Nothing is about to steal the thunder from Ford F-Series trucks any time soon. They have been America's best-selling vehicle for 29 years running, and nearly 35 million have been made since 1948. "If you drove pickups from the '50s and '60s, they were a terrible driving experience," Magliozzi says. "[Ford] made the pickup truck a family vehicle." From a basic 4x2 F-150 to the roomy, leather-lined riches of the King Ranch, the F-Series sells on its incredible variety — 12-ton tow rating, anyone? — and hard-working durability. Consider this truck 100 percent recession-proof.
The Ram's head medallion has been clamped on Dodge pickups since the 1930s, but it wasn't until 1981 that "Ram" became the truck's official name. A shocking 1994 redesign turned it into a mini Mack tractor. Since then, the Ram — now a separate Chrysler brand — has been the "brash alternative" to Chevrolet and Ford. Names like Power Wagon, Big Horn and Cummins, the legendary diesel engine manufacturer, are part of Ram's testosterone-filled heritage. Sometimes, the machismo is maddening. From 2004 to 2006, the Ram SRT10 bolted a spoiler on the pickup's bed and the Viper's 500-horsepower V10 engine under its hood. The latest Ram Outdoorsman model packs a rifle lockbox straight off the rear fender.
Since the first 1991 model — essentially a Ranger pickup with five doors — the Explorer was bound for success. During its mid-1990s and early 2000s heyday, Americans ate up more than 400,000 Explorers every year, more than any passenger car in the country. But the Explorer's shine dulled in the latter half of the past decade, as American roadways got jammed with gas-sucking, sedan-crushing SUVs that kept growing more and more ludicrous in size. The latest Explorer has landed softly in Crossovertown, with unibody construction and a 4-cylinder engine. "It's an afterburn of the name," Steele says.
After the Ford Explorer's runaway success, Jeep had to offer a plusher, more upscale version of its bare-bones Cherokee SUV. Jeep's very reason for existence, after all, was to dominate the trails. "It's one of those enduring, iconic brands," Steele says. "People would refer to all sport-utility vehicles as a Jeep, as a generic term." For its debut, then-Chrysler President Bob Lutz smashed the Cherokee through a glass window at the 1992 North American International Auto Show. Even in 2011, the Grand Cherokee remains popular without being pretentious, although the Overland trim, with its air suspension and terrain management, wishes it were a Land Rover.
If you were born after 1984, thank your parents and your friends' parents for buying a Dodge Caravan, the front-wheel-drive, light-duty minivan that redefined the modern family car — and killed off the station wagon. Aside from the lack of speed — "You had capacity for seven people so six could get out and push," Magliozzi says — the first Caravans were perfect for baby boomers' babies. There were three rows of forward-facing seats, a sliding door for tight spaces, and the best cargo capacity short of a U-Haul. Today's parents see the Caravan, and its incredible disappearing seats, as a torture device next to spiffier crossovers. But when it comes to moving six or seven dirty kids and all their junk, nothing beats a Caravan. Except maybe a Toyota Sienna or a Honda Odyssey.
Somehow, as they've mandated stability control and banned Happy Meals, government nannies have let the Jeep Wrangler run wild. Take the top off and expose the bare frame, fold the windshield flat — even race barefoot without doors. It's all legal and certainly not sealed for your protection. Perhaps it's a concession to the Jeep's historic wartime prowess, or because Wrangler owners, with their jamborees and secret hand-waves, never grew up from Cub Scouts. Whatever it is, the Wrangler is our freedom ride. It's the most bare-bones, capable 4x4 on Earth, boasting a timeless, unapologetic design that doesn't PC itself to death.
Clifford Atiyeh is the automotive editor for The Boston Globe and Boston.com. He has contributed to The Times of London, The Wall Street Journal, Popular Mechanics, and spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
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I own a 1998 Corvette C5 coupe. It will touch 170 mph and return 31 mpg at 70 mph, zero to 60 takes around 5 seconds. I have owned it since new and it now has 176,000 miles on the clock. It has never let me down, it starts first time every time. It does not use any oil and has just completed a 2,400 mile, 5 day, trip from Chicago to LA and I didn't even pop the hood to check the oil. A true supercar.
Yeah finally American iron...muscle and all.....no rice burners here. This article must have been written for once by a car person !! Camry s and Hondas are nice for the non car folks.
I would walk before I before I buy a japanese car!! long live American iron !!!
Can you stop with the american car's want to be ricers already!!! I think the american auto industry proved with last years sales that we are making cars to take out the Japs and the Germans just like we did in WWII. If you want a country that makes things buy what they make!!!!
When the government knocked on Fords door they said no thanks!
That is why I drive a f150 and a mustang today!