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The 10 most significant 4x4 pickups of the last decade - Tempting Ten

Posted in Features on March 12, 2014 Comment (0)
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There have been scores of new 4x4 pickup truck models offered over the last 10 years, but only a handful can rate as truly significant. Some are significant because of an engine, specific model, or special option packages, while incredibly, others can simply credit one thing for their importance.

The Four Wheeler staff debated the vehicles we think are the 10 most significant pickup trucks of the last decade, based on our experience. This was no easy task, but we managed to meet the goal of 10 vehicles. Some are a no-brainer, while others may surprise you. In the end, we hope that this story assists you when you head out to buy a truck. Here are our 10 selections, in no particular order.

2009 Hummer H3T Alpha w/Adventure Package
The Hummer brand was on a roll for a while, and one of the brand’s success stories was the ’09 Hummer H3T Alpha with the optional Adventure Package. We’ll be blunt: This truck was amazing off-road. The Alpha model was fitted with the 5.3L V-8, which was a vast improvement over the base I-5 engine. The Adventure Package added a 4:1 transfer case, 4.10 gears, front and rear manually-operated locking differentials, and improved skidplating. We tested one of these trucks in 2009, and it had an impressive approach angle of 38.7 degrees, a departure angle of 30.6 degrees, and a minimum ground clearance of 10.2 inches. The H3T used a model-specific chassis that gave it a wheelbase 18 inches longer than its sibling the H3 SUV. The truck sported a 5-foot cargo bed with a bedrail system and storage cubbies. After spending time with the truck at Pickup Truck of the Year 2009, one staffer said, “Nothing comes close to the way the Hummer handles the dirt.” The H3T was only available as a 2009 and 2010 model.

2010 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor
Marketed by Ford as the “first-ever high-speed off-road performance truck,” it didn’t take long for the Raptor to earn its place as one of the great factory 4x4 pickups. Based on the F-150, the Raptor added bulging bodywork to compensate for the seven-inch-wider track, a Baja-inspired long-travel suspension with Fox internal triple-bypass shocks, larger brakes, an electric rear differential locker, and 35-inch-diameter tires, among other things. The result was a truck that looked incredibly tough and performed outstanding. During the 2010 Pickup Truck of the Year competition, we jumped the truck over 20 times for photos with nary a problem, and had a blast doing it. One staffer said, “I still can’t believe you can actually go out and buy this truck, awesome!” Incredibly, the Raptor’s base price was only $38,020. The only major complaints we had were the lack of front traction aid and so-so power from the base 310hp 5.4L V-8. With that said, a Torsen front differential became available in 2012, and for the 2011 model year all Raptors were powered by the 6.2L V-8, which produced approximately 100hp more than the 5.4L engine. The Raptor is still available as a 2014 model.

2009 Ram 1500
Dodge/Ram has never been one to play by the rules, and the company kicked the rulebook to the curb again in 2009, when it trotted out the new Ram 1500. The truck had all-new exterior styling; a new interior with almost double the storage locations; a new-gen 5.7L Hemi with 10-percent more horsepower; and a new RamBox cargo management system on the Crew Cab. But the biggest news was something you couldn’t even see. It was the first-in-segment coil spring, five-link rear suspension mated to a solid axle. This suspension system was designed to improve the ride and handling capabilities, and when we tested a TRX-equipped truck, we found that rear axlewrap was nonexistent and the suspension soaked up terrain imperfections like a much smaller and lighter vehicle. When the flexy new rear suspension was combined with the outstanding performance of the Ram’s rear limited-slip differential and the vehicle’s traction control, the Ram crawled over even the roughest terrain, almost never lifting a wheel. Ram continues to offer the coil spring suspension in the 2014 model ½-ton truck, and in another major move, Ram is now offering a coil-spring suspension in the rear of the Ram 2500 truck for the 2014 model year.

2005 Nissan Frontier NISMO
If you’re looking for a small pickup, here’s a great choice. The Frontier was restyled for the 2005 model year and it got larger. The wheelbase was increased by 9.8 inches and the width and height of the truck also increased. Some people started calling it a midsize truck, but it was still noticeably smaller than the redesigned midsize ’05 Toyota Tacoma. We tested a King Cab model in 2005 and found that the larger size made for a roomy interior that wasn’t cramped, even for larger testers. But here’s the thing: Even though the truck had gotten larger it was still easy to maneuver and a lot of fun. Part of that fun factor was a new V-6 engine that produced 70 more horsepower and 68 lb-ft of torque than its predecessor. This engine was based on the Nissan VQ engine series, which was used in vehicles like the 350Z. Available on the Frontier was the NISMO off-road package and it made the truck very capable in the dirt. The simple package included gas shock absorbers, alloy wheels, and most importantly, a pushbutton-operated electric locking rear differential. Even after all these years, we still clearly recall how much fun the Frontier was to drive. The ‘14 Frontier is similar to the 2005 model and has an impressive 32.6-degree approach angle in PRO-4X trim.

2006 Dodge Ram Mega Cab
We all can probably remember the first time we saw the ’06 Dodge Ram Mega Cab. It’s one of those experiences we’ll never forget. The first time we saw the huge Mega Cab was when it was unveiled at the Chicago Auto Show, and we loved it at first sight. Developed by Dodge to make pickup cabs “more spacious, more comfortable, and more practical,” the Mega Cab was based on a ¾-ton 8-foot longbox truck that engineers fit with a 6-foot, 3-inch box. This provided an additional 20 inches for the cab. The Mega Cab offered room for six adults as well as lots of gear. Additionally, the rear seats reclined, which was a first for a pickup truck. The Mega Cab had the largest rear door opening at the time as well as the largest rear door open angle and flat-floor load area. The Mega Cab was available in 1500, 2500, and 3500 models, and even the 1500 was equipped with a solid front axle. For 2014, the Mega Cab is available on 2500 and 3500 Ram trucks.

2005 Chevy Silverado/GMC Sierra with Quadrasteer
It’s amazing how just one option can revolutionize a truck, but that’s exactly the case with the Quadrasteer system on the ’05 Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra. The Quadrasteer system utilized an electric steering system on the rear Dana 60 axle. At low speeds, the rear tires would angle up to 12 degrees in the opposite direction of the front tires. At high speeds, the rear tires would angle slightly in the same direction of the front tires. The overall result was vastly improved tracking and a significant decrease in turning diameter. We tested a Quadrasteer-equipped ’03 Sierra (shown here) and loved the easy maneuverability that Quadrasteer provided. The system significantly enhanced the Sierra’s overall drivability both on-road and off. Sadly, GM priced Quadrasteer too high (over five grand, initially) and the take rate was low. This prompted some price reductions as time went on, but the buying public wasn’t buying. Quadrasteer was initially offered on some GM vehicles in 2002 and it was killed after 2005. It’s easy to spot Quadrasteer-equipped vehicles. Just look for the wider bedsides with marker lights that were specific to these vehicles due to the wider rear track.

2005 Dodge Power Wagon
If Dodge didn’t have everyone’s attention in 2004, the company definitely had it in 2005 when it hit their competition right between the eyes with the incredible Power Wagon. The specifications of the truck read like no other factory pickup. Front and rear selectable electric differential lockers, larger-diameter rear axleshafts, selectable electronic disconnecting front stabilizer bar, 1.8-inch-lift front coil springs, 1.4-inch-lift rear leaf springs, softened spring rates to enhance axle articulation, Bilstein shock absorbers, 33-inch BFGoodrich All-Terrain tires, special forged wheels designed to retain the tire bead when the tire pressure is lowered, special underbody protection, and a Warn 12,000-pound winch, among many other things. Unquestionably, the ’05 Power Wagon raised the bar for off-road-ready pickups. The Power Wagon is still available through Ram.

2014 Chevy Silverado 1500/ GMC Sierra 1500
We dig the new 2014 GM ½-ton trucks and one of the things we like is the all-new trio of powerplants that were designed specifically for truck use. These ‘plants are called EcoTec3 and include a 285hp 4.3L V-6, 355hp 5.3L V-8, and 420hp 6.2L V-8. The “3” of EcoTec3 refers to three state-of-the-art technologies infused into each engine. There’s direct injection, cylinder deactivation, and continuously variable valve timing. These things combine to make the most of power, torque, and efficiency across a broad range of operating conditions. We like that we get GM’s latest-and-greatest technology in each engine, even the six-cylinder. We’ve spent quite a bit of time testing the 5.3L V-8 and found it to be quiet, powerful, and importantly, fuel efficient. Don’t confuse the EcoTec3 engines with previous GM engines. The EcoTec3 engines are all-new and share only a handful of small parts with previous engines.

2014 Ram 1500 w/EcoDiesel
Ram upended the truck market in 2014 when the company began offering a turbodiesel engine in the ½-ton Ram pickup. Instantly, diesel fans had a way to get what they wanted without having to buy a ¾- or 1-ton truck. Made by longtime Chrysler Group engine supplier VM Motori, the 3.0L V-6 EcoDiesel includes 24 valves; a 16.5:1 compression ratio; MultiJet II common-rail fuel injection; and a variable geometry, water-cooled turbocharger. The engine is mated to a state-of-the-art eight-speed automatic transmission. During testing, we found the engine to be more than ample for the Ram pickup and it provided good power for towing trailers, too. As a bonus, the engine was very fuel efficient, and we found that it returned almost 30 mpg on the highway. There’s no question that the truck-buying public has been asking for a diesel-powered ½-ton truck. Ram came through with one first in a modern, mass-produced ½-ton truck, and that will go down in pickup truck history.

2011 Ford F-150 w/EcoBoost
Turbochargers are nothing new to diesel fans, and those of us older in years can remember the early ’80s when turbochargers were all the rage and manufacturers were putting them in all kinds of gasoline-powered cars. Turbochargers on gasoline-powered production trucks are quite rare, however. Well, until 2011, when Ford began offering the turbocharged EcoBoost V-6 in the F-150. Instantly, buyers could have the fuel economy of a V-6 with the power of a V-8. The all-aluminum, direct-injected, 3.5L V-6 sported a pair of fixed-geometry, water- and air-cooled BorgWarner turbochargers that had a maximum boost of 13½ psi. We tested the 365hp EcoBoost extensively and there was no question as to its power output. One staffer said, “We think this is a performance engine that just happens to get good mileage.” Another said, “The EcoBoost is like a two-stage rocket once the turbos spool up!” The EcoBoost is still available as an optional engine in the F-150 for the 2014 model year.

What Do You Think?
Are there 4x4 pickup trucks manufactured in the last decade (2005-2014) that you think should be on this list, or do you think a couple of our selections are crazy? Email us at ken.brubaker@fourwheeler.com and tell us what you think.

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