First we completed Motor Trend's Sport/Utility of the Year. Now we're putting the finishing touches on Motor Trend's Car of the Year story. And just recently, we finished the third of our major competitions: Motor Trend's 2009 Truck of the Year.
As always, we extend invitations to all-new or significantly revised pickup-truck models, which means we don't accept vehicles that simply offer a new powertrain, a new option package, or new look. However, just because we don't have every vehicle in every segment doesn't mean we're not comparing those contestants with their direct competitive set. No one drives as many vehicles every year as we do, and no one is more familiar with all things automotive than we are. And nobody has the chance over the course of a year to get in and out of just about every vehicle sold in the U.S.
This year, we have four vehicles eligible for Truck of the Year honors; however, you'll note eight pickups in our videos and our magazine story. The reason is simple: We request two trucks from each manufacturer (one more loaded; one more entry-level) in order to see as much of the full bandwidth as possible in the model lineup. We'll have more about our individual tests in a later blog. For now, in alphabetical order, the 2009 competitors are as follows:
Ford F-150—The Ford has been completely redesigned from inner frame to outer skin. Of note, they've kept the rear suspension basically the same but have lengthened the rear leaves and widened them a considerable amount. Naturally, what they're aiming for is a smoother, more compliant ride. Exterior styling is significantly changed with the front nose and grille completely reshaped and bulked up. In addition, the rear tailgate has been sculpted for improved aero and restamped for added character. Ford will offer three V-8 engines—two are 4.6L blocks, with the more powerful utilizing a better-breathing three-valve-per-cylinder head. The largest V-8 offered will be the 5.4L three-valve head at 310 hp and 365 lb-ft of torque. The strategy here is pretty simple: After rebuilding the frame, Ford engineers have gone over every inch of the truck, trying to make it stronger, bigger, quieter, and better suited to satisfy core truck buyers.
Dodge Ram—The Dodge has been completely reworked inside and out. Although the powertrain and frame of the truck stay much the same, every other piece has been overhauled in order to differentiate this truck from the two other major players: F-150 and Silverado. The most obvious change is the forward canting of the trademark grille. The idea here was to design an aggressive grille that could scare the bejesus out of you when looking in the rearview mirror. The Charger-like grille sits in front of three different engine choices—a 3.7L V-6, a 4.7L V-8, and a newly modified 5.7L Hemi V-8. The last has a variable timing setup and cylinder deactivation program, making this the most powerful and fuel efficient Hemi to date. In addition, Dodge has hugely up its interior game with all-new materials, trim packages, and optional equipment. In the bed, Ram offers the exclusive RamBox bed on the all-new CrewCab models, which includes two large storage trunks on both sides of the bed rails, effectively creating two lockable bins. But the biggest change for Ram is committing to a live axle and coil-spring setup on all half-ton pickups. This does sacrifice maximum payload and towing numbers, but the idea will be to make up for that loss with improved ride control and comfort.
Hummer H3T—This is an all-new vehicle for Hummer this year and was part of the original product development plan from the very first day GM and Hummer entered into their partnership almost 10 years ago. The H3T pickup truck is an offshoot of the smallish H3 SUV, offering two engines and three trim levels. Hummer H3T Alphas will use the aluminum 5.3L Vortec V-8 (300/320), mated to the lightly modified long-in-the-tooth four-speed automatic. The base engine, the 239-hp Vortec 3700 I-5, does allow Hummer to brag about better fuel economy numbers, especially when paired with the five-speed manual transmission. All H3Ts are crew cab models and have a 5-ft bed large enough to hold a small or medium-size motorcycle and ATV, and include several hidden storage compartments in the bed walls. The frame is stretched 22 in. and includes the same 29- and 31-in. tire choices on H3s. Pricing will also parallel its smaller SUV brethren, starting near $32,000 and running up over $40,000 with all the bells and whistles.
Suzuki Equator—Suzuki is jumping into the compact segment with a full head of steam with its all-new Equator. Unfortunately, the segment has been on a steep and steeper decline for the last 10 years. Still, Suzuki is hoping to give its motorcycle, ATV, and watercraft enthusiasts a more appropriate choice when hooking up their toys to the trailer or strapping them down in the bed. To be fair, however, if the vehicle looks familiar it's because Suzuki decided to enter the segment buying Nissan Frontier extra capacity and rebadging the trucks with Suzuki Equator monikers on the grille, steering wheel, and side door. Suzuki will offer both a Crew Cab and Exteneded Cab model with a 4.0L V-6 or 2.5L I-4, the former 4x4 with the automatic (like our test unit) getting a best of 14/19 mpg, while the latter 4x2 with the automatic (also like our test unit) is rated at 17/22. Suzuki will offer all the same options as the Nissan sibling but will likely offer more aggressive pricing. In addition, Suzuki will have a longer bumper-to bumper warranty.
So that's it. Those are the vehicles that will compete for the 2009 Motor Trend Truck of the Year. Any guesses which will win? From all the truck guys we've talked to, they seem pretty sure it'll come down to the two heavy-hitters—Ford and Dodge—but don't count out the underdogs. Our comprehensive testing and evaluation loops will have no favorites. Who will it be—the four wheeler, the fuel sipper, the tow king, or the rebel?