The truck world moves a bit slower than the rest of the auto industry. That's because trucks are more about function than fashion, and if a truck works, there's not much point in messing with it. Which is why, typically, the life cycle of a truck is about double that of a car. Not surprisingly, only a small number of new or significantly upgraded trucks are launched each year.

Case in point: Only five trucks were eligible for the 2007 Truck of the Year title. And four of them were GMT900-based vehicles from General Motors. We had expected Toyota's all-new Tundra to be a contender, but the truck's launch was pushed past our January 1 deadline, partly because, say some observers, of last-minute changes to the interior to compete with the upscale interior GM is offering on the GMT900s.

To review, we judge all Truck of the Year contenders against our three key criteria--superiority, significance, and value--and not against each other. Naturally, some trucks are more work biased than others, so as part of the superiority criterion, we identify where each manufacturer has set its vehicle on the work/refinement continuum and determine how well each truck coped with the compromises in performance, ride, and handling that entailed.

This year we have five solid contenders--four are GM models (two share the SUV platform, two share the new pickup truck platform, and one makes its long-awaited second-generation debut). But there can only be one winner. Here's how we did the testing.

Day One: Track Day
We started with the regular battery of Truck Trend acceleration and braking tests. Each truck was tested unloaded and then loaded to three-quarters of its calculated payload capacity. To get the right payload, we weighed all the trucks (with a full fuel tank) and subtracted that number from the manufacturers' gross vehicle weight rating. We used two 350-pound water bladders in each truck and added 50-pound bags of rock salt as needed, and each truck was then retested.

Day Two: Payload Day
The trucks remained loaded for a full day of real-world driving that included stints on freeways in the San Fernando Valley and climbs up and over the Santa Monica Mountains on winding backroads. Here the judges were looking at everything from vehicle responsiveness in stop-start driving to handling and braking on twisting roads to ride comfort on freeways. Each judge drove each truck back to back over the same roads under the same conditions.

Day Three: Towing Day
We borrowed a boat and trailer from our friends at Castaic Boat & Marine and headed for a quiet backroad near Interstate 5 for back-to-back towing tests. In addition to driving each truck with the boat and trailer in tow, we also did some comparative testing, measuring the differences in acceleration over an eighth of a mile with and without the 6000-pound rig attached.

Day Four, Part 1: Drive Day
Off to Corona and a 35-mile loop that included most of the road conditions--everything from freeway to winding two-lanes to poorly paved asphalt to rutted dirt tracks--most truck owners would encounter. The trucks were each driven unloaded (as most are by most of their owners most of the time) by each of the judges back to back to rate performance, ride and handling, and refinement under typical, real-world operating conditions.

Day Four, Part 2: Judgment Day
A detailed walk-around of each truck reviewed features and equipment and checked build quality and functionality. The judges looked at fit and finish inside and out and ease-of-use and serviceability issues. Prices were checked for competitiveness and value quotients assessed. Then it was time to vote, each judge nominating the winner in a secret ballot. And this year, the result was unanimous.

Getting Loaded
Trucks carry stuff. And tow stuff. So as part of our Truck of the Year testing, we look at how well each of the contenders does the job it's designed to do. Payload and towing capacity are the key numbers truck guys talk about, but they don't tell the whole story: If you divide the payload capacity by the curb weight, for example, you get an idea of a truck's work efficiency. All other things being equal (engine, transmission, etc.), a lighter truck that can carry a larger payload or tow a bigger trailer means you'll likely use less gas when you're not working it. But you can't argue with the laws of physics: Load carrying and towing also affect acceleration and braking performance. By measuring the differences between loaded and unloaded performance, we can see which trucks demand the fewest compromises.

2007 Cadillac Escalade EXT
A Better Pickup Truck Than It Is A Cadillac
By Mark Williams

As it has in the past, GM is using Cadillac as the early technology adopter, giving its buyers the chance to get first crack at some cool features that'll eventually trickle to the wider lineup over the next several years. The most obvious example of this early adopter strategy is the all-new 6.2-liter all-aluminum V-8 that makes 403 horses and 417 pound-feet as well as the new 6L80-E six-speed automatic, which does a commendable job of making the heaviest player in our test run like a sprinter.

In fact, the EXT may be the heaviest light-duty pickup truck out there, yet it scoots to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds. With two overdrive gears, a strong first gear, and a clever thumb-shifter switch on the column-mounted shifter, the 6L80 would be a strong contender if we offered a "Part of the Year" award. Other cool details include the plush, soft-ride suspension, with its smooth ride on choppy dirt road and load leveling when we tested near maximum payloads--a huge help to other drivers when we had to drive at night at three-quarter payload (all Cadillac trucks have HIDs). The EXT also offers seat coolers as well as a backup camera. However, although much is new on this truck, some personality-defining features have stayed the same, like the EXT's manual midgate (allows the vehicle to convert from a five-passenger SUV with a big trunk to one with a cavernous, open cargo bed), cumbersome hard bed cover, uncomfortable rear seats, and the two side-bed lockable storage cubbies.

Our biggest criticism, though, is a direct result of the midgate--however much chassis stiffening you do, there's still a big hole that can flex and twist, producing creaking and squeaking while cornering or on bad roads. With a base price close to $55,000, it doesn't take many options to get to $65,000--for a pickup truck! This also hurt the Caddy's standing in our competition, especially when you consider the rear seats you're stuck with because of the midgate.

2007 Cadillac Escalade EXT
Base Price$54,875
Price as Tested$63,480
Vehicle LayoutFront engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door pickup
Engine6.2L/403-hp/417-lb-ft OHV 16-valve V-8
Transmission6-speed automatic
Curb weight (F/R Dist)6036 lb (51/49%)
Wheelbase130.0 in
Length x Width x Height222.0 x 79.1 x 74.5 in
Actual Payload Capacity1164 lb
Max Towing Capacity7600 lb
0-60 mph6.5/7.7 sec†
Quarter mile14.9 sec @ 93.0 mph/15.9 sec @ 89.0 mph†
Braking 60-0 MPH, ft135/142 ft†
Lateral Acceleration0.74 g‡
MT Figure Eight 28.9 sec @ 0.57 g (avg)‡
EPA City/Hwy Fuel Econ13/18 mpg
Sum Up Almost worth the price to get the six-speed and 6.2-liter V-8, but groans like a barge around corners.
Bet you didn't knowAlthough the platform and interior design are shared with the Cadillac ESV sport/utility, the EXT's external sheetmetal is all new.
† unloaded/loaded ‡ unloaded

2007 Chevrolet Silverado
Everybody's All-American: Winning Hearts and Minds with Something for Everyone, and All of It Good
By Mark Williams

Did you ever notice that the model-life-span of most new vehicles is about the same as a presidential term of office? New car models get voted in about every four years, but pickups--being immensely popular in the United States of Home Improvement--generally hang around for two terms. And because full-size pickups are also immensely profitable, the major parties tend to spend those eight years paying their best and brightest product planners and engineers to research and develop the next blockbuster candidate. These folks aren't dummies, so when a new breadwinner arrives--and the rivals always stagger their intros to hog the lion's share of the limelight for a year--it's big news, and a strong contender for Truck of the Year glory. This year, it's the Grand Old Car Company's turn, with a new Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra.

One of the three pillars of every "of the year" contest is significance, and on that score this contest was the GMT900's to lose. Sales of the two brands tally well over a million units year in and year out, owing to the multitude of combinations and permutations of cabs, beds, drivetrains, and suspensions offered. There truly is a truck for every purse and purpose from the entry-level construction worker's no-frills V-6 work truck, to the fully loaded limo version his boss will drive to the building's gala grand opening. But market significance doesn't energize the Truck of the Year voter base, so at the beginning of our hellish week of testing, the Silverado and Sierra had plenty to prove, and, as it turned out, each other to beat.

Both trucks make an excellent first impression with fresh styling that differentiates the brands well. Our eyes gravitate slightly toward the Chevy's chrome-bisected grille and brawnier square-shouldered quarter panels. The interior design is even more impressive than the sheetmetal, with Chevy's fake wood earning higher marks than the Cadillac's timber. All the sheens, textures, and colors suggest that GM's benchmark may have been Audi sedans, rather than Ford, Dodge, Nissan, and Toyota pickups. Even the entry-level dash fitted to our Sierra looks classy. And our appreciation of this cabin only deepened while blasting down the highway or bouncing down the orchard trail. The seats (front and back) offer great support, and the interior's hush was never disturbed by a squeak or a rattle.

The new cargo bed earned high marks for utility, especially as equipped with a $175 cargo-management system (aluminum rails with adjustable tie-down anchors around the upper edge of the bed) and the $95 springloaded EZ-Lift tailgate. The judges also appreciated that the sides of the bed are low enough to reach over, unlike the cargo boxes on the Avalanche and Escalade EXT and the current Ford F-150...

2007 Chevrolet Avalanche Z71
Now more of a player than a leader
By Mark Williams

From its introduction in 2002, the Avalanche has offered the best of both worlds: the passenger benefits of an SUV with the function and practicality of a full-size pickup truck. Sporting a new Suburban SUV platform, the Avalanche has all the same features (flop-down midgate, hardtop bed cover, and side-mounted lockable storage) of the previous model, with the addition of the redesigned frame, suspension, new body panels, and interior. In fact, the interior improvements--cleaner gauge layout, tight material seams, and texture choices--are by far the vehicle's most impressive enhancements. The dash itself has a more sedanlike look and feel, with a nav-screen option that includes a backup camera that's functional and fun to play with--almost distracting.

The information computer, where a readout demonstrates exactly when the engine is in V-4 or V-8 mode, is addictive to watch. However, as much as we like these features, the Avalanche is far from perfect. This platform offers a comfortable ride when driven with a soft foot. But when pushed, it feels ponderous and bloated, especially when cornering. In fact, because it has an SUV platform, it's carrying 500 or 600 pounds (or more) in extra weight when compared with a conventional pickup like the Silverado. Additionally, the complex midgate accounts for much of the vehicle's extra weight. Finally, although coil-spring suspensions have an advantage, the Avalanche's springs caused seasickness when running near full payload on our coastal mountain drive loops.

Most of our judges agree that the Avalanche, in spite of the extra mass and familiar tricks, didn't hit the superiority or significance meter as it had when it won Truck of the Year in 2002. Add that to the fact that GM has taken away the heavy-duty version of the Avalanche--a bummer for truck guys who need the bigger, stronger towing option--and its fate was sealed.

2007 Chevrolet Avalanche Z71
Base Price$37,740
Price as Tested$47,395
Vehicle LayoutFront engine, 4x4, 5-pass, 4-door pickup
Engine5.3L/320-hp/340-lb-ft OHV 16-valve V-8
Transmission4-speed automatic
Curb weight (F/R Dist)5918 lb (52/48%)
Wheelbase130.0 in
Length x Width x Height221.3 x 79.1 x 76.6 in
Actual Payload Capacity1282 lb
Max Towing Capacity8500 lb
0-60 mph8.3/10.2 sec†
Quarter mile16.2 sec @ 86.9 mph/17.5 sec @ 82.8 mph†
Braking 60-0 MPH, ft146/147 ft†
Lateral Acceleration0.68 g (avg)‡
MT Figure Eight 30.0 @ 0.51 g (avg)‡
EPA City/Hwy Fuel Econ15/20 mpg†
Sum Up An improved mousetrap, but the bait is getting a bit on the stale side.
Bet you didn't knowAvalanches get the fuel-sipping (E85 capable) Active Fuel Management V-8 that can switch between four and eight-cylinder modes.
† unloaded/loaded ‡ unloaded

2007 Ford Explorer Sport Trac
Not bad, just missing in the oomph department
By Mark Williams

To say the second-gen Explorer Sport Trac was overdue is an understatement. The previous-generation Sport Trac, Ford's answer to the four-door-pickup truck craze of the late 1990s, was based on the Explorer SUV platform from 1996. This new one is based on the current four-wheel independent Ford Explorer platform.

The new Sport Trac is an improvement over the previous generation, benefiting from two significant Explorer SUV redesigns in the time it took Ford to redesign the Sport Trac once. The new model offers one of the few V-8 engines in the class, with the 4.6-liter SOHC eight, producing 292 horses and 300 pound-feet--though it doesn't have the punch you'd expect from something so close to 300 horses. The six-speed is worthwhile, but slow to kick down and upshift, giving our drivers the impression the vehicle was overly tuned for fuel economy, rather than quick access to power or gearing. This put the Sport Trac at a disadvantage when compared with the Escalade EXT, which offers a six-speed transmission that brings its mated V-8 to life. Additionally, even though the Sport Trac is a much lighter vehicle (by 1000 pounds compared with the EXT, thanks in large part to the composite inner and outer bed), the little 4.6-liter V-8 gets the same fuel economy as either of the three heavier and bigger 5.3-liter GM V-8s in the test.

Regardless, the Sport Trac is faster to 60 mph than all the other V-8s, save the power-king Caddy. In terms of style, the exterior design won't light anyone's fire, but our judges did appreciate the overall look as well as the feel of the interior's front row and the gauge layout. As with many SUV-platform pickups, rear-seat legroom and seating comfort are compromised. This is where the conventional pickup truck frame and crew cab option can offer more room. The bottom line? The Sport Trac doesn't offer enough in the significance or superiority categories to make it much of a threat.

2007 Ford Explorer Sport Trac
Base Price$30,460
Price as Tested$39,486
Vehicle LayoutFront engine, 4WD, 5-pass, 4-door pickup
Engine4.6L/292-hp/300-lb-ft SOHC 24-valve V-8
Transmission6-speed automatic
Curb weight (F/R Dist)5099 lb (55/45%)
Wheelbase 130.5 in
Length x Width x Height210.2 x 73.7 x 72.5 in
Actual Payload Capacity1001 lb
Max Towing Capacity6640 lb
0-60 mph7.9/9.1 sec
Quarter mile16.2 sec @ 84.8 mph/17.0 sec @ 81.6 mph†
Braking 60-0 MPH, ft148/153 ft†
Lateral Acceleration0.67 g (avg)‡
MT Figure Eight 30.5 @ 0.51 g (avg)‡
EPA City/Hwy Fuel Econ14/20 mpg
Sum Up A stellar improvement from previous gen, but still in search of a segment.
Bet you didn't knowThe Sport Trac has sold between 40,000 to 50,000 units per year with minimal advertising support.
† unloaded/loaded ‡ unloaded

2007 GMC Sierra
Fraternal twin looks to make a name for itself
By Mark Williams

Where the Chevy is all about width and horizontal lines, the GMC headlight stack is more vertical and the grille has a gaping look. All GMCs have a different set of body panels where the fender arches over the wheels for a softer, rounded, more sculpted appearance. The image is sleeker and more upscale, but doesn't the stamped-steel design of the Chevy Silverado project a stronger professional-grade feel?

Yet the GMC Sierra Denali, the most expensive package in the portfolio, includes the powerful 6.2-liter V-8/six-speed automatic option that gives the GMC pickup something the Chevy trucks don't have: an all-wheel-drive powertrain pumping out 400 horsepower. Our Sierra TOTY contender came in crew cab configuration with center seat and armrest storage boxes, 40/20/40 bench front seats, dual gloveboxes, and a simpler, flatter "Pure Pickup" dash layout. Compared with the fully loaded Silverado, our GMC saved over 200 pounds, directly translating into a higher payload (in fact, the highest payload in our test).

But when challenged to separate the two brands, beyond the single powertrain offering, there isn't much distinction between the two. GM has always positioned GMC as a slightly more upbranded property than Chevrolet so it's been able to charge slightly higher base and package prices at the upper end of the model range; however, the fact that there are fewer GMC dealerships always meant their numbers were lower than those of Chevrolet, making the Silverado the big volume player. As to our testing criteria, all these factors make the Sierra a strong player in value and superiority (sharing many of the same traits as the Silverado), but in the case of market significance, the scales tip in favor of the less expensive and bigger competitive player. Regardless, you can still expect just as much quality and performance from the Sierra pickup, whether or not you buy the "professional grade" look.

2007 GMC Sierra Crew Cab
Base Price$33,055
Price as Tested $36,034
Vehicle Layout Front engine, 4WD, 5-pass, 4-door pickup
Engine5.3L/315-hp*/338-lb-ft* OHV, 16-valve V-8
Transmission 4-speed auto
Curb Weight (F/R Dist) 5353 lb (58/42%)
Wheelbase 143.5 in
Length x Width x Height 230.2 x 80.0 x 73.7 in
Actual Payload Capacity 1647 lb
Max Towing Capacity 8500 lb
0-60 mph 8.1/10.1 sec‡
Quarter Mile 16.2 sec @ 88.1 mph/17.4 sec @ 82.8 mph‡
Braking 60-0 mpg 150/156 ft‡
Lateral Acceleration 0.69 g (avg)††
MT Figure Eight 29.8 sec @ 0.52 g (avg)††
EPA City/Hwy Fuel Econ 16/21 mpg
Sum Up Strong player in the segment for buyers looking to get upmarket, without the premium label price tag.
Bet you didn't know The Sierra offers little difference from the Silverado in powertrain, chassis, and interior options.
‡ unloaded/loaded †† unloaded, *SAE certified

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