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Off-Road Notes

Phil Howell | Writer
Posted September 15, 2006

Like you, we here at OFF-ROAD are always in search of the perfect truck. While the manufacturers have made that search easier in the 21st century, there are still difficult choices to make.

First of all, does the perfect truck even exist? Can we go down to a dealer, plunk our hard-earned cash on the table, and drive a truck away with a smile on our face knowing it's the perfect one? In one word: no. It doesn't matter whether brand loyalty raises its ugly, biased head or whether we're objective about our search - no manufacturer builds the perfect truck.

Of course, "perfect" means different things to different people, depending on their vehicle's intended use. I have a friend with a ranch who thinks the trucks we build in this magazine are useless. He wants a narrow-tired tow monster to pull his horse trailers and other ranch-related stuff. While we may feature a ranch truck in the near future, those are admittedly not what we usually aim for when building a project. Here, Kevin and Jordan like speed and, while I like speed too, I also want to be able to hit a trail and go exploring once in a while. For me, the perfect truck would be able to move fast over dirt roads and then be able to travel slow technical trails with ease.

So, what truck to get? In the mini-truck segment, there are only two left: the Ranger and its cousin, the Mazda B-series. All the other mini-trucks have grown to midsize status. This isn't saying the midsize segment is bad; it's just that there were reasons for mini-trucks when they were introduced, and those reasons are even more important today than they were back when - easy maneuverability, better fuel economy, and a lower entry cost are just a few that make the mini-truck, now just the Ford Ranger and Mazda B-Series, attractive.

The midsize segment is populated with pretty nice trucks, although I personally can't get used to their styling. The Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier are fabulous trucks, although the Tacoma seems to be exhibiting some rearend ring-gear reliability problems. The GM midsize trucks, as usual, win in the powertrain department. I really don't like the Dodge Dakota's styling. If you like the way these trucks look, great! I don't.

Now, which fullsize to buy? Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford, GMC, Nissan, and Toyota all offer fullsize trucks that are very good, but each has a negative side too. In the 1/2-ton segment, the GM offerings feature good, maybe the best, powertrains. GM's 5.3-liter Generation III V8s produce lots of power and return good fuel economy too. Now, GM even offers an aluminum 5.3 with more horsepower in its 1/2-ton trucks. The 6.0-liter V8's fuel economy isn't as good as the 5.3, but the horsepower and torque it produces make it worth the price if you need towing power. The Hydra-Matic automatic transmissions are the best you can get, in my opinion. The front torsion bars are replaced in '07 with coilovers, so that problem is taken care of.

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