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.

On the negative side of the ledger is Ford's aging all-V-8-engine lineup, which is composed of two- and three-valve 4.6-liters and a three-valve 5.4. SVT will bring a bigger 6.2 in the Raptor, and an EcoBoost V-6 is likely to join the lineup for folks who don't tow, but the diesel is on hold.

The base V-8 handily outruns and outhauls the V-6 Dodge, but sounds and feels strained doing so. Gearing that's a third shorter than the Dodge's kept our 5.4-liter 4x4 within 0.6 second of the big Dodge, but costs it at the pump, where both trucks averaged just 13.2 mpg over 500 miles of mixed driving. The new six-speed automatic features excellent tow/haul-mode programming (ordering downshifts with a tap of the brakes on downhill grades, holding lower gears, etc.), but in normal mode, it's lethargic to kick down, and there's no way to manually select the higher gears.

Both Fords tackled our off-road sand-loop with aplomb. The 4x4 transfer case engaged high-and low-range settings quickly and easily, with the message center confirming the shift was in process. We're disappointed, however, that there's no on-pavement AWD option as offered by Dodge and General Motors.

Coming into the final discussion, the Dodge and Ford were running close in the superiority category. In this price-sensitive market, neither truck held a tie-breaking advantage in the value category. The scales also looked level weighing the significance of Ford's high sales and model-range breadth against the game-changing nature of the Dodge suspension.

In the end, we accept the prediction that work trucks will come to dominate this segment and give the nod to the more capable, broader-reaching Ford in the closest vote in Truck of the Year history-and we sincerely hope neither company craps out when these dice come to rest.


2009 Ford F-150 4x2 Supercab STX; 4x4 Supercrew Lariat
POWERTRAIN/CHASSIS
Drivetrain layout Front engine, RWD; Front engine, 4WD
Engine Type 90 V-8, iron block/alum heads
Valvetrain SOHC, 2 valves/cyl; SOHC 3 valves/cyl
Displacement 281.1 cu in/4606 cc; 329.5 cu in/5400 cc
Compression ratio 9.4:1; 9.8:1
Power (SAE net) 248 hp @ 4750 rpm; 310 hp @ 5000 rpm
Torque (SAE net) 294 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm; 365 lb-ft @ 3500 rpm
Weight to power 21.1 lb/hp; 19.1 lb/hp
Transmission 4-speed auto; 6-speed auto
Axle/final/low ratio 3.73:1/2.61:1/-; 3.73:1/2.57:1/2.64:1
Suspension, front; rear Control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar; live axle, leaf springs
Steering ratio 20.0:1
Turns lock-to-lock 3.2; 3.7
Brakes, f;r 13.0-in vented disc; 13.7-in vented disc, ABS
Wheels 7.5 x 18 in, cast aluminum
Tires 265/60R18 109T Michelin LXT A/S M+S; 275/65R18 114T Goodyear Wrangler SR-A M+S
DIMENSIONS
Wheelbase 144.5 in
Track, f/r 67.0/67.0 in
Length x width x height 231.7 x 78.9 x 71.5 in; 231.7 x 78.9 x 76.2 in
Turning circle 47.0 ft
Curb weight 5242 lb; 5919 lb
Weight dist., f/r 56/44%
Seating capacity 6; 5
Headroom, f/r 41.0/39.7 in; 41.0/40.3 in
Legroom 41.4/33.4 in; 41.4/43.5 in
Shoulder room, f/r 66.6/66.8 in; 65.9/65.6 in
Pickup box L x W x H 78.8 x 65.2 x 22.4 in; 67.0 x 65.2 x 22.4 in
Width bet. Wheelhouses 50.0 in
TEST DATA
Acceleration to mph
0-30 2.9/6.1*; 2.3/5.5*
0-40 4.4/8.9*; 3.9/9.3*
0-50 6.6/14.2*; 5.5/13.1*
0-60 9.3/21.1*; 7.6/19.1*
0-70 12.1/30.4*; 10.2/26.7*
0-80 15.7/-; 13.1/-
0-90 21.6/-; 16.9/-
Passing, 45-65 mph 5.2/13.9*; 4.2/11.7*
Quarter mile 16.8 sec @ 82.0 mph/22.2 sec @ 61.5 mph*; 15.8 sec @ 87.8 mph/21.8 sec @ 63.7 mph*
Braking, 60-0 mph 133 ft; 144 ft
Lateral acceleration 0.70 g (avg); 0.70 g (avg)
Top-gear revs at 60 mph 1800 rpm; 1700 rpm
CONSUMER INFO
Base price $27,470; $38,965
Price as tested $30,655; $45,935
Stability/traction control Yes/yes
Airbags Dual front, front side, f/r curtain
Basic warranty 3 yrs/36,000 miles
Powertrain warranty 5 yrs/60,000 miles
Roadside assistance 5 yrs/60,000 miles
Fuel capacity 26.0; 36.0 gal
EPA city/hwy econ 14/19; 14/18 mpg
Co2 emisssions 1.22; 1.25 lb/mile
MT fuel economy 14.9; 13.2 mpg
Required fuel Unleaded reg

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