We pick the newest neighborhood hero
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."