July 12, 2001
I'm a fan of pickup trucks, especially big, in-your-face pickups. I'm talking four-wheel drive, running lights, diesel engines, and beefy grill guards. But there is another side of me that likes sedate luxury cars. At the moment, the Ford Victoria and its cousin the Mercury Grand Marquis are my favorites for top luxury at reasonable prices.
My Ford Ranger is now entering its 13th year, and the ravages of road salt and Great Lakes winters are abundantly evident. Soon the Ranger will no doubt be diagnosed with a terminal disease of the powertrain. When that happens, I'll have to decide whether its replacement will be a pickup with all the bells and whistles or a luxurious sedan. I am looking at an automotive spectrum that ranges, so to speak, from the ridiculous to the sublime.
Earlier this year, I took a weekend trip that helped put my preferences into focus. I flew into Memphis and rented a Mercury Grand Marquis for a two-hour drive into Arkansas to visit my daughter and her husband. The trip reminded me just how much I enjoy driving a quiet and substantial car like the Grand Marquis. Think of it as the sublime part of the equation.
Next, I spent time behind the wheel of my son-in-law's Dodge Ram diesel pickup. Dodge Rams with Cummins diesels are to pickups what rottweilers are to dogs. I'm talking a serious vehicle here. You literally cannot stand beside one and carry on a conversation while the engine is running, and owners brag about this. They cite it as an endearing quality of the truck. In fact, the boisterous behavior of the Ram has earned it somewhat of a cult following. I think of the Ram as the ridiculous side of the equation, although the word "outrageous" would actually be more accurate in this context.
What makes the Ram a decent vehicle is the big difference between what you hear inside and outside the truck. Inside the cab, the noise is much more muted. When you get the truck to road speed, it purrs along nicely with the tachometer comfortably reading somewhere in the teens.
When I have to choose between the syrupy Grand Marquis and the Dodge, I probably will cast my lot with the raucous Ram. Somehow the clatter of the diesel is my idea of what life ought to be as I motor down the highway. It makes even a short drive an event to savor. And my sentiments bear some explaining.
I've mentioned before that the most magnificent piece of machinery I've ever seen is the North American B-25 bomber. When you talk about serious locomotion, the B-25 can't be topped for its combination of menacing appearance and the sound of its twin 18-cylinder engines. It rumbles and roars, louder than the Wabash Cannonball. But the last price I saw quoted for one was in the neighborhood of $1 million, so the odds of my owning one are approximately zero. That brings us back to the Dodge. It is destined to serve as a substitute for the B-25 I'll never own
By now you might be wondering why I haven't mentioned the new quiet diesel offered as an option in GMC and Chevrolet pickups. I've never driven GM's quiet diesel, but I've stood next to one while it was running, and it is almost as quiet as a gasoline engine. That means it doesn't deliver the visceral element I like in diesels. When it comes to pickup trucks, it is possible to make them too civilized. When I buy my next one, I want it to be a rottweiler, not a poodle.
-- Ronald Khol, Editor