2005 Truck of the Year Testing

Meet the Fab Five of 2005

Editors of Motor Trend
Jun 14, 2005
Photographers: John Kiewicz, Brian Vance
Last year, our TOTY spotlight was trained on two all-new groundbreakers in the full-size truck category. One, our winner, was the redesigned Ford F-150, a grille-to-hitch makeover of a perennial leader in the segment; the other, Nissan's potent clean- sheet-of-paper challenger, the Titan. Some 12 months later, the focus has shifted to the smaller categories, although incongruently, a couple of behemoth megaweights have nevertheless wriggled into our TOTY circus tent.

Indeed, if this were a three-ring circus, in the center ring would be the Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier, two competitive offerings vying to outshine the other like a pair of back-flipping acrobatic canines. In the second ring would be the half-step-bigger Dodge Dakota attempting a daunting juggling act of full- and midsize truck attributes, while in the third ring the gargantuan Ford F-350 and HUMMER H2 SUT would lumber and flap their ears like a couple of Indian elephants. Popcorn in hand, we must say that the view from the grandstand is quite entertaining.
But which will earn our loudest applause? Ground rules for grabbing the TOTY Golden Calipers are no different from those applied to our SUV of the Year and Car of the Year contests (as reported in the previous two issues). To reprise, our Truck of the Year honoree must deftly handle three straight-up questions. One: Is it a superior truck in its own category? Two: Does it ring in as a solid value relative to its immediate competitors? And three: Does it shift the paradigm, make people recalibrate their expectations, or otherwise leave a mark (even treadmarks) on the transportation world? In other words, is it significant?
In addition to our usual battery of asphalt-stretching track tests, we caravanned our contenders along a 300-mile trek composed of freeways, back roads, and even 4x4-challenging no-roads, all the while swatting away the fog of Madison Avenue marketing malarkey to perceive each vehicle's underlying virtues. And in the psycho-complex realm of trucks--where drivers often irrationally use them for everything but truck purposes--that can mean a lot of swatting.
Preamble complete: Let's see how our performers do.
Photo 2/12   |   2005 Hummer H2 Sut Suv left
Hummer H2 SUT
Will the H2 SUT halt the plummeting sales free-fall Hummer's been in of late? We doubt it, but the H2 might be an effective air brake until a meaningful parachute, called the H3 (an even smaller sibling), is fully deployed later this year. Until then, the H2 SUT (as in sport/utility truck) offers an interesting twist on the now familiar H2.

That vehicle, derived from GM's parts bin and civilian thirst for a desert-storming Humvee (that's easier to park at the mall), played in our 2003 SUV of the Year competition. It's since received a redesigned interior and, for 2005, a torquier engine, but this largely identical new SUT spinoff justifies its appearance here due to one unavoidable fact: It now has a truck bed. When you think about it, an external cargo hold for dirty or greasy loads makes good sense for those who intend to employ the H2 SUT for such appropriate jobs as ranching or rough-terrain work (and to those few, we salute you).
Either way, we were impressed with how easily the SUT's basic four-seat-plus-a-mini-bed can be reconfigured into two-seat-plus-a-four-by-six-foot box (rear glass that electrically retracts into the fold-down midgate greatly simplifies things). But regardless of the configuration, it was clambering up some of the steepest dirt goat trails and, yes, parading down Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills, where the Hummer H2 earned its most admiring glances.
Photo 3/12   |   112 0502 03z 2005 Hummer H2 Sut Suv Nav
Photo 4/12   |   2005 Hummer H2 Sut Suv front Right

Engine 6.0L/325-hp/365-lb-ft/OHV V-8
Drivetrain Front engine, 4WD
Fuel economy N/A
Price range $53,335-$61,265
Acceleration 0-60 mph: 9.9 sec;
1/4 mile: 17.1 sec @ 80.3 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 147 ft
Handling Skidpad: 0.67 g;
Slalom: 55.1 mph
Figure-eight 30.3 sec @ 0.50 g
Sum up: Perhaps this is the H2 GM should've built in the first place
Ford F-250/F-350 Super Duty
What with the F-150 receiving a major makeover last year, it's the Super Duty's turn for 2005. And as befitting the purposeful nature of a truck designed for hauling truly hefty loads, the most significant changes are under the skin (although the skin and interior have been nicely repolished as well).

Underhood is now the category's most powerful gasoline engine, a 6.8-liter Triton V-10 aspirated by three valves per cylinder; joining it is a 5.4-liter V-8 version otherwise employed in the F-150. If diesel runs in your veins (as it seems to among most F-350 owners), the mighty Power Stroke has added 10 pound-feet of torque, raising its grunt number to 570. Beneath 4x4 versions, coil springs now suspend the live front axle, at least somewhat lessening the gargantuan turning radius. And amid all this bridge building-scale engineering is an exquisite new gem of a detail, the dash-mounted TowCommand that integrates the electronic management of your trailer's brakes (including a new stopping strategy when the truck's ABS senses slippery surfaces).
On the road, it all adds up to a behind-the-wheel experience more akin to operating a luxurious megabuck yacht (particularly if trimmed like ours in Harley-Davidson regalia). Perfect for a thin sliver of the market, a fantasy truck for most of the rest of us.
Photo 5/12   |   112 0502 07z 2005 Ford F 250 Super Duty Pickup Towcommand
Photo 6/12   |   112 0502 08z 2005 Ford F 250 Super Duty Pickup Badge

Engine(s) 5.4L/300-hp/365-lb-ft/SOHC V-8;
6.8L/362-hp/457-lb-ft/SOHC V-10;
6.0L/325-hp/570-lb-ft/SOHC turbodiesel V-8
Drivetrain Front engine, RWD or 4WD
Fuel economy N/A
Price range $23,365-$53,320
Acceleration* 0-60 mph: 9.4 sec;
1/4 mile: 16.9 sec @ 81.0 mph
* Tested version: F-350 S.D. Harley-Davidson (Power Stroke diesel, 5A)
Braking, 60-0 mph 147 ft
Handling Skidpad: 0.71 g;
Slalom: 52.9 mph
Figure-eight 29.9 sec @ 0.52 g
Sum up: This rolling icon of power and mass is further buffed by a list of meaningful improvements
Photo 7/12   |   2005 Nissan Frontier Pickup front Right
Nissan Frontier
Following in the glory of the full-size Titan last year, the all-new, third-generation midsize Frontier has its sights set on one rival, Toyota's Tacoma. Forget such alternative as the GMC Canyon, Chevrolet Colorado, or the larger, new Dodge Dakota--it's the formidable Tacoma that's wearing a bull's-eye. And the Nissan's quiver is chock-full of arrows with its target's name on them.

For starters, the Frontier is optionally powered by the strongest V-6 in any truck, a 265-horse churner that betters the best Toyota's output by eight percent. And its fully boxed frame (unlike the Tacoma's) suggests there's more than just toughness under the hood. There are plenty of practical details, too, including options like a spray-on bedliner (to avoid hidden rust) and movable tie-down points (first seen on the Titan) to optimally secure any bed cargo.
However, the Frontier represents a decidedly more narrowly focused range of trucks. For instance, unlike the Tacoma, the Frontier has eschewed the fringes of the market; forget ever checking a box labeled regular cab (there are only Crew Cab and King Cab configurations) or a long-bed coupled to a Crew Cab.
While the Frontier is obviously the Titan's little brother in offering a power advantage relative to its V-6 competitors, it also inherited the big Nissan's too-menacing-by-half twin-incisor smile and rather plasticky and visually drab interior. Questions of taste, perhaps, but areas that raised eyebrows--and reservations.
Photo 8/12   |   112 0502 10z 2005 Nissan Frontier Pickup Tiedown
Photo 9/12   |   112 0502 11z 2005 Nissan Frontier Pickup Badge

Engine(s) 2.5L/154-hp/173-lb-ft/DOHC I-4;
4.0L/265-hp/284 lb-ft/DOHC V-6
Drivetrain Front engine, RWD or 4WD
Fuel economy 17-22 city/20-25 highway
Price range $15,000-$27,000 (est)
Acceleration* 0-60 mph: 7.6 sec;
1/4 mile: 15.8 sec @ 86.1 mph
* Tested version: Frontier NISMO off-road (V-6, 5A)
Braking, 60-0 mph 131 ft
Handling Skidpad: 0.72 g;
Slalom: 59.0 mph
Figure-eight 29.1 sec @ 0.55 g
Sum up: Nissan's Pepsi to Toyota's Coke
Photo 10/12   |   dodge Dakota Pickup front Left
Dodge Dakota
For 2005, the Dakota has once again defined itself in the market as the largest midsize truck. Also the most powerful as the category's sole representative offering a V-8 engine (there are even two versions of it, a 230-horsepower, 4.7-liter Magnum along with an estimated 250-horse High Output variant). The Dakota is either a midsize truck that can tackle full-size jobs or an in-betweener, really neither fish nor fowl. Depends on how you look at it.

Oddly, the Dakota's new razor-edged body design struck many as more closely related to the Nissan Titan's sharp pleats than to the softer lines of the big Nissan's actual sibling, the Frontier. Yet, inside, the Dakota's interior seems plucked from an econocar gene-pool, offering inexplicably drab colors and dreary plastic quality. Underwhelming, too, was the V-8, which so lacked the expected gusto that we even checked the throttle pedal to see if the floormat was bunched up beneath it. Makes you think we weren't overly impressed, right?
Wrong. The Dakota's stretched interior comfortably fit several taller drivers who felt pinched in the Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier. That and its unusually refined ride quality and hushed interior mark this as a truck that, while not quite a first-impressions knockout, is a workhorse to be appreciated over the long haul.
Photo 11/12   |   112 0502 13z Dodge Dakota Pickup Badge
Photo 12/12   |   dodge Dakota Pickup front

Engine(s)3.7L/210-hp/235-lb-ft /SOHC V-6;
4.7L/230-hp/290-lb-ft/SOHC V-8;
4.7L/250-hp (est)/300-lb-ft (est)/SOHC V-8
Drivetrain Front engine, RWD and 4WD
Fuel economy 14-16 city/19-22 highway
Price range $20,019-$34,894
Acceleration* 0-60 mph: 8.9 sec;
1/4 mile: 16.6 sec @ 80.0 mph
* Tested version: Dakota Laramie (V-8, 5A)
Braking, 60-0 mph 135 ft
Handling Skidpad: 0.74 g;
Slalom: 58.4 mph
Figure-eight 29.4 sec @ 0.54 g
Sum up: The midsize truck for supersized Americans



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