Contender: Ford F-150

By: Allyson Harwood

We Like: Best-in-class capability, EcoBoost power, excellent ride.
We Don't Like: Pricey topline model, changes don't move the needle.

Ford did not rest on its laurels for 2013. The F-150 now has a new trim level -- Limited -- that tops the Platinum and King Ranch and starts at $50,175. It comes with a unique grille and 22-inch wheels, a red and black leather interior, and just about every option Ford offers as standard, with the EcoBoost engine and SuperCrew cab configuration. As for the rest of the line, there are changes inside and out. Exterior styling tweaks include LED headlights and taillights, and there are new options like power telescoping tow mirrors and MyFord Touch. In addition, the 3.7-liter, V-6-powered F-150 is now rated to tow 6700 pounds, up by 600 over last year.

That's a lot for a truck that was already an award-winner, but as we discovered, not all the changes were for the better. For example, this version of MyFord Touch is easy to use through the touch screen, and we like that there are real buttons underneath the screen. However, even though they're a decent size, we're concerned that using them is going to prove challenging for people with bigger fingers or who are wearing gloves. Aside from the Limited, the styling changes were not all that different. But the telescoping side mirrors were a terrific addition to the F-150. They make perfect sense and have logical controls.

During our towing run on Davis Dam, when lugging 75 percent of its 11,300-pound as-tested towing capacity (8475 pounds, almost 1000 more than the ram), the EcoBoost felt as if there wasn't a lot of reserve power on the climb. While it is impressive that this SuperCrew F-150 is rated to tow 11,300 pounds (as equipped), and towing on flatter land is terrific, for the folks who tow where things get really severe, the 5.0-liter may serve you better.

Yes, we know, the F-150 was the 2012 Truck of the Year. And we know why, too: It has best-in-class towing and payload; the EcoBoost is impressive; and ride and handling are crisp and responsive. There are four engines choices, all backed by six-speed automatics. The Ford was a great pickup last year, and continues to be. It deserved to be Truck of the Year. However, this year's changes do not move the bar enough to earn the F-150 a repeat win for 2013.

2013 Ford F-150
BASE PRICE $43,680
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, 4WD, 5-pass, 4-door truck
ENGINE 3.5L/365-hp/420-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve V-6
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 5974 lb (56/44%)
WHEELBASE 144.5 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 231.9 x 79.2 x 76.7 in
0-60 MPH 6.6 sec; 15.7 sec*
QUARTER MILE 15.2 sec @ 91.7 mph; 20.5 sec @ 67.5 mph*
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 134 ft
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 225/160 kW-hrs/100 mi
CO2 EMISSIONS 1.13 lb/mi
* With 8475-lb trailer

Contender: Nissan NV 3500 Passenger Van

By: Jonny Lieberman

We Like: More performance than is necessary; looks mean in black.
We Don't Like: Sparse, Ryan Air-style interior; poor air conditioning.

What a difference a year makes! We don't do second place in any of our signature "of the Year" programs, but last year the Nissan NV work van lost by a single vote to the winning Ford F-150. We loved the NV's honest, utilitarian nature, saying, "It's not a lifestyle statement, nor an ego-inflator. It's just a really well-thought-out, heavy-duty van." For 2013, the NV is back, only this time it's filled with seats -- 12 of them, to be precise. And we didn't like it nearly as much just 12 months later.

The biggest problem is expectations. When you're talking about a stripped-down work truck, the NV gives you more than you'd expect. A back-up camera, tons of clever storage bins, and more performance -- in both acceleration and handling -- than you need. It comes across as special. Convert it into a passenger van, however, and it suddenly feels...dumpy. Too harsh? Perhaps "downmarket" is the more appropriate term. Consider the following:

Should you find yourself seated against the windows on the passenger side, you'll note there is literally no comfortable place to rest your elbow. Too nitpicky? How about the fact that the air conditioning was not at all up to the task of keeping the van cool in 90-degree Arizona heat? I remember once sitting in an idling Dodge Sprinter at VIR in the middle of summer, and that AC system worked well enough to age beef. The Nissan's under-your-leg cupholders come across as an afterthought. Moreover, at least two of us kicked our drinks over while simply climbing out.

There are some good things about the passenger-flavor NV. As Febbo explains, "There hasn't been a meaner-looking van since Hannibal, Murdock, and Face were being hauled around by BA Baracus."

We also loved the seat-integrated seatbelts, which mean you don't have to crawl through a nylon web to reach the rear sections. And, of course, like the work truck version, the acceleration and handling will put a smile on your face. But, as Febbo summarizes, "In the world of vans, the NV's personality is far more corporate logo than wizard mural."

2013 Nissan NV 3500 Passenger Van
BASE PRICE $38,385
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, RWD, 12-pass, 3-door van
ENGINE 5.6L/317-hp/385-lb-ft DOHC 32-valve V-8
TRANSMISSION 5-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 6841 lb (48/52%)
WHEELBASE 146.1 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 240.6 x 79.9 x 84.0 in
0-60 MPH 9.4 sec; 12.3 sec*
QUARTER MILE 17.1 sec @ 82.9 mph; 18.9 sec @ 75.9 mph*
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 139 ft
* With 1942-lb passenger payload