The Pickup Truck With 'Roid Rage
Buyers of the New CXT Are Going to Need a Bigger Garage

By Linton Weeks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 11, 2005

The pickup, introduced to the roads more than a century ago, was conceived to be the smallest possible get-the-job-done truck. Now International Truck and Engine has taken that concept and, oxymoronically, developed the world's biggest smallest truck -- the CXT.

Such a feat is the equivalent of creating the world's shortest skyscraper, quietest fire alarm, slowest jet, driest swimming pool.

The new CXT from International is hu-freakin-mongous. This bad boy is nine feet tall. It's got thigh-high tires, and two running boards up to the cab, and door handles you have to stretch for. When the bed gate folds down it's about as high as a mantelpiece. The truck is built on the same platform used for snowplows and dump trucks. It carries six tons -- some three times what a normal pickup would tote -- tows up to 22 tons, and comfortably seats five people, even with embarrassing body mass indexes.

International sees several potential markets: small-business people such as landscapers; dealers who may want to use it for its promotional value; high-profile people who need showy Bigfoot-type rides; large companies like Coca-Cola, which is using the truck to promote its new Vault energy drink; and outdoorsmen who might have boats to haul or duck blinds to cart around.

The CXT was designed as a promotional tool, says David Wrobel of International's marketing wing. Coca-Cola has bought a few; so has Irwin Tools. No surprise, some celebrities have taken a shine to it, too. Demi Moore's paramour, Ashton Kutcher, has one. So does the NBA's Jalen Rose. The company has sold 250. Each one retails for $120,000. A tow hitch costs extra.

Sure, a pickup truck is supposed to be simple to use. But this baby is packed to the sideburns with baubles and bells. It's got a leather-and-wood-grain interior, captain-chair front seats, a bench-style back seat that folds down to make a bed. There's a DVD player and satellite radio in the ceiling, a fancy navigation system and a rear-bumper-mounted camera that helps you back up and keeps you from crushing unseen Humvees.

And yes, a pickup truck is supposed to be macho-tough and to-the-point. But the CXT is way overdesigned. It seems about as wide as it is long. It looks like a dump truck that's been dumped on. Or a sawed-off tractor-trailer rig. Or some strange kind of lunar lorry. The bed -- eight feet long -- is too short, the cab too wide. The CXT belongs on the fanciful shelf with the cartoonish Honda Element and Chrysler PT Cruiser, not with the utilitarian Ford F-250s.

But there it is in all its gargantuan glory -- the Commercial Extreme Truck. Yield-sign yellow, it's shimmering in the summer sun at the parking lot of FedEx Field for International's Taking It to the Streets truck tour. The two-day show, designed for commercial truck owners and potential purchasers, ends today.

"It'll probably [tick] the tree huggers off," says Kevin Roberts, 41, a Prince George's County firefighter who has just taken the CXT for a test spin around the orange-cone-lined track. With a "gross vehicle weight rating" of 25,999 pounds -- one more pound and you'd need a commercial license to drive it -- the diesel truck gets about nine miles to the gallon. It can go 75 miles per hour.

Asked for an evaluation, Roberts says, "It's pretty good for what it is."

The truck drives heavy. It's got air brakes and you have to turn corners at a wide angle. The interior is plush and the sloping hood offers good visibility. But it feels like a big old U-Haul.

Professional truck driver David Jennings drives International's demos from show to show. In gray shirt and jeans, he hops behind the wheel of the CXT and drives along the track.

When he turns sharply, the passenger nearly falls out of his seat.

"There's a Holy Crap bar," he says, pointing to a handy handle on the frame near the window. "It turns like a truck."

The CXT is surrounded by other trucks at the show -- delivery trucks, dump trucks, a bus for disabled passengers. Wrobel says some of the customers milling about might be looking to buy a mega-fleet -- 500 or more -- and others are probably interested in buying one or two trucks.

A second CXT rolls into the parking lot. This one is painted in Mossy Oak camouflage. Wrobel says International is talking with the military about specially designed models for combat. "We'll drop the frame," he says, so the truck will be able to fit onto military transport planes, like the flying warehouses that carry armored vehicles.

Right now, Wrobel says, the pickup is too tall.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company