Crisis? What crisis? Even though the price of gas has broken the $3-a-gallon barrier and economy is sputtering (i.e. the mortgage fiasco, Wall Street stress, the dollar's value dropping, and even auto loans are getting harder to find), American buyers still love a pickup truck.

Although down 12 percent from 2005, pickup truck sales seem to be running at close to 2006 levels. That still means some 230,000 Americans drove a brand-new pickup off the dealer's lot every month last year. To put it another way, pickup trucks alone accounted for nearly one in five new vehicles sold across the U.S. That's big business, especially when you consider the entire pickup market is composed of fewer than 20 nameplates, compared with well over 200 for cars and SUVs.

There might be fewer nameplates, but the ability to mix and match engines, transmissions, drivetrains, suspensions and axles, as well as cab and bed configurations, plus interior trim levels makes for nightmarish manufacturing and sales scenarios, as Toyota discovered with its new Tundra.

Automotive News reported last April that buyers of Toyota's all-new full-size pickup were acting like buyers of Detroit-built versions, wanting their truck with specific features and preferably seeing (and touching) the exact truck they had in mind before they bought it. It was culture shock for Toyota dealers used to carrying lean inventories and having customers happy to drive away in pretty much whatever Camry they had in stock.

The launch of the all-new Tundra was a seismic event for the industry; with dimensions and performance that finally matched its Detroit rivals combined with Toyota's manufacturing and marketing muscle, here was a Japanese truck that finally looked a serious rival to the F-150, Silverado, and Ram. Tundra's launch was more testing than Toyota perhaps expected (see story), but by year's end it was making its presence felt in the recreational truck market, and surprised a few of our own test editors.

We tested two versions of each contender, with different engines, transmissions, and body configurations to better evaluate the breadth of capabilities. Our testing began at Ford's former desert proving ground near Yucca, Arizona. This 3840-acre facility boasts an 18-acre "black lake," where we conducted the usual battery of Motor Trend and Truck Trend tests, and more than 50 miles of test roads, ranging from smooth tarmac to rough gravel washes. The facility also enabled us to hook up the contenders to 7500- and 10,000-pound trailers to test their towing performance.

Our other contenders--Chevy Silverado HD, GMC Sierra HD, and Ford F-250, F-350, and F-450--are all heavy-duty models, a niche once the sole preserve of commercial users, but fast becoming sought after by recreational users for their ability to tow large horse and RV trailers. If the Silverado HD and Sierra HD hint at the emerging split personality of this market with their available lux-truck interiors based off the GMT900 models, Ford hammered it home with its giant F-450 King Ranch, a leather-lined luxury dually that could still tow your house.

We followed up the demanding proving-ground tests with real-world driving on a 10-mile loop out of nearby Kingman, Arizona, where judges could evaluate each contender in stop/start traffic, on winding mountain blacktop, and on the freeway. Then we sat down to vote. It was a small field, but, in overall terms, a quality one. In the end, there much debate and it was by no means a slam dunk.

OUR CRITERIA

Superiority
We look at engineering excellence, advancement in design, utilization of resources, and safety. Vehicle concept and execution are important, as are use of materials, packaging, dynamics, styling, and fuel consumption.

Significance
How well does the vehicle do the job its maker intended it to do? And how does it impact or change its particular market segment, influence consumer perceptions, and transform product development trends?

Value
How does each truck compare against its direct rivals? A vehicle with a low sticker price might not be as good a value as a more expensive vehicle that delivers outstanding performance, quality, and functionality.

2008 Finalist: Chevrolet Silverado HD
2008 Finalist: Ford F-Series Super Duty
2008 Finalist: GMC Sierra HD
2008 Winner: Toyota Tundra
Carry that Weight
2008 Finalist: Chevrolet Silverado HD
statistical comparison of each truck's 0-60 times, quarter-mile times and quarter-mile trap speeds, and 60-0 braking within the TOTY field.
PERFORMANCE - HEAD TO HEAD UNloaded & loaded Numbers