Pickup trucks and high performance might not be obvious bedfellows, but that makes them all the more intriguing.
It all started in the 1960s as muscle car engines found their way into more utilitarian vehicles and grew into a small but devoted sub-sect. Now, every major truck maker has a go-faster version, though top speed is less important than acceleration due to the brick-like aerodynamics of the breed.
Here are our pickup top picks ranked in order of acceleration, starting with the ‘slowest’:
Chevrolet 454 SS (1990) - 0-60mph: 7.2 seconds
Chevrolet 454 SS - the name alone sounds fast. So it should as the number refers to its engine’s cubic inch capacity that works out at 7.4-litres. Even so, the V8 wasn’t especially potent with 230bhp on offer, though 385lb ft of torque made up for some of that. A three-speed automatic was standard on early cars built from 1990 and only the rear wheels were driven, so burnouts were an SS speciality.
Owners soon started tuning the engine and the low initial list price of $18,295 (£14,000) made it a huge hit until production ceased in 1994. The cheapest one we could find today is going for US$16,500 for a 1990 example with just 22,000 miles on the clock, but they can sell for much more.
Top speed: 110mph
Dodge Lil Red Express (1978) - 0-60mph: 7.0 seconds
It may not be the quickest pickup in the world, but the Dodge Lil’ Red Express has the coolest name by a country mile. It also has twin stack exhausts and side-step rear end that mark it out from the crowd long before you’ve revealed the engine.
And that engine is a 360ci (5.9-litre) V8 in police spec, so it has 225bhp to let it cover 0-60mph in 7.0 seconds. In 1978, that was sensational pace for a pickup and 2188 eager buyers snapped up this limited run machine that’s now a sought-after classic. Available examples are for sale today from US$17,000.
Honda has applied its usual thorough thinking to the pickup markets to create the Ridgeline. That means this model is more refined and better built than much of its competition, and it comes with a relatively small capacity 3.5-litre V6 engine with a modest 280bhp.
Still, with variable valve timing, the RTL-E model dispenses with 0-60mph in 6.4 seconds to put it in the hunt with the best currently on offer for performance. It’s also more frugal than much of the competition, returning a combined 21mpg. The RTL-E retails new from US$41,720.
Top speed: 112mph
Chevrolet Silverado SS (2003) - 0-60mph: 6.7 seconds
Recognising that many pickup buyers didn’t take their trucks off-road, Chevrolet tapped into this market with the Silverado SS. It was lower slung than most other pickups and the styling had a sporting menace to match the performance from its 345bhp 6.0-litre Vortec V8, which was lifted from the contemporary Cadillac Escalade.
With four-wheel drive as standard on early models, it could make the most of its power and 380lb ft of torque made light work of carrying up to six occupants. With used prices from US$10,000, it’s a steal.
Top speed: 115mph
Ford F-150 Platinum (2018) - 0-60mph: 6.1 seconds
At the heart of this Ford pickup is a 5.0-litre V8 knocking out 395bhp and 400lb ft of twist. That comes with the aid of twin independent variable valve timing, so this V8 delivers power across the entire rev range.
It can also be ordered with preparation in place to run on compressed natural gas or propane autogas, which should help offset this silver-grey machine’s thirst of 16mpg combined in the USA. The Platinum retails new from US$53,635.
Top speed: 126mph
Ram 1500 (2019) - 0-60mph: 6.1
Unless you choose the top-spec Laramie, you need to tick the option box to get the 5.7-litre V8 engine in the Ram 1500. What an option to have though: it gets you a ‘Hemi’ badge on the car’s flanks to let the world know you’ve got 395bhp and 410lb ft at your disposal. That’s enough to get from a standing start to 60mph in 6.1 seconds, which should also help get the attention of surrounding traffic.
An eight-speed auto ’box is standard, along with rear-wheel drive, though you can tick another box to gain a 4x4 drivetrain, though that does slow acceleration. The Ram 1500 V8 retails new from US$33,995.
Top speed: 126mph
Ford F-150 Harley-Davidson (2000) - 0-60mph: 6.0 seconds
Marrying two American icons seemed the perfectly logical thing to do when Ford launched the F-150 Harley-Davidson edition. Initially intended as a low volume, high-spec model, it ended up lasting until 2011 and offered strong performance thanks to its 5.4 V8 motor.
However, more buyers were attracted by the detailing such as the lustrous black paint, stepside rear styling, smoothed roof panel, 20-inch chromed alloy wheels and individual front captain’s chairs. The cheapest reasonable example we could find is a model from 2000 with 80,000 miles on the clock for US$10,389.
Top speed: 126mph
Nissan Titan SV (2016) - 0-60mph: 5.9 seconds
Every Titan comes with a 390bhp 5.6-litre V8 motor. That sees the SV model go from a standing start to 60mph in 5.9 seconds, though it’s the 394lb ft of torque that most owners prefer for towing, lugging heavy goods and off-roading.
You can do all of this from the comfort of an interior loaded with luxury kit and upholstery. The Titan SV retails new from US$32,910.
Top speed: 120mph
Ford F-150 Tremor (2014) - 0-60mph: 5.8 seconds
The Tremor was aptly named by Ford as it caused a stirring of interest in the sport truck market that had been lying largely dormant for several years. Not as radical or powerful as the Lightning models, the F-150 Tremor came with a twin-turbo version of Ford’s 3.5-litre Ecoboost V6 motor, generating 365bhp and 420lb ft of torque.
Impressive figures for a truck not intended to be a top line machine, though 0-60mph in 5.8 seconds is far from slow in a pickup tipping the scales at 5097 lb (2317kg) in its lightest form. Used examples are available from US$18,545.
Top speed: 126mph
GMC Sierra Denali Ultimate (2015) - 0-60mph: 5.8 seconds
As the name suggests, the Sierra Denali Ultimate sits at the top of GMC’s pickup pile. Not just for its brawny performance either, which sees it brush off 0-60mph in 5.8 seconds, but because of its all-round statistics and status. A 6.2-litre V8 delivers 420bhp and 460lb ft and drives through an eight-speed automatic gearbox to all four wheels.
Then there’s the magnetically controlled suspension for comfort, 22-inch alloy wheels and 5733 lb (2605kg) weight. Then there’s the luxuriously trimmed and appointed cabin that goes a long way to justifying the US$67,340 starting price.
Top speed: 125mph
Chevrolet Silverado 1500 High Country (2017) - 0-60mph: 5.7 seconds
The High Country is a pickup aimed at those who want the best in life, whether that’s comfort, equipment or performance. Chevrolet takes care of the first two of those demands with a pickup that’s crammed with every bit as much opulence as you’ll find in a top-end SUV.
For the final element, a 420bhp 6.2-litre V8 takes care of business to see this machine knock off 0-60mph in 5.7 seconds. This model has a retail starting price new of US$52,000.
Top speed: 99mph (limited)
Dodge Ram 1500 R/T (2005) - 0-60mph: 5.7 seconds
The Dodge Ram casts a big shadow both physically and in the heritage it offers buyers, especially when it comes with the famous R/T (Road and Track) badge attached. This was applied to the 5.7-litre V8 Hemi-engined model that ponied up 345bhp and some 375lb ft of torque, which was sufficient to see it from 0-60mph in 5.7 seconds.
Not quite as famous as its V10-powered SRT sister, but the V8 found plenty of friends thanks to its performance and easy-going nature due to being coupled to a five-speed automatic transmission as standard. Used examples are available today from US$20,599.
Top speed: 126mph
Bowler Bulldog (2016) - 0-60mph: 5.4 seconds
Britain’s Bowler has built its enviable reputation on creating off-road racing machines that can cope with even the toughest endurance events such as the Dakar Rally. That thinking has been applied to the Bulldog, which you could use to go to the shops. It will cause quite a stir, though, as this Land Rover Defender lookalike packs a Jaguar-sourced 3.0-litre V6 with supercharger and tuned to 440bhp.
Each one is hand-built to order, so you’ll have a pickup like no other in looks, finish and performance as it ticks off 0-60mph in just 5.4 seconds. There are used examples for sale in Britain from £120,000 (US$156,000).
Top speed: 125mph (est)
Ford F-150 Raptor (2017) - 0-60mph: 5.2 seconds
Think of a current Ford performance model with a twin turbo 3.5-litre V6 and you’d likely conjure up the GT. Or, if you prefer barbeques to bistros, you’ll cite the F-150 Raptor. Yup, it uses the same engine as the supercar but mounted up front and delivers 450bhp and 510lb ft to outdo the previous V8 used in the Raptor.
That gives this Ford performance that keeps it alongside a Focus RS in a straight line, while the bespoke Fox suspension allows for up to 14-inches of suspension travel for rapid off-road driving. New retail prices from US$49,265.
Top speed: 155mph
Ford SVT Lightning (1999) - 0-60mph: 5.1 seconds
There have been several generations of Ford’s SVT Lightning, but it’s the 1999 version that really captured buyers’ hearts and imaginations. Based on the USA’s most popular four-wheeler, this Special Vehicle Team model would take the title of fastest pickup in the world after it launched, with a top speed of 146mph.
Maybe that wasn’t such a surprise when it packed a supercharged 5.4-litre V8 with 380bhp and 450lb ft under its hood. When this model of Lightning reached the end of the line, 4270 had found willing owners. Today, used examples are from US$10,000, but fine ones go for three times that.
Top speed: 146mph
Chevrolet El Camino 454 SS (1968) - 0-60mph: 5.0 seconds
Chevrolet launched the El Camino in 1959 as a pickup for those who didn’t fancy the ‘truck’ part of the equation. Instead, the El Camino was based on a two-door estate model to offer a much more civilised cabin but still with enough room out back for plenty of cargo. Engines for the Chevy started with the usual array of V8 motors and power steadily rose through the 1960s.
With muscle car fever in full swing, the El Camino inevitably received the full-house 454cu in (7.4-litre) with 450bhp for 0-60mph in 5.0 seconds and quarter mile drag times in the low 13s straight out of showroom. Used examples to be found from US$30,000.
Top speed: 142mph
Dodge Ram SRT-10 (2004) - 0-60mph: 4.9 seconds
In mid-2004, the Dodge Ram SRT-10 officially became the world’s fastest truck with a top speed of 154.587mph. How NASCAR driver Brendan Gaughan felt isn’t recorded, but he must have been feeling brave to push this machine to that velocity. It helped that the SRT-10 packed the same 8.3-litre V10 motor as a Dodge Viper, with 500bhp and 525lb ft of torque that peaked at just 1500rpm and didn’t tail off until 5600rpm was exceeded.
Buyers could choose between single or double cab options while this Ram was on sale between 2004 and 2006. Decent examples can be had today from US$20,000.
Top speed: 154mph
Holden Maloo LSA (2015) - 0-60mph: 4.6 seconds
Australian’s love affair with ‘utes’, or pickups to the rest of us, is as enduring as their penchant for making them go faster. It helps that the Holden Maloo LSA comes from the same stable as the European Vauxhall Monaro, which in turn shares its V8 engines with various fast Chevrolets from the USA. The pinnacle of Maloo design arrived in 2015 complete with supercharged 6.2-litre motor and 0-60mph in 4.6 seconds.
More impressive are the in-gear times and the flexibility of the engine that lets you go from 20- to 120mph in fourth gear. Appropriately, the Maloo name is Aboriginal for ‘thunder’. Almost non-existent in America, Australians can get into a decent Maloo example from A$20,000. Also very rare in the UK, examples are to be found from around £15,000.
Top speed: 155mph
Toyota Tundra TRD Supercharged (2008) - 0-60mph: 4.4 seconds
When Toyota Racing Development turned its attention to the Tundra pickup in 2008, the result was a truck that smashed its way from rest to 60mph in 4.4 seconds. To do this, it used a 5.7-litre V8 with an Eaton supercharger to give 504bhp and 550lb ft of torque.
Offered as a bolt-on kit to Tundra buyers, they would also be wise to order the uprated suspension and tyre packages along with the big brake kit. Sadly, the TRD Supercharged optional model came to an end in 2015. Example Tundras fitted with the kit can be found from US$30,000, for a model from 2011 with 57,000 miles.
Top speed: 138mph
GMC Syclone (1991) - 0-60mph: 4.3 seconds
The aptly named Syclone arrived in a flurry of power and performance before disappearing from GMC’s 1991 line-up after just a year and production run of 2995 units. It was also unusual in using a 4.3-litre turbocharged V6 rather than the big capacity V8s preferred by its rivals. With 280bhp and 350lb ft of torque, the Syclone wasn’t as potent as some, but its all-wheel drive traction saw it from rest to 60mph in 4.3 seconds.
It also came with ABS anti-lock brakes, which made it even more unusual for its period even when compared to supercars with similar acceleration. So how come the fastest truck here is also one of the oldest? Quite simply, the market has changed and no one makes pickups for the North American market as small and light as the Syclone anymore. If you fancy a slice of this rare pie, used examples are to be found from US$15,800.