Ah yes, the horsepower wars. We're talking serious ponies here, the kind, until now, you would only find in exotic supercars. But, as far as we're concerned, cars are for the other guys, and big horsepower and torque belong underneath the hood of a truck. Lucky for us, our friends at Dodge and Ford agree.

Ford's Lightning has been the undisputed power-pickup champ for years, "challenged" by competitors such as the Dodge Dakota R/T and AWD Chevy Silverado SS. But the tables have turned. Tired of seeing the SVT Ford guys repeatedly winning accolades with their supercharged Lightning, Dodge's Street and Racing Technology division (formerly Performance Vehicle Operation) worked its magic on a half-ton Ram and created an all-out, fire-breathing, Viper-powered muscle truck.

Ford's next-generation Lightning is at least a year away, so the Blue Oval boys are forced to rely on the current Lightning to compete with the new heavyweight from SRT. Naturally, we paired the two in a gloves-off street fight to determine if the new SRT has the brawn to KO the SVT.

More Power to Us

Ford's Lightning has been on sale since 1993, and the second-generation tested here is the most capable version to date. Powered by a Triton 5.4-liter SOHC V-8 and blown with an aluminum-case Eaton supercharger, the Lightning puts its 380 horsepower and 450 pound-feet of torque to the wheels via a 4D100 four-speed automatic transmission borrowed from the Super Duty. A heavy-duty torque converter transfers power through an aluminum driveshaft and into a nine-inch differential, fit with 3.73:1 gears.

Rather than simply surpassing the Lightning's horsepower numbers by a mere 20 or 40, Dodge insisted on bringing as much meat to the table as it could find. Naturally, it's Dodge's hope that it will be competitive even after the next-generation Lightning arrives. The 8.3-liter V-10 remains stock, for the most part, and gushes 500 horsepower and 525 pound-feet of torque while boasting a 505-cubic-inch displacement. Power is routed through the Viper's Tremec T56 six-speed manual transmission and spun down an aluminum driveshaft to special 4.11:1 gears.

Laying Down the Numbers

The SRT-10 is the most powerful production pickup available on the market today. It produces 90 percent of its torque between 1500-5600 rpm and can roar to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds. The quarter mile is gobbled up in 13.3 seconds with a trap speed of 106.9 mph. We found a 3500-rpm launch is required to get the 22-inch rear wheels to spin--anything less than that and the tires would initially break free and then suddenly gain traction and bog the motor. Senior road-test editor Chris Walton was surprised by the truck's ability to hook up during quarter-mile launches. "Who knew a pickup truck with this type of power wouldn't just sit there and roast the rear tires? I was impressed at how well the traction bars [unique to the SRT-10] work to minimize tire spin."
BDespite a 120-horsepower deficit to the SRT-10, the Lighting still managed to whip out respectable test numbers. The blown V-8 is good for a 5.1-second 0-to-60 run and a quarter-mile shot of 13.6 seconds at 102.0 mph. However, testing proved that performance diminishes quickly when the supercharger heats up after just a few runs. Walton says, "Getting a good launch required careful listening to the mechanics of the transmission and supercharger boost. The rest of the run is 'automatic', and I'm just along for the ride."

Both trucks are fitted with oversize disc brakes, helping them stop from 60 within two feet of each other. The SRT-10 came to a stop in 125 feet, while the Ford halted in 123. These are respectable numbers for a passenger car--outstanding for anything with a bed.

Can You Handle This?

Park these trucks side by side, and you notice how much the SRT-10 overshadows the Lightning. The Dodge is 3.5 inches taller than the Ford and almost an inch wider. Being the larger of the two helps convince everyone you're the king of the road, yet some of our staff felt awkward piloting a sport truck so far off the ground.

Helping hustle the SRT-10 around the racetrack is a model-specific, tailored front suspension, including a modified rack-and-pinion, custom front knuckles, shorter, stiffer springs, and special Bilstein shocks. Out back, an anti-roll bar was added to work with the truck's unique elliptical leaf-spring suspension, which incorporates an added leaf that acts as a 1960's style "slapper bar." The setup works amazingly well during hard launches. Ride height has been lowered in the front one inch and three inches in the rear, yet we'd like to see it lowered even more. The big Ram managed a slalom speed of 61.9 mph, slightly beating the Lightning's speed of 61.5 mph.

During a rainy day at the racetrack, the SRT-10 held the performance edge to beat the Lightning around our road-course loop--barely. The truck's endless torque, manual transmission, and positive, easy-to-modulate steering allowed Walton to record a lap time of 1:13.4, but achieving that level of performance on a slippery surface requires a skilled driver; one more accustomed to controlling snap oversteer and four-wheel drifts. Those not practiced in these tricky maneuvers may find themselves more comfortable pushing the limits in the more forgiving Lightning.

Helping the Lightning's chassis clip apexes on the racetrack is a lowered front and rear stance that improves vehicle dynamics. All four corners feature Bilstein gas shocks, and beefy stabilizer bars limit lateral roll during cornering, better enabling the gummy Goodyear Eagle F1-GS tires to achieve ultimate grip. The Ford's steering has a good feel and response, but didn't feel as precise as the Dodge's.

Because of the Lightning's forced induction and automatic transmission, we found ourselves having to stab the throttle early on corner entry to allow time for the drivetrain to downshift, build boost, and transfer output to the rear tires. Walton explains that "getting this timing just right is tricky; reacting too late results in a sluggish off-corner exit, but gas it too soon, and you'll be carrying too much speed at the apex." Much of this problem could be resolved if Ford would offer the truck with a manual transmission. Maybe next time (see sidebar).

Inside Beauty

Even though both of these pickups feature impressive mechanical upgrades, it's their ready-to-race interiors that caught our attention. Dodge's engineers claim the SRT-10 features 165 differences from the regular Ram and many of them can be found within arm's reach of the driver's seat. The truck features bucket seats with high bolsters and grippy suede inserts. A leather-trimmed steering wheel sits in front of a silver-face 160-mph speedo (only 5.5 mph higher than the world-record speed posted by the SRT-10 earlier this year). The V-10 is brought to life by a dash-mounted, shiny red engine-start button--one that you'll never grow tired of pushing.

The Lightning's interior is more subtle and doesn't stray far from its standard F-150 roots. Modifications are limited to mildly bolstered suede bucket seats with leather inserts and SVT logos embroidered on the backrests. White-face gauges on the instrument panel turn electroluminescent in the dark. The steering wheel is wrapped in perforated leather, and the door handles are upgraded to brushed aluminum.

Conclusion

For those fantasizing about towing a Viper Competition Coupe to the racetrack with your new SRT-10, keep dreaming. Unlike the Ford, the Dodge, strange as it may seem, isn't offered with a tow package.

It's hard to deny the outright power appeal these trucks offer. Even when the first muscle trucks came to market in the early 1990s, no one could've imagined that a little more than a decade later, we'd have our choice of two sub-six second pickups. The best part is that the majority of the public has no concept of how fast these trucks really are. Throw some deep-throated revs to the Camaro or Mustang in the next lane, and grin as they contemplate what they might be going up against. Floor it when the light turns green, and glance in your rearview as they're left gawking at the rear wing of the Dodge, or the clear, import-style taillights of the Ford.

Just as Dodge promised, it has built the biggest, meanest, most powerful muscle truck on earth and has priced it accordingly. Ford's Lightning is no slouch and is a lot easier on your wallet, but falls short of the SRT-10 in every performance test we threw at it, with the exception of braking. For now, the Lightning is forced to hand over its "King of the Street" crown to SRT-10 while Ford works diligently to bring the next-generation F-150 Lightning to market (again, see sidebar). Until then, those with a Ram on their hood have bragging rights.

Dodge SRT-10

Ford SVT Lightning

Will the Next Lightning
Have the Wattage To Win?

Ford seems poised to regain its supremacy as the number-one power-pickup in the world with the third-generation F-150 Lightning, but will it have what it takes to overcome the SRT-10?

The Lightning Concept shown at Detroit's 2003 North American International Auto Show (Truck Trend, July/August 2003) meets the SRT-10's horsepower rating, but falls short of the Ram's tornado-twisting 525 pound-feet of torque. The last thing Ford's performance guru, John Coletti, wants is to let his next supertruck take a backseat to Dodge's Viper-powered heavyweight. Coletti practically invented the recipe for modern performance trucks, and we're guessing he has a few undisclosed tricks up his sleeve to regain the throne from Dodge. Says Coletti, "...we have no intention of being overshadowed on our home turf."

The Lightning concept features a supercharged, intercooled 5.4-liter V-8 producing 500 horsepower and 500 pound-feet of torque. Yet don't be surprised if these numbers jump when the production Lightning hits showrooms. Also, Ford now has the option to meet Dodge cylinder-to-cylinder by using the recent Shelby Cobra Concept's 6.4-liter V-10. This engine's 605 horsepower would give the Lightning the muscle it needs to send the SRT-10 home with its tail between its legs.

Further upping the Lightning's ante is a switch from the four-speed automatic to the Tremec T56 six-speed, borrowed from the Mustang Cobra. Expect shifts to be short and precise. To reduce unsprung weight and improve handling, Ford may decide to ditch the traditional rear-axle and leaf-spring assembly in exchange for an independent rear suspension adapted from the Expedition. Special exterior aerodynamics increase high-speed stability and should help with Ford's quest to regain the "World's Fastest Pickup" title.

Ford has kept tight-lipped as to whether the next Lightning will be a 2005 or 2006 model, but if working overtime to beat the SRT-10 at the dragstrip has caused production delays for SVT, we're content with waiting patiently for FoMoCo's next supreme-performance truck. --B.V.

 2004 Dodge Ram SRT-102004 Ford SVT F-150 Lightning
General
Location of final assemblySaltillo, MexicoOntario, Canada
Body style2-door, 2-pass2-door, 3-pass
EPA size class Full-size pickupFull-size pickup
Drivetrain layoutFront-engine, RWD>Front-engine, RWD
AirbagsDualDual
Powertrain
Engine type 90o V-10, alum block, heads90o supercharged V-8, cast-iron block, alum heads
Bore x stroke, in 4.03 x 3.96 3.55 x 4.16
Displacement, ci/L 505/8.3 330/5.4
Compression ratio9.6:18.4:1
Valve gearOHV, 2 valves/cylSOHC, 2 valves/cyl
Fuel inductionSequential injectionEaton Gen IV Roots, SFI
SAE horsepower, hp @ rpm500 @ 5600380 @ 4750
SAE torque, lb-ft @ rpm 525 @ 4200450 @ 3250
TransmissionT56 6-spd manual4D100 4-spd automatic
1st 2.66:12.71:1
2nd 1.78:11.53:1
3rd 1.30:11.00:1
4th 1.00:10.71:1
5th 0.74:1N/A
6th0.50:1N/A
Reverse 2.90:1 2.18:1
Axle ratio 4.11:1 3.73:1
Final drive ratio 2.06:1 2.64:1
Rpm @ 60 mph 1200 1900
Recommended fuel Premium unleaded Premium unleaded
Dimensions/Capacities
Wheelbase, in120.5119.8
Length, in211.6208.0
Width, in79.979.1
Height, in74.470.9
Track, f/r, in68.0/67.4 65.3/65.3
Headroom, in40.840.8
Legroom, in 41.040.9
Shoulder room, in67.063.8
Total interior volume, cu ft65.161.0
Base curb weight, lb50004670
Payload capacity, lb14001000
GVWR, lb64006050
GCWR, lbN/A 10,350
Towing capacity, lb N/A 5000
Fuel capacity, gal2625
Chassis
Suspension, f/rIFS, A-arm, coil springs, anti-roll bar/solid axle, leaf springs, anti-roll barIFS, A-arm, coil springs, shocks, anti-roll bar/solid axle, leaf springs, shocks, stabilizer bar
Steering type Rack-and-pinion, power assistedRecirculating ball, power assisted
Ratio 18.4:114.0:1
Turns, lock to lock3.0 3.3
Turning circle, ft45.844.3
Brakes, f/r15.0-in vented disc/14.0-in vented disc, ABS12.1-in vented disc/13.1-in vented disc, ABS
Wheels, in22x1018x9
Tires 305/40ZR22 Pirelli Scorpion Zero295/Z45R18 Goodyear Eagle F1 GS
Performance
Acceleration, Sec
0-302.1 1.9
0-402.9 2.8
0-503.9 3.8
0-604.9 5.1
0-706.2 6.5
0-807.9 8.4
0-909.7 10.8
1/4 Mile, Sec @ Mph 13.3 @ 106.913.6 @ 102.0
Braking, 60-0, Ft124.9122.9
Lateral Acceleration, G 0.870.86
Speed Through 600-Ft Slalom, Mph61.961.5
Track Lapping (Wet Surface)(Min)1:13.41:13.9
Epa Fuel Economy, City/Hwy9/1313/16
Price
Base Price$45,000 $32,615
Price As Tested $45,795 $33,945
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