Truck Of The Year - New Platforms For Cool - Ground Zero
Recently, the staff of Truckin' embarked on our annual Truck of the Year competition to test the latest offerings from both import and domestic manufacturers. These tests allow us to get a hands-on feel for what will be on the showroom floor in the coming year, and they also give us a chance to assess the positives and negatives of each truck. Obtaining this information through driving impressions, results at the drag strip, and a little seat time off-road helps us give readers and consumers the information needed to choose the right truck that fits their needs. The difference this year in our testing was the off-road portion. The trucks were put through their paces for assessment of suspension travel, handling, traction, and suspension articulation. Our two-hour 'wheeling session on the trails of the San Bernardino Mountains was proceeded by extensive dragstrip testing at the L.A. County Raceway in Palmdale, California, where each truck was rolled into the burnout box, the rear hides heated up, and the gas mashed for a trip down the quarter-mile. Our data was recorded via laptop, and after each truck either came out smelling like a rose or fell significantly short in the performance department, we proceeded to the brake testing trials, where each truck was measured for stopping distance from 60-0 mph. Once things were wrapped up at the track, we were off to Big Bear, California, for an overnight stay in a private cabin accompanied by an evening of barbecuing, beverages, and good conversation with my colleagues. It was great to hang out and shoot the breeze with my fellow workers and custom truck enthusiasts outside of the office, since we rarely get the opportunity to do so.
We rose with the sun on Friday morning. Continued was the quest for the all-around best truck in the group. At 10 a.m., we were deep in dust trampling across a rugged trail that stretches from Big Bear on down to Yucca Valley. Tight cliff-side corners were negotiated while the calm waters of a few streams and mud pits were disturbed by our fleet of 4x4s. Only one truck was left behind. The two-wheel-drive Dodge SRT-10 was not fit for the trail, so we planted expert driver and Truckin' Tech Editor Bob Ryder behind the wheel to negotiate the twisty mountain switchbacks and stretch the Dodge's legs a bit while we pounded the other four trucks through the dirt.
Included in our assortment of new haulers was the '05 Toyota Tacoma TRD 4x4, '05 Nissan Frontier NISMO 4x4, '05 Dodge Dakota Quad Cab 4x4, '05 Ford F-250 Super Duty 4x4, and '05 Dodge Ram SRT-10 Quad Cab. Each truck had its own unique features that were both appreciated and disliked by each staff member, and spending a fair amount of time in each truck allowed everyone to figure out which truck best fit their lifestyle.
The last area the trucks were judged on was their aftermarket potential. Being in the business we are in and being the gearheads we are, a truck just isn't worth purchasing if we can't tweak the suspension, add wheels and tires, and increase the performance. Considering the '05 models have not hit lots and the aftermarket products have not yet come into the market, we have to assess the trucks carefully to see if their body lines lend themselves well to aftermarket products. We also have to see if suspension systems are designed to accept suspension alterations, such as lift and lowering kits. Larger wheels and tires come into play here, as do fenderwell configuration and space. A few trucks failed in this arena of our test because of limited suspension travel and zero room for larger rubber. As a tip to the consumer: These things definitely need to be looked at when purchasing a new truck if you are considering extensive aftermarket upgrades.
After our testing ended, I drove home with some great memories and a bit of on- and off-road knowledge to pass on to potential new truck buyers. I also had a chance to reflect on what I do and realized that I enjoy this event more every year. It was a nice break from walking the hot blacktop at a truck show, spending several hours photographing every detail of countless rolling masterpieces. While my true passion lies within customized show trucks and the scene that surrounds them, I truly do have a new appreciation for getting behind the wheel and putting a truck through its paces both on and off the asphalt. As of right now, a winner for our Truck of the Year competition has not been established, but stay tuned. The Jan. '05 issue is sure to have a full report on our testing, some great photos, and a winner. Until next month, keep hitting those switches, cranking good tunes (such as The Clash, Triumph, and Ratt), and cruising until your heart's content.