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2008 Pickup Truck Of The Year

Posted in Vehicle Reviews on March 1, 2008
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Photographers: Ken Brubaker

Pickup trucks are icons of Americana, as entrenched in our culture as Mom's meatloaf, baseball, and warm apple pie, but to some people they also reflect the alleged overdosing of Americans on the extreme. "Who needs such vehicles?" they ask. Whether you are a city slicker bringing your prized mutt to the dog park, an enthusiast hauling his dirt bikes to the local OHV area, or a rancher towing his horse trailer, pickup trucks fill a practical need in all walks of life. And when there is one in your driveway, all your neighbors know you as the go-to guy. You'll enjoy new popularity and fame when someone needs to bring drywall home or pick up a new couch. Even your eco-snob neighbor is bound to ask to borrow the keys when he doesn't want to dirty up his Prius with a fresh-cut 9-foot Christmas tree. Yes, having a pickup truck will grant you newfound status as the neighborhood hero, and we'll show which is the best one for 2008.

In order to be eligible for an invite to our Pickup Truck of the Year test, vehicles must meet certain criteria, including, but not limited to, having a two-speed transfer case, having at least 500 production vehicles available in the U.S., being all-new from the ground-up or substantially revised from the previous model year with significant upgrades to the suspension or drivetrain, and available to the public by January 15, 2008. This year, our five-competitor field included the Dodge Dakota Crew Cab TRX4, Dodge Ram 2500 Laramie Quad Cab, Ford F-250 Super Duty FX4, Hummer H2 SUT, and Toyota Tundra CrewMax Limited. Declining our invites for this test were Chevrolet and GMC with the Silverado HD and Sierra HD.

We score each of the vehicles based on five weighted categories that include Trail Performance (30%), Empirical (25%), On-Pavement Performance (20%), Interior (15%), and Exterior (10%).

Finally, Dodge has given the boring Clark Kent Dakota of previous years a makeover that more closely resembles Superman, with its fresh new superhero mask and superpowers underhood-302 hp and 329 lb-ft of torque, to be exact. Unfortunately, with a carlike seating position and ground clearance on the losing end of a Subaru Outback's, the 2008 Dakota was looking more like a poser at a costume party than the Rubicon of pickup trucks. Thankfully, our Dakota Crew Cab was equipped with some redeeming options, such as the 4.7L SOHC V-8 that finally rescues the horsepower that was missing in previous years and the worthwhile TRX4 package with its upgraded shocks, full complement of skidplates, and tight rear limited-slip differential. Our five-speed automatic transmission and navigation-equipped Dakota came to us with an as-tested price of $34,360.

The Dodge Ram, once the most radically styled truck available and a perennial Four Wheeler staff favorite, hasn't nearly aged as well in this last redesign as it has in previous versions. In this test, it is like a favorite old sport coat with elbow patches proudly on display. The Ram is still a great fullsize truck, and with an all-new Bluetec 6.7L Cummins OHV I-6, it now puts out 350 hp and 650 lb-ft of torque matched to a beautiful new 68RFE Orion six-speed automatic transmission. With a host of options, strangely none of which included a limited-slip or skidplates, our Quad Cab tester came to an as-tested price of $51,795.

The 2008 Hummer H2 SUT mimics the upgrades of its SUV counterpart, including the exceptional new interior, front-end freshening, a 6.2L OHV V-8 with 393 hp and 415 lb-ft of torque, and a new six-speed automatic transmission. What the SUT gains over the SUV is a small pickup bed, which can convert the cargo space to 4x6 feet with the rear seats and Midgate folded down. Otherwise, they are identical. Our tester optioned out at a $59,345,

What's Hot: Cummins 6.7L, six-speed automatic, factory exhaust brake
What's Not: Dated design, cheap interior, paint-shaker ride, no off-road package
Our Take: An aging heavyweight champ with some fight left in him.
From the Logbook:
* The Cummins power hits like a baseball bat between the eyes."
* Helpless in the dirt without a limited-slip."
* Engine brake rocks, and it's quiet."
* This truck isn't really meant for the trail."
* I'd love this engine in the Power Wagon."

PhotosView Slideshow

When the 2008 Ford Super Duty first appeared in spy photos, some on staff were aghast at the new styling, and it quickly became a controversial topic at the office. But now that the Super Duty has been out there awhile, we can appreciate its distinctive qualities, and when parked next to the last-generation Super Duty, the changes really make the old truck look dated. Our Ford F-250 Super Duty FX4 SuperCab was delivered with the much-anticipated Power Stroke 6.4L OHV V-8 turbodiesel, making the same peak numbers as the Ram, backed by Ford's five-speed TorqShift automatic transmission, and stickering at a cool $51,925.

The 2008 Hummer H2 SUT mimics the upgrades of its SUV counterpart, including the exceptional new interior, front-end freshening, a 6.2L OHV V-8 with 393 hp and 415 lb-ft of torque, and a new six-speed automatic transmission. What the SUT gains over the SUV is a small pickup bed, which can convert the cargo space to 4x6 feet with the rear seats and Midgate folded down. Otherwise, they are identical. Our tester optioned out at a $59,345,

Toyota's fullsize Tundra was all-new for 2007 but unavailable in time for our test last year, so it becomes eligible this year. Toyota, tired of being criticized for its 7/8-scale fullsize, decided to go all out on the new Tundra and make a big statement with this one. And big it is, from its girth to its grille, but many on staff feel Toyota has missed the mark in terms of styling, which has an awkward sheetmetal-to-wheelwell ratio, giving the large wheels and tires the appearance of being undersized, in addition to a front bumper that lacks synergy with the fenders. Styling objections aside, the Toyota's 5.7L DOHC V-8 with 381 hp and 401 lb-ft of torque, coupled to a new six-speed automatic transmission is arguably the best engine and transmission combination currently available on any truck. Heavily optioned, our tester was delivered with a price of $47,895.

We began our weeklong competition on the grounds of the California Speedway in Fontana, where we performed a battery of acceleration and braking tests.

It was the Tundra and its eyeball-glazing 7.23-second run that led the pack from 0 to 60 mph. The less powerful but 1,000-pounds-lighter Dakota was only a half second behind with a run of 7.71 seconds, really showing a remarkable improvement over the old 230hp 4.7L that scored an 11.16-second 0-60 in a mechanically similar Mitsubishi Raider in the 2006 competition. The Ram finished mid-pack with an 8.38-second run, followed by the newly enhanced Hummer H2 SUT at 8.50 seconds. The Super Duty, which we had trouble launching cleanly, did its best run in 9.18 seconds.

In the quarter-mile, it was again the Tundra flexing its muscles and speed, posting a run of 15.70 seconds at a sports-carlike 90.07 mph, followed right behind by the pumped-up Dakota with a run of 15.95 seconds at 83.95. The Hummer H2 had the next-highest trap speed at 84.43 mph, but the Ram was quicker at 16.47 seconds. Lastly, the Super Duty, which felt stronger on the "butt dyno" than times may indicate, brought up the rear with a respectable 17.01-second run, crossing the 1,320-foot mark at a hair over 82 mph.

As important as engines have become to the truck market, brakes have improved at least as substantially in the last several years, with the average 60-to-0 mph stopping distance in this test of only 153.41 feet and not one truck using up more than the Ram's solid outing of 158.57, a less than 10-foot spread from the test-leading Tundra CrewMax's run of 148.68 feet. Second best in this test was the Hummer H2 SUT at 151.88, followed by the Dakota's 152.23-foot run and the Super Duty's 155.71 distance.

During our braking tests, we noted a flaw with our Dakota. Listing a rear antilock braking system as standard equipment on its option sheet, we never once were able to get the ABS activated during our braking tests. Without driver modulation, the Dakota dragged its rear tires to a 163-foot stop, leaving black rubber witness lines down the track surface, and leaving the truck with flat spotted tires and a wobbly ride for the remainder of the test.

After wrapping up at the track, we hit the highway and headed out to the desert to continue our on-pavement and trail testing.

What's Hot: Most fun truck in mild terrain, excellent V-8 power, MyGIG
What's Not: Lower than some cars, cheap interior, transmission lag, small tires
Our Take: A truck that thinks it is a car.
From the Logbook:
* Noticeable improvement in power over the previous 4.7L."
* Has an annoying lag in transmission kick-down."
* If it wasn't so low, this truck could be a winner."
* Cool rear storage bins."
* Wonder if Dodge can buy interior plastics in colors other than light gray."

PhotosView Slideshow

Scoring highest in the on-road portion of the test was the Ford Super Duty. Testers felt the Super Duty benefited from the best visibility in the test, smooth power delivery, and precise transmission gear selection. The functional interior was comfortable and quiet with rich-looking trim, abundant storage cubbies, and seats that seemed to fit everybody. Fit and finish was exceptional, and while the dash was full of hard plastics, the color and graining kept the interior from looking or feeling cheap, something Dodge should take note of. For the trailer puller in you, Ford has equipped the Super Duty with the gold standard in factory trailer towing mirrors, dash-mounted Upfitter switches to activate any accessory you might want to add, and an integrated trail brake controller. It also had one of the most inclusive gauge packages in this test, and on the market, as well as a ride deemed smooth enough to commute with. As for power, most noted the Ford's nearly lag-free and smooth power delivery, no doubt thanks in part to the twin turbo design.

The H2 SUT and Tundra CrewMax were also given high praise for highway manners, with the Hummer getting the nod for the interior accommodations. The H2's new 6.2L is well matched, but testers did note some confusion from the new six-speed automatic when driving in hilly terrain. The bed, while small, is an excellent feature for occasional use; whether it be muddy boots or wet camping gear, the deep composite bed is up to holding all sorts of gear you might not want in your beautiful interior. And for those occasions you may need to temporarily expand the cargo room, the Mid-gate and rear seat fold down to expose a flat load floor. Testers did lament the lack of visibility, but praised the new rear-vision system for taking some of the guesswork out of maneuvering.

Where the Tundra left a bit to be desired was in the interior, where the usually impeccable Toyota ergonomics were lacking, hampered by spread-out control placement on the expansive dash that forced the driver to move out of position to operate. The Tundra just feels big for the sake of being big, and doesn't have the space efficiency of the previous generation; it also suffered from mediocre visibility and interior materials that were below expectations. Others commented on deeply inset gauges that were difficult to read and wide flat seats that were hard to get comfortable in. Note to Japan: Not every American is a ham-fisted 400-pounder wearing work gloves while they drive. Out on the open road, the Tundra provided an excellent and compliant highway ride, with bursts of reserve power available at any speed.

Scoring highest in the "fun to drive" category was the midsize Dakota. With no electronic nannies to intervene and a tight limited-slip, oversteer giggles were only a tip of the right foot away. The new 4.7L is a great engine, and the Dakota's chassis is willing to put on a show. The Dakota is also easy to just hop in and go, with no learning curve required, something we quite appreciate. Regrettably, the Dakota features an uninspiring parts-bin interior with hard gray plastics that look cheap in the affordable Dodge Caliber, let alone a $34,000 truck. This is unfortunate because the Dakota offers a decent ride and comfortable seats, and the MyGIG entertainment and navigation system is among the best in the business. We'd also like to see a shifter design that doesn't hide the dash when shifted in to "D", but overall the Dakota is a nice package.

If there was a raging, snorting, hairy-chested gorilla in this group, it had to be the Dodge Ram. At full tilt, the spectacular Cummins mill makes the Ram feel hundreds of pounds lighter, the sweet-shifting 68RFE Orion six-speed fires off shifts like an automatic pistol fires off rounds, and the optional exhaust brake is revolutionary for a factory oil-burner. It may not be quite as smooth as the Power Stroke, but it is more than most people will ever want or need. The engine brake alone might be enough to sway some buyers to grab life by the horns. We can't wait to see this powertrain in the next-generation Ram, as the current chassis is starting to show its age. The ride can be jarring over broken pavement and expansion joints, the driving experience is not as quiet or refined as the Ford, and-like the Dakota-it features less-than-impressive interior materials, taking it worlds away from the Super Duty in terms of appeal. It also lacks the completeness of gauges that the Super Duty provides to its driver, such as boost and tranny temperature. We do love the Ram's rear cargo shelf, something Ford should seriously consider for the Super Duty's odd-shaped load floor in the SuperCab models.

Fuel economy, which was measured and averaged throughout the test, was led by the Dakota with 15.5 mpg. The Tundra impressed with a 14.7 mpg average, while the Ram and Super Duty were at 13.3 mpg and 12.5 mpg, respectively. The H2 SUT managed to slurp fuel at a rate of 11.5 mpg.

What's Hot: Awe-inspiring drivetrain, great ride, quiet interior
What's Not: Inefficient interior, "what were they thinking" styling, odd tire size
Our Take: A great truck if you can get past the looks.
From the Logbook:
* Dampened tailgate rocks."
* Interior is an awful collection of materials and colors, and has gobs of wasted space."
* The new 5.7L engine is a study in what a modern V-8 should be."
* Traction control worked impeccably on our hillclimb."
* Needs more tire and less body."

PhotosView Slideshow

It was out on the trail where we really got a taste of the Dakota's schizophrenic personality, and where we developed our love-hate relationship with it. On smooth roads with minor imperfections, and in the sand washes, it was the most fun to drive. The mechanical rear limited-slip was a welcome respite from a world of digital traction aids, and the Dakota's low center of gravity, tight chassis, and good power-to-weight ratio made rallying exercises fun and predictable. But as soon as the road presented a high crown, the Dakota was dragging its belly like a rattlesnake moving through the Mojave and had to be carefully walked over obstacles to avoid high-centering. Oh, what an extra inch of ground clearance and some 31s would do to make the Dakota a formidable player in this field. Instead, the soft front end oscillates at speed over whoops, and the tires rip at the rear fender flares at full compression. To make matters worse, the 4WD knob is buried low on the dash, and the approach angle is Lamborghini-like in comparison to the other vehicles in the test.

With enough open-differential axle hop to shake your Dr. Pepper free of bubbles, the Ram with its excess of torque shuttered its way through the deep sand washes and temporarily left the occupants' bodies numb to other forms of input. As it sat buried axle-deep in the wash with a pointed and newly exposed boulder threatening the naked aluminum transfer case to one side and the vulnerable plastic fuel tank to the other, someone finally asked aloud for an off-road package and skidplates. Our Ram proved helpless in the dirt without a limited-slip, and a check of the options revealed that we could have added the peace of mind that comes with skidplates for only $45. The Ram, as configured, wasn't really meant for trail duty, and it reminded us of that fact at every opportunity. As much as we love Dodge's big truck, like an amicable break up, we were ready to move on after a day of wheeling with the big guy.

The H2 SUT is huge, it is a bit jiggly, and visibility is lacking, but it exonerates itself quite well on the trail, with a supple suspension, high seating position, and class-leading equipment. On the trail, the H2 is as unstoppable as a runaway freight train, the great ride is a mix of rear air suspension and shock tuning, and the H2 takes everything to throw at it and asks for more. While it may not be the right rig for a trip through tight forests, it is perfectly in its element in the wide open desert, easily the most competent 'wheeler in this group, and one of the best you can buy. The Hummer also has real recovery shackles, and it was the only vehicle able to free the 7,000-pound Dodge from its entrenched position in the soft sand of the wash. The 35-inch BFG A/Ts provided excellent traction and never once left us wanting more; those who had spent the previous rotation driving the Ram on the trail were often rewarded with a stint in the H2. Testers also appreciated the low gearing and electric rear locker.

The Tundra is a fantastic highway cruiser, and the TRD package, which adds a retuned suspension, tow hooks, and BFG tires, does wonders for the ride on the trail, soaking up terrain imperfections with aplomb. One area that surprised us was the unprecedented number of flats on our Tundra. While no other vehicle suffered any flats, the Tundra suffered two, and almost a third one. Each of these flats was a pinch type, where the wheel pinches the sidewall against the tread, cutting the sidewall with the rim. Since we have always had good luck with the BFG Rugged Trail T/A tires, we are left to wonder about the Tundra's odd 18-inch wheel size and relatively short sidewalls, although the heavier Ford with 20-inch wheels and similar sidewall height suffered no such issues. Perhaps it is the fact that the Tundra was equipped with two-ply P-metric tires, rather than the more appropriate three-ply LT designation. Logbook comments indicated that our testers were impressed with how well Toyota's electronic traction control worked, despite the lack of mechanical traction aids.

Unlike the Dodge, the limited-slip and skidplate-equipped Ford had no real problems on the trail. The heavy front end wasn't the smoothest on the whoops, but the chassis was strong and absorbed harsh impacts well, and axle hop wasn't nearly as prevalent in the Super Duty as it was on the Ram. Overall, the ride was much smoother than the Ram, and while we doubted the functionality of 20-inch wheels, we liked the proportioned look of them on the truck and never had any tire issues the entire test. Tow hooks and overall tire size were nearly as good as the Hummer, and Ford still offers manual hubs and transfer cases as an option. The Super Duty's visibility, which was lauded on the pavement, was also good for spotting obstacles on the trail.

With testing finished the scorebooks were added up, revealing that the winner of the 2008 Four Wheeler Pickup Truck Of The Year is...

What's Hot: Awesome trail machine, superb interior, excellent ride quality
What's Not: Small bed, still thirsty, that damn offset steering wheel
Our Take: The rig of choice if you only need a part-time pickup truck.
From the Logbook:
* Where can I put the 5th-wheel hitch?"
* Amazingly nimble for such a gigantic vehicle."
* I love this truck."
* The 4WD knob looks like part of the stereo."
* Obviously the best trail machine of the group."

PhotosView Slideshow

After a week of tough competition over smooth highway, broken pavement, rutted trails, and track testing, it is Ford's Super Duty FX4 that stood out in this test as the best new pickup for 2008. The Super Duty offers countless configurations, an adequate off-road package, and an exceptional new drivetrain.

The Four Wheeler staff raved about the truck from the moment it showed up at our offices and the Super Duty quickly became the place everyone wanted to spend time. We were impressed with the level of refinement that went into the redesigned Super Duty, without taking away from its already stout capabilities. Seemingly small, but innovative features, like the dash-mounted upfitter switches, integrated trailer brake controller, fold-away bed extender, and tailgate step were just some of the options that work to retain the Super Duty's class-leading position.

On the outside, Ford has one of the most distinctive designs, and under the hood one of the most advanced engines in the form of the new Power Stroke 6.4L turbodiesel V-8, which trumps the old 6.0L in terms of smooth power delivery and cleanliness of exhaust emissions. The five-speed automatic TorqShift transmission, with its smooth shifting and advanced tow-haul mode, works in perfect partnership with the Power Stroke engine.

In a nod to four-wheeling enthusiasts and to rugged durability over the roughest roads, Ford continues to use massive solid axles, yet the well-tuned suspension keeps unwanted motions in check. The Super Duty is so comfortable, you could put lots of miles in the driver seat with minimal fatigue, thanks to a stable ride, luxurious interior appointments, and excellent visibility.

The 2008 Super Duty is a hard-working, hard-playing pickup that can serve a dual-purpose role of trailer hauler or family hauler-at the same time if you prefer. Ford has a real winner on its hands, and we are proud to award it the 2008 Four Wheeler Pickup Truck of the Year Award.

What's Hot: Smooth power delivery, superior ergonomics, as comfortable as fullsize trucks get.
What's Not: Fuel economy, inefficient rear storage, vibrating mirrors in rough terrain.
Our Take: 2008 Four Wheeler Pickup Truck of the Year.
From the Logbook:
* Great gauge placement-love the four high-mount gauges in the cluster."
* Ready to work right from the factory."
* Ride is smoother than the solid-axle Dodge, and smoother than expected."
* The new 6.4L and trans work well together."
* Best Ford truck ever."

PhotosView Slideshow

Douglas McColloch, Editor
My heart is with the Toyota, but my head says it's the Super Duty. It was the one fullsize rig amongst this year's test crop that revealed new and praiseworthy qualities every time I climbed into it, such as the near-total absence of turbo lag under throttle. Or the outstanding ride height, comfortable seats, and quiet, well-insulated cab. Or the superior visibility, which was the best of all the test trucks. Or the well-engineered traction control and limited-slip combo, which enabled this beast to clamber up steep, loose hills that big trucks like this shouldn't be allowed to attempt. She's still a bit choppy over washboard at speed, and the Nav system is a little odd, but in virtually every other way, the new Ford represents a quantum leap over the previous model. The folks in Dearborn should have a hit on their hands.

Ken Brubaker, Senior Editor
The Super Duty is in its element whether it's hauling horses, hay, or hors d'oeuvres. It possesses all of the qualities of a hard-core work truck while exuding civilized refinement both inside and out. My one gripe is with the Power Stroke's disappointing fuel mileage. That aside, it's hard to find fault with this newest version of the Super Duty. It's the gold standard of pickup trucks. Really, it's that good.

Sean P. Holman, Tech Editor
I love the Hummer-it is perfect for the type of terrain I wheel in, but it doesn't offer enough of the pickup side of the equation, so I will have to go with the Super Duty. The Ford interior is excellent, the options are limitless, and the capability off-road is surprisingly good. It doesn't hurt that the aftermarket is waiting for you and your Super Duty with open arms.

Robin Stover, Feature Editor
This year I was let down for the first time ever by a Toyota product. However, Ford made me a believer once again. The Hummer H2 only got better, and the Dakota-well let's just say it leaves a lot to be desired. If I had only one of these trucks to take home, I'd take the Ram. Despite a stiff suspension and a plain-Jane interior, that new 6.7L Cummins engine is the cat's meow when it comes to pulling a trailer. And now that my lifestyle includes a 40-foot toy hauler, the Ram simply makes the most sense for my needs. I must admit the Ford would take a close second, though.

Greg P. Smith, Art Director
Although the H2 is a great vehicle in its own right, especially offroad, the truck I really enjoyed the most is the Super Duty. The interior and exterior styling is superb and well thought out. Although the rim size is a bit controversial, I think the rims work well with the proportions of the truck. Honestly, I have nothing but positive praise for the Super Duty from it's power, functionality, styling and ergonomics.

David Hamilton, Assoc. Publisher
My favorite is the Tundra. Besides the poorly matched wheel and tire package, the new Tundra is a roomy, comfortable, and powerful 1/2-ton work truck. It drives and handles like a sports car, but has the ability to tow a city block. I was also impressed at how well it performed off-road, both in high-speed sand washes, and in slow-speed rockcrawling.

Jason Gonderman, Online Editor
My personal pick for PTOTY is the Dakota. At first glance, this truck appears to be the runt of the group, but after spending some time behind the wheel on and off pavement, I have really grown to like it. While it may be lacking ground clearance, traction, and even ABS, this little truck more than makes up for it with its quick and nimble behavior. To put it simply, the Dakota was a plane ol' blast to drive, whether it be in a sand wash, a desert trail, or the open highway.

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