Variety Show: The 2010 Truck of the Year Contenders

This Year Specialty Vehicles Are The Name Of The Game

Allyson HarwoodDec 10, 2009
Over the last few years, sales of pickups for personal use have dropped dramatically. It's been a long, slow road to recovery in this country, and we still haven't seen truck sales improve. Making things worse, guys who work in construction are among the most dedicated to buying pickups for use on the job, and there isn't a lot of that going on right now, either.
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How did truckmakers respond to this sudden, dramatic, and prolonged change in the marketplace? Instead of sticking solely with the mainstream-market formula, they're focusing on catering to the specific needs of truck people. That helps explain the interesting grouping of vehicles for the latest Truck of the Year event. Four qualified: the Ford F-150 SVT Raptor, the Ford Transit Connect, the Ram Heavy Duty, and the Toyota Tundra 4.6-liter work truck.
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First contender is the off-road race-ready Ford F-150 SVT Raptor. Instead of taking the street-biased high-performance route of the Lightning, the design team looked at the strengths of the truck platform and redefined the idea of high performance. The Raptor is ideally suited to romping over the ruts and sand of the Baja 1000 and only gets better the faster you go. And even though the extended-cab powered by a 5.4-liter V-8 is an impressive combination, we hear a crew cab and 400-plus-horsepower, 6.2-liter V-8 are coming.
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Some of you may wonder why on earth there's a little van in Truck of the Year. The Ford Transit Connect is no kid-toting minivan. This is a van built for work, with a 1600-pound payload, comparable to that of any half-ton truck on the market. This van, which has been sold in Europe for many years, has been put through truck-durability testing and is ready to take on full-size vans for a piece of that market.
For those who need to be able to tow a fifth-wheel trailer or carry 5000 pounds of equipment in the bed, the Ram Heavy Duty arrives for 2010 with a revised platform, all-new sheetmetal, redesigned interior, and several innovations. These trucks are available as 3/4- and one-ton models, plus 4500 and 5500 trucks for even more capability.
The Toyota Tundra gets several major changes for 2010, including an all-new engine and updated styling inside and out. In addition, for the first time Toyota is offering the Tundra with a work-truck package. We tried out a regular cab work truck with the new V-8, to see how the new model answers the needs of the working man.
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Evaluations began at facilities in El Toro, California, where the crew ran every truck through Motor Trend's test regimen, both unloaded and carrying its full rated payload. All judges also drove each truck through a short road course set up on those grounds, all variants driven empty and full. Once we'd finished there, we moved north, taking all the trucks on a real-world loop composed of surface streets, twisty roads, and freeway-including the Grapevine, which climbs nearly 3000 feet in a few miles. As these are all fairly specialized vehicles, we tested each to see how it does the jobs it's intended to do. For example, we towed a 28-foot boat with the Ram and took the Raptor through the whoops and soft sand at the Hungry Valley State Vehicular Recreation Area. Once the testing and evaluation was completed, it was time for debate, discussion, and the vote.
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THE CRITERIA
Each TOTY contender is evaluated against six key criteria. They are:
DESIGN ADVANCEMENT
Quality execution of exterior and interior styling; innovation in vehicle packaging; good selection and use of materials.
ENGINEERING EXCELLENCE
Integrity of total vehicle concept and execution, clever solutions to packaging, manufacturing, and dynamics issues; use of cost-effective technologies that benefit the consumer.
INTENDED FUNCTION
How well the vehicle does the job its designers and product planners intended.
EFFICIENCY
Low fuel consumption and carbon footprint, relative to the vehicle's competitive set.
SAFETY
Primary safety-the vehicle's ability to help the driver avoid a crash-as well as secondary safety measures that protect occupants from harm during a crash.
VALUE
Price and equipment levels measured against those of vehicles in the same market segment.
Ford F-150 SVT Raptor
A DESERT RACER YOU CAN DRIVE ON THE STREET
By Scott Mortara
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WHAT THEY DID RIGHT
Fantastic off-road-race suspension that is also impressive on road. When taking whoops at speed, the faster you go, the smoother the ride gets. Huge credit for SVT for redefining the idea of a high-performance truck. Still has actual towing capacity.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
Needs the new 6.2-liter, 400-plus-horsepower V-8: The 5.4-liter doesn't put out enough power for this truck. Exterior and interior design look nice, but may quickly look dated. As-tested price of over $46,000 may scare off potential buyers.
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BET YOU DIDN'T KNOW
The SVT Raptor R finished third in its class in the 2008 Baja 1000. That truck was equipped with a 500-horse version of the Raptor's upcoming 6.2-liter V-8.
The last time we saw SVT on a Ford truck it was badged Lightning and performed admirably on the street and the strip, but it was still a truck trying to be a car. The 2010 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor isn't trying to be something it can't; it's a truck, and damned proud of that.
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Significant changes were made to the standard F-150 to convert it into the off-road-racing Raptor. The new Fox Racing Shox and custom suspension are truly incredible. You get 10 inches of ground clearance from the lowest skidplate, 11.2 inches of front and 12.1 inches of rear suspension travel. Numbers like this used to be found only in custom-built trucks meant to compete in Baja. But even with all these off-road goodies you still get a smooth on-road ride, no bounce and buck, yet the truck is surprisingly fun on a canyon road, once you get used to the body roll and the slide from the knobby tires. "This thing drives like Jerome Bettis: big, heavy, yet changes directions with ease and keeps them wheels churnin'. Surprisingly good out on the twisties; unfortunately, this might well be lost on those who will drive only in the 'burbs or mostly on highway trips to the dunes," writes senior editor Edward Loh. One negative in this area is the slow steering that makes precise positioning on the road difficult, but that actually helps you once off the pavement.
The track of the Raptor is 6.6 inches wider than those of lesser F-150s to accommodate the beefier suspension, so Ford had to produce special composite fenders that flare out eight inches (four on each side) to house the specially designed, 35-inch BFGoodrich tires that give the Raptor an additional two-inch lift. In fact, the Raptor is so wide, it's required to run the federally mandated marker lights normally seen on dually trucks, though the Raptor wears them in the front grille instead of on its roof.
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Highways and city streets are where you notice how big this truck really is; it takes up every inch of the lane you're in, and when you have to park, say, at a grocery store lot, it barely fits between the painted lines. This makes threading into narrow head-in parking spots an adventure.
The interior has nice, standard F-150 appointments, but with a few special additions to differentiate the Raptor from the rest of the lineup. Our tester was outfitted with the Raptor orange accent package for $395, which adds bright orange inserts into the front captains chairs. "They certainly have given this truck a lot of attitude, I wonder, though, how long it would take for the orange-and-black interior to get old. I like the color scheme in small doses, but don't know if I could live with it," comments Harwood. The big surprise is how comfortable the seats are now; just a year or two ago, F-150 seats were hard and flat, like a park bench, but the Raptor's are much softer and well bolstered-just what you want on- or off-road.
There's one area we all agreed on, there simply was not enough grunt in this powerplant. Except for the badging, you'd never know there's a V-8 under the hood. One would think a 5.4-liter V-8 engine would put out some serious power, but with only 310 horses (five less than the 4.6-liter V-8 in the Mustang), this has to be among the weakest V-8s on the market today. At freeway speed, you have to plan a pass well in advance because in the Raptor when you put your foot down nothing really happens. Sure you feel the kickdown and hear the engine growl a bit louder, but the Raptor can barely get out of its own way. Therepis a bigger 6.2-liter, 400-horse V-8 coming soon, but Ford should have waited for that powerplant. They built this extreme machine, then burdened it with an underpowered anchor of an engine.
Still, there's never been a stock, factory vehicle that can manage the feats the Raptor can while off-road, which is where this vehicle was meant to play. Flying through a river wash filled with whoops that would destroy any other vehicle, the Raptor just glides over the top. And that's the trick you must remember with this truck: You have to go fast to keep it riding smooth, and the faster you go, the smoother it gets. This keeps you floating atop of bumps instead of trying to drive through them.
It's always nice to see a manufacturer take a chance with such a focused, purpose-built vehicle, and the fact that it's a truck makes it that much more amazing. But with this wimpy engine, the mighty Raptor fails to clear the high hurdle required to achieve Truck of the Year status. We'll doubtless prefer the Raptor XT, but this was the Raptor's one shot at TOTY.
Click here to see our extended photo gallery!

2010 Ford F-150 Raptor
Base price $38,995
Model Tested F-150 Raptor
Price as tested $46,020
Vehicle layout Front engine, 4WD, 5-pass, 2-door pickup
Engine 5.4L/310-hp/365-lb-ft SOHC 24-valve V-8
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Curb weight (f/r dist) 5980 lb (56/44%)
Wheelbase 133.0 in
Length x width x height 220.9 x 86.3 x 78.4 in
Actual payload capacity 970 lb
Max towing capacity 6000 lb
0-60 mph 8.3/9.6 sec*
Quarter mile 16.3 sec @ 85.1 mph/17.2 sec @ 80.8 mph*
Braking, 60-0 mph 146/143 ft*
Lateral acceleration 0.71 g (avg)
mt figure eight 29.8 sec @ 0.53 g (avg)
EPA city/hwy fuel econ 14/18 mpg
CO2 emissions 1.25 lb/mile
RATINGS
ENGINEERING *****
DESIGN ***
INTERIOR ***
PERFORMANCE ****
HAULING *** (Empty/with 9700-lb payload)
SAFETY ***
VALUE **
SUM UP
Goes like a bat out of hell off-road, but the puny powerplant and quirky interior kept it from the top spot.
Ford Transit Connect
THE SMALL BUSINESS SOLUTION
By Kim Reynolds
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WHAT THEY DID RIGHT
Very easy to maneuver and park in cities. Excellent payload capacity is the same as that of a half-ton pickup, which is surprising in a vehicle this small. Terrific options cater to the small-business owner, the targeted buyer for this van.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
Could use more power than the 2.0-liter four-cylinder produces. Could also use a five-speed automatic (why only a four-speed?). Wider mirrors could help with visibility in the cargo van. Interior plastics had an odd odor that we hope will go away over time.
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BET YOU DIDN'T KNOW
Built in Turkey, all Transit Connects shipped to the USA are passenger vans, converted to cargo vans here to avoid the "chicken tax."
It seems that with each of this season's "of the Year" competitions, we've had a genre-bender of some sort to deal with. And who's playing the role of awkward square peg in the nice round holes this time? Ford's new Transit Connect. Which, come to think of it, kind of looks like a square peg.
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But what do we call this peg? A small cargo vehicle? Obviously. Some sort of mini-minivan? Potentially; there's an intriguing five-passenger version that fills the bill nicely. But as to whether it's a "truck," we direct your attention to Europe's rat's nests of narrow urban roads that positively swarm with perky little rolling boxes just like this one. They're ideal for scuttling around doing trucklike jobs; small businesses have found them to be the perfect thing for their compact-on-the-outside but cavernous-on-the-inside hind quarters.
While the Transit Connect is new to our North American eyes, in fact this very edition bowed back in 2003 as a little brother to the Ford Transit (think Dodge's-actually Mercedes-Benz'-cavernous Sprinter). But despite its borderline-cartoony compact exterior size, the Connect (fractionally over 15 feet in length, a smidgeon under 6 feet wide, and 6.6 feet high), inside it's a whole different story. Climb in the back and then step out again, and it seems like a room-of-mirrors carnival trick. You'd swear you could put another one inside it.
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In actuality, the cargo floor measures 6.5 feet long while it's 4.9 feet wide, but what's important is that it's 53.7 inches tall-about 4.5 feet (creating 135.3 cubic feet in total). And even more important, the shape is so ruthlessly boxy it would have delighted a Bauhaus architect. If the Container Store sold cars, this baby would be on the shelf.
To look at them, the pair of refrigerator-white Transit Connects at our disposal appeared sort of like a couple miniature ice cream trucks. Anybody for three-quarter-scale Eskimo pies? Hard to take seriously. Well, the other day on the way to our new offices, I found myself pacing a just-minted Transit Connect impressively decked out in the livery of an evident early business-adopter, Protection One Security. And like that, the whole thing made slap-the-forehead sense. Brilliant. Almost genius sense. With a roof rack and ladder on top, the funny ice cream truck became a deadly serious business implement. Suddenly it's a rolling toolbox.
Along with the similarly innovative Raptor, the Transit Connect is carving itself a brand-new market niche (hey, that's a novel way to gain market share!). Ironically, following the Transit Connect that day was a late model panel-version Chevy Astro van; and what a slap-the-forehead mistake GM made in dropping that business.
Powering the Transit Connect is a plain-Jane pairing of a 136-horse, 2.0-liter four-cylinder that is certainly game for what it is. Acceleration to 60 mph in a bit over 12 seconds (a groaning 18-odd seconds fully laden) is utilitarian at best. We can only speculate that Ford is testing the waters before investing in a portfolio of new powertrains (avoiding a V-6 is a good way to keep the city mileage number above 20). Can't be long, though, before a nice little turbodiesel and a five-speed automatic join the lineup, as they seem like naturals.
Inside, the Transit Connect says "workhorse" as much as its exterior does. It utterly lacks the design sparkle of typical consumer vehicles-and who cares? This is a vehicle that justifies itself on a business spreadsheet, not by any standards of Apple Store visual allure.
Among its remarkable, commerce-friendly features is what's called Ford Work Solutions. One of them is Tool Link, which employs Radio Frequency Identification to check that any RFI-tagged tools are back in the Transit before departing a job site. Another, Crew Chief, lets a fleet manager monitor up to 30 streams of information, such as speed, location, and mileage.
Meanwhile, the interior's options for bins and racks are extraordinarily reconfigurable, and the rear doors swing open to a wide 180 degrees (and optionally 225 degrees), so they aren't an impediment to loading. These are the lessons you learn from selling some 600,000 Transit Connects thus far in 58 countries since 2003. In fact, it's quite the international vehicle, being built in Kocaeli, Turkey.
But while the Transit Connect may originate in Turkey, it's still perfectly trucky. Just not trucky enough for this year's jury of Motor Trend editors to award it the calipers.
Click here to see our extended photo gallery!

2010 Ford Transit Connect
Base price $22,535$23,045
Model Tested XLT cargo vanXLT Wagon
Price as tested $25,620$24,975
Vehicle layout Front engine, FWD, 2-pass, 5-door vanFront engine, FWD, 5-pass, 5-door van
Engine 2.0L/136-hp/128-lb-ft DOHC 16V I-42.0L/136-hp/128-lb-ft DOHC 16V I-4
Transmission 4-speed automatic4-speed automatic
Curb weight (f/r dist) 3390 lb (57/43%)3491 lb (56/44%)
Wheelbase 114.6 in114.6 in
Length x width x height 180.6 x 70.7 x 79.3 in180.6 x 70.7 x 79.3 in
Actual payload capacity 1615 lb1474 lb
Max towing capacity N/AN/A
0-60 mph12.3/17.9 sec*12.6/18.6 sec**
Quarter mile18.7 sec @ 73.8 mph/ 20.8 sec @ 68.4 mph*18.9 sec @ 73.6 mph/ 22.4 sec @ 66.0 mph**
Braking, 60-0 mph130 ft/136 ft128 ft/133 ft**
Lateral acceleration0.78 g (avg) 0.76 g (avg)
mt figure eight30.2 sec @ 0.50 g (avg) 30.4 sec @ 0.49 g (avg)
EPA city/hwy fuel econ22/25 mpg 22/25 mpg
CO2 emissions0.83 lb/mile 0.83 lb/mile
RATINGS
ENGINEERING ***
DESIGN **
INTERIOR**
PERFORMANCE**
HAULING** (With 1615-lb payload- 40 bags rock salt/ With 1474-lb payload- 37 bag rock salt)
SAFETY***
VALUE***
SUM UP
A brilliant solution for small businesses--a small turbodiesel and a 5A would render it perfect.
Toyota Tundra Work Truck
BLUE COLLAR HAULER
By Edward Loh
Photo 18/26
WHAT THEY DID RIGHT
New engine puts out more horsepower and torque than the 4.7-liter V-8 it replaces, while offering better fuel economy. Comfortable ride. Excellent transmission. Even stripped down, still a highly capable half-ton pickup.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
Throttle tip-in and brake response are both too touchy. Manual side mirrors make it hard to adjust mirrors to see around a trailer. Severe decontenting in interior only leads to a $195 savings when it seems that more than $195 worth of equipment is removed.
Photo 19/26
BET YOU DIDN'T KNOW
The 4.6L uses dual VVT-i and water-cooled EGR to improve emissions, and fuel economy at light throttle. It also weighs 65 pounds less than the 4.7L.
RUBBER FLOORS. Vinyl seats. Crank windows. It doesn't get more bare bones than this, but that's precisely the point. Toyota's TOTY contender, the Tundra Work Truck, is built for a largely neglected subset of the American truck-buying public: the workin' man (and woman). Unlike the other commercial vehicle in the mix this year, the Tundra offers more of the traditional capabilities you expect in a truck: It can tow a horse trailer, haul a load of gravel, and head far off the pavement at a ranch or construction site.
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To make a work truck, Toyota applies a delete package to any of the popular configurations of the standard Tundra; 4x2 or 4x4, regular or double cab, standard or long bed. All three Tundra engines are available, from the 4.0-liter, 236-horsepower V-6 to the 5.7-liter, 381-horsepower V-8. In between is a new 4.6-liter V-8 that substantially outperforms the 4.7-liter V-8 it replaces. With 310 horses, 327 pound-feet of torque, and 15/20-mpg city/highway fuel economy, the 4.6 represents a huge improvement over the 4.7's 276 horsepower, 313 pound-feet of torque, and 14/17 mpg (in 4x2 configuration). In addition, this engine also comes with a new six-speed automatic transmission.
The essence of this truck isn't what's been added, but what's been left out. Yards of black plastic replace chrome on the grille and bumpers. The instrument panel and HVAC controls receive similar black treatment. Need to adjust the outside mirrors? You're going to have to slide over and crank the window down to do it; gone are power windows, mirrors, and even door locks. Keyless entry and cruise control also have been cut, but can be added back for extra dollars. Rubber floors and bench seats covered in washable gray vinyl are easy to understand. Less so is the deletion of map, glovebox, ignition, and courtesy lighting. Apparently workers don't need to see while inside the truck or monitor its condition: Simple warning lights replace voltage and oil-pressure gauges in the instrument cluster.
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So, does this bare-bones specification and upgraded engine make the Tundra, 2007's TOTY, a good work truck, perhaps even, our Truck of the Year? We tested a regular cab, standard bed, 4x2 Work Truck with a 4.6-liter V-8 to find out.
From the get go, our judges noted the Tundra's eagerness to get down to business. Bed empty, it sprinted to 60 mph in an untrucklike 6.9 seconds and hit the quarter mile in 15.4 at 90.0 mph. The addition of 1760 pounds of rock salt only dampened this enthusiasm by a couple of ticks. Braking was similarly unaffected with the load, the Tundra Work Truck needed only four extra feet to come to a stop (132 versus 136 feet).
Impressive numbers, though not everyone was pleased with the way the work got done. "Engine is very strong, lots of power right on tap, but the throttle tip-in is way too aggressive. Like the throttle, the brakes are way too sensitive, especially for a work truck where towing/hauling is highly probable. You don't want to be jerking your trailer or throwing your load around because the throttle or brakes are too sensitive," says road test editor Scott Mortara.
The Tundra's performance while cruising was much better received. "Excellent sound isolation, softer ride, and more comfortable than expected. Steering is nice and light," notes associate editor Allyson Harwood. "Seats are soft and cushiony, way more comfortable than you'd imagine when you hear the words 'work truck.'" The smooth six-speed also received praise, especially for the ergonomically excellent gear selector switch on the column shifter.
Some found the package to be pennywise but pound foolish. "Being able to adjust your mirrors depending on what you're hauling or towing is essential. So are power locks so you can quickly secure your vehicle when you get to a job site. How much could these have saved in costs?" asks Mortara.
"Feels like the cabin was decontented without any particular cost savings in mind, more just to say they did it, " echoes Harwood. Indeed, the sticker indicated our Work Truck package removed only $195 from the bottom line (while options like carpeted floormats with doorsill protectors will set you back $111).
At $25,770, the Tundra Work Truck is a good value and a legitimate blue-collar hauler, but is it enough to get buyers out of familiar, stripped-down American trucks? That's not as clear. "The truck is competent whether hauling a load or empty, but there are better ways to spend your money to get a really great half-ton," concludes Harwood.
Click here to see our extended photo gallery!

2010 Toyota Tundra
Base price $24,105-$33,765
Model Tested 4x2 reg cab 4.6L
Price as tested $25,770
Vehicle layout Front engine, RWD/4WD, 3-pass, 2-door pickup
Engine 4.6L/310-hp/327-lb-ft DOHC 32-valve V-8
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Curb weight (f/r dist) 4821 lb (56/44%)
Wheelbase 126.8 in
Length x width x height 209.8 x 79.9 x 75.8 in
Actual payload capacity 1779 lb
Max towing capacity 9000 lb
0-60 mph 6.9/8.9 sec*
Quarter mile 15.4 sec @ 90.0 mph/16.9 sec @ 82.8 mph*
Braking, 60-0 mph 132/136 ft*
Lateral acceleration 0.72 g (avg)
MT figure eight 29.9 sec @ 0.55 g (avg)
EPA city/hwy fuel econ 15/20 mpg
CO2 emissions 1.15 lb/mile
Ratings
Engineering ***
Design **
Interior *
Performance ****
Hauling ***
Safety **
Value ***
Sum Up
Gets down to business in a hurry, but touchy throttle and brakes leave us wishing for a smoother operator.
* Empty/with 1760-lb payload
Ram Heavy Duty
THE HARDEST-WORKING TRUCK IN TOW BUSINESS
By Allyson Harwood
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Despite the effects of the Great Recession on personal-use truck sales, there is still demand for pickups ready to do hard work. The heavy-duty truck market has gotten smaller, but the guys who buy those pickups are fiercely loyal to the segment-they need the extreme capability these hard-working haulers provide. Some may wonder why anyone would own a truck that can tow nearly 20,000 pounds, but for a lot of people in construction, those who transport vehicles or goods, and those with ranches, this is just a part of everyday life.
Within the next few months, the heavy-duty category will heat up, as all three manufacturers have all-new offerings coming. The Ram Heavy Duty is the first to market, and it's already ahead of the game. When Ford and GM's all-new heavy-dutys come out, both new diesel engines are going to require urea injection to meet emissions requirements that take effect January 2010. The Ram Heavy Duty's Cummins inline-six turbodiesel, which puts out an impressive 350 horsepower and 650 pound-feet of torque, met those requirements-without urea-over a year ago. Instead, the Ram's 2500 and 3500 use a NOx adsorber with precious metals that convert the NOx into inert gases. Not only does this mean the Ram's emissions and exhaust systems are less complex than those in the upcoming Ford Super Duty and Silverado/Sierra HD (which could improve reliability and help keep maintenance costs down), it also means that, at the dealership, the Ram will very likely have a price advantage over its competitors. And while in this size category diesel is king, there are plenty of heavy-duty truck buyers who prefer gas power. The 5.7-liter Hemi, the Ram's base engine, has the most horsepower (383) and torque (400 pound-feet) of any V-8 in its class-and only the Ford Super Duty's V-10 has more torque than the Hemi, but it still has less horsepower...
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Click here to read the fill article on our 2010 Truck of the Year winner, the Dodge Ram Heavy Duty!
Click here to see our extended photo gallery!

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