Unibody Trucks - the Ultimate Guide
- story fullscreen Fullscreen

Unibody Trucks - the Ultimate Guide

Unibody trucks aren’t very popular, but they do offer some benefits over their traditional body-on-frame counterparts

LISTEN 13:33

Pickup trucks have been the best sellers in the U.S. for a very long time. In fact, in 2021, the top-three selling vehicles were the Ford F-Series, the Ram pickup, and the Chevy Silverado. This should give you an idea as to how popular pickup trucks are Stateside. While these utility vehicles are getting better in terms of looks, features, and overall premium vibes, they still don’t offer the best ride quality or good fuel economy. But, there is a solution for this – unibody trucks.

Unibody trucks aren’t considered real trucks by a lot of people, mainly because they can’t be taken on any path and can’t tow as much as a traditional body-on-frame truck. However, unibody pickups offer crossover-like handling, ride quality, and fuel efficiency, thus giving you a sweet mix of both worlds. There aren’t a lot of unibody trucks on sale today, but we’ve listed them out here. Before we start with it, let’s get to some basic questions and answers about unibody trucks and designs.

What is a unibody truck?

A unibody design is one where the body of the vehicle serves as the frame as well. Unlike a body-on-frame design, every body panel provides structural integrity. The sheet metal floor pan, the roof, etc. are all welded together to carry the load of the vehicle.

What’s the difference between unibody and full-frame?

A unibody design refers to one where the vehicle’s body serves as the frame and supports the overall weight. The wheels and tires are attached to it.

A full-frame or a body-on-frame truck is as simple as the name suggests – it’s a body on a frame. The design consists of these two parts. The body, that is basically the skeleton of the vehicle and forms the cabin, the cargo area, and the engine bay sits on top of a frame. The frame supports the weight of the vehicle and even holds the suspension and the wheels.

Is a unibody truck as strong as a full-frame truck?

A full-frame or body-on-frame truck can handle the twisting forces, the off-road terrains, or uneven surfaces much better than a unibody truck. Also, a body-on-frame truck can tow much more, thus resulting in being stronger than a unibody truck.

What are the benefits of a unibody frame?

A unibody frame is much lighter than a body-on-frame since it is all bolted and welded into one. This helps cut the weight, which, in return, aids fuel efficiency. The center of gravity is lower in unibody vehicles and helps offer better ride quality, fewer chances of a rollover, etc. The crumple zone also helps absorb impact much better in case of an accident, but it could cause great damage to the body even if it was a small collision.

What company made the first unibody truck?

The unibody vehicles started to appear in the late 1930s. The Citroen Traction Avant and the Opel Olympia are some of the first unibody vehicles. But, it was Ford that came up with the first unibody truck. The 1961 F-100 and F-250 were unibody designs.

Can unibody trucks be used off-road?

You can take unibody trucks off the roads, but they won’t do as well as body-on-frame trucks. Body-on-frame vehicles are stronger, more durable, and less susceptible to severe damage, thus preferred over unibody trucks for off-roading. However, the three unibody trucks that are on sale currently – the Honda Ridgeline, the Ford Maverick, and the Hyundai Santa Cruz – can be used off-road. In fact, the Ridgeline and the Maverick can be had with the HPD and FX4 off-road package, respectively. The Santa Cruz doesn’t come with a designated off-road package, but it features an all-wheel-drive system and has a decent ground clearance.

Ford Maverick

Unibody Trucks - the Ultimate Guide Exterior
- image 993556

The undisputed truck leader in the U.S. decided to roll out an entry-level truck that sits at the bottom of the hierarchy called the Maverick. The Maverick is a unibody truck and the third truck that Ford offers today besides the Ranger and the F-150 (or fourth, if you consider the F-150 Lightning as a separate truck). Unlike the Honda Ridgeline, the Maverick is a compact truck that doesn’t just cater to potential customers in the market for a “truck” only, but also to those folks who are looking for an adventure vehicle.

The Ford unibody truck is based on the C2 platform which also underpins the Bronco Sport and the Escape. The automaker offers it in three trims, but a single SuperCrew body style with a 4.5-foot bed. In terms of looks, the Maverick boasts a very modest design. It looks like Ford played it safe by opting for a ‘please all, offend none’ rather than a bold, stylish truck. In terms of features, you get things like an eight-inch touchscreen system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, leatherette seats, two USB ports, keyless entry, 12-volt pre-wired bed power sources, bed lighting, etc.

Unibody Trucks - the Ultimate Guide Exterior
- image 993494

There are two engine options for you to choose from. The first one is a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder hybrid mill that churns out 162 horsepower and 155 pound-feet of torque. The electric motor gives the outputs a little bump, increasing the combined power output to 191 horsepower. It is mated to a CVT that powers the front wheels exclusively. The other option is a 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder EcoBoost mill that makes 250 horses and 277 pound-feet of torque. This engine is mated to an eight-speed automatic gearbox and is available with an all-wheel-drive system. The maximum towing capacity is rated at 4,000 pounds, and the maximum payload capacity at 1,500 pounds.

As is with any Ford product, the devil lies in the details. The Maverick starts out at just $19,995 and tops out at $25,860. However, things can get pricey in the blink of an eye. First of all, this doesn’t include the $1,495 destination fee. Opting for the 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine will add $1,085 to the price, and opting for an all-wheel-drive system another $3,305. Add the optional accessories and a fully spec’d Maverick will cost you around $30,000.

Unibody Trucks - the Ultimate Guide Exterior Wallpaper quality
- image 993517
2022 Ford Maverick specifications
2.5-liter FHEV (standard) 2.0-literEcoBoost (available)
Configuration Aluminum block and head, Atkinson cycle I-4 Aluminum block
Bore and stroke 3.50 x 3.94 in. 3.44 x 3.27 in.
Displacement 152 cu. in. 122 cu. in.
Compression ratio 13.0:1 9.3:1
Engine control system Powertrain control module Powertrain control module
Crankshaft Forged steel Forged steel
Horsepower 162 hp @ 5,600 rpm 250 hp @ 5,500 rpm
Torque 155 lb.-ft. @ 4,000 rpm 277 lb.-ft. @ 3,000 rpm

Read our full review on the Ford Maverick

Hyundai Santa Cruz

Unibody Trucks - the Ultimate Guide Exterior
- image 983711

10 years back, if there were two things close to impossible, they were supercar and luxury car manufacturers building SUVs, and Hyundai making a pickup truck! But, fast forward to the present day, and both the boxes are ticked. Hyundai has steered clear from the pickup truck market, but finally took the plunge. It all started with the automaker unveiling the Santa Cruz concept at the 2015 Detroit Motor Show. Six years later, it debuted the production version. Hyundai has labeled the Santa Cruz as a ‘Sport Adventure Vehicle’, so in their words, this isn’t a pickup truck. Talk about living in denial!

The Santa Cruz can be called the unibody pickup truck version of the Tucson. It is on the opposite end of the spectrum of the Maverick in terms of looks. The small pickup truck looks sharp and bold, thanks to the cascading grille up front. Hyundai will offer the unibody truck in four trims. In terms of features, you get things like a 10.25-inch touchscreen system, leather-wrapped steering wheel, dual-zone automatic climate control, power-adjustable seats, and so on. Overall, you won’t find it lacking in terms of specs and features.

Unibody Trucks - the Ultimate Guide Exterior
- image 1012072

The Santa Cruz is available with a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine in two different states out tune. The lower, naturally aspirated version makes 191 horses and 181 pound-feet of torque. The other option comes with forced induction and it puts out 281 horsepower and 311 pound-feet of torque. Both engine options are mated to an eight-speed automatic gearbox, but the turbocharged version features a dual-clutch variety. An all-wheel-drive system is available with both engine options. As for the towing and payload capacities, the unibody truck comes with 5,000 pounds and 1,410 pounds of ratings, respectively.

The Hyundai Santa Cruz starts at $24,140 and tops out at $39,870 before options. A fully spec’d Santa Cruz can make you lighter by around $45,000.

Unibody Trucks - the Ultimate Guide Exterior
- image 1012096
The towing and payload capacities are rated at 5,000- and 1,410 pounds, respectively. The 2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz starts at $24,140 and tops out at $39,870 before options
Hyundai Santa Cruz specifications
Engine 2.5-liter Inline 4-cylinder 2.5-liter turbo Inline 4-cylinder
Block / Head Composition Aluminum Aluminum
Horsepower (HP) (Gas Engine Only) 191 @ 6,100 281 @ 5,800
Torque (lb-ft) (Gas Engine Only) 181 @ 4,000 311 @ 1,700-4,000
Bore & Stroke (mm): 85.5 X 101.5 85.5 X 101.5
Transmission eight-speed automatic eight-speed automatic with dual-clutch variety
Towing 5,000 lbs 5,000 lbs
Payload 1,410 lbs 1,410 lbs

Read our full review on the Hyundai Santa Cruz

Honda Ridgeline

Unibody Trucks - the Ultimate Guide Exterior
- image 939193
The towing and payload capacities are rated at 5,000- and 1,580 pounds, respectively, for all-wheel-drive models. The Honda Ridgeline starts at $37,640 and tops out at $45,070 before options

The Honda Ridgeline is arguably one of the most underrated pickup trucks on sale today. While it isn’t a full-fledged tow rig like the other mid-size trucks, it still has a lot to offer. For starters, the ride quality is way better than what your typical body-on-frame trucks offer. Just like the other entries on this list, the Ridgeline is also a pickup truck that embodies the spirit of an SUV or a crossover; in terms of handling, that is. It features an independent rear suspension as well, to make things even better.

The Ridgeline has a sporty cred to it. You get black plastic cladding all around. Honda offers the Ridgeline in four trims, one of which is a ‘Black Edition’. So far, the Ridgeline was the only successful unibody construction truck amongst a horde of body-on-frames. While the purists look down at it, Honda has been raking decent numbers every year (around 30,000 examples). The Japanese automaker refreshed the truck in 2020 and it looks like an even better package.

Unibody Trucks - the Ultimate Guide Exterior
- image 939181
The Honda truck is powered by a 3.5-liter, V-6 engine that makes 280 horses and 262 pound-feet of torque. Power is sent to the wheels via a nine-speed automatic gearbox

The Honda truck is powered by a 3.5-liter, V-6 engine that makes 280 horses and 262 pound-feet of torque. Power is sent to all the wheels via a nine-speed automatic gearbox. There is no other engine or transmission option available. The towing and payload capacities are rated at 5,000- and 1,580 pounds, respectively, for all-wheel-drive models. Most truck buyers will look for a higher towing capacity, but if that’s not one of your top priorities, then the Ridgeline is definitely a force to reckon with. The Honda Ridgeline starts at $37,640 and tops out at $45,070 before options.

Unibody Trucks - the Ultimate Guide Exterior
- image 939182
There’s nothing home to write about the looks. But, the ride quality is unmatched. It even features an independent rear suspension to make things even better. It is offered in four trims in total
2021 Honda Ridgeline Specs
Engine  3.5-liter, V-6 
Horsepower 280 Horses
Torque 262 pound-feet 
Transmission Nine-speed Automatic
Towing Capacity  5,000 pounds
Payload Capacity  1,580 pounds

Read our full review on the Honda Ridgeline

1961-1963 Ford F-100 and F-250

Unibody Trucks - the Ultimate Guide
- image 1053719

Here’s a ‘Blast from the Past’. It’s been over six decades since Ford launched the unibody F-100 and F-250. What’s special about the 1961 F-100 is that it was the first unibody truck* (read on to know why the asterisk there), so it’s only fair to have it in the list that talks about the unibody trucks. Just like most revolutionary designs, the F-Series unibodies also weren’t accepted immediately. The fact that it stayed in production for only two years (1961 to 1963) testifies to what a failure this truck was. Nevertheless, it paved way for a design that’s relevant even today, even if it’s not as popular as the conventional body-on-frame design.

The unibody trucks were available only on the F-Series ‘Styleside’ pickups. The cab and the truck bed were ‘unitized’ and looked like one long piece. Technically, the F-100 and the F-250 weren’t unibody trucks since the body and the chassis were separate. Only the bed and cab were joined here. Now, it’s a topic for debate because even though it’s not a unibody design per se, it did lose on its ability to tow as much as its body-on-frame counterparts. Not to mention, they were offered with just two-wheel-drive configurations. Ford wasn’t confident that the unitized trucks could handle the same abuse the other trucks were able to take.

Unibody Trucks - the Ultimate Guide
- image 1053717

The unitized F-100 and F-250 were a fail for a variety of reasons. One of the biggest factors was its ability to age well. Although it was just speculation at the point, people were actually right because these trucks didn’t really age well. If loaded with heavy items, the truck would flex in weird ways that would damage the rocker panels severely. The doors wouldn’t close properly, or they would get stuck and wouldn’t open. The structure of the truck itself would get weak. So, a lot of things had to be looked at here.

Back in the day, the technology to innovate and solve the problem wasn’t there, which isn’t the case today. You don’t hear such things from today’s trucks. Also, they are proper unibody designs and ‘unitized’ styles. Nevertheless, Ford must be credited for thinking out of the box and trying to target a customer base that wouldn’t consider a pickup truck otherwise.

Sidd Dhimaan
Sidd Dhimaan
Senior Editor, Truck Expert, EV Expert - sidd@topspeed.com
Sidd joined the Topspeed.com team in 2017 as an intern and in less than a year he earned a full-time position as an associate editor and junior automotive expert. Fast forward to today, and he is currently serving as a senior editor, pickup truck expert, and EV expert.  Read full bio
About the author

Related Articles

You Can Now Make Your Own Accessories For The Ford Maverick

Missed Out On Reserving Your Ford Maverick? Well, This Is When Ford Will Start Accepting Bookings Again

2022 Ford Maverick

2022 Hyundai Santa Cruz

2022 Honda Just Gave the Ridgeline Pickup a Fighting Chance, But Is It Enough to Make It Relevant?

What do you think?
Show Comments
Car Finder: