In our Nov. '03, issue, I wrote a column saying that this is a great time to be in the truck business. There are more offerings available now than at any other time in the history of the market, and there's no doubt among industry experts that trucks sales have become the biggest profit centers for the major manufacturers, keeping a couple of the biggies afloat in tough times.

So it stands to reason that our crop of Truck of the Year candidates would be a diverse bunch. This diversity created a bit of a dilemma for us when it came time to pick a winner. Among the field of players was the long-awaited debut of the Viper-powered Dodge Ram SRT-10 and the street-rod inspired Chevrolet SSR. The rest of the field included new crew cab models from Toyota, Nissan, Ford, and Chevrolet.

The criteria for eligibility as a competitor for the Sport Truck Truck of the Year award is that the vehicle must be all new or dramatically improved for that model year (we included the SSR in spite of its two-year rollout and ambiguous model year designation). So for 2004, our field of testers included some great trucks. Nissan rolled out its new Titan, while Toyota sent us a new four-door version of the Tundra. Of course, the test wouldn't be complete without the newly redesigned Ford F-150 and the all-new Chevrolet Colorado, the heir apparent for the S-10. And then of course there were the SRT-10 and the SSR. This year's test generated one of the best fields of trucks that we've ever seen. But there was one problem: We had an apples and oranges situation brewing.

There's no disputing the fact that the Dodge SRT-10 and Chevy SSR are limited-production performance trucks; both cost more than $40,000 each. The rest of our field could be called every-day trucks. These are vehicles for those looking for a solid pickup at a reasonable price. So how do we compare the specialty trucks with trucks for the common folk? It wasn't easy.

Every truck in the competition was run through the same set of paces. First up was track day, with John Hotchkis from Hotchkis Performance setting up the testing grid at California Speedway. We performed the usual industry-standard tests, including quarter-mile, 0-60, and 60-0 braking. For handling, Hotchkis ran the truck through a 600-foot slalom. From there, it was a week of everyday driving, with a photo trip to the Calico Ghost Town outside of Barstow, California, for our group shot and some driving through the mountains to get a feel for the new rides in the twisties. All in all, we have rung these trucks out pretty well.

So back to our quandary of apples versus oranges. As expected, in terms of performance, the SRT-10 kicked ass. It's the best-damn sport truck ever, or at least until the new-generation Lightning hits the streets next year. And the SSR wasn't too far behind in the performance department, either; it was way up there in the fun factor and turned the most heads no matter where we went. But since these trucks are officially limited-production vehicles, is it fair to compare them with trucks designed for mass consumption?

Ultimately, we ended up with two awards this year. One for the limited-production performance trucks and the coveted Sport Truck of the Year. To find out who won what, keep turning the pages. You'll be pleasantly surprised.