Pickup trucks have always been the Clydesdales of the automotive world. Large and lumbering, they're asked by their owners to perform a thousand tasks deemed unsuited to the family sedan or wagon: hauling heavy loads, pulling a trailer, helping at the jobsite, or rescuing stranded motorists. They never ask much of their owners in return, save the occasional fluid and filter changes and a good wash-down every now and then.
One thing we haven't usually asked from our pickups, though, is a smooth and carlike ride on pavement. And zero-to-60 times to rival the family sedan. And all the creature comforts we normally associate with expensive luxury rigs-heated seats, Bluetooth, seating for six, and all the rest. Today's truck buyer is quite a bit more demanding than those of us who grew up around pickup trucks on the farm or on the job, who still perceive their ultimate value through the prism of pure function. Still, we're happy to see the automakers responding to changes in consumer demand, and offering fullsize trucks that can still get the job done but which also give us the freedom to play our iPods while we're driving, warm up our butts on cold mornings, and let us savor the latest from the Grand Ole Opry-or the Metropolitan Opera-on satellite radio.
Which brings us our Pickup Truck of the Year for 2010. We recently spent a week in the deserts and mountains outside of Los Angeles testing four all-new or substantially revised pickup trucks, and we can assure you that the newest generation of pickup trucks sacrifices little, if any, utility, while affording us levels of comfort and refinement we wouldn't have dreamed of a few years ago.
First up, the much-discussed Ford F-150 Raptor. The brainchild of Ford's SVT division, the Raptor invites us to reconsider what a light-duty pickup truck can and should be. Yes, its architecture should be rugged enough to haul a bedful of hay bales or tow a bass boat, and yes, it should deliver acceptable street manners and a quiet ride, with all the expected amenities. But should it also be built to withstand the rigors of Baja-style off-road racing, straight out of the box? That's the challenge that SVT engineers sought to meet when they built the Raptor, and which the truck itself poses to its competitors in the light-duty pickup segment.
Also in this year's test, a pair of new Ram HDs: the 2500 diesel, and the Hemi Power Wagon. Heavy-duty Ram diesels have always been the Tow Kings of the consumer truck market, and the latest Cummins-powered incarnation is no exception, with tow ratings of upwards of eight and a half tons. The Power Wagon has been a four-wheeler's heavy-duty dream, with solid axles and locking diffs at both ends, an electronic swaybar disconnect, and a 12,000-pound Warn winch nestled in the OE front bumper. It's a sign of Chrysler's continuing commitment to that niche of off-road truck enthusiasts who might need a rig to winch out some other guy's stuck Jeep. And both new Rams are handsomely appointed, inside and out.
Rounding out this year's quartet of competitors is the Toyota Tundra, now boasting a new V-8 between its framerails. The Tundra has been hit hard by the recent economic slump, especially considering the resources that Toyota devoted to its new truck, only to be greeted a few months later by a collapse in fullsize truck sales. Still, Toyota knew it couldn't simply stand pat, so it's taken a "small is beautiful" approach, now offering the Tundra with an aluminum block that's smaller, lighter, and more fuel-efficient than the 4.7L engine that it replaces.
In any given year, any one of these vehicles would be a worthy Pickup Truck of the Year winner. But alas, we could only pick one, and you can see our scores starting on page 30.