That's why these trucks are so important, and why we wanted to tag along with the guys at www.pickuptrucks.com when we heard they were putting together the ultimate half-ton shootout. It pits the latest and greatest from Ford, Chevrolet, Dodge, GMC, Nissan, and Toyota in head-to-head competition--six crew-cab 4x4s with the largest available V-8 ready for towing. In the interest of full disclosure, Toyota hadn't started production of its 2009 model lineup, so it could send only a 2008 model; however, rather than kick the Toy out on a technicality, we opted to let the vehicle compete. General Motors was kind enough to offer up its Milford Proving Grounds as the field of battle, and we rented nearby Milan Raceway to run the instrumented testing, running the trucks both empty and loaded. Each test vehicle pulled a specially set up trailer weighing 6500 pounds, with a tongue weight of just under 650. Each vehicle had trailer brakes and included the appropriate tow package and lowest available gears (see chart).

The Chevrolet Silverado came in LTZ top-level trim and sported what many agree is the most elegant and well-executed interior of the group. New for this year is the addition of the powerful (the most powerful of the segment) all-aluminum 6.2-liter V-8 and newly revised six-speed transmission. We like this pairing because it gives the truck a strong-pulling first gear as well as an easy-cruising sixth gear for fuel economy. Both GM trucks came standard with 3.42:1 axle gears (the only ratio available with the 6.2-liter). Our Chevy also sported a four-wheel-drive system with 2WD, AWD, 4WD Lock, 4WD Low, and a Neutral setting.

The new Dodge Ram still offers the 5.7-liter Hemi, but it now has a revised variable valve timing system and a more aggressive cylinder deactivation mode. An all-new look inside and out is bound to make the Dodge faithful jump for joy. However, many of those loyalists may worry about the big risk engineers took choosing rear coil springs and a Panhard rod to control sway and bounce. Any truck guy will tell you that means less payload and less towing. A more practical feature that could appeal to many truck families is the exclusive RamBox option (two lockable trunks built in the bedsides) available on the new Crew Cab model.

The Ford F-150 is also all-new this year and sports a new interior and exterior look. Ford has, by far, the most configurations available between the three different cabs, three engines, five wheelbases, three beds, and seven unique trim levels. Front and rear suspension setups are similar to previous-gen F-150s, but have been modified. Of note, the rear leaf springs are longer and wider, the steering geometry has been retuned, and there are 11 new wheel combinations. In addition, SuperCrew models have a flatter rear floor, more sound-deadening material, and longer front doors. Ford doesn't offer a V-6, but does have three V-8s: a 248-horsepower, 4.6-liter; a 292-horsepower, 4.6-liter; and a 310-horsepower, 5.4-liter.

Our GMC Sierra came with the topline All Terrain package, which gives it the big 6.2-liter all-aluminum V-8, the six-speed transmission, and a host of upgraded interior mats and materials. Although sharing the same structure and powertrain as the Chevy, GMC offers its own sheetmetal, looking to capture the more upscale buyer. The hood and grille look more muscular, with wheelwell arches and side panels also offering a more bulky and curved style. Although a first for the Chevy brand, the 6.2-liter V-8 was offered in the GMC Sierra Denali last year with the six-speed transmission (as well as in the Cadillac), but only with a permanent AWD system. Now the 6.2-liter GMC is available with the five-position transfer case.