On the off chance that you've spent the past few years contemplating the meaning of life in a Tibetan monastery, I will tell you that pickup trucks have leaped the farmer/cowboy/ construction worker/good ol' boy barrier to become the ride of choice of a much broader segment of the motoring public.
Men and women who spend the working day in air-conditioned offices and whose hauling needs rarely exceed the odd antique picked up on a Saturday afternoon - and never a load of drywall or livestock feed on Monday morning - are now bouncing down I-15 at rush hour.I say "bouncing" because that's pretty much what they do. Without a load of bricks, plumbing pipe or sand and gravel back there, that empty bed has nothing to compress those oversize springs and shocks, so pickups tend to bound from chuckhole to expansion strip while the occupants try to keep from biting their tongues as their teeth clash together.
For those sturdy souls whose moms and dads brought them home from the hospital in the family truck on the day after their birth, and who have seldom ridden in anything else since, the rough ride of the average truck is not a problem. Bouncing? What bouncing?
But for newcomers to trucking, those trend-seeking souls who traded in their Honda Accords on a pickup because they liked the image they convey: you know, a guy in Calvins and a Pendleton churning up a mountain in his pickup, clambering in four wheel drive over boulders and fallen trees, until he reaches the top where he stands proudly gazing out over the wilderness he has conquered.
Well, image is good, but so are one's internal organs, and most of us baby boomers, spoiled rotten as we are, want our truck and our kidneys, too. The world's vehicle manufacturers understand this and have been working very hard to create a truck that rides "like a car" - the ultimate accolade for a boomer pickup.
Which brings us to our ride of the week: the 1994 Nissan 4X4 XE-V6 King Cab. This is one of the new breed of trucks, the kind that ask you to give up very little in the way of creature comforts. My test truck had AC, cruise control, automatic locking hubs (no getting out in the snowstorm to engage the 4wd), vanity mirrors inside, power mirrors outside, full carpeting, cushy cloth seats, four-speaker stereo, automatic transmission and snazzy graphics on the sides so no one will think you use your truck for hauling things.
No, the "Aztec Red" Nissan is not your Uncle Bob's pickup, the one who spent the last five years working on construction of the Jordanelle Dam.
Does that mean it rides like a car? No, but it's close, very close - maybe the best-riding pickup I've yet to saddle up. All but those with the most sensitive derrieres will gladly accept the minimal tradeoff in ride comfort for the grand vista from the pilot's seat of the Nissan King Cab. Visibility is excellent, and while you are well up above the mere automobiles around you - one of the joys of trucking - you are not so high that getting in the cab requires ropes and pitons.
The "King Cab" designation refers to the space behind the two seats. It is a rather grand name for such a small area but it solves the perennial boomer problem of where to keep the briefcase, laptop computer and golf clubs - none of which fare well bouncing around in an open pickup bed.
The King Cab also solves the dilemma of those times when you need to transport three family members and/or friends, not just one. Two jump seats flip down on either side behind the main seats, facing each other, and are perfectly suitable for transporting two third-graders for 10 miles or two business associates for one block . . . provided the associates are not instrumental to your career advancement. If they are, let one drive, the other sit up front and you take one of the jump seats.
The XE model comes in regular as well as King Cab versions, but I can't imagine going without that vital (and lockable) extra space inside. It also comes in two or four-wheel drive and with a four or six-cylinder engine.
For 1994, Nissan has also added a midlevel XE version of the pickup to the standard and top SE trim levels.
My test truck, the XE King Cab 4x4, had the 181-cubic-inch V6 engine that churns out 153 horsepower (vs. the four-banger's 134 hp) and 180 pound feet of torque teamed with an automatic transmission equipped with lockout overdrive.
Also for '94, Nissan has redone the interiors of its pickup line to look, you guessed it, more carlike. They did a good job; the dash is attractive and functional.
Bad news: The 4x4 with the V-6 is rated at 16 mpg in city driving and 19 highway, very thirsty for a vehicle that carries only two people (the jump seats don't count) but typical of pickups.
Good news: The Nissan's 21-gallon fuel tank means you don't have to be reminded how much regular unleaded you're burning more than once a week or so, depending on the length of your commute.
I rated the truck's acceleration as decent but not great, even with the V6. I think I would opt for the manual transmission if I were buying this pickup - it would probably be quicker and more responsive. Besides, there is the image thing; truckers are supposed to shift for themselves.
Handling was quite good, and the 3,805-pound truck is rated for a payload of 1,400 pounds, including passengers, and can tow a 3,500-pound trailer. The truck body sits on a welded ladder frame, independent front suspension with stabilizer bar and solid rear axle with leaf springs. The cargo bed is double-wall construction.
Brakes are power front discs and rear drums with antilock, but airbags, the safety feature many buyers are beginning to think of as a "must-have," are among the missing. They aren't yet required for pickups, but the manufacturer who puts them in ahead of the law will have a strong selling point over the competition.
Standard equipment on the 4x4 XE-V6 includes large steel-belted radial tires, mud guards, reclining front bucket seats, the fold-down jump seats, power steering, sliding rear window, fender flares, a vinyl bedliner, chrome steel wheels and the automatic locking front hubs.
Base price for the XE V6 King Cab is $17,479. My test vehicle was laden with a host of options, including AC, a "chrome package" (grille, bumpers, mirrors, molding), center console, power mirrors and such, as well as Nissan's "Value Truck Package" which included an upgraded stereo, a tach, trip meter and clock, tilt steering and cruise control and some other items that pushed the bottom line to $19,004.