Whether you know it or not, big things are happening with pickup trucks. And we're not just talking about the F-150 or 1-ton bonanza. In fact, there's a growing segment of pickups that Ford, GM, and soon DaimlerChrysler won't be able to keep secret much longer. Medium-duty pickups, Class 6 and 7, are typically used in a variety of commercial-use applications. However, that might be changing as more big-truck lovers demand more personal-use configurations for the heavy-duty 1 1/2- and 2-ton pickups. Look for 550 and 650, as well as 4500 and 5500 Ford and GM medium-duty work trucks, to get more personal-use friendly in the future. Be that as it may, we thought it might be a good idea to take a look at what these trucks have to offer and pass the information along.--Ed.

Given the number of configurations for Class 2 through 7 pickup trucks that buyers can choose from, one might expect manufacturers to be satisfied with the variety and depth of product lines. Not so Ford. It's aggressively marketing a whole new line of trucks, including commercial vehicles in the Class 5 through 7 categories. But even the monsters in this market segment have non-commercial applications. The Class 6 and 7 trucks make ideal horse carriers and livestock haulers. They're also suitable for pulling fifth-wheel or hitch-drawn recreational trailers. That kind of flexibility is apparent throughout the new line. Ford has added plenty of performance options to please buyers looking for something other than a grocery cart. More wheelbase options, engines, transmissions, and axles are available for all classes of vehicles. The 550s have five wheelbase options between 159.5 and 223 inches, for example, while the 650s and 750s have 38 options on 11 chassis systems. The 550s have a new super-duty model and a GVW that's been raised to 17,500 pounds. Put a sleeper on a Class 7, and you can legally pull with the big dogs.

And what's Ford done to get all this steel down the road? Has it come up with something bigger, meaner, and nastier than its 7.3-liter diesel? The answer is yes and no. Ford also has launched a new engine and transmission package. Its new 6.0-liter 32-valve V-8 turbodiesel loses 1.3 liters to its work mate but compensates for displacement with huge output. The 6.0-liter puts out 325 horses at 3300 rpm. What's more, it multiplies all that horsepower with 560 lb-ft of torque at 2000 rpm through the new TorqShift five-speed transmission.

The 6.0-liter PowerStroke diesel and Torqshift tranny will be available on F-250 through F-550 pickups and chassis cabs, but not in the E-550 series vans powered by the Triton V-10 or the 7.3-liter PowerStroke. The 6.0-liter PowerStroke with TorqShift will become available in the 650 and 750 F-series pickups early in 2003. There are plenty of engine options besides the 6.0-liter. Buyers can get a 3126 Caterpillar 7.2-liter with up to 300 horsepower and 860 lb-ft of torque or a 5.9-liter Cummins ISB diesel with up to 260 horse and 660 lb-ft of torque.