This collection of vehicles has more in common than wheels and gasoline, as each represents a good value in its class. They're by no means the ultimate choices, but when four editors agree, each vehicle must have its merits. This discussion is therefore not a comparison test--though comparisons are impossible to avoid--but rather a review of choices when it comes to perceived value, runners-up, and adjacent classes. Whether they're a value to you is entirely dependent on your requirements.
If you define value as function and function as the ability to do work, a heavy-duty pickup is your only sensible choice. As we found in a 3/4-ton HD comparison (April 2000), these trucks will carry over 3000 lb in an 8-ft bed and tow up to 11,000 lb, depending on powertrain and axle combinations.
We found a Chevy Silverado 2500HD regular cab 2WD at under $23,000, which includes a 6.0L V-8 and five-speed manual. Even with air, big-block, HD suspension, mirrors, and a trailer package, you'd still be in the price range of the Dakota R/T. The similar Ford F-250 Super-Duty, which has a smaller 5.4L (but gives up just 10 lb-ft to the Chevy's 6.0) and a standard six-speed manual, started under $22,000.
However, when we got down to serious number crunching and useability, we ended up with a Ford F-350 Crew Cab Super Duty 4WD diesel. Coming in under $30 grand, we get huge interior room for six, a payload over 3000 lb, 11,500 GVWR (no-charge upgrade from 11,200), towing capacity larger than anything we can afford, and a Dana 50 axle in front and a Dana 80 in back. To that we add big money for a diesel, satisfied that 275 hp, 520 lb-ft, and mileage still in the teens are all worth it, dual alternators, limited-slip, mirrors, hitch, camper package, and so on, and we're still just pushing $35,000.