This is it. Crunch time. The Ford F-150 and Dodge Ram are rolling onto the market like a pair of gigantic craps dice, and the companies tossing them are each betting big on this game. Unfortunately, the rules changed while these dice were in mid-air. Fuel prices skyrocketed, the economy tanked, consumer confidence evaporated, and folks who once chose half-ton pickups more for their Marlboro-Man-image-enhancing qualities than for their towing or hauling capabilities are shopping elsewhere.

Ford claims it sells more of its half-ton pickups to work and commercial customers than its competitors do, and Ford predicts this segment will grow to 45 percent of F-150 sales. Toward that end, the truck's fully boxed chassis is further fortified to provide best-in-class rigidity, payload capacity (up to 3030 pounds), and tow ratings (up to 11,300 pounds). As such, the new F-150 is well positioned to capture contractors migrating down-market out of Super-Dutys to save money and gas (did we mention that a new six-speed automatic, a lighter, more aerodynamic cab, and other tweaks boost fuel economy by 12 percent with the 5.4-liter?).

Ford claims payload and towing numbers like that simply can't be had with a coil-sprung rear axle, so it stuck with leafs but made them longer to smooth the ride and wider with new mounting hardware to improve lateral rigidity and roll control. The ride doesn't quite match Dodge's, but the chassis engineers managed to tune the steering for pleasing heft and remarkable accuracy that had many judges lauding the F-150s for feeling smaller and nimbler than their Dodge counterparts. Truck Trend editor Williams describes the handling as "settled with good right/left transitioning. Doesn't feel typically big-truck tippy." Lateral grip of 0.70 g for both Fords bested all but the feathery base Dodge and Suzuki, and our rear-drive SXT scored the best stop at 133 feet from 60 mph (the three-ton Lariat needed 144 feet).

Status-conscious contractors will have eight F-150 models from which to choose (including the forthcoming SVT Raptor), which Lassa reckons is "about four too many," adding, "If this Lariat is the third truck from the top, how much of a boudoir must the King Ranch and Platinum interiors be?" Judges praised the low noise levels and interior materials quality, though some found the design cartoonishly macho. Still, handy features like the Tailgate Step, Box Side Step, a stowable bed-extender, and rear seats that fold up with one hand to reveal a broad, flat load floor help tally a strong superiority score.