Fun Stuff

Forbidden Fruit: Pickup Truck Edition

You’d figure Canadians would be sitting pretty when it came to truck choice, and for the most part, that’s true: the biggest, most powerful, and cushiest pickups on the planet are sold in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. Still, that doesn’t mean that the rest of the world is twiddling its thumbs when it comes to driving unique and desirable trucks of their own, nor that the grass isn’t a little bit greener on the other side of the gravel road – especially if you’re looking for something outside of the full-size segment.

Thanks to something called the Chicken Tax – an import tariff that resulted from a trade war between the United States and Germany over 50 years ago – it’s financially prohibitive for automakers to import small trucks built outside of North America. This has kept some very cool trucks from gracing our roads over the years, and the current crop of forbidden fruit is perhaps the sweetest it’s ever been.

Tell us which one of these can’t-buy-it-here trucks you’d want to park in your own driveway.

Volkswagen Amarok

There’s an asterisk to append to the Volkswagen Amarok, because you can actually buy one in Mexico – but nowhere else on our continent is this mid-size pickup available for purchase. The Amarok features unibody construction, two-door and four-door models, the choice of four-wheel or rear-wheel drive, and an eight-speed automatic transmission linked to a choice of either diesel or turbocharged gasoline engines (with a V6 TDI that joined the line-up for 2018 to offer over 400 lb-ft of torque). Built in Argentina, the Amarok is most popular in South and Central America, but also does decent sales in Russia, Africa, and Asia.

Mercedes-Benz X-Class

Mercedes-Benz just announced that it would build its first pickup truck – the X-Class – and in the same breath made it clear that it was not destined for the U.S. or Canada. It’s an unusual choice to ignore such an enormous market for trucks, but it’s possible Mercedes-Benz is wary of diluting its luxury brand image with a utility-focused vehicle, especially in the mid-size segment which does much smaller business when compared to the pool of full-size buyers. Several turbocharged diesel engines are offered with the X-Class – with maximum output showing as 285 horsepower – and there’s also a single gasoline option available.

Ford Ranger

The Ford Ranger went on hiatus on this side of the ocean in after 2011 but its international cousin soldiered forward, culminating as the Ranger T6 that is still sold today. In fact, it’s the T6 that Ford will eventually be re-introducing to Canada as its ‘new’ mid-size pickup, where it will undoubtedly carry over its four-cylinder gas motor, four-wheel drive system, and body-on-frame design. It will also have its manufacturing repatriated to Michigan, which will save significantly on the import fees, and likely add at least one turbocharged EcoBoost option as well as a V6 to the order sheet (forgoing the diesel certification required to match rivals like the Chevrolet Colorado).

Ram 700

The Ram 700 might seem a little weird, but it’s that quirkiness that helps to make it so endearing. Based on the compact Fiat Strada that’s available in Europe, the Ram 700 is sold in Mexico and provides decent open-bed utility matched with the choice of regular and extended cab options. It boasts around 120 horsepower from a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine and it can haul up to 1,400 lbs of cargo. Think of it as the park-anywhere pickup and you can start to see the appeal of this unusual truck.

Nissan Navara

The Nissan Navara looks a lot like the Frontier that’s sold in Canada, although in truth it’s a much more modern iteration of the Japanese brand’s pickup platform that’s not available in North America. Now in its third generation in most international markets (compared to its second generation Frontier here), the Thai-built truck remains a mid-sizer with several diesel power plants to choose from. Nissan’s small slice of the mid-size pie in the U.S. and Canada likely explains the decision to not import the Navara, despite the fact that the current Frontier, while a decent choice for those seeking a basic pickup, is sitting on a platform that’s over 10 years old.

Toyota Hilux

The Toyota Tacoma has gotten so much larger since it was first introduced in the mid-90s that it’s easy to forget it was once based on the automaker’s Hilux pickup. Still pulling duty everywhere but the U.S, the less-beefy Hilux is sleeker and more aerodynamic, and offered in two and four-door editions. Diesel engines remain popular with the compact Toyota pickup, but it’s also offered with four-cylinder and V6 gas options, with the latter delivering 235 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque from a 4.0-liter mill. Like the Tacoma, the Hilux has a strong reputation for durability and go-anywhere four-wheel drive capability.

Chevrolet Montana / Tornado

What is it about Latin America and nifty little car-like compact trucks? The Chevrolet Montana (known as the Tornado in Mexico) was originally designed on an Opel van platform, but the latest model is pure Brazilian Chevrolet hatchback under its truck-like looks. The Chevrolet truck makes do with a 97 horsepower four-cylinder engine and a five-speed manual transmission, but it actually out-hauls its Ram 700 competitor by over 2,000 lbs. Also available in Africa, the Montana is much smaller than any truck sold in Canada, and brings to mind the now-forgotten Dodge Rampage front-wheel drive ‘ute that was offered briefly throughout the 80s.

Toyota Land Cruiser Pickup

Everyone loves the Toyota Land Cruiser, even if sales figures of this most-expensive Toyota don’t reflect that fact (and despite it not being ‘officially’ on sale in Canada). Few realize, however, that the LC is available outside of North American in a pickup body style. Two-door and four-door editions of the 70 Series Land Cruiser have been manufactured over the years, and it has made use of a variety of gas-powered V6s, inline-sixes, and of course diesel engines. It maintains the same awesome off-roading capabilities of the Toyota SUV thanks to locking differentials, excellent suspension articulation, and a low-range four-wheel drive system.

Ford Falcon Ute

The Ranchero and Durango might have left Ford showrooms by the end of the 70s in this hemisphere, but Australians never gave up their love affair with marrying a pickup bed and a sedan nose. The full-size Ford Falcon, a uniquely Aussie platform, was in production for over 50 years before being axed in 2016, and it spawned a ‘ute (short for ‘utility’) that was available in traditional working person’s trim as well as full-blown, high performance V8 editions built by Ford Performance Vehicles and turbocharged XR6 inline 6 models.

Holden Ute

Not to be outdone, GM’s Australian division Holden also builds its own Ute, based on the famed Commodore sedan platform that also spawned the short-lived modern GTO coupe as well as the Chevrolet SS (both sold exclusively in the U.S. due to import costs). Some models of the most recent Holden Ute, known as the VF, matched the Ford Falcon in terms of output thanks to the inclusion of an LS3 V8 engine under the hood as its top-trim power plant.

Mitsubishi Triton

Do you remember the Mighty Max, Mitsubishi’s mini-truck offered from the early 80s to the mid-90s (which was also sold under the Dodge and Plymouth brands)? After its North American adventure was over, the Max departed for global markets in a slightly larger edition feature gas and diesel power, where it was known as the Triton. Built in Thailand and Brazil, the Triton continues to this day, and it has blossomed into a mid-size contender. Rebadging remains on the table, too, as the Triton is also sold as the Ram 1200 and the Fiat Fullback in the Middle East and Europe.

Mahindra Bolero Pik-Up

Mahindra is better known in North America as a builder of tractors and agricultural equipment, but the Indian industrial giant briefly made a play for value-focused farmers in the USA interested in an affordable pickup roughly 10 years ago. While that dream may have died on the vine, Mahindra trucks like the Bolero Pik-Up continue to be put to work all over the world as task-focused, tough-to-kill workhorses. The Bolero is actually available in both small and large sizes, each of which features a single-cab design and a tall-sided cargo box.