Choosing Between a Pickup Truck and an SUV

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By Car Brand Experts



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Key Points About Pickups vs. SUVs

If you require a vehicle that can handle multiple tasks such as carrying passengers, cargo, or towing, you might be weighing the pros and cons of SUVs and pickup trucks. While SUVs excel in accommodating passengers, trucks tend to be more efficient in transporting cargo and towing. Nevertheless, based on factors like the number of passengers, cargo dimensions, and tow weight, there exists an intersection where either an SUV or a truck could be a suitable choice. In essence, unless your specific needs lean heavily towards one capability over the other, it would be unwise to overlook either trucks or SUVs. Chances are, either the right truck or the right SUV could meet your requirements adequately.

Additionally, let’s analyze whether a truck or an SUV is the superior vehicle for family outings and camping trips. Within this context, we can explore various aspects such as passenger room, technology features, towing capacity, fuel efficiency, and other variables. By delving into trucks and SUVs, we aim to assist you in resolving the conundrum of selecting the ideal vehicle. We have included jump links below to facilitate quick navigation.

Contrasting a Pickup Truck Against an SUV: Crucial Considerations

Pickup trucks and SUVs share more similarities than one might assume; however, the disparities become noticeable when specific comparisons are made. Comparing the Ram 1500 truck with the GMC Yukon SUV or the Ford Maverick pickup with the Hyundai Santa Fe SUV will reveal fewer distinctions than juxtaposing the Ram 1500 with the Maverick or the Yukon with the Santa Fe. Intriguing, isn’t it?

In our discourse on Pickup Trucks vs. SUVs, while the discussion encompasses size variations (full-size, midsize, or compact) and body styles (truck or SUV), the crux lies in a vehicle’s innate capability to meet your requirements. While it is generally true that a larger vehicle can handle more cargo and passengers than a smaller one, manufacturers produce both large and small trucks and SUVs. The vehicle’s size or body style is not the sole determinant of its capabilities. Only after identifying your specific needs from a truck or SUV can you focus on the appropriate size and body style. Hence, we will concentrate on trucks and SUVs with truck-based designs. Continue reading to discover the rationale behind this choice.

Differences Between Body-On-Frame and Unibody Construction

Let’s delve into an in-depth discussion to understand why certain trucks and SUVs are more adept at hauling, towing, and off-roading than others.

Definition of Body-On-Frame Construction

In the early days of automotive development, body-on-frame construction was conventional practice. In this method, the vehicle’s body and frame were distinct components fastened together through welding or bolting. Interestingly, during the initial decades of car manufacturing, it was common for a car’s body and frame to be sourced from entirely different manufacturers. For instance, it wasn’t until the mid-1980s that General Motors discontinued the “Body by Fisher” labels on their products. While Fisher was eventually acquired by GM, it was originally an independent entity. The body-on-frame construction enabled the same frame to be utilized for various models. This method also resulted in lower repair costs in the event of a collision. Despite these advantages, advancements in car manufacturing technology introduced a lighter and more cost-effective alternative in the form of unibody construction. Given carmakers’ preference for lightweight and economical solutions, body-on-frame construction gradually lost favor. Presently, only a few trucks and SUVs adhere to body-on-frame construction.

The benefits of body-on-frame construction include:

  • Enhanced towing capacity
  • Increased hauling capability
  • Superior off-road performance
  • Lower collision repair expenses

Explanation of Unibody Construction

Modern vehicles predominantly adopt unibody construction. This approach involves the vehicle’s frame serving as the foundational structure to which body panels and additional components are attached. The simplified nature of unibody construction reduces design and manufacturing costs. Additionally, the reduced weight of a unibody vehicle enhances fuel efficiency, while its lower center of gravity contributes to improved driving characteristics.

Advantages of unibody construction include:

  • Cost-effective production
  • Enhanced fuel efficiency
  • Improved driving performance

SUVs vs. Crossovers: Distinguishing Features

What sets an SUV apart from a crossover, and how are manufacturers blurring this distinction? Certain automakers classify some crossovers as SUVs, attempting to portray them as more capable. The automotive industry and the press have also contributed to the interchangeable use of the terms “SUV” and “crossover.” However, a clear differentiation between SUVs and crossovers exists and is crucial in deciding between a pickup truck and an SUV. The differentiating factor lies in the construction type: SUVs feature body-on-frame construction, while crossovers showcase unibody construction. For its initial four generations, the Ford Explorer was categorized as a body-on-frame SUV. However, with its fifth generation launched in 2011, it transitioned into a unibody crossover. In our context, any mention of an SUV implies a vehicle with body-on-frame construction.

Instances of Body-On-Frame SUVs

Understanding Pickup Trucks

Every midsize and full-size pickup truck is constructed on a body-on-frame platform. Nonetheless, manufacturers also offer three compact pickups (Ford Maverick, Honda Ridgeline, and Hyundai Santa Cruz) that utilize unibody construction.

Mutual Characteristics of Trucks and SUVs

For the most part, nearly all technological, convenience, or luxury features available in an SUV can also be found in a pickup truck, and vice versa. We dare to assert that SUVs generally lean more towards family friendliness than full-size pickup trucks. For instance, many SUVs offer optional rear-seat entertainment systems (unavailable in trucks), in addition to boasting a higher number of cupholders and USB ports compared to the average pickup truck. Moreover, some SUVs come with three-row seating options, a feature absent in most trucks. In terms of comfort, noise insulation, and popular features, there isn’t a significant distinction in the passenger compartment between a truck and an SUV. While truck buyers may need to opt for additional safety features that are often standard in SUVs, the majority of safety technologies are accessible.

Excellent Overlanding Vehicles

If you are enthralled by the current overlanding trend, you might be searching for the ultimate adventure vehicle. Fortunately, the trucks and SUVs featured in this piece are among the premier choices for overlanding expeditions. Overlanding entails intense wilderness camping with an off-road element. If your destination includes amenities like campsites, RV hookups, or facilities, it doesn’t qualify as overlanding. Trucks and body-on-frame SUVs serve as ideal vehicles for overlanding adventures, facilitating customization with aftermarket accessories such as tents to enable diverse outdoor escapades. Their robust construction, commendable ground clearance, and advanced 4-wheel-drive systems equip them for accessing remote, less-trodden settings.

How Pickup Trucks and SUVs Compare in Functionality

What Makes Trucks and SUVs Different? 

When comparing trucks and SUVs, each has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. So, for our analysis on which is better for family hauling and camping between trucks and SUVs, let’s explore the pros and cons of each. The pricing we mention is based on the most recent manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP), which includes the mandatory factory-to-dealer delivery fee (destination charge).

Advantages of Full-Size Trucks

  • Cost-Effectiveness: Ultimately, the cost of a vehicle is influenced by the decisions we make. Trim levels, options, and our bargaining skills play a role in determining the final cost. When comparing the starting prices of entry-level full-size trucks and SUVs, trucks tend to be more affordable. For instance, the Ford F-150 SuperCrew Cab starts at just under $46,000, whereas the Ford Expedition begins at around $58,000 for the regular-length variant, and nearly $65,000 for the Expedition Max.
  • Improved Fuel Efficiency: When comparing full-size or midsize trucks with similar non-hybrid SUVs, trucks typically achieve better fuel economy. Most full-size trucks equipped with base engines and rear-wheel drive can deliver between 20 and 22 mpg in mixed driving conditions. For example, the Ford F-150 SuperCrew achieves 21 mpg, while the Chevy Silverado 1500 Crew Cab returns 20 mpg. On the other hand, full-size SUVs tend to have EPA mileage estimates in the high teens. A contributing factor is that full-size trucks generally weigh less than their body-on-frame SUV counterparts. For more information on truck and SUV fuel efficiency, visit the EPA website.
  • Enhanced Towing Capacity: The ability of large pickups to outperform large SUVs in terms of towing is crucial for families pulling trailers during outdoor expeditions. Towing capabilities are challenging to compare accurately due to variations in manufacturers’ figures. Nonetheless, within the Chevy lineup, the Suburban can tow up to 8,300 pounds, while the Silverado 1500 Crew Cab has a towing capacity of up to 9,500 pounds. If we include heavy-duty pickups, the Silverado 3500 HD Crew Cab can tow nearly 22,000 pounds. Additionally, pickup trucks offer the option for fifth-wheel towing, where the hitch is located inside the truck bed. Explore more about towing and hauling capacity in our comprehensive Towing Capacity Guide.
  • Increased Payload Capacity: Payload refers to the total weight a vehicle can transport, including the driver, passengers, luggage, and any other items. If towing a trailer, it also encompasses the trailer tongue weight. Once again, full-size trucks can handle more payload than full-size body-on-frame SUVs. For instance, the Chevy Silverado 1500 Crew Cab boasts a maximum payload rating of 2,030 pounds, compared to the Suburban’s rating of 1,750 pounds. This 280-pound difference can determine whether Uncle Augie can join the adventure or remain at home.
  • Varied Cargo Options: Unlike SUVs with restrictions on cargo weight and size, pickup trucks accommodate diverse cargo shapes and sizes. Additionally, any dirt or debris left in the cargo area can be easily removed by hosing out a truck bed.

Disadvantages of Full-Size Trucks

  • Limitation in Seating Capacity: Trucks max out at two rows of seating, making it challenging to accommodate more than five individuals for camping trips or any other outings.
  • Cargo Security Concerns: While there are options like locking tonneau covers, securing cargo in a truck bed can be less effective compared to the cargo security provided by SUVs.
  • Parking Challenges: Full-size trucks, being longer than most full-size SUVs, can present difficulties in parking due to their size.

Advantages of Full-Size SUVs

  • Enhanced Seating Capacity: A full-size 3-row SUV can comfortably seat up to eight individuals when equipped with a second-row bench seat, or up to nine in the case of certain Chevy and GMC models with front bench seats.
  • Family-Friendly Features: SUVs, especially body-on-frame variants, are designed with families in mind, offering convenient amenities like well-placed cupholders, USB ports, child-seat LATCH systems, and rear-seat entertainment systems.
  • Improved Security Measures: Breaking into an SUV is more challenging and conspicuous than accessing a truck’s cargo bed. Darkened rear windows and cargo covers contribute to better cargo security in SUVs.
  • Second-Row Captain’s Seats: Most 3-row SUVs provide the option of second-row captain’s seats, offering enhanced comfort and stability for passengers, especially during off-road trips.

Disadvantages of Full-Size SUVs

  • Lower Fuel Efficiency: Full-size non-hybrid body-on-frame SUVs tend to have lower fuel efficiency compared to full-size trucks.
  • Higher Cost: On average, full-size SUVs carry a higher base price than full-size trucks.
  • Restrictions on Cargo: Due to limitations on cargo shape and size, loading certain items into an SUV’s cargo area may be challenging.
  • Parking Difficulties: Maneuvering and parking a full-size SUV can be cumbersome, though not as challenging as parking a full-size truck.

Comparing Trucks vs. SUVs: The Verdict

The question of which is better ultimately depends on personal preferences. While full-size trucks are more cost-effective and offer better towing capacity and cargo handling, full-size SUVs provide additional seating, improved security features, and enhanced family-oriented amenities.

Ultimately, the decision is based on what best suits your specific requirements.

Truck vs. SUV Evaluation

Full-Size Price Towing Payload Passenger Count Fuel Efficiency Cargo Security Family Friendly
Truck X X X   X    
SUV       X   X X

Key Considerations When Choosing Between a Truck and an SUV

  • Price
  • Passenger count
  • Fuel economy
  • Cargo needs
  • Towing requirements
  • Payload capacity
  • Advanced safety technology

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