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Best Off Road Trucks - Off Road Notes

Posted in Features on December 1, 2007
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People ask us all the time what the best truck is. Since I get the chance to drive the new trucks and have time to really evaluate them, I think it's time that I tell you what Off-Road magazine's Editor's Picks for best truck are.

The mini or compact truck category is easy. There's only one truck left in this market that's going to be making an explosive comeback. That truck is the Ford Ranger and, of course, it's identical sibling, the Mazda B-series pickup. Even if these trucks weren't the only compact trucks left, they'd be candidates for best truck. Proven engineering, smooth, powerful yet economical engines, suspensions that work pretty well stock and can be modified to prerun, race, and trail-ride make the Ford Ranger the best compact pickup available today.

It's harder to pick the best midsize truck. There are many quality contenders here. The Dodge Dakota and its Mitsubishi counterpart are the most powerful trucks in this segment, but their styling is controversial or, in other words, sales-proof. GM's midsize trucks, the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon, are very nice trucks with mills that are economical and fairly powerful. GM powertrains are always superb. Nissan's Frontier is a nice truck that does everything pretty well. The best midsize truck, though, is the Toyota Tacoma. Even though it's heftier than Tacomas of a few years back, the Toyota has a very powerful V6, strong transmissions, a suspension that's good in stock form, and since there's lots of aftermarket support, Tacomas can be built into world-beaters. Toyota's legendary quality is an added plus for Tacoma owners.

Half-ton pickups include the best-selling vehicles in the world. GM's half-tons look great with their new styling and, once again, have the best powertrains. The first GM half-ton we drove had no uptravel with its new front coilovers. Since then, I've driven an off-the-lot truck and the front suspension is very nice. So, I take back all that I've said about GM's new front coilover suspension not working well.

The Dodge half-ton is a nice truck that's a jack-of-all-trades and master of none. The Nissan Titan has a very strong V8 and a strong frame, but the rearend has had some problems and people either love or hate the styling.

That brings us to the Toyota Tundra and the Ford F-150. This is a hard choice, as Toyota's redesigned Tundra is quite a truck. The Tundra has the most horsepower of any half-ton pickup when it's equipped with the available V8, the frame is very strong, and its rearend has the biggest ring gear of the bunch. The aftermarket is scrambling to build products for the new Tundra, but there isn't much available yet. What makes the Tundra come in second is its styling, which is certainly innovative, but many, especially ranchers and farmers, think it's just plain weird.

My choice for best half-ton is the Ford F-150. Others agree, as it's the best-selling vehicle on the planet. The Ford has a very strong frame, strong rearend, coilover front suspension that actually works pretty well in stock form, and engines that, while they aren't the most powerful (Toyota and Nissan beat the Ford), are reliable and economical. The F-150 is arguably the best-looking truck available today. With all the swoopy styling cues and strange looking grille and light designs on other trucks, the F-150 looks strong, modern, and normal.

Three-quarter-ton and 1-ton trucks are the heavy-duty workhorses that many truck owners need. GM, Ford, and Dodge all offer great trucks in this segment and picking the best is very hard. All of them feature strong axles and frames that will hold up to heavy use and abuse. All of them also address the new diesel emission laws. Ford trucks offer a strong gas V10 and a twin-turbo diesel Power Stroke V8. The Power Stroke will whip the others in a race, but it returns poor fuel economy doing it. Ford retains the straight front axle this year and offers good suspension packages. Ford's trannies are strong and durable, and there's also an available trailer towing package that includes a built-in electric trailer-brake controller.

Dodge's heavy-duty offerings get the new Cummins 6.7 turbodiesel that's almost as strong as the Ford's in performance and retains legendary Cummins strength and reliability. A diesel exhaust brake is also standard. The new six-speed automatic in the Dodge deserves mention as a very user-friendly transmission that is strong enough to be in a medium-duty truck. Dodge has a straight, strong front-axle design and a good suspension. The Dodge is also probably the easiest truck of all to modify for off-road use.

Chevrolet and GMC HD pickups are the Off-Road Editor's Pick for heavy-duty pickup though, as the new Duramax diesel returns the best fuel economy of the bunch, and the base gas engine is GM's excellent 6.0-liter V8. The Allison automatic transmission continues to be reliable and just about bulletproof. The trucks are heavy-duty with a beefy frame, coilover front suspension, helical-gear locking diff instead of clutch-pack limited-slip, and many other features that make these the best available today. GM's trucks received a complete redesign in '07 and are fine-looking vehicles.

Now, if I could only own one vehicle to do it all, on- and off-road, it would be the Dodge Power Wagon. It wins the best all-around award because it's a 3/4-ton truck that comes from the factory with 4.56 gears, electric-locking differentials front and rear, an electronic-disconnect sway bar, a 12,000-pound winch, armor, and an excellent suspension with tuned springs and gas shocks - all with a factory warranty! It only comes with the 5.7 Hemi, which does a good all-around job, even if it is a bit thirsty. The Power Wagon will easily tow a medium-size trailer or boat and handles a flatbed with a vehicle on it with ease. Will it tow a two-vehicle trailer with ease? No. The Dodge Power Wagon does just about everything else well.

There you have it - the Off-Road Editor's Picks for best trucks.

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