Here in the US, we've got some pretty great pickups and 4WD vehicles to choose from. We've also got plenty of cool communities to go on off-road adventures with. But after a month of driving trucks around South America, I'm starting to think they do trucks even better. Here's why.
So Many Brands To Pick From
Here in the US, you can buy a Ford F-Series, Chevy/GMC, or a Ram. Or a Toyota or Nissan if you need to be the class clown. (Kidding, we all know the American-made Asian brand trucks are good.)
In Argentina and Chile, I saw all of the above plus well-proportioned pickups from SsangYong, Mitsubishi, Tata, Mazda, Mahindra, and Volkswagen. Not to mention a few older offerings from GM and Ford I'd love to be pawing through on our own used car market right now: the Ford F-100 and Chevy C/10 each lasted into the 80's this far south of the border, and something about their short-cab, medium-bed configuration just feels so right.
More Size Options Than You Knew Existed
South America has what we call "full-size" pickups here in the States, and they've also got two strains of "mid-sized;" single cab trucks with medium length beds and quad-cab trucks with short, but not too short, beds. The latter is the most prevalent.
But the range extends beyond that; subcompact pickups like we haven't seen since the Subaru BRAT is also popular. In South America that includes he adorable micro-sized El Caminoy things like the Fiat Strada, Chevrolet Montana, and Volkswagen Saveiro.
People Buy Trucks That Actually Make Sense
The SsangYong Actyon Sports, Mitsubishi L200, Toyota Hilux, Mazda BT-50, Tata Xenon, Volkswagen Amarok and new Ford Ranger all manage to carry four people in comfort while tugging along just enough bed space to hold a motorcycle and more luggage than you'd know what to do with in the bed.
The Mahindra Pik-Up fits into this size category as well, but the forehead on that thing is tall enough to bump it up to the half-ton bracket. Just kidding, but seriously, it is looms disturbingly large in your rearview mirror when one of these things rolls up on you.
Anyway, those are the trucks you see all over the place. They fit in city spaces, lug anything and everything out in the bush. They're... just right.
Trucks Are Treated Like Trucks, And Luxury Pickups Are Rare
You don't see that many pristine pickups in Argentina and Chile. You don't even see that many with empty beds. Granted, that's partially because most of them are on mining duty and are required to carry about a hundred pounds of safety gear everywhere they go, but still... the spirit of work feels a lot more prevalent down there than it does in your average American mall parking lot loaded with Silverados.
Remember that great big fantasy ocean your parents told you your goldfish went to, when they flushed its carcass down the crapper? Where little Nemo could swim and play and do everything he was meant to do? This region is that place, for pickup trucks.
Don't worry, there are plenty of Ford Raptors roaming around the dunes of the Atacama desert.
Popularity Of Diesel
Pull a pickup up to a gasoline fuel pump in South America and the guy with the nozzle will look at you with the sage wisdom that assuredly, you are a tourist.
All the trucks in South America run on diesel, because it gives them more power where they need it most and gets their fuel economy out of the teens. We can only hope the new Chevy Colorado's little Duramax and the new Nissan Titan's big ol' Cummins do well here and change the way US trucks are powered.
It's Socially Acceptable To Ride In A Pickup Bed
Great legroom and plenty of fresh air. Why should dogs have all the fun? (Is it even legal to put your dog in a truck bed in the US?)
Everybody Has A Roll Bar
And regardless of whether or not they do jack shit functionally (some do, most don't), the just look sweet.
Every Amazing Variation Of Toyota Land Cruiser
From pickups to troop carriers to badass camping rigs like this, it sure seemed like a lot of cool Cruisers had congregated in Chile and Argentina. The only place I've seen more of these indefatigable 4x4s is Australia, and well, they're about $100,000 there.
You probably already realize the Troller T4 is one of the coolest trucks we can't buy in the US. But whatchy'all know about the Tac Stark?
South American pickup people love to help. Every time we pulled over with a flat tire, loose chain, or dumped cargo somebody in a pickup would pull up and ask if we needed a hand. It's almost as if they drive around all day just praying for an opportunity to put their rigs to work. And it's hard for me not to admire that.
Images by the author, Mahindra