Today’s pickups are more luxurious than ever. With features such as climate-controlled leather seats, mobile Wi-Fi hot spots and LED lighting, they’re even attracting drivers who used to prefer imported luxury cars. Of course, it’s the open cargo bed that’s the real signature of a pickup truck. That’s why the top players in the segment focus as much effort on those beds as they do on the trucks’ cabins.
Consider the big four domestic pickups from Chevy, Ford, GMC and Ram. All of these companies are introducing brand-new or significantly upgraded trucks for the 2018 and 2019 models years, and they showcase notable cargo-bed innovations. Additionally, while the traditional full-size pickups are leading the way, the recent midsize entry from Honda has some surprises of its own.
2019 Chevrolet Silverado
The all-new Chevrolet Silverado will go on sale later in the 2018 calendar year, and not all details for the truck are available yet. That said, Chevy already has revealed a number of key enhancements for the full-size Silverado’s cargo bed. One handy new option is a power-operated tailgate. With this system, you can automatically open or close the tailgate using buttons in the cab, on the tailgate handle or on the key fob. When the tailgate opens, it lowers slowly using internal dampers.
Other notable changes for the Silverado’s cargo box include a wider, stronger steel floor. In fact, it’s wide enough that, according to Chevy, the 2019 Silverado’s shorter bed can hold up to 20 percent more cargo than some 2018 rivals. The new Silverado also benefits from bigger integrated rear bumper steps. The idea was to make them easier to use if you’re wearing steel-toed work boots.
2018 Ford F-150
The 2018 Ford F-150 was thoroughly refreshed for the current model year, adding technologies such as mobile Wi-Fi, adaptive cruise control and a Bang & Olufsen audio system. For capability, the F-150 also welcomes three all-new V6 engines, including a naturally aspirated unit, a twin-turbo powerplant and a turbo-diesel. Now, the F-150’s many updates for 2018 don’t extend to its cargo bed. But the truck has two returning features that continue to stand out from the crowd.
You’ve probably heard about the F-150’s “aluminum” box, but keep in mind that it’s not pure aluminum. It relies on what Ford calls “high-strength, military-grade aluminum alloys.” The lighter weight helps with both efficiency and capability, and it’s an important reason the truck has a payload of 3,270 pounds. The F-150’s second cool feature lets you take advantage of that payload. There’s a set of ramps that can be securely stowed in the bed when not needed, then securely fixed to the open tailgate when you want to load an ATV.
2019 GMC Sierra
Closely related to the 2019 Chevrolet Silverado beneath the skin, the all-new GMC Sierra shares the same cargo-box improvements. But the Sierra adds more features, too, in line with its uplevel brand positioning.
The highlight is a multi-piece, “MultiPro” tailgate. It offers a power open-and-close function, like the tailgate for the Silverado. Next, with the gate opened, you can pop up a vertical panel to keep longer items in place in the bed. You also can separately lower a wide panel that opens only the top half of the tailgate. With the rest of the tailgate still closed, that panel creates a shelf to support dual-level loading. Drop the entire tailgate, and the center panel unfolds into an access step.
As for cargo-bed materials, GMC will one-up Ford with the industry’s first carbon-fiber box. This setup will rely on a carbon-fiber composite that was designed specifically for use in a pickup. It’s expected to debut later in the 2019 model year with the range-topping Sierra Denali model. According to GMC, it will be “the most durable pickup box in the segment.”
2019 Ram 1500
Also brand-new for the 2019 model year is the Ram 1500. The high-tech changes here include everything from a light-hybrid powertrain to a mobile Wi-Fi hot spot to an infotainment system with a 12-inch touch screen. Out back, the Ram 1500 takes the concept of the hands-free trunk to its logical next step. The available passive-entry system will allow you to automatically open the tailgate by activating a sensor that’s located the tailgate handle.
The 2019 Ram 1500 also continues to offer integrated bedside cargo bins. These provide lockable, weatherproof storage in the space between the inner and outer pickup-bed walls. For the latest Ram models, the bins can be ordered with a new 115-volt outlet capable of powering small tools and appliances.
Finally, industry publications such as Automotive News are predicting this generation Ram 1500 eventually will be available with a vertically split tailgate. This setup would allow the two sections to drop down or swing open independently.
2019 Honda Ridgeline
On sale now, the midsize 2019 Honda Ridgeline is virtually unchanged from the 2018 model. Which means it still offers cargo-bed content that’s missing from its rivals.
That includes a dual-action tailgate that can either drop down like in a traditional pickup or swing open sideways like a passenger door. The Ridgeline also has lockable cargo area under the floor of the bed. You simply lift up part of the floor like a trunk lid to access 7.3 cubic feet of storage. If you’re looking for a tailgate feature designed for tailgate parties, the Ridgeline is available with another exclusive: an audio system that essentially converts the inside bed panels into giant speakers.