We just drove a Toyota Tundra TRD Pro large pickup truck. As much as we loved the exterior and the way the big rig drove, the cabin was simply awful, like it was designed by Tonka. Huge clunky dashboards, squared-off A/C vents, hideous instrument cluster and gauges, shallow storage cubbies, ungainly shifter and the ergonomics of a set of children's wooden blocks.
Pickup trucks have improved in efficiency, styling, and materials. And yes, their interiors have improved a little, too. But you have to upgrade to something seriously expensive like a Ford F-150 King Ranch to notice any serious difference. Even then, pickup truck designers seem to gravitate to big everything (big shifter, big door handles, oversized control knobs), and virtually nothing's been designed to be sleek and sophisticated. If they can do it for car and SUV interiors, then why not for trucks, too? It remains a mystery.
Of course, we understand that those who buy pickups for work oftentimes need the big controls like large knobs and buttons because they use work gloves and can't be bothered to use small controls that are found in cars. But there has to be some sort of compromise. Pickup truck interiors don't need to be clunky to be practically useful for the working man. Yes, we agree that everything should be on a larger scale for ease of use, but the overall design should lean toward being more refined.
The new Toyota Tundra does the best job so far of making a pickup truck less clunky and awkward inside. It uses big controls but eschews the large chunks of vertical plastic that make truck interiors look so dated. The new Tacoma ditches the hexagonal style A/C vents in exchange for round ones and makes the center stack horizontal and wider rather than purely vertical. The big knobs are still there, but nicely trimmed and less plasticky. It leans towards being more car-like without totally losing the truck look.
“ Pickup truck interiors don't need to be clunky to be practically useful for the working man. ”
Here are our suggestions to make pickup trucks more like their CUV counterparts:
- Keep the large cupholders, knobs and storage compartments large, but make surface edges smoother.
- Make the move from square or angular A/C vents to round ones, detracting a bit from the traditional pickup truck-style versions.
- Steer away from overly gray/black plastics and make use of more brushed aluminum-like and contrasting soft-touch plastic trim.
- Rework shift knobs to be more like a T-shaped version that still sizeable but more ergonomic and aesthetically pleasing.
- Stop trying to make gauges look industrial and make the move towards LCD gauges or cleaner analog versions. Don't angle the instrument binnacle, instead rounding it out.
Our vote would be to start incorporating some of the finer design and styling details from more refined SUVs/CUVs like the Audi Q7. Sure, it's unlikely that a Chevy pickup truck's cabin will ever look like the inside of a German car, but taking on some cues from the best European vehicles would be a great step in a new direction. After all, just because you work in boots and jeans doesn't mean you don't want great creature comforts.
It's possible that too much change will have pickup truck loyalists up in arms. After all, you can't just change the formula so much that it becomes unrecognizable. But change is something we can all embrace if it leads to a better-looking, more appealing and still functional result. Pickup trucks are huge volume sellers, so they need more attention where their owners spend tons of seat time. It's high time manufacturers incorporated more car-like interior features, just a bit larger... and then hopefully everyone will be happy.