid. If you want a more classic look, go for the first gen (1981-94), but if you want something a little smoother for daily driving, the second gen (’94-’02) is your best bet.
Our official vote for the Cummins lineup goes to the second gen Dodge Ram 2500. Surprisingly, this truck does not feature a beefy V8, but rather a turbo-diesel I6. We’re not terribly concerned with years here because the entire lineup is pretty great. Each has a kink or quirk of its own and while later models are going to be more technologically advanced, you’re going to get basically the same reliability across the board.
You can find an example of this real truck for anywhere between $3,000 and $25,000 depending on the usual things.
Sadly, our next entry was not available in US markets, though rumors report a possible 2019 Hilux for the US market. The seventh generation Toyota Hilux is one of the world’s most renowned trucks. Featured in Top Gear episodes and motoring journals around the world, many argue this is the most dependable truck ever built.
Hilux lineage actually dates back to 1968, when the dinky little pickup was sold with a 1.5L I4 engine good for an 81 mph top speed. The seventh generation, however, is offered with a whole slew of petrol and diesel engines, so you have the freedom to choose your preference.
The diesels are, arguably, the more reliable engines, but you realistically shouldn’t have any major problems whichever way you lean. These trucks do tend to hold their value exceptionally well, so expect to find one in the ballpark of $20,000-$30,000 USD.
Second-Gen Tacoma TRD Off-Road/Sport
Speaking of trucks that hold their value (and Japanese trucks that happen to be Toyotas), the Toyota Tacoma is one of the most famous trucks out there for exactly this. Cut from the same cloth as the Hilux, apparently, these little trucks are widely regarded as excellent and dependable vehicles.
The generation in question here is the second, produced from 2004 to 2015. Specifically, we want to highlight the TRD trim, which is available in both Sport and Off-Road configurations.
Each is available in RWD or 4WD; the Sport trim adds color-matched accents, a hood scoop, Bilstein shocks, 17″ rims, and a mechanical locking limited-slip differential between ’05-’08. The Off-Road package enjoys the same performance upgrades but has 16″ rims with knobbier tires, no hood scoop, and chrome accents.
You can find these trucks for around $15,000 from 2008.
Second-Gen Chevrolet Colorado ZR2
We wanted to stay away from the obvious Ford Raptor as far as a real performance truck goes, so our entry here is the truck the automotive industry is abuzz about: the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2. The main difference here is that this truck is a bit watered down compared to the Raptor and isn’t necessarily a direct competitor.
The ZR2 can be had for around $40k, saving $10,000-$15,000 on a Raptor. The ZR2, however, isn’t necessarily less capable off-road. Sure, it has a less powerful engine, but it does have upgraded suspension components all the way around compared with lower trims. It also features protective skid plates covering the radiator, oil pan, and transfer case, and it’s wider, higher, and features new body panels over lower trims.
If you’re a fan of diesel engines, you’ll be delighted to hear there’s a turbodiesel inline-4 available with a depressing 181 hp and absolutely impressive 369 lb-ft of torque. The petrol engine, which most are likely to spring for, however, is a 3.6L V6 offering 308 hp and 275 lb-ft of torque. Whichever you choose, you’re likely to thoroughly enjoy this real truck both on and off-road.
Second-Gen Dodge Ramcharger
The Dodge Ramcharger is essentially a Bronco clone produced from 1974-2002, but we’ll be focusing on models from 1981-94. A slant-six was optional, but the most common engine has to be the 318 V8, good for 170 hp and 245 lb-ft of torque. A larger 5.9L unit was also available, offering 193 hp and 285 lb-ft of torque.
The second generation saw the removal of its removal hardtop in place of a standard, fixed hardtop. If you’re interested in taking yours off-road (which you should be), look for models after ’85, as these allowed shifting in and out of 4WD at speeds up to 55 mph.
Obviously, this is a truck that’s going to be modified if you want more power, and the gas mileage is apparently abysmal (but who really looks for that on a truck, anyway?), but it really is a solid real truck right out of the gate. It’s dependable, it’s tough, and has parts readily available. Expect to find them between $10k and $20k.
Here it is, the ultimate ranch vehicle. For around $50k these days, you can get a Hummer H1 in pretty solid condition. Sold on the civilian market from 1992-2006, the Hummer H1 is one of the most rugged and proven SUVs ever built. It survived combat zones, for goodness sake, it can probably handle some dirt trails and rock climbing.
Engines range from the smallest, a 5.7L Vortec V8, to the largest, a 6.6L Duramax turbodiesel V8. It has 16 inches of ground clearance, can climb a 22″ step, and plow through 30″ of water. It also features a nifty switch that lets you deflate or inflate tires at the push of a button, allowing your footprint to be enlarged for off-roading and soft surfaces.
The H1 shares many parts with the HMMWV (High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle) used in combat, such as the brakes, frame, major body panels, and axles. This former combat vehicle was proven time and time again, and can handle just about anything you throw at it. We definitely recommend avoiding small-arms fire and RPGs, though.
Toyota FJ Cruiser
Surprise, surprise, another real truck from Toyota that you can virtually run into the ground. While appearances keep many away from the FJ, don’t think for a second this truck isn’t as reliable as they come. Aside from looks, criticisms include a small and cramped rear seat and cargo space, large blind spots, and notable body-roll.
Praises include capable off-road design, ruggedness, good performance on-road, and a good interior and design that pays homage to the original FJ line. They were sold stateside from 2007-2014, and can be had anywhere from $12,000-$30,000 depending on year and trim.
It may be the ugly duckling of the Toyota lineup, but it’s no slouch when it comes to off-road performance. It’s just a tad slow, but the capable 4.0L V6 powerplant was available with 239 hp and 278 lb-ft of torque at launch. This has since been revised to 260 hp and 271 lb-ft as of MY 2011.
Mercedes G63 AMG 6×6
You knew we had to have at least one answer on this list that was batshit insane, so here it is. You’ve likely heard of this very real truck thanks to Top Gear and other media outlets, and with the recent launch of Hennessey’s Velociraptor 6×6, the AMG 6×6 was brought back into the limelight.
Powered by a 5.5L Biturbo V8 good for 544 hp and 560 lb-ft of torque, this monster SUT has a ground clearance of 18.1″ and can ford through 39.3″ of standing water. It also features five mechanically locking differentials controlled via three cabin switches and like the Hummer, can also de and re-pressurize its own tires at the push of a button.
Sure, you’ll probably never be able to afford one if you’re not an oil sultan or something, but it’s still nice to dream about. Thanks to the price tag of around half-a-million US dollars, this is a monster truck that will most certainly be a hit at any car meet it turns up at.
Why a Real Truck is Necessary
There are so many situations in which having a truck is beneficial, especially if you live outside a major metropolitan area. They’re great fun off-road, can clear any curb or obstacle on-road, and while they don’t offer the best fuel economy, they’re durable and will last a long time.
If towing is your game, we apologize for not highlighting any monster towing trucks, but we’re pretty confident that most of the trucks on this list will more than meet the average Joe’s expectations and needs. As far as fuel is concerned, now is as good a time as any to buy since gas prices are relatively low.
Whether you’re plowing through snow, hitting some back country roads, or looking for something good in the mud, we’ve got you covered with our top ten real trucks that can take you anywhere. As always, sound off in the comments if you had a better idea. Til next time.