Douglas McColloch, Editor
Man, oh man, I've been compare-testing new rigs for Four Wheeler for the better part of 20 years, and I honestly don't know if I've ever had to make a tougher decision because all of these rigs are extremely capable. While I'd be delighted to have any of them in my driveway, the new Dodge Ram is particularly deserving of praise. Its Ram Boxes will likely get the lion's share of attention from the lay public-and they do add a measure of utility-but the Dodge's revolutionary suspension forces all of us to rethink the basics of truck design, and to reconsider how a pickup truck should ride and handle, on and off the pavement. I've never seen such a big vehicle handle the kinds of gnarly rock trails without a rear locker the way this truck did, so in an extremely competitive field, the Ram, to my mind, comes out first among equals.
Ken Brubaker, Senior Editor
This is a great group of trucks. Choosing one favorite is like being forced to choose between Moab, Tellico, Telluride, or Truckee. Each truck, like each of these wheeling destinations, has its own personality and each is attractive in its own way. If forced to choose one of these pickups, I'll go with the Ford F-150. It's a great truck that balances honest-to-goodness work capability with decent off-highway manners thanks to the FX4 option. And it takes care of its passengers with a handsome, intuitive, comfortable interior. It's my Telluride.
Sean P. Holman, Tech Editor
It was a great year for testing pickups, with a varied field of vehicles that were all worthy of consideration for our PTOTY. As much as I loved our winner on the trail, the ride of the Dodge Ram, and the fun, easy-going nature of the Equator, there was one vehicle that I felt truly fit my needs for a pickup. At the end of the test, it was the only rig that I had a hard time returning the keys to, and that was the Ford F-150.
Robin Stover, Feature Editor
This year's group was the toughest ever to pinpoint a clear winner in my mind. The familiar, yet new, Suzuki Equator stood out as the best around town daily driver with trail capability. Yet, despite years of refinement, some of the quirks we've complained about in the Nissan Frontier were still present. The Ford's solid chassis and luxuriously appointed interior almost swayed my decision altogether, it's a very potent package. The all-new Ram 1500 is just plain awesome. I seriously think pickup suspension systems have a new golden standard to match. However, as good as they all were, I have to remember the Hummer H3T is both Baja and Rubicon ready right out of the box. With front and rear lockers, a 4:1 low range, and stout attachment points, it has everything I need and nothing I don't. To me the H3T simply can't be beat.
Jason Gonderman, Web Editor
If I had to choose one of the pickup trucks from this year's test to make my own, I would choose the Ford F-150. All of the trucks this year were great, but to me the F-150 had the best of everything with its amazingly comfortable interior, superb sound system with SYNC, a rear locker that works in 4-Hi, great tires, a throaty exhaust note, decent clearance, and skidplates. It could use more power but that just leaves room for the aftermarket. All in all, the Ford F-150 would be the truck for me.
Trail testing brought us to our normal hillclimb and trail loop, in addition to trails in and around Twentynine Palms, California, giving us a varied amount of terrain from sand to rock, in which to test these 2009 pickups.
In the dirt, the Dodge Ram was again impressive. Lacking any sort of axlewrap and able to get all of its power to the ground, the Ram was unstoppable in the sand and soaked up terrain imperfections like a much smaller and lighter vehicle. While the rear suspension felt perfectly tuned, the front did suffer from an ailment we have complained about before with Dodge A-arm front suspensions-it just blew through its travel way too fast, making us wish for stiffer front shocks to match the rear.
Another item worth noting was the performance of the Ram's limited-slip rear axle. Working in conjunction with traction control and a flexy rear suspension, the Ram almost never lifted a rear wheel, keeping the vehicle moving forward in the harshest terrain we took it over.
The Ram's greatest drawback on the trail was its low height. In fact, the Ram took the most body damage in the test, ranging from a resculpted front bumper to rock rash on the rockers. The low height was also a concern for the unprotected fuel tank and we were leery of front tow hooks with tight clearances that make it difficult to wrap a tow strap around. The chassis, however, was the tightest in the group, showing no squeaks or rattles during our test.
The F-150 was also blessed with a solid chassis and excellent off-highway traits, however the heavy-duty payload capability and a comparatively rough ride were what lost the Ford points in the dirt. Over fast, uneven terrain, the big heavy rear axle could be felt exerting its will under the truck, and the F-150 proved to be nowhere near as supple as the Ram, especially in loose gravel or deep sand that tended to excite some rear axle hop in the Ford.
Axle hop aside, the rear locker transforms the F-150, which has traditionally suffered from weak clutch-style limited slips that don't work well in technical off-highway terrain. With the pull of a switch, the F-150 bounded up and over obstacles. The added benefit of being the only vehicle that could be locked up in 4-Hi meant that we didn't have to unnecessarily stop forward momentum, just to gain traction by shifting in to Lo Range to engage the locker.
By far, the best performer in the dirt was the Hummer H3T. It was virtually unstoppable by any obstacle thanks to big tires, front and rear lockers, and excellent approach angles. It feasted on desert whoops like it was the main course at Thanksgiving dinner, really benefitting in most situations by the longer wheelbase.
The H3T feels so composed in the dirt that its capability is no doubt above the driving level of many of its customers. In fact, some testers said driving the H3T made them feel lazy on the trail because the Hummer is such a point-and-shoot vehicle, usually shrugging off bad lines the same way it is indifferent to speed bumps in a parking lot.
Although not an issue in this test, the only drawback that we could see would be the H3T's length on tighter trails. The H3T also didn't feel quite as solid as the granite-like H3, even developing a small squeak somewhere in the chassis during the last days of our testing.
Also developing a squeak was our Equator, which is the same noise we have heard on our long-term Frontier and project Frontier, making us wonder if all Frontiers and Equators, subjected to the trail, will have the same noise. The Suzuki also lost points for heavy, slow steering that couldn't keep up with the driver, especially in deep sand. It was also the least refined in terms of ride quality in rutted sand and chassis performance in this group, as evidenced by the near hole put in to the rear of the cab by the bed because of chassis flex.
However, several strong points did elevate the Equator in scoring. It is by far the most maneuverable on the trail and has the least invasive electronic nannies. And we can't say enough about how much better this vehicle is because it has a rear locker. We also heaped praise on the excellent shock tuning that went into the Bilstein shocks. The bottom line is that the Equator is a great truck in need of a little refinement.
At the end of the week, with staffers still struggling with their personal picks, we tallied up the logbooks to see what the numbers showed. And while overall scoring was tight, we did have one vehicle that broke from the pack and scored high enough to earn the 2009 Four Wheeler Pickup Truck of the Year award....